Friday, September 22, 2023

My Middle-earth Quilt

I did it!  I finished my Middle-earth quilt throw blanket thing!  And on Hobbit Day, no less :-D

I've been working on this throw blanket since the end of July.  I bought a set of twelve beautiful fabric panels from Sweet Sequels that were printed with Haleigh DeRocher's lovely Impressionistic Tolkien artwork, first of all.  

Then I bought a fluffy faux fur fabric for the background and two contrasting green fabrics for the front, both from Hobby Lobby.

I laid out the panels in a design I liked, and then interspersed them with the green fabric, which I had cut into pieces the same size as the artwork panels.

Then I sewed all those pieces together by hand, first sewing them into strips of seven blocks each, then sewing those strips together.  

I just worked on that every now and then, usually in the evening while watching a TV show episode to relax or something.  I finished sewing all the blocks together in mid-August.

Then it was time to cut down the faux fur backing fabric to fit, which was the hardest part, really.  I ended up laying it all out on the floor in my library to cut it.  Once I was done cutting, I was left with a pretty disgusting pile of fluff.

Then I pinned the wrong sides of front and back together and sewed all the way around the edge, except for about an 8-inch gap on one side.  Pulled the whole thing through the gap so it was now inside-in, sewed the gap shut, and then sewed all the way around the edge again so it would lie flat.  Tacked it down in four places in the middle so the back and front don't shift around a lot, and ta-da!  I'm done!

It suits our library couch so well!  I can't wait to snuggle up under this while reading this fall and winter.  That backing fabric is soooooo soft and warm.

The whole project cost me $60-$70, and took about two months of very occasional working.  I loved making it!  And... I have a lot of the backing left, plus some of the contrasting fabric, so I actually ordered another set of the fabric panels from Sweet Sequels this month, and I plan to make at least one throw pillow to match this and go with it on the couch.  I might also make some book sleeves.  I might even offer one as a prize for the giveaway next year for my annual Tolkien Blog Party.  We shall see!

Speaking of the blog party, today is the LAST DAY you can enter this year's giveaway!  If you haven't entered yet, go here and do so before 11:59pm EST!  And, if you haven't checked out the party at all yet, here's the kick-off post with links to all the others.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

My Tag Answers for the 2023 Tolkien Blog Party Tag

Why, yes, it's that time of year again!  It's Hobbit Week, which means I'm hosting my annual Tolkien Blog Party over on my book blog, The Edge of the Precipice.  You can find the kick-off post here, with links to all the other posts, like two games I've got going, my giveaway, and other people's lovely Tolkien-related party posts.

Today, I'm sharing my own answers for this year's tag.  About time, since the party will be ending tomorrow!

A Tolkien Blog Party Tag for 2023 

Which of each pair do you prefer, and why? 

1. Rohan or Gondor? 

Rohan.  Always Rohan.  I love horses, I love wide-open spaces, and what I know about the culture of the Rohirrim really appeals to me.  If I could pick a place to live in Middle-earth, I would choose Rohan.  (You'd think it would be Gondor, since my favorite LOTR character is Boromir, but it's just not for me.)

2. Rivendell or Lothlorien? 

Rivendell!  In fact, it's my favorite place in Middle-earth.

Now, you may be saying, "Hang on there a minute -- didn't you just say you want to live in Rohan?"  Yes, I did.  I want to live in Rohan, but I want to vacation in Rivendell.  I just can't see myself living a daily life in Rivendell, not for years on end.  But for a few weeks at a time?  Absolutely!  I would gladly trade a horse to Lord Elrond in exchange for being allowed to just live in his library for a couple of weeks, every few years.

3. Erebor or Moria? 

Moria, if it was cleared of goblins and cave trolls.  But I don't really fancy either of them.

4. Bilbo or Frodo? 

I don't like this question.  Why did I ask it?  Foolish me.

Um.  Probably Bilbo because I identify with him just a little more, being not so adventurous myself, yet often enjoying adventures once I get swept off into them.  Whereas Frodo seems a bit more into wishing for adventure, if that makes sense?

5. Merry or Pippin? 

Merry :-)  Pippin is lots of fun, but I would probably get tired of hanging out with him pretty quickly.  Don't think I'd get tired of hanging out with Merry.

6. Galadriel or Elrond? 

Elrond, no question.  He's been a particular favorite of mine for as long as I've been a LOTR fan.

7. Eomer or Faramir? 

Eomer.  Yes, Faramir is awesome.  But I love Eomer more.

8. Fili or Kili? 

I have to say Kili because, if I don't, my daughter will smite me.

9. Bard or Beorn? 

Bard, Bard, Bard, always Bard.  In fact, I'm wearing a Bard the Bowman t-shirt right now!  Even in the book, where he starts out just being "the grim-faced man," he's such a stalwart, resolute, sensible fellow.  

And, in the movies, he's someone I can't help but love for his fierce protectiveness for his family, his sly humor, and his coat.  I really fell in love with his coat first, not gonna lie.  I was super tempted to spend like a thousand dollars on a replica once.  

10. Gandalf the Grey or Gandalf the White?

Gandalf the White because he's so filled with joy and light and hope.  And still so sarcastic.

Well, there are my answers!  Don't forget to check out the blog party yourself, if you haven't already.  Tomorrow is the last day to enter the giveaway :-o

Saturday, September 16, 2023

My Ten Favorite Live-Action Disney Movies

This list was WAY harder to narrow down than yesterday's list of animated favorites!  I grew up watching so many classic Disney movies over and over and over.  I almost cried when I realized I had to leave both Davy Crockett movies off this list.  They were so formative for me!  But I haven't watched them in years now, so I'm leaving them off... but mentioning them here so they aren't entirely neglected ;-)

Once again, titles are linked to my reviews when applicable.

1. The Lone Ranger (2013)  John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his Texas hometown after years away at law school. Bad guys ambush him, his brother, and a company of Rangers -- everyone else dies, but a renegade named Tonto (Johnny Depp) saves John Reid's life, and together they try to bring down the greedy men responsible for the deaths of their family members. It's a twisty, fable-like origin story that I never tire of.

2. The Parent Trap (1961)  Twin sisters (Hayley Mills as both) with divorced parents (Maureen O'Hara and Brian Kieth) scheme to bring their parents back together. It's been one of my favorite movies since I was a teen.

3. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)  Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) resorts to commandeering, raiding, pillaging, plundering, and otherwise pilfering his weasely black guts out, all to regain his beloved ship. More fun than a barrel of undead monkeys!

4. The Three Musketeers (1993)  Young d'Artagnan (Chris O'Donnell) just wants to be a Musketeer, but he ends up embroiled in unmasking a plot against the king. His three Musketeer friends (Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Oliver Platt) are hilarious and awesome too. I actually like this better than Alexandre Dumas' book :-o

5. The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)  When three little swindlers kids show up in a slowly-declining California gold rush town, a gambler (Bill Bixby) just passing through winds up taking care of them.  One gold strike, one marriage of convenience involving the local stagecoach driver (Susan Clark), one bank robbery by the bumblingest outlaws in the west (Don Knotts and Tim Conway), and one capture of a notorious outlaw (Slim Pickens) later, and they can finally live happily ever after!

6. The Swiss Family Robinson (1960)  A shipwrecked family (John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk, and Keven Corcoran) builds a new home on a deserted island.  And fights pirates.  An absolute highlight of visiting Disney World last year, for me, was getting to explore the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse there!

7. Cinderella (2015)  Ella (Lily James) treats her stepmother (Cate Blanchett), a prince (Richard Madden), and her fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) with courage and kindness. It's a straightforward, cottagecore retelling of the classic fairy tale, and it delights me.

8. Kidnapped (1960)  A young Scotsman (James MacArthur) gets kidnapped by slave traders hired by the uncle who has cheated out of his inheritance.  He and a fierce highland gentleman (Peter Finch) join forces to escape and make their way back to his home to claim what belongs to him.

9. That Darn Cat! (1965)  An adventurous teen (Hayley Mills) enlists her sister (Dorothy Provine), her best friend (Tom Lowell), and an FBI agent (Dean Jones) in her plot to rescue a kidnapped bank teller from two icky robbers (Neville Brand and Frank Gorshin) by following her cat around town.  Um, yes.  It's very funny and zany and sweet.

10. The Journey of Natty Gann (1985)  During the Great Depression, a young teen (Meredith Salenger) hitches rides across the whole country to find her dad (Ray Wise), sometimes helped by a wolf, and sometimes helped by a sarcastic young hobo (John Cusack).  I saw this when it was first released to VHS in the mid-'80s and have been a John Cusack fan ever since.

Spot any favorites of your own?  Any here you've been meaning to see, but haven't gotten around to yet?  Let's discuss in the comments!

This is my second contribution to the 100 Years of Disney blogathon hosted by Silver Scenes.  Be sure to check out their blog for all the delightful posts people have written to celebrate this event!

Friday, September 15, 2023

My Ten Favorite Animated Disney Movies

This list has only animated movies made by Walt Disney Studios.  No Pixar.  Why?  Because this post is part of the 100 Years of Disney Blogathon hosted this weekend by Silver Scenes, so I wanted to focus solely on Disney's animation studio.  

Titles linked to my reviews, where applicable (but I haven't reviewed that many animated movies, it turns out...).  Are any of these favorites for you too?

1. Robin Hood (1973)  Ye olde story of Robin Hood robbing the rich to feed the poor and battling Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham... except, they're all animated, talking animals. Hilarious and heartwarming and swashbuckling and wonderful. I have loved this movie so long I can't remember the first time I saw it.

2. 101 Dalmatians (1961)  Two dogs and their owners stop the evil Cruella de Ville from turning 101 sweet puppies into a coat. Much less grisly than it sounds but, at the same time, so dark it terrified me when I was very young.  But now, I love it!

3. Tangled (2010)  Rapunzel paints, sings, wields a mean frying pan, and dances her way into the heart of an errant knave and the audience.  I love the way this movie exudes -- and celebrates -- joy and enthusiasm.

4. Aladdin (1992)  A humble thief finds a genie, gets turned into a prince, and tries to steal a princess's heart. I was very nutty about this movie when I was in my early teens.  

5. The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh (1977)  Actually, three adventures of a lovable, bumbling teddy bear whose brain may be stuffed with fluff, but whose heart is made of very sturdy stuff indeed.  When my brother was very young, this was his favorite movie.  When my son was very young, this was one of only two movies he ever wanted to watch.  So I have seen it many, many times, but I'm not tired of it!

6. Cinderella (1950)  Classic fairy tale princess story about a sweet, kind, hardworking young girl whose fairy godmother gives her a chance to go to the royal ball.  The rest is princess history.  When I was a kid, I really didn't care much for this movie, but watching it repeatedly with my daughters when they were younger gave me a real appreciation for it.

7. Frozen (2013)  Do I even need to tell you what this is about? Princess Elsa accidentally unleashes an eternal winter and nearly kills her sister, but it turns out all you need is love, just like the Beatles said. Visually stunning AND heart-warming (pun totally intended).

8. Lady and the Tramp (1955)  A prim and proper Cocker Spaniel tames a hound dog with her innocence and loyalty to her humans. Sweet and sentimental, yes, but sassy and funny too.

9. The Jungle Book (1967)  Mowgli just wants to live in the jungle forever, but his bear and panther guardians know he is in terrible danger there.  They are sure it would be much better for him to live in the man village... but I am never quite convinced they're right.  I do much prefer Kipling's Mowgli stories, especially for how they end, but the movie is a lot of fun too.

10. The Aristocats (1970)  A pampered cat and her mischievous kittens are cat-napped and must find their way back home to London with the help of an alley cat, some geese, and their own good sense.  I first saw this in college, and it quickly became a favorite.

Like I said, this is a contribution to the 100 Years of Disney Blogathon.  Come back later this weekend for my top ten list of favorite live-action Disney films!

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Many Flavors of Robin Hood

One of the things I like best about Robin Hood is how many flavors he comes in. Sweet Robin Hood. Dark Robin Hood. Zesty Robin Hood. Whatever you’re craving, there’s a Robin Hood for you! 

Say you want your Robin Hood sweet and light, but not too sugary. Go for the 1973 Disney animated version. Robin Hood’s quite the foxy fellow here (literally), always one merry step ahead of Prince John and his cohorts. He’s playful, he’s always donning some disguise or other, and nothing ever goes seriously wrong for him, even when he’s being threatened by a wolf brandishing a burning torch. The milk chocolate of Robin Hoods, the 1973 Robin Hood is perfect for satisfying your Robin Hood craving without leaving you feeling too full. 

But what if you want something a little more filling? Cake, instead of just a chocolate bar, for instance. Check out the 1952 Disney live-action version, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men. Starring Richard Todd as our lovable rogue, this also has a confectionery feel to it, but with more substance than a cartoon can hold. Very nice for a dessert. 

Right, but say you’re in the mood for a Robin Hood that’s light, but nourishing. Sample 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. Beneath Errol Flynn’s happy-go-lucky grin lurks a conscience troubled by the way he must turn outlaw to thwart lawbreakers and protect innocent people. This one’s a nice ham and cheese sandwich—good for a quick lunch, but not too heavy. 

If ham and cheese isn’t your thing, you could always go for peanut-butter-and-jelly instead. That’d be Princess of Thieves, a 2001 TV movie that features a teen Keira Knightley as Robin Hood’s headstrong daughter. This one’s got everything you want in a comfort food—adventure, a little sprinkling of romance, and lots of bravery. Like a PB&J, it’s something kids are gonna go nuts over. 

And then, there’s the dark Robin Hood. Like a 90% cacao bar of chocolate—you can only eat a bite or too, and you’re not entirely sure if you’re enjoying it, but you want some more. Yes, I’m talking about the 2010 movie starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett. It’s grim and violent, and spends more time on Robin Hood’s back story than on his merry adventures. At the same time, it’s got some really enjoyable aspects too, so it’s good for a gloomy day when you don’t want something chipper anyway. 

I also promised you zesty Robin Hood. For that, look no farther than the BBC’s adaptation that ran from 2006 to 2009. Filled with zingy dialog, handsome men, pretty ladies, and a healthy helping of derring-do, it will keep you thoroughly entertained, but it’s not something you’d share with a little kid. Think a spicy salsa or those pickled peppers I’ve yet to work up the courage to try. 

Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves wants to be zesty, but it comes off a little too earnest, so it’s more ketchup than salsa. It mixes Kevin Costner with Christian Slater into something a little sweet and a little salty, but it’s not specifically suited to any one meal. Also, like ketchup, some people want it all the time, and some people think a little bit goes a long way. 

As for Robin Hood: Men in Tights, honestly, this is the pickle relish of Robin Hood movies. They took something tasty, chopped it up, and turned it into something I really don’t want too much of. It’s funny for a few minutes, but then I’ve had more than enough of it. 

Of course, there are many other Robin Hood flavors. There’s the ’50s TV show starring Richard Greene, the silent Douglas Fairbanks version, Robin and the Seven Hoods (in case you’re craving some Rat Pack gangsters), and the 1976 Robin and Marion (with Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn playing the aging couple). I won’t even delve into all the Ivanhoe adaptations, which also involve dear Robin. And these are just the versions I’ve personally seen! There are dozens more. Like I said, there’s a Robin Hood for every taste—no matter what your mood or preference, you’re sure to find one to satisfy your craving.

(This post originally appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Femnista magazine.)

Sunday, September 03, 2023

"Santiago" (1956)

In many ways, the Alan Ladd adventure film Santiago (1956) feels like a kind of a remake of Ladd's earlier war picture, China (1943).  It's not really a true remake -- Santiago is based on a book by Martin Rackin, who also co-wrote the screenplay and produced the film, not on the screenplay for China.  But there are an awful lot of similarities.

For instance, what?  Well, in Santiago, Alan Ladd plays a cynical gun-runner who sells his goods to the highest bidder and prides himself on not taking sides in the conflict in Cuba.  In China, Alan Ladd plays a cynical oil salesman who sells his goods to the highest bidder and prides himself on not taking sides in the conflict in China.

You can say, so what?  Alan Ladd built a career playing cynical anti-heroes.  "Guy who starts out cynical, selfish, mean, and alone learns to care about other people and put their needs ahead of his own" is the character arc for the vast majority of the people he played.  With good reason -- he pulls off that arc beautifully, and why not let him have repeated shots at warming our hearts?

But there are more similarities.  In both films, his character is approached by a lovely, fresh, patriotic woman who tries to convince him to join her cause.  In both films, he refuses to pick a side until someone young and innocent is brutally killed by the opposing side.  Then, and only then, he joins the rebellion.

You've also got a burly and likeable side character who serves as a sort of Jiminy Cricket-style conscience for Ladd's character in both pictures.  In China that's played by William Bendix, while here, it's a job for Chill Wills.  You also have someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice in an explosive way to eliminate as many of the enemy as possible at one time.

Now, obviously, there are quite a few differences.  Santiago takes place in during the Cuban war for independence from Spain in 1868, while China takes place during World War II.  Much of the action in Santiago takes place aboard a paddlewheel boat, while most of China happens in and around a truck.  And Ladd's character doesn't really have a romance with the girl in Santiago.

The first time I watched Santiago, I didn't really notice the similarities, probably because I hadn't seen China umpteen times yet.  But I have now, and man, did I notice a lot of things that echoed that earlier film!

Anyway, in Santiago, Alan Ladd plays Caleb "Cash" Adams, a dishonorably discharged U.S. Cavalry officer who now makes a living selling guns illegally to whoever wants them.  Adams takes a job smuggling guns to the Cuban revolutionaries past the Spanish blockade, which takes him aboard a paddlewheel boat captained by an ex-Confederate naval officer, "Sidewheel" Jones (Chill Wills).

Cash Adams's wartime experiences have turned him bitter, selfish, and cynical.  Sidewheel Jones is the opposite -- he's mellow, kind, and honorable.  The two of them get along oddly well, considering that they were on opposite sides of a war a few years earlier, though that's mostly because Jones is the easygoing sort of guy who gets along with most people unless they endanger his beloved boat.  

Also aboard that boat are the beautiful revolutionary Doña Isabella (Rossana Podestà), whose family is financing the smuggling operation, and a whole lot of mean hombres led by a skunk (Lloyd Nolan) who doesn't want Adams to get the money owed him for those guns.  Much tension ensues, and continues after everyone gets to Cuba.  They can't land the guns close to the revolutionaries, so they have to take them overland, which means there's a pretty big risk of Spanish troops finding them.

Of course, Spanish troops do find them.  Fighting ensues, and quite a few characters die before it's all over.  By the end of it all, Cash Adams is a staunch friend of the Cuban revolutionaries, ready to fight for their independence rather than just pursue money for the rest of his life.

I particularly love that George J. Lewis gets to play a Cuban revolutionary in this.  Lewis was a friend of Ladd's and appeared in small parts in many of Ladd's movies.  He has a tendency to surprise me when he crops up in a Ladd movie because I won't recognize his face, but I'll recognize his voice, sorta -- I'm used to him using what I assume is a variation of his native Mexican accent while playing Don Alejandra de la Vega in the Disney TV series Zorro (1957-61).  It always takes me a while to recognize him without either the beard or the accent.  But he uses the same accent here, and I knew who he is immediately :-D

Is this movie family friendly?  Yeah. There's some violence, but little blood.  The worst thing is that a boy is beaten very badly off-screen, though we know the beating is bad because of how adults react to him, not because of blood and bruises shown to the audience.

It's Alan Ladd's birthday today, just so you know :-)  This review is my annual salute to him.  He was about my age when he made this picture, and in much better shape than I am!  He even got to do a bit of diving and swimming on screen, which I'm sure made him happy :-)