Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fears Of An Entertainment Reporter

It has been awhile since I last featured my resident cranky Mountie. I decided to play around with the point of view of the sort of person who tends to get on his last nerve. Enjoy!

These may be the last words I ever write.

He’s coming, and there’s no way for me to stop him.

How was I supposed to know?

It all started two days ago. I was with Access Hollywood up in Calgary doing a spot on the filming of the Fargo television series. Why a show about a Minnesota town is getting filmed in Canada is beyond me, but then again, Access Hollywood didn’t hire Skip Briggs for his brains. Come to think of it.... how on earth did I manage to make it through school?

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. My mind gets easily distracted and I wander off into other subjects a lot. Like when I’m supposed to be interviewing a star about their latest movie and suddenly ice cream enters my mind. That tastes good, I’ll tell you. I could really go for a rocky road ice cream bar right about now, or a sundae with lots of fudge and a cherry on the...

I’m doing it again, aren’t I?

It was supposed to be easy. A nice sit down interview with Billy Bob Thornton to shoot the breeze, some cast in action shots, and we’re golden, right? Hmmm. Billy Bob. I knew a Billy Bob back in the day. Wonder what he’s doing. Maybe having a beer down at the corner bar. Maybe off fishing somewhere. I doubt with the name Billy Bob that he’d be something like a doctor. Particularly since Billy Bob Moffatt just wasn’t all that smart.

And there I go again, right off topic.

That’s not the point. The point is, and I’m coming to it, is that I was just doing an honest day’s work as a member of the highly respected entertainment journalism field. To whoever finds this letter- we are respected! Stop laughing! Like I said, I was just doing an honest day’s work. And then I saw him.

It was Lars Ulrich. He was walking through Olympic Plaza. I thought it strange for two reasons. First, he was wearing the utilities uniform of a Mountie. Second, I wondered why the drummer from Metallica would be spending any time in Calgary while the band was in rehearsals for their next tour.

So I did what any respectable entertainment journalist would do. Hey! Stop laughing! We are respectable! We’re as respectable as the winner of a Miss Universe contest. Which reminds me, I hope the show finds someone else to cover that thing in a few weeks. I was supposed to go, but I don’t think I’m going to survive the night. It’s a shame too, because I was really looking forward to Miss Brazil proclaim her outrage at the loss of her soccer team at the World Cup. I hear they’re all still crying in their tequilas down there...

Oh no. I’m doing it yet again, getting off track.

Where was I?

Oh, right. Lars Ulrich. Olympic Plaza. So I walked right up to him, introduced myself, held out a hand to shake his, and said I was with Access Hollywood. I asked him why he was up in Calgary and not with the band, and by the way, were the rumours true that Metallica would record a song for the Fifty Shades Of Grey soundtrack album. That’s the way I put it.

He didn’t seem amused. His eyes were angry.

He told me in a really low voice that he wasn’t that Lars Ulrich.

I asked if he was certain.

That’s when he hit me.

And man, was it a hit. It was worse than that time I got hit by Miley Cyrus while she was driving away from a bar. Well, that could have all been a lot worse. At least I went over the hood, as opposed to under the wheels like poor Sam Carruthers. You know, his funeral was a travesty. The closed casket had to be used, mind you. There wasn’t much left of his face, after all, and it’s not like you want to be throwing up in someone’s coffin while that someone is inside it, right? Come to think of it... was Miley ever charged for that? Was she driving under the influence?

I’ve let myself get off track again. That happens a lot.

So there I am, sprawled on the ground, and this cranky Lars Ulrich advancing on me. He said something about being a Mountie- I wasn’t paying that much attention... I kept trying to ask if he was just joking around with me. And then, for some reason that I don’t understand, I started running. And running. And running some more.

I don’t really know where I am right now. West of the city, I guess. The mountains are closer, anyway. I found this cabin out in the woods. It’s strange to describe, but I’ve felt him tracking me. He’s still out there, still angry, still ready to tear me a new one. I’m completely out of my depth out here in the wild. The last time I was in the outdoors was a location piece I did during the filming of The Lone Ranger. The Navajo told me they had a name for me. In English it meant Not So Swift. I  still wonder what they were getting at. Anyway, designer clothes and shoes were not meant to be worn in the thickets and the great outdoors. My producer’s going to blast me for all the tears in my pants. Besides, I got chased by an angry moose last night, and the damned thing nearly knocked me out of the tree I was hiding in.

I may have to leave here soon. I can’t take the chance of him closing in on me and throttling me.

Oh no.... it’s too late. I can hear him. He’s out there. It’s an angry voice, more like a growl, and he said my name.

Now there’s a loud bang at the door.

I’m going to die, aren’t I?

Tell my family that I want my inevitable Pulitzer prize put on permanent display at the most prestigious museum in the world. I was too young and beautiful to die!

Post Script; One Week Later

I write this from the hospital bed. Well, it’s actually a nurse doing the writing. I’m in a body cast for the next five months, they tell me, and I’ll be eating my meals through a straw. I’m just dictating.

Well, he didn’t kill me. But there are times I wish he had.

Five months. Imprisoned like this in a body cast. Letting my body mend itself. It’s going to drag on forever. My producer tells me that there’s nothing they can really do. On the one hand, the entire world is still pretty annoyed with that Dark Cabal of entertainment journalists who were plotting to take over the world. On the other, Lars Ulrich- the Mountie, not the drummer- has saved the world on more than one occasion, and the world tends to let him do whatever he wants.

I can’t stay like this for five months. I’m an entertainment reporter. It’s a respected and honourable profession, and I’ve got a fan club that needs me back in action covering all the big celebrity news.

How else will they find out about Jennifer Aniston’s fifty seventh unconfirmed pregnancy?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chasing Destiny All The Way To Italy

Some links before we get ourselves started today. Norma posted before the weekend on social media. Today she posted about Comicon. Yesterday being a Sunday, we had a Snippet Sunday post. Mark took a look at the subject of passwords. AngryParsnip had her weekly Square Dog Friday and a food blog as well. Krisztina had this pic of the week at her page. The Happy Whisk had a Red Shirt Sunday. Eve talked about the summer at her blog. Maria is releasing a new book this week. Shelly posted about current events. And Lorelei had an excerpt at her blog.

Today I'm doing a movie review...

"Why couldn't we have arranged marriages in America?" ~ Faith
"Yeah, at least you could spend the rest of your life blaming your parents instead of yourself." ~ Kate

The 1994 film Only You is a romantic comedy by director Norman Jewison, set largely in the overly romantic Italian cities and countryside. It's a character study that plays around with the ideas of love and destiny, and has a terrific cast that just draws you in. 

We first meet Faith as an eleven year old playing with a ouija board with her brother Larry, and learning that the man she's destined to love is named Damon Bradley. A couple of years later, a fortune teller tells her again that Damon Bradley will be her future husband. The girl is romantic by nature, and takes these predictions very seriously.

Flash forward a few more years, and Faith (Marisa Tomei) is now a teacher. She's engaged to a rather dull podiatrist named Dwayne. She still has that romantic streak about her, but she's seemed to given up on that whole concept of marrying the elusive Damon Bradley. Her best friend Kate (Bonnie Hunt) is married to her brother (Fisher Stevens), and the marriage isn't in the best of shape; Larry takes his wife for granted.

Faith is in the process of trying on a wedding dress- her fiance's mother's dress- at home when she gets a call from one of Dwayne's old classmates offering congratulations on the impending nuptials and regrets that he won't be there, as he's on his way to Italy. She catches his name before he hangs up- Damon Bradley.

On impulse Faith runs to the airport to try to catch the elusive man of her destiny. Further impulse drives her to decide to go to Italy and find him. Kate, bothered by the state of her marriage and deciding her sister-in-law needs someone sensible to keep an eye on her, decides to come with her. The pair dash across the ocean, into the much too romantic Italian countryside (everything looks sundrenched), and accompanied by romantic strings of film score and the occasional opera selection, work to find Mr. Bradley. This at first leads them to Giovanni (Joaquim De Almeida), an Italian businessman who sees something he likes in Kate. And then a passing encounter with a young American (Robert Downey Jr.) on the streets of Rome... who says he's Damon Bradley.

The story is by Diane Drake, evoking both the sense of place, Italy, with the tradition of film romances that were set in that country, such as Roman Holiday. The story explores these characters, giving them depth and subtle nuances that flesh them out in turn. It paces itself nicely, giving us a chance to take in the scenery when needed, but never feeling slow. The story's very much a fantasy, and yet doesn't feel forced. Best of all, there's no cynicism in the leads. Norman Jewison has an impressive track record as a director, giving us films such as In The Heat Of The Night, The Hurricane, The Thomas Crown Affair, and The Cincinnati Kid during his illustrious career. He films in a style that respects the romantic sensibilities of the story, and it certainly comes through that way. He's also mindful of the humour- something that comes across in Bonnie Hunt's character throughout. The casting choices made here were ideal, all around. One other element of romance: the film score by Rachel Portman is inspired, very Italian in its tone, and just as romantic as you'd expect. 

The cast suits their roles. Fisher Stevens turns up here and there as Larry, and he's often played the role of sidekick or wiseguy. Here he's a husband who's taken his wife for granted, and it shows early on. Only when he realizes that she's gone off to Italy does he wake up and decide to be a better guy. There's an element of the wiseguy in his performance, but his character's shift in priorities feels fluid as the story goes along. Billy Zane (Titanic) turns up along the way as a charming rogue and scoundrel; we first meet him as he's getting out of a pool and looking like a bronzed god out of mythology. He's obviously eye candy for the ladies. He's pretty self absorbed, we soon discover, and a rake. Zane plays these qualities of the character, and yet still gives us a great laugh while sitting with Downey and De Almeida- and delivering a well placed elbow where it can do some damage.

De Almeida has often played villains in roles on this side of the Atlantic, in television or films like Desperado, Clear And Present Danger, and 24. It is a refreshing change to see him play a sympathetic, likable character. Giovanni is attracted to Kate, shows her the romantic side of Italy, and yet respects her feelings. He doesn't push with her. It's a stark contrast to villainous roles, watching him play a charming, kind man. Bonnie Hunt gets some of the best lines in the film; her Kate is sensible by nature, yet has a sarcastic side, expressing it through retorts and commentary. She's hiding her disappointment in the state of her marriage behind that sarcasm, and feels appreciated by the attention of Giovanni- yet doesn't cross a line with him either. 

Downey is as charming as you'd expect out of the actor, who went on to both highs and lows in his life and career before finding the stability and success he needed. This role's a good one for him. His character is infatuated straight off the bat; we sense that he feels the connection before Faith does. And it leads him to some poorly thought out decisions along the way- love leads him to talk before he thinks, it seems. Yet we like him regardless. There's no sense of a jaded cynic in the character.

The film belongs to Tomei, who had won a Best Supporting Actress for My Cousin Vinny previously. She plays Faith as having a deep romantic streak, one that engages her into a very impulsive trip. She's someone we can like, a sympathetic protagonist, and Tomei gives her role a comic touch in the way she relates to other people. Yes, Faith feels lost in the stars at times, but that's a good place to get lost in. She has great chemistry in this with Downey, and it comes across every time they share the screen.

Only You is one of those bubbly fantasies that takes the audience on a whirlwind tour of Venice, Rome, and beyond, telling a Cinderella story of love and fate. It plays to the romantic in us- if you go through life with a permanent scowl on your face, you'll have problems with this- and features a splendid cast in a gorgeous locale. Its leading characters feel believable together, banter and flirt in the right way, and have us rooting for them. And with a dash of good humour here and there, it results in an entertaining film. While perhaps overdosing on a bit of sugar, but that's not a bad thing, right?

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Passing Of A Great Acting Legend

“Never cry over spilt milk. It could have been whiskey.” ~ Bret Maverick, Maverick

“Colin’s not a blind man as long as he’s with me. And he’s going with me.” ~ Robert Hendley, The Great Escape

“I don’t care much about the rules anymore. I’m not that much of a hypocrite.” ~ Wyatt Earp, The Hour Of The Gun

"You don't mouth off to anything that big. He looks like 190 pounds of gristle." ~ Jim Rockford, The Rockford Files

"Well now you know. I enjoy spending time with dead men. You don't believe me? Go ahead and die. It'll perk me right up." ~ President Matt Douglas, My Fellow Americans

“I never committed a cold blooded murder in my life. And I won’t… not til I find Maverick.” ~ Zane Cooper, Maverick

James Garner passed away last weekend at the age of 86 after a long career in film and television. The actor had a history of playing charmers, scoundrels, and good natured anti-heroes. In television, he was best known for two roles, the gambler Bret Maverick in Maverick and the down on his luck private investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files. On the big screen, he enjoyed much success throughout his career in films like The Great Escape, Murphy’s Romance, Victor/ Victoria, Support Your Local Sheriff, The Notebook, Space Cowboys, My Fellow Americans, and the film adaptation of Maverick. His characters often had that affable, smooth talking quality to them, the sort of persona entirely willing to get out of a scrape by their wits.

Garner was a veteran of the Korean War, and spent time in the 1950s in a variety of jobs before moving into acting. The part of Bret Maverick came his way, one of a torrent of westerns in that decade. The gambler and all around ladies man character was the anti-John Wayne (this is a good thing) in that he’d have no problem ducking out of a fight or talking his way out of a jam. The series proved popular with audiences, and Garner’s career took off.

In 1960, he walked away from the series after a dispute with the studio and producers. Film was waiting for him, and he moved from part to part, gathering acclaim and playing the sort of people you might get along with very well, though you’d feel inclined to watch your wallet. He played characters who could express exasperation with just a look, while smiling in a way that made you think he was laughing at the world. Garner brought a light, comic take to his work that made him stand out. Some of his other roles in this era included The Americanization of Emily, The Children’s Hour, Grand Prix, The Thrill Of It All, Marlowe, and as Wyatt Earp in The Hour Of The Gun.

In the 1970s he returned to television to play Jim Rockford, a role that would win him an Emmy along the six year run of the series (and would be reprised later on in television movies). The character was an ex-con who worked cases as a private eye, all while seemingly never getting paid. He’d find himself regularly in trouble helping out a friend (or passing acquaintance). And Garner’s easy going screen persona made it popular once again with audiences.

Garner would receive an Oscar nomination for his lead role opposite Sally Field in Murphy’s Romance, playing a widower starting a new relationship with a young divorced mother. Film and television work would continue to come his way through the years, like Mark Twain in the television movie Roughing It, or parts that came along in established shows such as Chicago Hope or 8 Simple Rules. The film roles kept coming along too, including Maverick, which saw him opposite Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster as Marshal Zane Cooper, father of Bret Maverick. Comedic timing was, as to be expected of Garner, exactly on cue in his bickering with Gibson and his flirtations with Foster.

That same comic timing would play into My Fellow Americans, where he played a one term former president alongside Jack Lemmon, also playing a one termer. The two characters can’t stand each other, and yet find themselves having to work together when they’re cast into danger. Garner’s President Douglas is a charmer, of course, and the dynamic between the two actors works better for me than the dynamic Lemmon often played with Walter Matthau, who was slated to play Douglas.

In 2004, Garner got yet another big role in a film I personally dislike- but that’s the source novel that’s the problem, not the cast. He played an older man in The Notebook, the Nicholas Sparks adaptation about young love in the form of Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling, and their story being told to a dementia afflicted woman (Gena Rowlands). The story of course was dripping with sentiment- an overwhelming problem with all Sparks books- but it made a big impact at the box office, and captured Garner and Rowlands in a poignant way. The film gave him a second Oscar nomination, for best supporting actor.

James Garner was that rarity in Hollywood. His personal life was quiet. He married Lois Clarke in 1956, and they stayed married. He adopted her daughter, and they went on to have another daughter. I wasn’t aware that he had an interest in racing (beyond his appearance in Grand Prix). He was an owner in an auto racing team in the late Sixties, and maintained an interest in the racing world afterwards.

Some will look back on his career and think of their favourite role. The choice might be as Bret Maverick, or Jim Rockford. Others might look to the movies and recall that role that stood out most of all. For me, it was his role as Robert Hendley in The Great Escape. Garner played one of the few Americans in a POW camp during the Second World War, held in place by Luftwaffe officers. Co-starring Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and James Donald, the film follows the real-life story of the escape of dozens of prisoners from Stalag Luft III, in what is now Poland. Garner’s character was the Scrounger, the man with the skills to gather whatever’s needed for an escape. That might involve simply finding the raw materials in the camp itself. It might also involve pick pocketing or talking a German guard into providing the required item, like a camera. The character is resourceful and clever, a smooth talker who could do quite well for himself as a con artist.

Yet there’s also another aspect of the character that Garner brings across. He’s bunking in with Donald Pleasence’s character Colin Blyth, a staff officer whose speciality is in forging documents. The two have very little in common, and yet at the story carries on, there’s a friendship between them growing. This makes itself perfectly clear when Colin’s vision problems may doom him to stay behind during the escape. Hendley tells Attenborough’s Roger Bartlett, the head of the escape operation, that he’ll personally take Colin out to freedom, a promise he keeps. It’s a testament to the friendship between the two men, and one of my favourite moments of the film.

It was sad to hear of his passing, and yet he leaves such a rich legacy of film and television work behind him. There are many roles for the audience to treasure long after he’s gone, and he lived a long, productive life. He was one of the greats, and he will be missed. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

He Is The Very Model Of Mental Stability

Some links before I get started today. Have a peek at Maria's post on stage names. Parsnip writes about life in a border state. The Whisk is up to baking cake. And Hilary writes about a James Taylor concert.

Today I have one of those mixed bag of images blogs. Enjoy!

Monday, July 21, 2014

After All, It Is Called Mount Widowmaker

Some links to see to before we get ourselves started today. Yesterday was a Sunday, so we had a Snippet Sunday post at our joint blog. Check out Eve's post at her page about an anthology she's involved in. And Whisk had this item about Red Shirts.

Now then, today I return to my occasional theme of eulogies, given by someone you hope never does the eulogy at your funeral.

“Thank you kindly, Reverend Simmons, for your comforting words. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming on this sad day to remember the life of our dear friend George. I have been asked today by the family to give the eulogy. I only hope that I can do right by him.

He was the grandest friend you could have ever asked for. Friends help you move. Real friends help you move a body, as they say. Well, George and I did once move a body- oh don’t look at me like that. We had to take a body off Mount Rainier together when we were in the rescue service. It seemed that a rich plastic surgeon’s widow insisted that her husband’s body be taken down after he had a heart attack and died on a climb, and, well, the job fell to us. That was in our college days, and let me tell you, Old Man Prentice’s corpse was a bear to haul off the mountain. There were a few times George and I thought about just hurling the body down the slope and letting him fall where he might, but there was a five figure payday in it for both of us- did I mention the widow was rich?- and we both earned our pay.

Years later George and I would still talk about Old Man Prentice and how grisly he started to look twelve hours dead. Well, at least George went out a better way, as opposed to having his heart conk out on him at ten thousand feet and losing control of his bowels like Old Man Prentice. Although given the way George met his end...that might not be a better way to bite the dust.

Where was I? Oh, yes, back in the day. You know, George and I knew all the right girls in all the wrong places- or is that right places? We were the rock jocks, out there doing a job that was just too much fun. Aside from moving Old Man Prentice. That kept us both in shape, and even though we moved on to other things, we never lost our love for being out on a rock face, the rock at our fingertips and the air beneath us. It’s the best place to be. Better than sex, even. Well, that might depend on the mountain and the sex. Oh, sorry, Reverend Simmons, I forgot where I was. What I mean is that we both had active social lives, lots of girls in and out of our lives. A whole lot of fun. That’s how he met his dearest wife Alicia. And she indulged his continuing to climb, even though she had a personal phobia about heights. 

Alicia, George always appreciated that about you. You always let him go off and climb whatever rock face struck his interest. You never tried to rein him in. Unlike Deidre, who married our climbing buddy Ryan and promptly forbade him to ever go out on a mountain trek again. Yes, Ryan was, as they say, totally neutered by getting married. Oh, Ryan! There you are. Sorry, I didn’t think the battleaxe would let you come... oh, sorry, Deidre, I didn’t see you there.

Well, George loved life and lived big. He knew well enough to leave work at work and enjoy the simple pleasures of family and the breathtaking thrill of a good climb. He was happy with the state of his life, had the love of a good woman, three great kids- hello, Jane, Peter, and Thomas. Your daddy was proud to have you as his children, you know, and in a way he’ll always be watching over you. Just hold onto that thought. Don’t even think of the way he died. Think of the way he lived. Strong and happy and loved and proud of the life he’d made.

I know. I get it. It’s hard to think of that as we gaze on his coffin. Obviously it had to be sealed. Given what happened, there was no way that he could have been in an open casket. It would have been... unseemly.

They say you shouldn’t dwell on a person’s death during a funeral. You should celebrate their life. Well, as much as we would like that, we can’t avoid it, can we? I know I can’t… because I was there. I saw it happen. There we were, up on top of the north face of Mount Widowmaker. We’d just completed the ascent, all seven thousand feet of it. We were feeling good. George was there standing near the edge. If only he had done like me… standing away from the edge. He might have been here. Maybe nothing would have happened at all, instead of what did happen.

I’ll never forget that moment, no matter how long I live. There I am, looking at him. There’s George, dancing an Irish jig in celebration of reaching the top, like he’d done a thousand times before. The geologists and the park staff are still trying to figure out what happened. Having had seen it myself, I’m trying to figure it out myself. All we know is that twenty five thousand tons of granite suddenly gave way from the side of the cliff. With George right on top of the whole shebang.

One moment he was there. The next, the whole thing goes, the cliff edge is suddenly forty feet closer to me than it was, and there’s the loudest roar I have ever heard coming up from below. It was that fast. And despite myself, I couldn’t help but say it. I remember saying those words. George? Are you there?

Well of course he wasn’t. After the dust cloud subsided, the rangers found what was left of his body among the rocks at the bottom. Ground and pasted into a bloody mess of pulp and bone. They had to use a scraper, I’m told. And even so, for years to come, parts of George are still going to be out there, no doubt.

Oh, Alicia, I’ve been too graphic, haven’t I? I’m sorry. At least he went quickly. Plunging seven thousand feet straight down amid tons of rock and being pulped wouldn’t mean a slow agonizing death.

Damn. I’ve been too graphic again.

Look at it this way, Alicia. At least you’re getting one hell of an insurance payout."