Thursday, December 30, 2021

Announcing We Love Detectives Week

I was gonna hold off on announcing this until the weekend, but I just finished making these pretty buttons, and I just don't want to wait to show them to you.  So... here we go!

I am once again holding a week-long blog party in February!  This time, the theme is detectives.  Amateur detectives, private detectives, police detectives -- every kind of detective you can think of!  If they solve one mystery or many, they're fair game. 

Like every year, I will provide a blog tag, a giveaway, and games.  The rest of the festivities are up to you!  You can contribute anything detective-themed that you can dream up.  A profile of your favorite detective?  Overview of your favorite crime-solving show?  Review of a specific book, movie, or TV show episode?  If it involves a detective or two, then have at it!  Although all my buttons here are of fictional detectives, you are totally welcome to contribute something about real-life detectives, too.

There will be no sign-up roster for this, as everyone always has such unique takes on subjects for these parties that there's never a problem with two people sharing basically the same thing.  Still, if you want to comment below with your ideas of what you want to contribute, I'd love to see them!

The party will run February 21 to 25, with a link-up widget provided for people to add links to their contributions as they post them.  If you're still not quite sure how this will work, check out last year's We Love Pirates Week kick-off post to get a better idea.

As you can see, I got a little excited with the buttons.  Again.  I wanted there to be a good range of options so people would be likely to find a detective they're at least familiar with, maybe even a fan of.  I hope you like them!  Please share them on your own blogs and websites, Instagram, whatever, with a link back to this post -- we want to spread the news about this event so other people can join the fun! 

I hope you'll join us!

Monday, December 27, 2021

Movie Music: Patrick Doyle's "Cinderella" (2015)

Patrick Doyle is one of my favorite film composers, and he definitely did not disappoint me here.

A movie crammed with lush, vibrant detail like this one demands an equally glorious score, and Doyle delivers exactly that. He tends to favor richly orchestral music, which fits perfectly with this fairy tale world. Here is one of my two favorite tracks -- I love how it combines a simple, innocent theme with a bolder, richer one. A lovely musical picture of humble Cinderella joining her famous prince. I also love that this track includes a little of the song "Lavender's Blue," because that song is really important to the movie's plot. I do wish there was a vocal version on the soundtrack, but at least it's used here and there, most memorably in this track beginning at 2:14.

My other favorite track is "Pumpkin Pursuit." It has all the excitement you'd expect for a good chase scene, with an eager strings section that carries things merrily along. At the very beginning, it utilizes this little 4-note theme that sounds like the word "Cinderella," and I absolutely love that theme.

In fact, I really wanted that 4-note "Cinderella" theme to be on the soundtrack more because it's used in a beautiful song for one of the trailers. Happily, you can buy that song as an mp3 single called "Aeon," which I did. You can listen to it here, and I definitely recommend it because it's such an emotionally evocative track, at least for me.  I love how it builds and builds in intensity and joy, and then slowly ebbs away.

You can read my review of this movie here.

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

Saturday, December 18, 2021

"Defiance" (2008)

 (2008) is the true story of four Jewish brothers in Belarus who not only evaded the Nazis all through World War II, but also helped more than a thousand other Jewish people elude them as well.

Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) Bielski are stunned when they discover their parents were murdered by Nazis at the family farm.  Their younger brother Aron (George McKay) has survived, and they're soon joined by oldest brother Tuvia (Daniel Craig).  The four brothers hide in the forest nearby, grieving and trying to figure out what to do next.  Tuvia gets a gun from a neighbor and executes the local man who led the Nazis to the Bielski farm, and then the brothers set out to survive in the forest.

It turns out there are other Jews hiding in the forest.  The Bielski boys all basically grew up in the forest, so they're excellent at hiding and surviving there.  The other people look to them for guidance and help, and Tuvia agrees to lead them.  First, he's helping a dozen people, then several dozens, and then hundreds.  Under Tuvia's direction, the people build a whole hidden village deep in the forest, with a school for children, organized food collection, and their own little militia. 

This sounds kind of idyllic, but it's not -- the Nazis are an ever-present threat who find the fugitives multiple times, forcing all the people to flee and set up all over again.  Hunger is also a persistent problem, as you can't exactly farm in the forest.  People die both onscreen and off, including Tuvia's and Zus's wives, who had not followed them into hiding.

Zus is the "wild" brother, and he grows impatient with Tuvia's emphasis on caution and hiding and survival over striking back at the Nazis.  Zus leaves to join a Russian otriad, or partisan group, and becomes an enthusiastic soldier.  Occasionally, the Russians and the Jews will work together against the Nazis, but sometimes, they come into conflict with each other instead.

Mixed in with all the war and death and fighting and fear is a little bit of romance.  Asael falls in love with a girl named Chaya (Mia Wasikowska), Zus gets involved with a fellow fugitive, and Tuvia takes a long time to realize/admit he's in love with the lovely Lilka (Alexa Davalos).  The romances are understated and quiet, and all three are quite different, which I appreciated, because no couple falls in love the same way as any other couple.

One of the little things I like best about this movie is how physically affectionate the Bielski brothers are to each other.  In grief and in joy, they reach for each other and hold each other close.  Over and over, they touch at random moments, with a pat on the back here, a hand on the shoulder there.  It really helped sell that they're brothers, as this is how many families I know relate, including my own.

This may be a spoiler, so skip this paragraph if you like, but since it's based on history, I will just go ahead and tell you that by the end of the war, there were more than 1200 Jewish people in the camp!  I love that the movie tells you at the end what happened to the Bielskis -- three of them survived the war and moved to New York City.  Aron is still alive today!

When I re-watched this movie last week, I realized that I very strongly identify with Tuvia Bielski.  He's quiet, and he internalizes a lot of things, which I also do.  He is a reluctant leader, but he also doesn't have a problem being bossy if people need bossing and no one else steps up to do the job.  He would rather do hard things himself than delegate them to others.  And he spends an enormous amount of energy and time caring for others, then gets all shocked when he needs care himself... and when someone offers to help him, he's reluctant to accept.  Yeah, there's a lot of me in the movie version of Tuvia.  I hadn't realized that before, but I'm sure that's a big part of why I like this movie so much.

The other reason I like it is, obviously, the casting.  I'm a longtime fan of Liev Schreiber, and he is fantastic as the mercurial, brooding Zus.  He happens to look extra awesome when he's scruffy, and he's scruffy for the entire movie, so that is a total bonus.  And he gets some very cool scenes at the end that involve a tank.

Daniel Craig spends most of the movie conveying a sort of repressed fury mixed with annoyance.  He plays Tuvia as a loner who doesn't want to have to lead and organize and counsel a bunch of strangers, but he realizes he has the necessary skills, so he does it anyway.  Also, Craig is great at conveying inner turmoil with just his eyes, and he has several scenes where his eyes tell you all the things he refuses to actually speak about what he's witnessed or done.

I really like the accents both Schreiber and Craig use; they sound very authentic to my admittedly thoroughly American ears.  My husband lived in Ukraine as a teen and speaks enough Ukrainian to understand a lot of the Russian dialog in the movie, and while we watched this, he kept telling me that the subtitles for the Russians were leaving out a lot of words and condensing things a bunch, which kept cracking me up.  Just little things like, "He didn't call him 'comrade,' he called him 'comrade commander, sir'" and things like that.

It was really cool to see a young George McKay in this, as I like him so much in Ophelia (2018) and 1917 (2019).  He was sixteen when they filmed Defiance, but his character looks and acts a lot younger.  I also enjoy seeing Jamie Bell and Mia Wasikowska together in this, since they also appear together in Jane Eyre (2011).

Is this movie family friendly?  No.  It has a lot of bloody violence, some very bad language, and a little crude and suggestive dialog, though nothing very icky.  There are no love scenes, but there's a scene where Tuvia and Lilka are both shirtless in bed together, mostly covered by a blanket and clearly having just shared an intimate encounter.  If those things would bother you, and you have a filtering service, this is a movie I would definitely watch using that, as it's a wonderful bringing-to-life of an important part of history.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that there's also a scene at the beginning where you see a mass grave filled with naked corpses, getting filled in by Nazis.  You can't really see the bodies close enough for it to be a nudity thing, but it's pretty horrible when you remember this stuff really happened.  That's probably the worst scene in the whole film for me, and I had kind of blocked it out of my memory.

This is my second entry into the You Knew My Name: The Bond, Not Bond Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer and Reelweegiemidget Reviews!

Friday, December 17, 2021

"The Thomas Crown Affair" (1999)

What kind of hobbies do you have when you're rich, handsome, and bored?  Obviously, you'd learn to be a very creative thief and spend your days stealing priceless works of art from museums.  At least, if your name happens to be Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan).  Of course, that will bring you to the attention of the authorities, and you'll find yourself playing cat-and-mouse games with a sarcastic and shrewd detective (Denis Leary) and a sexy and unrelenting insurance investigator (Rene Russo).  And you will have a whole lot of fun trying to elude the one while playing footsie with the other.

That's pretty much the whole movie, right there.  And it is a crazy amount of fun, especially if you like sleek, stylish heist movies and Pierce Brosnan.  Especially the finale, which is a long and complicated heist that centers around the painting The Son of Man by Rene Magritte.  It makes me laugh and bounce with delight.

Also delightful?  Pierce Brosnan.  He's clearly having extreme amounts of fun making this movie, wearing cool clothes and tossing off witty one-liners and trading double entendres with Rene Russo.  His Thomas Crown is sophisticated and charming and pretty darn irresistible.

This movie is actually a remake of a 1968 movie of the same name that stars Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.  And I like this version SO MUCH MORE than the original.  In the original, Crown is a gazillionaire who robs banks because he's an adrenaline junkie and they hadn't invented extreme sports quite yet.  So he robs banks just for the thrill of it, not because he needs more money.  That makes WAY less sense to me than a gazillionaire who loves art and loves the thrill of possessing famous paintings so much that he steals them.  It's just more relatable and believable, for me.

Also, as much as I do love Steve McQueen, he is not at his most charming in the 1968 version... but Pierce Brosnan is basically as yummy as possible in this one, and yes, that does make a big difference in how much more I like it.

I find it really fun that Faye Dunaway gets a role here as Thomas Crown's psychiatrist.  It adds a little zest for us classic movie fans.

This movie pairs really well with How to Steal a Million (1966) in a lot of ways.  Art forgeries, art heists, banter and romance and suspense.  However, unlike Million, Affair is NOT family friendly -- it has a couple love scenes and several instances of nudity, plus some very bad language (mostly from Leary, no surprise there).  A filtering service or a friend like me who knows where to fast-forward would be good to have along for the ride.  

This is my first contribution to You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer and Reelweegiemidget Reviews.  I'll drop a second one tomorrow!

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Modern Dream Cast for "It's a Wonderful Life"

I want to be very clear, right from the start, that I am not advocating for anyone to remake It's a Wonderful Life (1946).  That movie is jewel-perfect and could not be improved on.

However.  It's really fun to imagine an alternate reality in which It's a Wonderful Life is getting made into a movie for the first time in 2021, starring today's talent.  And in which I am a casting director with the power and budget to cast whomever I please :-D

Please note that some of what I discuss here may spoil the original film, so if you haven't watched the 1946 film, do yourself a favor and celebrate its 75th anniversary by watching it before you read this.

With that in mind, here are my casting choices!

George Bailey -- Chris Evans

We need someone extremely likable and relatable for George Bailey, and I think Evans excels at both of those.  After all, he made Captain America a fan favorite by exuding genuine niceness, which is not something most actors can pull off.  But we also need someone who can go dark and angry as his frustrations and disappointments keep piling higher and higher.  Having just watched Knives Out (2019) for the first time this month, I really think Evans can go to that dark and lonely place too, making him ideal for this role.

Mary Bailey -- Grace Park

Mary Bailey is a tough character to cast because she's so multi-faceted!  She needs to be a sweet yet sexy girl-next-door in the flashbacks, then be a dependable and loving mother and wife, and yet also be a dowdy spinster in the alternate reality scenes.  That's a lot to ask from one actress!  But I think Park can handle all of it.  She impressed me so much back when she was on Battlestar Gallactica (2004-09), where she played multiple people with a magical blend of toughness and sensitivity.  In fact, I liked her so much there that she's the main reason I watched the Hawaii Five-O (2010-17) reboot.  I also think she and Evans would play a cute and believable couple.

Clarence -- Alan Arkin

This might be my favorite bit of casting.  In fact, I kind of started with Clarence and then moved outward from him because if he's not likable, no one will believe that George Bailey rescues, befriends, and believes him.  Alan Arkin has such a wonderful, mischievous twinkle to him, and I very much wish I could see him in this role for real!  I think he would play off Chris Evans extremely well, never taking too much nonsense from him, but also never bullying or badgering him into making good decisions.

Mr. Potter -- Clint Eastwood 

Probably my other favorite bit of casting.  If we can wrangle a moment where Mr. Potter calls George Bailey a punk, that would be amazing.  But even if we can't, my goodness, Eastwood would be so magnificent as a "warped, frustrated old man" grasping at any and all possible ways to ruin the young man he hates and envies so much.  He honestly might be a little TOO scary in the role, but I'm willing to take that chance.

Uncle Billy -- Dustin Hoffman

Did I cast Dustin Hoffman because he blusters and fumbles well?  Yes, I did.  Would he make audiences cry with his despair after he loses that all-important deposit?  Yes, he would.

Violet -- Jessica Alba

Violet was so hard for me to cast!  She has to be sexy and sassy, but also not too brassy.  We have to believe that she dates around and likes to have a good time, and has maybe gotten herself in a little trouble from time to time... but we also have to believe that the kiss she plants on George's cheek is innocent of anything but gratitude.  I think Jessica Alba can pull off the mix of come-hither and don't-come-quite-that-hither that the role requires.

Sam Wainwright -- Anthony Mackie

Hee haw!  Sam Wainwright, how ARE you?  :-D  Did I cast Mackie here because I already know he's great at giving Chris Evans crap with a likable grin?  Absolutely.  Plus, I just want to see him in more roles!  I think he'd be awesome as a successful businessman who gracefully loses Mary to George...but continues to give George a hard time whenever he gets a chance.

Mr. Gower -- Robert Duvall

I don't think the whole childhood incident with little George saving Mr. Gower's reputation as a pharmacist would work in modern times.  Pharmacies don't work that way anymore.  But surely we could figure something similar out with Mr. Gower being a barista who accidentally puts sugary syrup in a coffee for a very diabetic customer, and George being a delivery boy who notices and doesn't take her the coffee because it would hurt her.

Anyway, Duvall can ALWAYS be depended on to be enjoyable and watchable.  And I love that he's still acting!!!

Harry Bailey -- Armie Hammer

George Bailey's kid brother who turns into a glamorous war hero has to be taller and cooler than George himself.  I know Hammer has had some personal difficulties lately, but I can't wait to see him in Death on the Nile next year, and I think a happy-go-lucky role like Harry Bailey would be perfect for him to charm audiences back into really liking him.

Ruth Dakin -- Lily James

I STILL haven't seen Rebecca (2020), but I love the photos and clips I've seen of James and Hammer together in that, and I think it would be such fun to see him as a genuinely happy couple in this.  Ruth needs to have polish and aplomb, but also be fun and appealing, all in just a couple of minutes on screen.  We need to believe that George truly likes his new sister-in-law and takes her seriously when she says that Harry has a too-good-to-miss opportunity ahead of him.

Ma and Pa Bailey -- Karen Allen and Harrison Ford 

PLEASE, can we make this movie happen?  I know this picture is from a few years ago, but I'm certain Allen and Ford would still be magically delicious together.  And be believable as the parents of hotties like Chris Evans and Armie Hammer.

Ernie and Bert -- Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan

Did I save the best for last?  I DID.  Obviously.  We need this movie to happen just so these two goofballs can play opposite each other again, even in the super tiny roles of Bert the Cop and Ernie the Cabbie.  It's completely impossible to find photos of Monaghan and Boyd together where they look like normal people, much less movie stars, but since Bert and Ernie have a key scene together in the rain, serenading the newlywed Baileys, I figure this works pretty well.

What do you think?  Let's discuss!

This is my second contribution to the It's a Wonderful Life Blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Muse in honor of this classic film's 75th anniversary.  (My first was a review of the short story that inspired the film.)

Friday, December 10, 2021

Winter 2021/22 To-Do List

I'm not feeling very ambitious right now, probably because I'm still catching up on things like decorating for Christmas and wrapping Christmas presents, thanks to the low energy I had for a week with Covid.  So it's a shorter list this time, but that's okay.  Still plenty here to keep me busy!

(All book photos mine from my Instagram)

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

~ Find that book a title!

~ Start a "street team" for my book series

~ Read 3 Christmas books

~ Read 3 books for my latest Classics Club list

~ Read 12 books off my TBR shelves 

~ Watch 6 movies off my TBW shelves 

~ Watch 3 Christmas movies

~ Go see Death on the Nile

(Me in Colonial Williamsburg)

~ Have friends over for a Ukrainian Christmas celebration

~ Host a mystery-themed blog party in February -- more info about that in a few weeks 

How about you?  Anything planned, large or small, for this winter?

Saturday, December 04, 2021

My Ten Favorite Christmas Movies -- 2021 Update

I made my first list like this back in 2013, but it is high time for an update because I have seen several Christmas movies since then that just have to be on this list, while others have dropped off.  So here we go!

1.  White Christmas (1954)

A team of showbiz stars (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) try to rescue a retired general (Dean Jagger) from bankruptcy by staging a show at his ski lodge.  I've watched this almost every single Christmas season for three decades, and I never get tired of it.

2.  We're No Angels (1955)

Three escaped convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) try to rescue a bumbling businessman (Leo G. Carroll) from his unscrupulous cousin (Basil Rathbone).  Possibly the funniest movie I have ever seen, and also one of the most heart-warming.  DO NOT get the 1989 remake by mistake.

When a lonely train fare collector (Sandra Bullock) rescues a handsome stranger (Peter Gallagher) from being hit by a train, his family mistakes her for his fiancee.  My favorite romantic comedy, my favorite Sandra Bullock role, my favorite Bill Pullman role, and another of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

4.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

George Bailey (James Stewart) decides he's worth more dead than alive, and it takes an unlikely angel (Henry Travers) all of Christmas Eve to convince him otherwise.  There's a reason it's so famous -- it's really that good.

5.  A Christmas Carol (1999)

Ebenezer Scrooge (Patrick Stewart) learns not to be so stingy.  A stellar performance from Stewart elevates this above the usual made-for-TV Christmas movie.

6.  Holiday Affair (1949)

An unconventional sweetheart (Robert Mitchum) and a convention-bound widow (Janet Leigh) work very hard convincing themselves they haven't fallen in love over a toy train, a Christmas dinner, and a very loud necktie.  I love this weird little movie more every time I watch it.

7.  The Holiday (2006)

An unhappy LA woman (Cameron Diaz) trades houses with an unhappy British woman (Kate Winslet) for Christmas, and they find happiness and love in their new surroundings.  Did I mention Jude Law?  And Rufus Sewell?  But my favorite part of the whole movie is everything that involves Eli Wallach's sweet, elderly Hollywood writer.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) learns not to be so stingy with the help of a lot of Muppets.  My kids really love this movie too :-)

9.  The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) needs money.  And he needs his career to stop fizzling.  And he needs these grumpy characters in his head (especially Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer) to cooperate.  And he needs people to stop pestering him so he can just write his next book.  I was WAY more charmed by this movie than I expected to be!

10.  The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is tasked with shutting down a Catholic school run by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), who is determined to save it.  I like this a lot better than Going My Way (1944), Crosby's other turn as O'Malley.

Well, that's my list!  Did you notice that the posters for two of them mirror each other?  I just think that's neat.  And probably deliberate, don't you suppose?  Anyway, are any of your favorites here?  Got any suggestions for me of Christmas movies you think I might need to see?

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Ending my Autumn 2021 To-Do List

I would have posted this over the weekend, after Thanksgiving wrapped up, if I hadn't been so busy realizing that the cold we'd been battling for a week... was actually Covid.  

So, that's been an experience.  My kids are all over it, aside from an occasional cough or sniffle, and the same goes for my husband.  I'm definitely on the upswing too, just a few days behind them.  None of us were ever particularly sick; it's just been like a cold, except that it lingers on and on.  Like, my fever came back every evening for five straight days.  So far, I'm the only one to lose smell and taste, and that hasn't actually gone completely (yet), it's just gotten very faint for me.  We were definitely blessed with non-serious cases, like so many.

Anyway, I've got a few minutes to spare this evening, so I'm going to report in on how my to-do list went this fall :-)  Here we go!

~ Finish the major revisions of my Beauty and the Beast retelling Fail.  Complete the first round of revisions?  Yes.  Complete the major ones?  Nope.

~ Find that book a title! Fail.  Still no title.  Sigh.  This is a stubborn, stubborn title!

~ Publish a new short story in my Once Upon a Western collection Check! It's called "Who Lived in a Shoe," and my newsletter subscribers got to read it last month.  I'll be working on formatting it for Nook and Kindle this weekend, and I'll post here when it's available.

~ Read The Once and Future King by T. H. White Fail.  I got a few chapters in and just wasn't in the right mood for it, so I'll try it again another time.

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

(All book photos are mine from my Instagram)

~ Read 11 books off my TBR shelves Check! I read exactly 11:

~ Read 3 diverse books Check!  I read:

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

  • Double Wedding (1937)
  • Murder, My Sweet (1944)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
  • Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
  • The Saint in London (1939)
  • The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)

~ Try some new bread recipes Check!  I tried two new recipes, one for bread and one for rolls.

~ Have friends over for an Oktoberfest celebration Check!  We had a fun time sharing German food and imported beer with a few friends (well, I'm not a beer fan, but other people enjoyed that).

~ Go camping somewhere new Check!  We tried out a campground near our house that does group campsites because we'd like to go camping there with my brother's family sometime.

~ Host my ninth annual Tolkien Blog Party on my book blog Check!  I can't believe I've hosted it for nine straight years.  I'm going to have to figure out something really spectacular to do for the tenth year.

~ Co-host the Glenn Ford Blogathon here on this blog Check!  It was lots of fun :-)

~ Make apple-cinnamon pancakes Check!  They were just from a mix, but still tasty.

~ Make pumpkin muffins Check!  We made a couple different kinds this fall.

And that pretty well wraps up my autumn!  I have launched myself headfirst into the Christmas season, so I'll leave you with this absolutely fantastic video that Cowboy found me the other day.  It mashes up one of my favorite Christmas carols with the Mandalorian theme, so you know I love it :-D