Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Day In The Life Of A Dog

Some links today before I get started. Norma had excerpts in her blogs yesterday, from her memoir and Sam's story. Parsnip had a mix of photos at her blog. Maria had this murder case at her blog. Cheryl writes about shopping. And the Whisk had minions causing trouble.

Today it's time to return to the dog and cat blogs, as always starting off from the canine's point of view.

7:15 AM. Waking up. All four paws standing upright. Dreamed of gnawing on a dinosaur bone.

7:20 AM. Ah, the human's moving around upstairs. That means I'll be having breakfast really soon. 

7:25 AM. Looking outside. Not as sunny as it could be. I'd better get some running in. 

After breakfast. Priorities must come first.

7:35 AM. Good morning, human! It's a brand new day and we have a lot to get done and out of the way. Such as, for example, breakfast. How about we do something about that?

7:38 AM. Finishing up breakfast. Missed my all time fastest consuming of breakfast by one second. Well, better luck next time. 

7:40 AM. The human's let me out the back door for my run. Bye, human!

8:05 AM. Running through the back fields, barking at the birds. Woof!

8:25 AM. Stopping to speak with Spike The Magnificent, Tormentor of Squirrels. Hello, Spike!

8:27 AM. Spike and I talk about the weather. It really hasn't been much of a summer. We wonder what the reason for that is. Maybe the cats have conspired to do something to mess up the summer. Wouldn't that just be like a cat?

8:30 AM. Spike and I discuss sightings of the vile little fiends, those annoying squirrels. They're busy gathering nuts and running away every time we get near them. One of these days, they'll get what's coming to them...

8:40 AM. Spike and I part ways. 

8:50 AM. On my way home. I pass through the woods behind that place where the cat lives. She's such a finicky feline. I wonder why she won't believe that I just want to be friends.

8:51 AM. Hey, there she is! Hello, cat! It's me! Loki!

8:52 AM. The cat comes up to the edge of the lawn. She stares at me. And stares some more. Come on, let's be friends, you and I. Life's too short for hostilities. I mean, if Nixon could go to China....

8:53 AM. The cat hisses and expresses her disdain.

Sigh. I'll never understand the mind of a cat.

8:55 AM. Heading off for home. Those clouds are looking dark.

9:10 AM. Back home. Bark my hellos to the human.

10:45 AM. Waking up inside from a nap. Why's the sky so dark?

10:47 AM. Looking outside. Storm clouds coming in. That can't be good.

10:50 AM. Finding the human in the kitchen. Hey, have you been paying attention to the weather? It looks bad out there. Don't worry, I'll be right here to protect you from the thunder.

11:05 AM. Lightning flashing outside. Man, that thunder's horrendous.

You know, if I was that movie Loki, I'd have to think my brother was annoyed at me.

11:20 AM. The mother of all thunderclaps outside. Feels like the house just shook. That's it! I'm running as fast as I can down to the basement til this is over!

12:45 PM. Still cowering in the basement. When is this going to end??? I'm missing lunch!

2:30 PM. Oh, come on! It's still thundering out there? I've not only missed mooching lunch, I'm missing out on my afternoon nap!

6:10 PM. Finally coming upstairs. Things seem a lot more quiet. The human's working on supper. She smiles and asks if I had fun hiding out in the basement during the storm. I was not hiding out, human! I was making sure no squirrels tried to get in down there. There's a difference.

How about some supper?

10:45 PM. The human is off to bed early. Good night, human. Don't tell anyone that I hid down in the basement, will you?

But if another storm comes during the night, I'm cowering under your covers.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Four Score And Seven Sequels Ago

Some links before I get myself started today. Yesterday was a Snippet Sunday at our joint blog. Krisztina has a different kind of challenge at her blog. And the Whisk had a Red Shirt Sunday at her page yesterday. 

Director Announces New Film Sequel; Reporters Ponder What He Is Thinking

Los Angeles (AP) Director Roland Emmerich met reporters at the offices of Centropolis Entertainment yesterday, announcing an unlikely film project, something that may or may not be a sequel for an earlier film. Emmerich, who is known for films like Stargate, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow, was introduced by one of his staffers as he arrived on site to speak to reporters. This reporter, having had landed seemingly in the permanent bad books of his editor, was condemned to cover the event. At least Emmerich isn't as self absorbed as Michael Bay.

"Thank you for coming," Emmerich said as he stepped up to the podium. "Today I am announcing a new film, reuniting myself with a number of cast members from a previous film. Is it a sequel? Well, that depends on what you think of as sequels. Yes, this involves some of the same actors, but they are playing different characters. In a manner of speaking. Ladies and gentlemen, my next film is a Civil War drama I'm calling The Patriot Returns."

Reporters were puzzled. The original film, which played fast and loose with history, was set during the American Revolution and featured, among other things, a pack of children who did not age one day in a period of several years. What room was there for a sequel, decades later during the war? Emmerich went on. "My concept is very simple. Benjamin Martin's family has carried on through the generations after the Revolution. The Civil War comes about, and his grandson James Martin is a Pennsylvania farmer and state legislator. I chose to move things up north for the sake of the story, because we can't have a Confederate as a hero, can we? Anyway, he's been an officer, served in the Mexican War, and has something of a reputation from those days as a bit of a lunatic. He's a widower with a bunch of kids, has himself a really hot sister-in-law, and they've got some unresolved sexual tension going on. He gets involved in the war, and what he doesn't know is that there's a British officer out there looking for him." Emmerich smiled, pausing for effect before continuing.

"He's the grandson of Colonel Tavington from the first film. It seems that our Colonel Lucius Tavington grew up pissed off at that colonial who killed his grandfather, and swore he'd get even somehow, some way. And finding out that there's an officer out there who's descended from the colonial is the perfect opportunity for revenge. So, despite the fact that the British are staying outside of the whole thing, Tavington goes to America to join the Confederate army on the infinitely small chance that he might come across that grandson on a battlefield, even if he has no idea what he looks like."

Reporters looked at each other, baffled by the concept. Having had already mucked up the historical timeline of the American Revolution in The Patriot, Emmerich would undoubtedly do the same with the Civil War. This reporter spoke up. "You do realize you're just rehashing a lot of the original film?" 

Emmerich shrugged. "That's a matter of opinion. And hey, since I can't have Heath Ledger come back to play his own grandson and have the same dynamic with Mel- unless I find a way to raise him from the dead... anyone know a voodoo doctor? I decided to change that dynamic to the eldest child being a daughter who's somewhat at odds with her father, deciding to pass herself off as a guy and fight in the war. Wouldn't that be a good idea? Anyway, I'll start announcing the cast, and it occurs to me I've already announced one of them. Playing Colonel James Martin, I give you Mel Gibson!"

Gibson came out and waved to the crowd of reporters. "Hey there! Nice to be back, and working with Roland again. And I get to have yet another chance to act out on my loathing of the English, so that's a great thing!"

"Mel, you're such a kidder," Emmerich told him.

"Who said I was joking?" Gibson countered.

Emmerich shrugged. "Returning again to play the grandson of the original villain, this time as Colonel Lucius Tavington, say hello to Jason Isaacs!"

Isaacs emerged from backstage and waved. "Roland promised my character would get plenty of opportunities to sneer and roll my eyes again, so how could I pass on that?

Emmerich nodded. "You do that so well, too. As well, I've got Joely Richardson returning to the cast, playing the really hot sister-in-law who just happens to look exactly like the second wife of James Martin's grandfather. No, there's no Freudian things going on in this story, so don't read anything into that. Joely, come on out!"

Joely Richardson stepped out on stage, joining her other cast members and the director. "It was either this or a follow up series to Nip Tuck, and frankly I find Julian McMahon to be pretty repulsive."

Emmerich nodded. "Well, we're going to have a lot of fun making this film. We're going to make history with The Patriot Returns, and if that means we have to mess around with history, so be it. I mean, just imagine the operational concept for the Battle Of Gettysburg coming not from the generals on the scene, but from a Pennsylvania ranger."

"Who's carrying the American flag all over the field," Gibson chimed in.

"Can't forget that," Emmerich agreed.  "It's going to be one of my biggest set pieces. I'm even thinking of having him load the flag into a cannon, fire it, and having it impale Jefferson Davis."

Reporters stared at Emmerich for a long silent moment. A Reuters correspondent asked, "You are aware that didn't actually happen?"

Emmerich shrugged. "Like what actually happened matters! I'm making a movie! And if that means having Mel Gibson's character stand in for the President and give the Gettysburg Address with a fake beard, so be it!"

"Yeah!" Gibson said. "Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in hating the English..." This reporter sighed, and zoned out the rest of the press conference. Rumor has it that Heath Ledger was rolling over in his grave.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Life Writ Large In The American West

I have links before I get started today. I did a guest blog at J.E. O'Neill's blog on Sharknado, so be sure to check that out. Norma writes about an upcoming medical test. She also has more excerpts from her memoir and from Sam's story. At her blog, Shelly writes about celebrating the small things (and not so small things). Check out Parsnip having her granddaughter Mia visiting. As well, yesterday was Friday, so Parsnip had a Square Dog Friday. Eve writes about critique groups at her blog. Christine has been in Europe, and yesterday posted about cruising through the Netherlands on a river tour. The Whisk asks what you would bring along with you if you were stranded on a deserted island. Lorelei has a birthday coming up, and a special on two of her books. Mark wrote about the death of Robin Williams. And have a look at Hilary's butterfly

Today I have a film review to see to...

“Remember this, all of you. Nothing counts so much as blood. The rest are just strangers.” ~ Nicholas Earp

“Dave Rutabaugh is an ignorant scoundrel! I disapprove of his very existence. I considered ending it myself on several occasions but self-control got the better of me.” ~ Doc Holliday

“Mister, I’ve been in a really bad mood for the last few years, so I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave me alone.” ~ Wyatt Earp

“I’ll be your family, Wyatt. I’ll give you children. We’ll make our own place, where no one will find us. And I won’t die on you. I swear it.” ~ Josie Marcus

“My mama always told me never put off till tomorrow people you can kill today.” ~ Doc Holliday

“Mr. Clements, your men respect you, and I don’t want to do anything to take away from that. I’m sure you’ve earned it. So you and your boys are welcome in Dodge City as long as you obey the law. But if you don’t want to cooperate, I’ll open you up right now with this shotgun so wide your whole crew’s going to see what you had for breakfast. After that, it won’t matter much what happens next, will it?” ~ Wyatt Earp

After a falling out with Kevin Jarre over the direction of the film Tombstone, Kevin Costner went off and did a film about the legendary lawman on his own, starring in the 1994 Western, Wyatt Earp, directed by Lawrence Kasdan and based on the screenplay by Kasdan and Dan Gordon. The film covers more of the marshal’s life than the earlier film, from boyhood to his later years, and runs considerably longer as well. It is more of a character study than an action film, though there is plenty of action along the way. The film follows a man who starts off as charming and easygoing, only to become hardened and cold blooded by loss. It explores his relationships with family, friends, lovers, and enemies, all set against the stark beauty of the West. 

We first meet Wyatt as a young teen (Ian Bohen), dreaming of heading off from his family farm in Missouri to join his older brothers Virgil (Michael Madsen) and James (David Andrews), who are off fighting rebels in the Civil War. His father Nicholas (Gene Hackman) prevents his departure, reminding him that he has work to do. Soon enough, the two brothers return home, weary from the war. Nicholas is pleased to see his sons alive, and has plans to take much of the family further west. During the trip, Wyatt witnesses the death of a man in a town. It shakes him up, and his father gives him guidance and advice, stressing that the law is one of the few things a man can count on.

Years later, Wyatt is a young man, spending his time as a wagon driver. He returns to his home town in Missouri to study the law with his grandfather, work as a policeman, and court a girl he knew years earlier, Urilla (Annabeth Gish). He charms her into marriage, and they’re happy... until she dies of typhoid fever. It’s the great crushing blow for Wyatt, and consumed by grief, he burns down their home, rides off, going on a bender for months that lands him in jail. Nicholas bails him out and tells him to run.

Wyatt leaves his drinking days behind, finding work in the far west, meeting the Masterson brothers, Bat and Ed (Tom Sizemore and Bill Pullman). He finds himself drawn into police work again as a deputy marshal, first in Wichita, then in Dodge City. It’s a line of work he seems well suited for, acting quickly to disarm drunks, making money for every arrest made. He reunites with Virgil and James, as well as their younger brother Morgan (Linden Ashby). The four brothers are either married to or involved with women (JoBeth Williams, Catherine O’Hara, Mare Winningham, and Alison Elliot), and the brothers are ambitious. Aside from James, who concentrates on saloon keeping, Morgan and Virgil follow Wyatt into law enforcement. And along the line, Wyatt meets Doc Holliday (Dennis Quaid), the notorious gunman with a bad reputation; the two men become friends. And with time, the paths of all concerned converge on an Arizona frontier town called Tombstone.

Costner had worked with Kasdan as a director before; the two had also worked on the revisionist Western Silverado, as well as in The Big Chill, though Costner’s scenes were deleted. The story by Kasdan and Gordon is more of a biography in feel, though an epic one, given the backdrop of the West. It explores not only Wyatt’s life, but the lives of those he’s closest too, the passage of time for the man, and his place in the history of the West. It is at times a brooding character study, emphasizing themes like family, love, death, revenge, justice, and conflict. The story also examines the issues of the times, the struggles throughout the West of conflicting agendas and motivations. We see the clear divide between the towns, which seek prosperity along with peace and good order, and the cowboys, who live a rough and tumble life and don’t particularly care for things like rules and laws. The story does mess with history here and there- the eldest sibling, a half-brother who was Nicholas’ first son, is not mentioned, but he played no part in the events playing out during Wyatt’s adulthood. And it also does the standard thing with films about the Earps, blending two critical shootings into a single night, when they actually happened months apart. It does feel more authentic, though, and the simple fact is that there is much about Wyatt and his family that have been embellished over the decades to begin with. Wyatt even notes that at one point in the film, remarking that “people make up a lot of things. Sometimes I don’t even know what really happened.”

Much of the filming was done on location, and it feels like it. We feel the dust as wagon trains pass by, or riders gallop off on horses. The terrain has a starkness to it, but also a real beauty. Cinematography for the film did get nominated for an Oscar in 1995 (though the film did also secure Razzie nominations). The camerawork is stunning and exquisite, so that cinematography nomination was well earned. The towns and homes we see, along with the furnishings inside, certainly feel true to the 19th century, as does the work on costuming (where can I get my hands on one of those long coats?). Attention to detail by the crew rendered the end result as feeling very much set in its time. Lastly, the score by James Newton Howard is my favourite work by the composer, and one of my favourite scores period. It is at times romantic, at other times violent and foreboding, but an essential element of making the film work.

Kasdan assembled a huge cast for the film, and everyone involved do great work along the line. The key players in the Clanton and McLaury gang are somewhat different in emphasis than in Tombstone. Jeff Fahey plays Ike Clanton, one of the leaders of the gang, giving the character a snarling attack dog sensibility in his performance. He’s a thoroughly unpleasant person, given to temper tantrums, drunkenness, and picking fights. There’s less of the streak of cowardice that we see in Stephen Lang’s take on the man in Tombstone, though it is there. What we do get in Fahey’s performance is a seething cauldron of anger. The other member of the gang who is most developed is Rex Linn as Frank McLaury. Linn has spent years in television and on film playing various character roles. He would go on to spend years playing a cop alongside a mumbling idiot who had an overly developed fondness for wearing sunglasses during conversations on the series CSI Miami. He plays McLaury as a man with a temper, no regard for the law, and an argumentative streak.

Mark Harmon plays Johnny Behan, the county sheriff who’s more loyal to the cowboys than he is to his community. He butts heads with Wyatt repeatedly, and gives the role a hint of arrogance and condescension. We get the sense of him as a man who wouldn’t care to stick his neck out for anyone- perhaps much like the man was himself in history. Catherine O’Hara, who’s spent most of her life in comedy, plays a dramatic role this time out as Virgil’s wife Allie, similarly butting heads with Wyatt on regular occasions, giving the character a streak of annoyance at her brother-in-law’s stubbornness. That extends as well to JoBeth Williams, playing Bessie, wife to James; Bessie feels resentment that the family is essentially being run by Wyatt, while her husband simply goes along with whatever his younger brother wants to do. It’s a bit of a contrast with Alison Elliott playing Louisa Earp, who’s soft spoken when we first meet her, completely in love with her husband Morgan… and when we last see her, Elliott plays the character as shattered by grief, something that Wyatt can relate to. 

Mare Winningham has a difficult role as Mattie. It’s an unsympathetic character, and she’s more volatile than the depiction in Tombstone. Winningham plays the addictions of the character to full hilt, but also her building resentment of Wyatt, who holds her at a distance and never really lets her in. In their final scene together, Costner’s last line to her speaks volumes as they walk out of each other’s lives. It is a stark contrast to the relationship Wyatt has with his first wife. Annabeth Gish plays Urilla as a woman who’s happy to stay where she’s grown up, charmed by the affections of the young Wyatt, and finds herself happy with him. The characters make a believable couple, because Costner and Gish make them feel that way. We can imagine that they would have been very happy together, but fate took another turn, and the grief over that death marks Wyatt’s every move for the rest of his life. The third woman in his life is Josie, the wife he would spend the rest of his life with, and she’s played by Joanna Going. When Wyatt first sees her, she’s on stage, and something about her draws his attention. She plays the role as fiercely independent, outspoken, and courageous. While she’s initially involved with Johnny Behan- another source of tension between the sheriff and the marshal- she’s just as drawn to Wyatt, and Going brings depth to the role. She has good chemistry with Costner.

Isabella Rossellini plays Kate in a very different way from Joanna Pacula’s interpretation in Tombstone. She is less the partner in crime to Doc Holliday, more of a volatile lover. There is both sparks and anger between the pair, and the relationship is fraught with difficulty. It’s quite a contrast, looking at the way the two women play the same character, but Rossellini’s take on Kate feels more true to life. Tom Sizemore and Bill Pullman turn up as the Masterson brothers; Bat Masterson is the better known to history, and Sizemore gives the character the sense of authority you might expect out of the lawman. Pullman plays Ed as a more affable fellow, more willing to try to talk a man out of causing trouble than to bludgeon him, but we do see the sense of forcefulness in him- though it does cost him dearly.

Gene Hackman appears early on as Nicholas, the family patriarch. He’s a restless man, something he passes on to his numerous children, all of whom seem to be looking for new opportunities somewhere over the horizon. He likes having the family close to him, likes dispensing his own wisdom. And he’s also a man who inherently believes in the law. Hackman brings his weight as an actor to the role, giving the character credibility that perhaps the real Nicholas might have lacked- there might have been other reasons to move around so often, such as business plans going awry. Jim Caviezel turns up late in the film as the adult youngest son of the clan, Warren Earp. He takes part in the aftermath of the O.K. Corral in what became the Vendetta Ride. Caviezel plays him as fresh faced and a bit naïve, having had come to help avenge the attack on his brothers. It’s only when he sees what Wyatt is capable of that he loses that naïve outlook and seems to understand that what he’s signed on for is very much for real.

David Andrews has been a character actor in Hollywood throughout his career, working in films and television. He’s playing somewhat of a background character in this film; not being one of the lawmen in the family, his James is the one who’s handling much of the work in the family’s business interests instead. He plays the role with a friendly affable quality, but we’re reminded that this is a man who’s been to war and has killed people- he knows how to take care of himself. Linden Ashby is the charming Morgan, who looks up to his older brothers. He gives the role a cocky sensibility, the sort of smirk that sets off people with hair trigger tempers, which makes the character work. Michael Madsen has a different take on Virgil Earp than Sam Elliott’s version. In Tombstone, there’s the sense that Wyatt and Virgil are occasionally at odds as to which one of them should be in charge. In Madsen’s case, his Virgil accepts his brother as in charge of the family. Yet he also brings authority to the role, and we see him as a strong, centered person in his own right. 

Dennis Quaid gets the great lines as Doc Holliday throughout. He lost a good deal of weight to play the part, and this is an actor who’s never needed to lose weight. He looks gaunt and skeletal throughout the film, and brings complexity to his take on the gunman. There’s a degree of self-loathing in his Doc, a certain wish to see the end of his days, entirely understandable given his medical condition. Aside from that, however, we see a dangerous man, fearless when getting himself into a fight. He likes to poke and provoke, is quick witted and sharp, but he’s also intensely loyal. It’s a great part, and Quaid makes the most of it, giving a tour de force performance.

Costner plays Wyatt in a variety of ways, all of which feel true to the man himself. Initially a youthful charming young man, he loses the first love of his life in a way that nearly destroys him, sending him into a dark tailspin and leaving him a hard, cold man after he emerges from it all. There is a ruthlessness to the character, and an emotional distance in the way he dismisses his sisters-in-law with the remark that wives run off or die. Yet despite that hardness, he lets Josie in. And despite that ruthlessness, it is tempered by his respect for the law, and his loyalties to family and friends. He’s a lawman of dark moods, yet he’s also a fiercely principled man who’s willing to face an angry mob to protect a prisoner from their wrath. He shares Doc’s fearlessness in the face of adversity, and that courage shows itself repeatedly. It is a dark, complicated, and fascinating take on the man, and one of Costner’s best parts.

Wyatt Earp edges out Tombstone in my opinion in the two films that took on the story of the Earps in the 90s. It’s both Western and character study, examining the life of a man against the history of the West. It takes in the sweep of time, but gives us the human aspect of the people as well. The two leads are outstanding in their roles, playing Wyatt and Doc as two men who are similar and different, and know they can count on each other. It addresses themes like revenge, justice, family, and the law, telling a story that is both epic and intensely personal. It’s a personal favourite of mine.