Monday, June 30, 2014

Top Ten Vincent D'Onofrio Movies

Greetings Pups,

I seriously cannot believe it has taken me so long to do this, but I am finally doing my Top Ten list of Vincent D'Onofrio movies. Why today? Well, if you believe everything you read on the internet, and I do, today is his birthday. Since I'm broke and I don't actually know him, we'll call this a gift. Oh, I guess, after that, I should probably say that I will be giving a few movie spoilers in this list. Yes, I'm going to be nice today and tell you that.

Anyway, if you have read this blog before, you may have noticed that I have a great love for Mr. D'Onofrio. I have mentioned him a few times here. I mean, for crying out loud, I did a post search and saw that his name came up in about ten other things I've written, and only two of those actually were specifically related to him. And if you've read my first published book, you'll know that I dedicated it to him. That may seem like a weird thing for me to do, and it probably is, but there's a decent explanation for it. And I will give it somewhere within this blog post. So, anyway, I enjoy this man. I suppose that makes it even stranger that I haven't done this yet, but today seems like as good of a day as any.

I don't want to waste too much time here, but I have to say this was one of the more difficult lists I've had to do. Vincent D'Onofrio has been in a lot of films, and even if said films weren't always overwhelmingly good, he tended to be the bright spot in them. Also, much like what I said about my beloved Gary Sinise, he is not usually the main star in many of his movies. He has been that, but he generally as a supporter or part of an ensemble. Funny thing is, even in those cases, it is not an odd occurrence if he ends up stealing the show. But I think that's how he is. He doesn't have to be the star. He just wants to be a part of something good. Well, that would be a win on his part. Still, to make things a bit easier for myself, I excluded anything where he has less than, let's say, twenty minutes on screen. I know, I know. But here are a few quick words about those. In Adventures in Babysitting, he was a better Thor than Chris Hemsworth, and, in Ed Wood, he was a better Orson Welles than...Orson Welles. Okay, that might be pushing it. But I thought I'd narrow this down. So, let's get down to business. Here are my Top Ten Vincent D'Onofrio movies.

Honorable Mention: Yeah, I'm doing one of these again. This little award is going to The Cell. Now, admittedly this movie has a few flaws, but Vincent's performance was so great, I had to give it a bit of a shout out. He's does a pretty amazing job of playing Carl, a serial killer with a tragic past and some hobbies that are, in the words of the Nostalgia Critic..."specific". Usually, the whole villain and victim thing being meshed together doesn't work for me, but it does here. Also, hats off to him for dealing with all the over the top costumes and make-up for this thing. I admire the patience.

And now for the actual list.

#10. Sherlock: Case of Evil - This film was made in 2002, long before the craze caused by the Robert Downey, Jr. movies and the BBC Sherlock show and the far superior to either of those in my opinion, Elementary. So, sadly, I think it came and went relatively unnoticed. And that's not good at all. Now, normally, when the name Sherlock Holmes comes up in association with Vincent D'Onofrio, it's in regards to his Law and Order: Criminal Intent character, Detective Robert Goren, with good reason. Much like Holmes, he has somewhat adopted the "I love puzzles, but not so much people" philosophy of life. But here, he is not playing Sherlock. He's playing Moriarty! What?! That's right. He went to the other side on this one. Well, he is very good at playing bad guys and smart guys. Why not put the two together?

#9. Full Metal Jacket - I cannot be the only person who has watched this movie all the way through only once, and, with all subsequent viewings, stops after about 47 minutes, know...the thing happens. Okay, maybe I just do that sometimes. Look, let's be honest. Everyone says that the best part of this movie is the first half, specifically all the parts with D'Onofrio. And I have met more than a few women who kinda sorta started to crush on him here. It's the woobie thing. You spend the whole time either wanting to give him a hug or beat the crap out of the guys who were picking on him. Or was that just me?

#8. The Narrows - I love a story about someone trying to get out of where they are, and this is about a young man trying to do just that. Vincent does not play the young man, as that role went to Kevin Zegers, but he does play the young man's father. Nice. Besides the obvious fantastic acting, this film also has some really great dialogue in it. I know. What a shock that I noticed that. There's also a mob thing going on within the plot. That's always good. Well, maybe not always, but certainly usually. In fact, unless my memory is playing a really wacky trick on me, I think there's an interview with Vincent on the DVD where he talks about his family being from New York...and Italian...but totally not in the mob. Well...Amen? Ya know, I really hope I didn't make that interview up in my head. I mean, I'm good, but I'm not that good.

#7. The Newton Boys - I can't be certain, but I think this is where the bromance of Vincent D'Onofrio and Ethan Hawke began. Sorry, I don't mean to undermine the great friendship that these two guys have. Anyway, it was their first movie together, as far as I know, but not their last. This is about the Newton Gang, a band of bank robbing brothers, and not only do we get Vincent and Ethan here, but also Skeet Ulrich and Matthew McConaughey. Yeah, good times, indeed. Now, I do like a good Western-type film every now and then, but the reason I really like this one is that it's a lot of fun. Sometimes that's all I need, to just sit there and be entertained. This movie takes care of that quite well.

#6. Staten Island - Again, we're getting Vincent D'Onofrio and Ethan Hawke doing some acting together. Here, D'Onofrio plays a mob boss, and he is very, very funny. I'm not kidding. I mean, it's been a while since I've seen this, and I know it's not a comedy, but, come on. He basically lives up in a tree for a good chunk of time. Shoot as many guns as you want, but that scenario can't not be funny. I think this movie did not get super great reviews, but I was so incredibly entertained by his performance that I could watch this several times. And, for a guy who tends to play darker characters, it was refreshing to see him being so humorous at the same time. He really needs to do more funny.

#5. Men in Black - Speaking of funny, 'My name is Vincent D'Onofrio, and I've been possessed by an alien bug!'. So, if we set aside Will Smith and Will Smith's song, I think that D'Onforio is the most memorable thing about this movie for a lot of people. In this role of Edgar the Alien Bug Man, he does not hold back at all. With the skills of a lesser actor, this part could have gone into silly territory, but with Vincent, he commits 100%. So, we get this weird character that's funny and disgusting and over the top and just plain insane. And it's amazing. It has to be hard to steal the spotlight from Will Smith in his own movie, but I think that's kind of what happened here.

#4. Steal This Movie - And now speaking of stealing and movies...Biopics can go either way, more than any other kind of film, I think. In Steal This Movie, Vincent plays Abbie Hoffman. When I said these things can go either way, I mean that this very easily could have become a caricature, since Abbie Hoffman was quite distinct in the way he talked and acted. But it was not just an impersonation being done here. Vincent really captures how this man was and how he behaved. And as I am quite shocked that he has never received an Oscar nomination, I think I'm most shocked that he didn't get one for this. Oh, also, if you get this on DVD, watch it, and then watch it with the commentary. Because said commentary is glorious.

#3. That Championship Season - Okay, I talked about this film before when it made my Gary Sinise list, so as to not be repetitive, I'll be brief. Now, this is technically a TV movie, but I don't care. It's so good I have to include it. The story is about four guys, who used to play basketball in high school, getting together with their coach after several years. May not seem like much, but it is. It was based on a play, and it really has the feel of one, since most of this is just five guys talking in a room. Sounds simple, maybe that's the point, but between the great writing and the superb acting of Vincent and the rest of the cast, it's actually incredible.

#2. Chelsea Walls - And in our final installment of the D'Onofrio/Hawke Show (OMG, somebody call the Bravo network NOW!), we have this fine film. Okay, for this one, Vincent does the acting and Ethan does the directing. It was actually his directorial debut. Chelsea Walls is about a bunch of artists living in the infamous Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Why artists? Well, because, obviously, they are the only people allowed to live in the Chelsea Hotel. Seriously, I don't even think they do credit checks; they just look at your portfolio. Anyway, this is another ensemble piece, and it's an amazing ensemble at that. Vincent is joined by Natasha Richardson, Kris Kristofferson, Robert Sean Leonard and Rosario Dawson, just to name a few. Also, Uma Thurman, because she may have known the director at the time. Kidding. She's fantastic in this, too. Again, this film wasn't exactly a huge hit, but I kind of understand that. It's different. It's very subtle and character driven, which is not always popular. I don't think this is something that everyone is going to be able to appreciate fully. I do, but I'm also an artist. And artists like to watch things about artists. Because we're all kind of narcissistic, in a way. We like to watch each other fail and triumph and live, just because. So, if you're into that, definitely check this one out.

#1. The Whole Wide World - The very first review I did on my blog was of this movie. I don't think I can give it any more praise than I did there, and I gave it a lot. Now, I don't want to repeat that entire review, so go back and read it, at some point, to get the whole story. I'll put a link down below, alright? As for now, I'll just say a few words. This film is absolutely brilliant. It's captivating and funny and heartbreaking. It's pretty much Vincent D'Onofrio at his very best. Oh, and since I got the title of my first book from a line he said in this film, that's why I dedicated it to him. Because why not?

So, there is my list. Sorry if I left off your favorites, but, like I mentioned, this was really hard. I've said this so many times, but it's worth being said again. I am such a huge admirer of Vincent D'Onofrio. He has made me laugh and cry and maybe even terrified me sometimes. I think he is one of the few true artists left in the entertainment industry, and, honestly, he is one of the people who makes me extremely honored to be an artist as well. I'm very grateful to him for that. So, I guess the only thing left for me to say is "Happy Birthday, Vincent D'Onofrio...if, by some miracle, you are reading this!" Here's hoping.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Link to my The Whole Wide World review: blogspot

Friday, June 27, 2014

Steel Magnolias - TV Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

Okay, it has been quite a while since I've reviewed a TV movie. What prompted this return? Well, as some of you may have heard, the Lifetime Network is planning a movie about the goings on behind the scenes at Saved By the Bell. As with most Lifetime movies, this could go either way. So, I thought I'd dive into their collection and see if I could find something a bit more substantial. I went in, and I came out with the 2012 remake of Steel Magnolias.

Initially, when I heard about this, I wondered what was the point of remaking a movie that was already really good. Not that it hasn't been done before. Still, I gave it a chance, and I was pleasantly surprised. Well, not that surprised, considering the cast, which we'll get to in a minute. Honestly, I don't know what prompted someone to do this remake, but, now that it exists and I've seen it, I'm kind of glad that it's here.

So, the most obvious thing about this new version of Steel Magnolias is that the cast is all African-American. I assume that some misguided person may have referred to this as a "gimmick", but if anyone says that, it's a load of crap. Maybe it would be true if there was a sub par cast, but, as I said, this cast is phenomenal. So let's talk about that.

Taking over the role of M'Lynn is none other than Queen Latifah, in probably her most mature role to date. By mature, I mean, she totally plays a grandma here...eventually. Love it! Actually, I do like how, as she gets older, she is easily and naturally falling into roles that suit where she is in her life and her age. I don't see her trying to force herself into a part that is meant for a 21-year-old. Not every actress is capable of that, but she is doing so beautifully. Speaking of women who have also done that, we get Phylicia Rashad as Clairee. In the original, I think this character was the most motherly, in a way, to the whole group, but she was also kind of sassy. Seriously, who better to fill that role than the woman who portrayed on of the best TV moms ever? And Ms. Rashad is as good as ever. Guess who else is pretty good - her daughter, Condola Rashad, who plays Shelby. Now I've seen her on a couple of TV shows, but I think she does a lot of theater work, even getting herself a Tony. Here, she captures the "I'm young and I'm your daughter, but I'm ready to grow up and be myself" thing. I think it can be tough to play the parts of people in transition, but she pulls it off. Then, we have Adepero Oduye as Annelle. You may recognize this fine actress from a little film called 12 Years a Slave. Anyway, this remake is about thirty minutes less than the original, so some things had to be omitted. One of those things was a lot of Annelle's subplot. She does get her back story and whatnot, but they kind of cut all her stuff in half. Still, with what she is given, Adepero does a fine job.

Alright, now let's get to the two parts that were probably the hardest to tackle. I say this because they were the most over the top and distinct in the original. First, there is Truvy, here played by Jill Scott. This part was first portrayed by Dolly Parton. You see the dilemma. As you may know, Dolly Parton is a character in and of herself. I say this, by the way, with all the respect in the world. And when she played Truvy, she brought a ton of herself into that role. In this version, they easily could have had Jill Scott mimic the performance. They did not, and that was a good choice, because it could have become a caricature of sorts. But Jill played her in a more subtle way. Still fun and (gotta use this word again) sassy, but a little more subdued. And it works. Then, there is the part of Ouiser, played here by Alfre Woodard. Again, this character was very memorable in the original, mostly because she was so crazy. Oh, trust, she's crazy here, too, but Ms. Woodard did this in her own special way. Just as eccentric, yet uniquely so.

Now what I said about those subplots getting reduced a bit? Well, that meant that the guys weren't in this version as much as they were in the first. Makes sense, I guess. This is, after all, Lifetime: Television for WOMEN! Still, I have to give credit to the men who rounded out the cast. We have Tory Kittles as Jackson, Afemo Omilami as Drum, Michael Beasley as Spud, and Lance Gross as Sammy. And whatever their role, however large or small, these guys held their own with those awesome ladies.

So you may be wondering what are the differences and the similarities when it comes to this versus the original. Of course, I already mentioned some of both, but here's a few more. First, it is full-on updated. It's not set in the 80's or anything. I know because they mentioned Facebook and they had more modern music. They also added some scenes or put the old ones in new settings. They also kept A LOT of the same dialogue. That also could have been awkward, but everyone put their own spin on it so well that it didn't hurt anything. Probably because none of that matters, really. What is important to the story, the emotions and love, everything about family and friends, that is all still there. In other words, yes, I did cry...again.

I know that, as with many remakes, if you love the original, you might be hesitant to want to see another version. Still, I say give this one a chance. Everyone does a superb job, and as a whole, I think I might like this cast better than the 1987 film. Yeah, I was not and am not the biggest fan of some of the people in the that one. But whatever. I say check this out. At the very least, you'll get to see some amazing performances. That's worth quite a lot.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Top Ten Episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Greetings Pups,

Doing modern adaptations of classic works is nothing new. In fact, some may say, it has been done to death. I can agree with that on certain occasions. Of course, if one wants to do such a thing, they must be as original as possible, and what they create must be very, very good. Enter The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

For those sad few of you who are unaware, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is a web series that ran on You Tube from 2012 to 2013. It is, obviously, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Like I said, it is hard to retell a story that everyone already knows and keep people interested. They certainly did that here. It's a great mix of the novel used as a foundation with new ideas and twists on characters to build on top of that. I could go on and on about the details, like the stellar cast, headed by the lovely Ashley Clements, but I suggest you do this: just go watch. Seriously, it is quite entertaining. Also, this list I'm doing today truly is for the fans who already know the plot and the characters, but if you'd like to read on, be my guest. But watch this series eventually. It's worth it.

And now for my list of favorites. Some will be obvious; others, not so much. Some might make you guys just say, "What?" But I have my reasons, and it was hard to choose. Enough stalling. My name is Becky the Writer, and these are my Top Ten episodes of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

#10. "Care Packages" Episode 58 - Okay, this choice may be a bit unexpected. It might even be considered a bit of a filler episode, only there to serve as something on which to bring forth a big "Uh-oh!" moment at the end. Basically, it's just Lizzie and her friend, Fitz, putting together a care package for Jane, but there's something so fun and funny about this one that makes me always look forward to it as it approaches on the playlist. Also, I now know how to properly prepare a care package...should I ever have someone to whom I can send such a thing.

#9. "Enjoy the Adorbs" Episode 20 - Again, this one may come as a surprise. It's one of the few to not feature Lizzie, and nothing too major happens here. Actually, my love for this one stems from, what I consider, one of the funniest lines in the entire series - "My name is Lydia Bennet...AND THIS IS MY HAUL!" Yeah, I can't do it justice here, so go watch Mary Kate Wiles bring it on home.

#8. "My Name is Lizzie Bennet" Episode 1 - One of the hardest things to do when you are a writer is figuring out how to begin. I bet it's even harder when you are updating a book that many people love. So they wisely opened with the opening line from Pride and Prejudice...written on a statement shirt. Talk about perfectly blending the old and the new.

#7. "The End" Episode 100 - Another one of the hardest things to do when you are a writer is figuring out how to finish. Here, we get something of an open ending. Things are wrapped up, but we also see that these beloved characters are moving on to good places in their lives. It's a nice way to tell us that everyone's going to be okay. Also, after a long wait, we get to actually see one of those characters...sort of.

#6. "Checks and Balances" Episode 82 - So while Lizzie is in this episode, she is not the focal point. That honor goes to Gigi Darcy. After much speculation about a certain cad named George Wickham, Gigi fills us in on the truth, and she does so by exposing a lot of personal things about herself, including some very big mistakes that she made. I like this one because it is rather subtle, and I love how they handle this part of the story for which a lot of people were probably waiting.

#5. "C vs. C" Episode 64 - Girl fight! Holla! Okay, civilized girl fight. In the episode just previous to this one, we begin to see the genesis of what we had always been suspecting about Caroline Lee - that she's kind of, for lack of a better and less offensive word, a "mean girl". Here, though, things come to a head between Lizzie, Caroline and Charlotte, and it is fantastic. My word, these ladies have mastered the art of smiling whilst gritting one's teeth. Amazing.

#4. "Corporate Interview" Episode 83 - Of course, we all know that Pride and Prejudice is a story of people who seemingly dislike each other that slowly but surely becomes one of love. This installment shows us the first time that Lizzie and Darcy truly start to let their guards down and have some fun, something that Lizzie thought was pretty much incapable of at one point. But, judging by the last thirty seconds or so, we learn that he is capable. Oh, yes, quite, quite capable.

#3. "Snickerdoodles" Episode 48 - I love snickerdoodles, and I love Jane Bennet. Everyone loves Jane Bennet. She is the kind, loving, compassionate, older sister that one can only dream of having. She is also someone who, no matter what, seems to always see life from a positive perspective. As this episode begins, she does seem very positive. Too positive, considering what is going on in her life at this point. And Lizzie can see this. She doesn't push, but once she talks Jane into participating in some costume theater, her real emotions come through. It is so sad, and Laura Spencer, who plays Jane, wonderfully puts every viewer into "Holy crap, I totally have to give this girl a hug RIGHT NOW!" mode. Well, even more so than usual.

#2. "Are You Kidding Me?" Episode 60 - Anyone who loves Pride and Prejudice knows that there are certain moments to which we look forward with any adaptation. Probably none more than the moment where Darcy professes his love for Lizzie. However, in most adaptations, that comes after we have seen and heard Darcy for ourselves for a while. Here, all we know of him is what has come from other, especially Lizzie, who does not think so highly of him. Then, all of a sudden he just show up and tells her that he loves her, all in one fell swoop. And you know what? It really works well. Oh, and God bless Ashley Clements and her reaction faces. Priceless!

#1. "An Understanding" Episode 87 - Hey, how do you fancy an emotional punch in the gut? Well, here you go. For a series that is mostly comedy, you wonder how they will be able to handle more dramatic moments. If I am judging by this episode, I'd say brilliantly. Okay, first, this one features all three sisters and their respective actresses at their very best. Jane comes in to comfort Lizzie with a cup of tea and utters the now iconic line of "Everyone deserve tea", and then we get Lydia. Most of the time in this series, Lydia is seen as a very young, exuberant, fun-loving girl, who doesn't take things too seriously. Here, due to current circumstances in the story and in her life, she is forced to face all of her mistakes and the consequences thereof. It's kind of amazing, because, whilst everyone else is blaming another person, as well they should, Lydia seems to be the first one taking responsibility for her part in the whole mess. And through the whole experience, she is really being forced to grow up. The whole episode is really heartbreaking, mostly due to the superb performance of Mary Kate Wiles. But, at the same time, it's also heartwarming, because we get to see how much these three sisters truly do love each other.

So those are my favorites from The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. If you haven't watched this series yet, go ahead and do it. And if you already have, then go watch it again. Also, get the book, which I plan on doing myself soon. The whole thing is just plain good, and if it can get a new generation to go and read the source material, or get into reading in general, I say thumbs up on that.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Straight From the Theater Review - Jersey Boys

Greetings Pups,

So what do you think of when I say the words Clint Eastwood and music? Oh, you did not just respond with Paint Your Wagon. Yeah, how about we leave that for another day. If you know what's good for you, those words might make you think of how he has been quite successful as a musician when it comes to scoring his own movies and even writing some actual songs for them. And whilst I am not one who tends to notice score, believe it or not, I usually do remember the ones CLint has done. Still, even though he has been quite vocal about his love of music, I really never would have guessed that he would be the one to spearhead the latest Broadway musical brought to the big screen project, Jersey Boys. And yet, here we are.

As I said, Jersey Boys was originally a Broadway musical, which told the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, or just the Four Seasons, depending on whose side you're on. It tells their story from beginning to end, and, of course, it features a ton of their fantastic music. It debuted in 2005 and was very successful. A film version seemed inevitable. It just took almost ten years. Now I never saw the musical on stage, so I have no idea how much of the film was faithful to that. Then again, I have no idea how faithful the play was to real life. I don't recall hearing about any slander lawsuits, so I'm guessing it was as accurate as possible. Anyway, let's talk about that movie.

I am certainly someone who enjoys knowing the stories behind the music, so to speak, and Jersey Boys does that in a very good way. It doesn't just tell one person's account. Each guy from the band gets their say, though they may, at times, contradict each other. And the way that the guys tell their story is by way of a lot of asides. Seriously, if you have major issues with characters in movies breaking the fourth wall, you might have a problem here. I assume that this was done in the stage production, and they decided to carry it over. Still, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. I think they did it right here.

Okay, now let's get to the cast, which was incredibly good. First is John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli. All the while I was watching, I was wondering two things: was he really singing and if so, was he the guy who was in the Broadway production? Well, yes and yes. And he was impressive, mostly with the singing. It is not easy to mimic a voice as distinct as that. Then, we have Vincent Piazza as Tommy DeVito. If we are going to classify the Four Seasons as a boy band, I suppose we would have to label Tommy as the "bad boy". Yeah, he might have gotten himself into a little trouble here and there. Thing is, though, Piazzza played him in such a way that he was kind of likable. Sure, you might want to punch him a couple times, but you also rooted for him a bit, too. Next is Nick Massi played by Michael Lomenda. Apparently, Nick was the "other one" in the band. You know what I'm talking about. And this isn't me saying it. He flat-out calls himself the Ringo of the group, and we all know what that means. He was the guy who was just kind of ... there, but when time came for him to say something, he did. Finally, there's Bob Gaudio played by Erich Bergen. He got invited into the group because he was the songwriter. And that, of course, means that he was the most important member ever. Because the writer is always the most important person. I know, because I am one. Kidding aside, if I had to pick a favorite, I would pick him, if only because I can relate to him. They did use him in these interesting scenes showing how someone would randomly say something and that would inspire him to write a song. That's how it works. All in all, though, these four guys were really great together, chemistry-wise, and if they hadn't been, it could have ruined the whole thing. Thankfully, they worked together amazingly.

Of course, these guys weren't the only ones in the movie, as you know. May as well start at the top with Christopher Walken playing...Christopher Walken. Okay, he's actually playing a guy named Gyp DeCarlo, but he's doing his Christopher Walken thing throughout. I mean, that's what we want from him, am I right? Then, there was Renee Marino as Mary, Frankie's wife. God bless her, she did a fantastic job of playing a woman who appears to be maybe not so nice at times. That is not as easy as it looks. We also got Mike Doyle in this, who some of you may recognize as O'Halloran, formerly one of the best forensic techs on Law and Order: SVU, but you probably won't. Yeah, as much as I've seen him on SVU, I totally did not know that was him until I IMDB'd it. But that's good. It means he has range. And, wow, does he get to have some fun here, playing Bob Crewe, who was the producer for the Four Seasons, and also did some songwriting as well. I don't want to give too much away about this guy, because I'd rather you experience it for yourselves. Let's just say that things were a tad different fifty plus years ago. Also, there was Joe Pesci. Not actual Joe Pesci but a guy named Joey Russo playing actual Joe Pesci, who apparently was a friend of theirs back in the day. Oh, and this Russo guy was hilarious.

You also might want to keep your eyes open for cameos by some familiar faces. You get Steve Schirrppa, of course, because, let's face it, Jersey Boys is just a less violent, more musical, long episode of The Sopranos. Also, you'll see Francesca Eastwood, Clint's lovely daughter. I knew I'd see one of his kids in this, and I thought I recognized her. And we get to see Barry Livingston. Ernie Douglas from My Three Sons, right the heck there. I didn't see that one coming. Good times. Honestly, there were a lot of small roles and everyone was good.

So, as I have stated often, I am a great admirer of Clint Eastwood. I really like his directing style, and this is just him doing what he does best. And while on the subject of the behind the scenes action, shock of all shocks, Brett Ratner was apparently involved in this as an executive producer. Okay, I am not such a fan of his as a director, but it seems that, in this role, he does just fine. That gives me much relief, by the way, since he is also going to be involved in the Hank Wiliams bio starring our beloved Tom Hiddleston. Hopefully, he'll do just as good of a job there as he did here.

In closing, finally, I am going to tell you to go see this. Now I suppose it's not exactly necessary to see it on the big screen. Rent if you must. But if you are a music lover, especially the music of the Four Seasons, I say go to the theater. Honestly, it's a good idea if you always wanted to see the stage production, because you really get surrounded by all the richness of that wonderful musical. It sounded unbelievable. Of course, I realize that this movie is getting mixed reviews, but I just don't get it. It's well-acted, well-directed, well-produced. I'm sorry nothing blows up, but what more do you want? Just see Jersey Boys, one way or another.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Joy and Misery of House Hunters

Greetings Pups,

When it comes to reality television, it has become quite hit or miss with me. I am not into it the way I once was. I'd say that, in this state of my life, I can only handle the shows that have a theme like, "Hey, do you have an overabundance of paper clips? Well, let me show you how to make some sweet jewelry!" Yeah, that kind of stuff. Also, I like house themed shows, the ones you will find on HGTV. God bless them, because my current obsession is House Hunters, mostly domestic, but occasionally, international as well. I don't know what it is about me and looking into other people's houses, but it's just a thing I enjoy. Don't worry, not in a creepy way. Actually, searching real estate sites is a good tool for all you writers out there, if you are visually stimulated and need something in your head as you write a story. It has worked for me. But I am getting off topic.

There are a lot of things I enjoy about this series. However, there are a few things that bother me, too. Funny enough, the good and the bad both stem from, nothing having to do with the structure of the show, exactly, but rather what goes into creating each episode - the people. Or contestants, if you want to go there. So, we have seen many, many people come and go and hunt and buy on this show. Some, I absolutely fall in love with. They are funny and lively and understanding and reasonable. And then...there are others.

Okay, look, I have been there, my friends. I have done the house hunting thing, and I have done so on a budget WAY SMALLER than anybody I have ever seen on this show. I knew that I was not going to get everything I wanted. I knew I was going to have to compromise. Unless you are super-rich, that will usually be the case. However, I think that not everyone got the memo on that. You know, sometimes, if you want to get everything that you want in a house, you may just have to buy yourself a nice plot of land and build it yourself. It's kind of a last resort, but if need be, go for it. That's my first problem.

Next is the aforementioned issue of the big, bad budget and the really confusing way that some people seem to define it. If you tell your real estate agent that you have a budget of, let's say, $350,000, do not throw a fit when they show you a house that costs $350,000. This happens all the time. They always pull the old, "Ugh, that's at the top of our budget!" Hello! If you don't WANT to spend that much, then don't say that you CAN spend that much. Say you can only spend $300,000 and then you'll be safe. I am, however, giving a pass to all the fits that are had when the agent brings buyers to a house $25,000 or so over budget, though, never underestimate a wife's power to talk her husband into buying said overpriced house anyway, if she wants it.

And now, we come to the bathroom issue. How many times have I seen people brought to a house with four bedrooms and two-and-a half bathrooms, only to have them reply with the outcry of their want for three bathrooms. Yeah. Let me throw some reality into this situation, people. That IS three bathrooms! Look, I know the concept of a half-bath. It's just a toilet and sink, but no shower or tub. Yeah, that's still a bathroom. I understand that some buyers have their little hearts set on having their house equipped with the ability to bathe three inhabitants at once, but come on now. I mean, holy crap, you put that half-bath label on it and some people act as though it isn't fit for use by civilized humans. Just calm down, everyone It's going to be okay.

Kidding aside, I do truly like this show. There is much more to enjoy than there is to complain about, and that is very good for a show. As I said, I like looking at houses and whatnot, and, as much as I criticized, I have gotten quite a good kick out of some of the "characters" that have appeared. It is nice to see hardworking people going out and fulfilling that dream of being a homeowner. It has its days of frustration, but it's also kind of nice. Trust me. I know.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Friday, June 13, 2014

Muscle Shoals - Documentary Review

Greetings Pups,

"Magic is the word that comes to mind for me when I think of Muscle Shoals"

Those are the first words spoken in the film Muscle Shoals, and they are spoken by Bono. I may complain often about the quantity of talking this man does, but, every now and then, he hits the nail on the head when it comes to quality. When he's right, he's right, and he is definitely right about Muscle Shoals. Don't believe me? Well, watch this movie. Okay, I'll tell you some things about it first.

Muscle Shoals is a documentary about the legendary music that was made in the titular small town in Alabama, particularly in two places, FAME Studio and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. There was a LOT of music that came from this area, and we get to hear plenty about how that came to be. This film is full of some of the best interviews I've ever seen about said music. We get stories from some great artists who recorded in Muscle Shoals, like Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Steve Winwood, just to name a few. Oh, and the Rolling Stones talk about how this was the place they recorded "Wild Horses", their best song ever, so, yeah, good times on that one. Of course, we get even more interesting tales from people you might not recognize. These were the phenomenal musicians behind the big names who created what came to be known as the Muscle Shoals sound.

More than anyone else it seems, we get stories from a guy named Rick Hall. He was the founder of FAME Studios, and I have to say, I came to really, really like this guy. He did not have an easy life, not in childhood nor adulthood, but what he did have was a love of music. He was passionate about creating it in the best way possible. He still is. And when I say that, I mean it in the purest, most realistic way. Rick Hall is tough in the recording studio. He does not stop, nor will he let any of the artists stop until the music is as perfect as it can be. Everyone says this about him, and this is why they love to work with him. They know he has a gift. They know that if he's still pushing them, it means they haven't gone as far as they can go. They know he will get them there. If anything, this man reminds us that, yes, there was a time when people cared intensely about the music they were making. One of my major complaints about music today is that it seems like no one cares. I'm not saying that no one actually does; I'm just saying it seems that way. If you also feel this way, you might spend a lot of time whilst watching this film wishing we could clone this guy and stick one of him in every studio in the world. He would be that good for the music world.

Anyway, there are a few themes that run through this movie. Music is obviously one of them, and also race. Of course. This sound which is discussed began in the South in the fifties. Yeah, racial issues might be brought up a little. The interesting thing is that, most of the time when they talk about this subject, particularly when it come to prejudice, it's done in a positive way. Let me explain. The musicians who were working at the studios in Muscle Shoals were predominantly white. Not always, I think, but a lot of the time, that was the case. But no one thought that was the case. No lie, someone tells a story about Paul Simon wanting the "black players" who were the rhythm section on "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers. The response he got was that it was possible to have that happen, but the guys he was looking for were mighty pale. By the way, those pale guys were The Swampers, one of the greatest rhythm sections ever, and a lot of people were surprised at how soulful they could be. Apparently, this was a learning experience for all.

Another theme that comes up is water. Muscle Shoals lies right near the Tennessee River, a river that was once known by the Yuchi tribe as Nunnuhsae, "the river that sings". A man named Tom Hendrix sits at a place called Ishatae, a holy place of music and people. He is a descendant of the Yuchi tribe, and he tells a story of his great-great-greandmother, who was taken away in the 1800's to a place where they couldn't hold their ceremonies or sing or dance, so she went back. Walked back to the singing river. This is my favorite part of the film. It may be because of my own Native American blood, or because this man tells the story with such reverence for the place from which he came. I don't know, but it's worth the watch just for this.

I suppose what I came away with from this movie was a feeling, an almost indescribable feeling. It's odd, because, when they show Muscle Shoals, they show the river and trees and grass and buildings, and at first, I thought, 'Okay, I've seen these things. I live by these things. But why do I feel something different when I see those things in this place?' Well, Jimmy Cliff says that certain places have energy, and so many people talk about the power of this place. I agree. Things we deem as ordinary can become extraordinary because of where they are and what and who surrounds them. All I have to say is that, given the opportunity, I would definitely want to record here, even just one song would be enough.

So, in case it's not obvious, go watch this documentary. I'm saying that to everyone, but especially if you are a musician or a writer or an artist, or if you love to hear the stories of the people who are those things. It might be life-changing, or at least, very, very inspiring.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Straight From the Theater Review - Maleficent

Greetings Pups,

I seem to remember a time when villains were just villains, and that was it. When stories and movies needed them, they came, did their villainy things, entertained us with those things and then left, one way or another. Well, those good times seem to be gone forever. Now every bad guy needs a back story, and I don't necessarily have a problem with that. Actually, I enjoy when they can be not as one dimensional as they have tended to be on several occasions in the past. I don't even mind all that much if they are made a little sympathetic. A LITTLE. Yeah, there has to be a line drawn, and with many films these days, including the new Maleficent, they didn't really think to do that.

So Disney's Maleficent is being touted as, basically, Sleeping Beauty from the villain's point of view. Obviously, that means she gets back story. Fine. And from the trailers and whatnot, you can easily see that Maleficent is about how she is who she is because she was wronged in some way. Again, fine. It makes sense. But the way in which she was wronged is so far beyond where I thought they would go. I found this to be a negative and a positive, if that's possible. Positively, I like the way that she has more of a reason for cursing Aurora than "What! You didn't invite me to your party?", though that is the reason for it in many different versions of Sleeping Beauty. Negatively, it's just one more incident of taking an amazing, strong-willed, female character and making it a statement about how women get broken so easily that one unforeseen moment will control the rest of their lives. Yeah, I think some of us are a little tougher than that...BOYS! Actually, in this case, I shouldn't say that, since they had nothing to do with it. Yes, I seriously cannot believe a woman wrote this screenplay.

Okay, the story. Without giving too much away, we see Maleficent as a child fairy with wings and everything. She lives in the magic land of The Moors, where all the, of course, magical creatures live. They are separated from the world of the humans and their bad, crooked king or whatever. Anyway, she grows up as the protector of The Moors, does battle with the king and then, eventually loses her wings. I assumed after that she would turn evil, but it's more like she's just jaded. Soon, Aurora is born and the curse thing happens, and then things just go nuts. By nuts, I mean that the story is so completely different from anything you might be thinking. Look, I expected some changes, naturally, but holy crap, this thing...I don't even know. And that's all I can say without being too spoilery.

So let's talk about some of the cast. Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. I am not a fan of hers for many, many, many reasons. I used to be a big fan of hers, but things happen. Still, I must say, she did a decent job here. She certainly looked the part, and she really did nail a great sinister sounding voice. A lot of high pitched "Hmmm"s, if you know what I mean. Then, there's Aurora played by Elle Fanning. Now, some vicious people were saying that she is "not beautiful enough to play Sleeping Beauty". Well, she doesn't look much like the one from the Disney animated movie, but that one looked about twenty-five years old. So, no, Elle Fanning does not look like her. She looks pretty and fresh and SIXTEEN! Because she is sixteen, as is Aurora, and this is what they're supposed to look like. Moving on. As far as her acting goes, I think she did a good job. Elle, I see as a young actress who is coming into her own, but who has a lot of potential to become great. She's proving it with roles like this.

We also get a Prince Phillip in this, played by Brenton Thwaites. He's barely in it, maybe two or three scenes, but he does fine for what he gets. One of the highlights, however, is a character named Diaval played by Sam Riley. He's the raven, but he becomes a shapeshifter, so he's a guy sometimes. This was a very enjoyable character to me. He was funny and even touching at times. Of all the changes made from the original, I'd say this was the best.

And now, more bad news. King Stephan played by Sharlto Copley. Wow, I despise what they did to his character in this movie. I know he was barely a character in the original, but if they wanted to increase his quantity, why could they not have improved his quality? They did not. But what was done to him has nothing on the fairies. HATE! HAAAAAATE! Remember the fairies from Sleeping Beauty? Remember Flora, Fauna and Merryweather who were funny, who took wonderful and vigilant care of Aurora, who, even though they bickered, still loved each other and were great friends? Well, forget that! They suck in this movie! Aside from the creepy CGI when they're tiny that is done on Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville, who do an okay job with the acting, for the record, these characters are totally different. Not in a good way. First, their names are changed to Knotgrass, Thistlewit and Flittle...why? I don't know. And they are just incompetent. Again, I won't go into detail, but their time of taking care of Aurora, whilst I think they meant it to be funny, was ridiculous.!

So will I say anything else good about Maleficent? Yes. I absolutely love how it looks. The visuals are breathtaking, and I didn't even see it in 3-D. It's colorful and huge and the landscapes are stunning. I give them an A on this part of it. It would have been an A+, but...creepy fairy CGI, as you remember. And, as much as the story bugs me, it was still interesting. You won't be bored in this film, and it's only about an hour and a half, so it finishes rather quickly. Would I recommend to see it in the theater? I suppose if you are really into the visual aspects of film, it is certainly one you would be wanting to see on the big screen. You really get to see everything that way. Otherwise, if you're not that interested, wait. It is worth, at least, one watch, but where and when you watch it is not such a big deal.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Thursday, June 5, 2014

When Masks Come Off

Greetings Pups,

I've been thinking about masks lately and the people who wear them. It's amazing how powerful those masks can be, how convincing they can be. Some of them have been known to trick millions in the world. Perhaps, it is because they are comforting. It is so much easier to see people with some contrived, false idea of who they are rather than who they are for real. And I can admit that I have sometimes fallen victim to this myself. Who hasn't? But it's always wise to keep your eyes wide open should the mask ever slip off.

There are these moments when even the best of the tricksters lose focus and their facade falls away. In those quick moments, we can see who they truly are. We can see what they don't want us to see. It's not always a pretty sight, and the hypocrisy of fantasy versus reality can be overwhelming. However, if they are trained well, they can immediately put the mask back on and start fooling the world all over again. Sadly, many fall for it. So, not only is it wise to keep our eyes open, but our memories, as well. We should remember those moments of unbridled honesty, so we remember how these con artists really are. Especially when they, themselves, become critical of others. Others who don't hide.

I think that we, in the world, have become so comfortable with the masks that we might find constant honesty a bit unnerving. How odd it seems to everyone when people are who they are and believe what they believe without wavering. In fact, those are the ones who often get shunned or criticized even more. They say what they feel honestly, and then don't backpedal with phony apologies. There just isn't any need. But they are seen as just plain not good. What is happening?

I guess my point of this random...whatever, is to say to everyone, just don't pretend to be something that you're not. It's not helping anything. I'm not saying that being a person who is awful or mean or cruel is a good thing. I'm not saying those people shouldn't try to change for the better, for everyone else, in a way, but mostly for themselves. Still, if you don't want to be a good person, then don't be. But don't act like you are. And don't get mad when we are able to see the truth. I know we all have things we want to keep to ourselves, and that's normal. And have I ever been guilty of putting on a show because I want to please others? Of course, but I've seen the damage it can do. Our lives cannot be lies. In the end, we gain nothing from it.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg by Barry Williams with Chris Kreski - Book Review

Greetings Pups,

We all have these moments in our lives when we find out that what we see on TV is not exactly the same as what goes on behind the scenes. Many of these moments are depressing as all heck. For example, it makes me quite sad that Fred and Ethel hated each other in real life, and that the people on ALF did not exactly enjoy being on ALF. And don't even get me started on the legitimacy of The Hills. Of course, not all the stories are bad. Some are good, some are great, some are...interesting. That brings me to The Brady Bunch. I'd say that this is one show that has a lot of lore, true or otherwise, and in 1991, some of those tales were confirmed in an autobiography by Barry Williams(helped by Chris Kreski) called Growing Up Brady: I Was a Teenage Greg.

This book came out at quite a perfect time. It was released just after A Very Brady Christmas, which was a huge success, and the reboot show of sorts, The Bradys, which was not so successful. Still, during this time, interest in The Brady Bunch appeared to be higher than it had been in years, and it continued on to the two big screen movie releases. Of course, since the show had been on the air, there were many rumors and stories floating around when it came to the goings on behind the scenes. Growing Up Brady certainly addressed some, if not all, of those.

Now, as I said, this is technically Barry Williams' autobiography, and he does talk a lot about his personal life. Still, seeing as how The Brady Bunch was a huge part of his life, it is a huge part of the book. I mean, for crying out loud, it's called Growing Up Brady. Anyway, Barry talks about the pressures of becoming so famous so young, witnessing the head-butting between Robert Reed and Sherwood Schwartz, and, of course, his relationships with cast mates, particularly Maureen McCormick, if you know what I mean. That's right, kids. Parts of A Very Brady Sequel were actually a documentary. There is also a lot about what happened as the show expanded due to their music, as well as how they tried to carry on after the cancellation, both personally and professionally. And we also get a hundred plus pages where he talks briefly about every, single episode of the show. Some people may call that a weak attempt at filler, but, again, this is all from his point of view, so that we can get a few extra anecdotes and fun facts. Works for me. I really like that part. And we also get a lot of sweet pictures. Yay, pictures. Point is, this is just a really great collection of stories told by someone who was there and witnessed everything. I'm certain that there are several books about this show, but most are written by people who weren't there, and there is something that I love about firsthand accounts. It adds so much more to the experience of learning all these stories, and it makes them so much more real.

I should probably point that the book I own is a first edition paperback from 1992. Several years later this book was re-released, so that one apparently includes some different aspects, such as Barry's feelings about the 90's movies and some thoughts on the death of his TV father, Robert Reed. Admittedly, I have not read that version, but I don't doubt that it's good. Also, it is probably that later version that was used as source material for the 2000 TV movie, Growing Up Brady. Yeah, this thing became a TV movie. As an author myself, I should be so lucky.

I actually bought this book when the first theatrical movie came out, and I, like many people, really got into The Brady Bunch again. At this point, I'm a bit indifferent to it. If I see that the show is on in a rerun, I may or may not watch it, but if I do, I tend to enjoy myself. I can be entertained by it, and I can certainly appreciate the pop cultural impact that it had. But we're talking about this book here and, bottom line is, I really like it. I thought it was very interesting. And, you know what? I really like Barry Williams. I like him because he is one of those people who can embrace his past and all the things he's done in his career. He's not one of those entitled celebrities who think they're so above the things that got their foot in the door in the first place. I can't stand those people. No, Barry has been able to find joy and contentment in what he has done and what he continues to do. He seems to love to entertain people, and he seems grateful that he is still able to do so. So, if you see Growing Up Brady in a store or in your library, I say it's worth a read.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer