Friday, September 23, 2016

The Magnificent Seven

I went to the movies at the local multiplex this morning to make the 10:00 showing of the latest version of The Magnificent Seven.

Okay, I know you may have read or heard some reviews of this remake which were mediocre at best. But you know me. I'm never about tearing down any one's creation. As a classical singer, an actor, a theatrical director, a voice-over artist, and a dancer (in my youth) as well as an author now, I appreciate just how hard everyone has to work to bring together a creation. The result may not be Shakespeare, but if it entertains, it serves it's purpose.

That being said I enjoyed this version, even though the original 1960s film is one of my all-time favorite westerns, right up there with My Darling Clementine, High Noon, and The Gunfight at the OK Corral. I'm not talking Lonesome Dove here...the saga of Texas remains first in my yellow rose Longhorn-loving heart.

This new version of The Magnificent Seven, like the first one, is based on the story lines of Kurosawa's masterpiece The Seven Samurai.

This version has a much more diverse cast than either of its predecessors. The main cast list is as follows:

Denzel Washington as Chisolm - licensed bounty hunter and law enforcement officer
Chris Pratt as Faraday - a card playing gunslinger/lover boy with very fast hands
Ethan Hawke as Goodnight Robicheaux - the greatest sniper for the Confederacy, a legend
Vincent D'Onofrio as Jack Horne - a mountain of a man who is as efficient at killing as Bible quotations
Byung Hun Lee as Billy Rocks - an Asian adept at knives as well as guns (you may remember him as the master assassin in Red 2)
Martin Sensmeier as a Comanche named Red Harvest. (more about him in a bit.)
Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen - the young woman who hires the seven & in this one participates in the final battle
Peter Sarsgaard as Bartholomew Bogue - the wealthy villain of the piece

The cast makes a tight ensemble who work seamlessly together. Each individual fits in so well, they work as a cohesive unit.

The story in brief - A small town in the mountains of California has been overtaken by a robber baron who took over because of the gold in the surrounding mountains. He has built a mine and is reaping profits. Finally, he decides he wants the townsfolk gone. He and his men interrupt a church service. Surrounded by hired bad guys with guns, knives, etc. The town's citizens are mostly cowed. A few stand up to Bogue and are killed in cold blood for their defense of their rights. One of the victim's is Ellen Cullen's husband. The town was there first. Later upon witnessing Chisolm killing a wanted man in the saloon, Ellen Cullen comes to him and asks him to save their little town. He's not interested until she tells him the real villain's name. Chisolm, who has history with Bogue, decides to help her. With Ellen and her brother in tow, they go out and recruit "the seven." Quite a tale in itself.

The actors portraying members of  "the seven" do an excellent job creating their roles. You really root for them. Alas, as in the original script all but three of them are killed in the cataclysmic climax. So all is not happy in the end. Considering the size of the force attacking them, it's amazing any of them survive.

Vincent D'Onofrio, a favorite actor of mine - a method actor, who disappears into his roles, was a standout as a bear of a man.

Also newcomer Martin Sensmeier was a revelation. Descended from Alaskan and Northwestern Native Americans and Irish forefathers, he has a body like a Navy SEAL. In real life he is an advocate for fitness for young people of Native American heritage, as well as an ambassador for Boys and Girls Clubs of the USA. I heard the director interviewed on NPR yesterday. He said when he interviewed Sensmeier for the role of Red Harvest, the actor had long hair. But when he was cast he had cut his hair short. So the director looked up info on the Comanche people (the character he portrayed) and found the men sometimes wore a Mohawk style. So they shaved his head leaving the hair in a shortened version of the famous Mohawk. With his face painted fierce red, black, and white, he was a frightening spectacle, but an honorable man. Also, he was shirtless for the entire film...just sayin' girls.

The worst part of this film was the absurd number of horses thrown, flipped, or made to fall over in this one. Sigh...I don't approve, even if it's realistic, I'm an animal rights' advocate. I looked away from those scenes.

But other than that, this was a fast-moving entertaining film. The only thing missing for me was the incredible theme of the 1960s version.  Well guess what? That's the cover music for the end credits. As we Texans are known to say AWWWWWW RIIIIIGHT!!!

If you are fond of the original film, you'll enjoy this one...be prepared to weep for some of the lost heroes.

Until next time...

Take Her Breath Away - The Lincolnville Mystery Series, Book 4 by Kathryn J. Bain

Romantic suspense noted author, Kathryn J. Bain has released her new novel, entitled Take Her Breath Away. This is the fourth book in her popular Lincolnville Mystery Series. She's done it again with a well-written novel of suspense and intrigue.

This is the story of Rayleene Davenport and her estranged husband, Ty who become embroiled in a world of drugs and danger.

When Ty is shot in the line of duty, Rayleene reluctantly offers to take care of him while he recuperates. Due to his status as an undercover cop, identity which is compromised after his injury, it is imperative for both of them to disappear.

They hide in small town Georgia where they have a cabin unknown to most of their friends. Rayleene takes care of him but doesn't warm to him. She's has evidence he broke the vows of their marriage and cheated on her. Rayleene has her own secret, one that could prove to be deadly for them both. They are each uncomfortable thrown together in such familiar and close quarters.

As they work their way through their damaged relationship, danger comes calling when shots are fired into the cabin. Later she is attacked on the street back in Atlanta and someone she loves is killed.

The peril builds to an exciting climax...

If you like a good mystery, this is the book for you. I devoured it, literally couldn't put it down. Ms. Bain gives us another memorable work, filled with intrigue, danger, and healing, a heady combination.

Check out this great story, available from Amazon.com today.

For the Kindle edition
For the paperback edition





Until next time...

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Award Winning Author!!

First I have to apologize for not writing most of this month. My PC was acting up and then out of commission altogether. But it's back now and so am I.

Forgive me also for sounding my own horn, but I wanted to share with you my big news.

Swept Away, Book 2 in my Touch the Sky series won First Place in the Historical Romance category in the 2016 Heart of Excellence Readers Choice contest.

I am told I can now call myself an "Award Winning Author." Who'd-a-thunk-it?

A novelist's life is a solitary one, at least when we're writing. You sit before your computer in the place you are most comfortable writing and stare at the screen for awhile until you decide how to best say what you want to say...

We all work differently, according to our nature. Some authors plan everything to the last detail before they start writing. Some of us have a vague idea of where we're going with the story, then sit down and start the screen staring bit.

I'm definitely the latter type and my blog posts are completely extemporaneous (or off-the-cuff.) It's fun for me to work this way, keeps me alert and interested.

Oh, there are times when I have to research for the story. For Swept Away, my research included life in Norfolk, Virginia in 1837; Members of the Powatan tribe in those days; a bit of the Powatan language; and literally everything about wooden sailing ships design.  You see, there are several merchant ships figuring in the story, a pirate or two, and a British Royal Navy ship. I had to determine the route taken to Casablanca from London. On the way two of the ships stopped separately off the Iberian Peninsula by a Spanish village of fishermen. Fortunately, I speak passable Spanish, so no research was required there...

All of these things put the pictures of my story in my mind and hopefully in the minds of the readers. It makes the tale vivid. It makes it real...like a movie. Now I grant you there are lots of historical mistakes in most movies, but hopefully not in my novels.

Just when I was confident about my knowledge of merchant ships in those days, steamships were created in 1838-1840. So my upcoming book 3 of the same series, His Wicked Lady has everybody traveling faster because they are traveling by steamships - no more following the prevailing winds and adding months to the trip. Foster Shipping is a most forward-thinking company!

I want to thank the readers of my blog who put up with my nonsense. My following isn't huge like some authors have.  But I am proud to announce I've got over 21,000 views over the life of the blog.

I hope you all keep coming back.

Have a good day, free of politics, and a warring cable company who turned everything on my tv pink today. Don't ask...

I watched dvds on which the color is perfect this morning...Just got season 4 of Longmire, one of my all-time favorite series AND Captain America: Civil War. HooHah!!

For some reason my usual political talk shows just aren't the same in pink...They're hysterical that way, but bother my eyes. I mean I like pink but not so much of it...

Thanks for letting me blather on.  Have a great day, free of tropical storms and pink Donald Trumps.

I need some coffee...

Take care.


Friday, September 2, 2016

The Sea of Trees

Last night I survived Hurricane Hermine with my little dogs. It was the first Florida hurricane in my memory, although I did make it through at least two others in Miami as a small child.  Those storms were so long ago I have no memories of them.

Hermine turned out to be mostly bluster in my part of Jacksonville. We didn't lose power, didn't get much rain, but had lots of wind from midnight until about 10 this morning. Of course the aftermath of the storm still has us with intermittent winds of 20-30 mph with gusts of 45 mph.  Needless to say, I thought about getting out and going somewhere, but common sense prevailed. So I stayed in and searched for a movie to watch on pay-per-view.

Thus, I found "The Sea of Trees", an atmospheric, enigmatic film starring Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, and Naomi Watts. This one is also in limited release in theaters right now.

It's the story of Arthur Brennan (McConaughey) a science professor at a college in New England.  His wife Joan (Naomi Watts) is constantly sniping at him, disappointed in his lack of ambition. She is a successful realtor and pays most of the bills.

As the story begins, he parks in an airport parking lot, leaves his car unlocked with the keys on the seat, and shuffles into the terminal. Like an automaton he goes through the process of checking in for his flight to Japan. On the plane he refuses anything to eat or drink. On arrival, he takes a taxi to a train station and boards the bullet train. The older Japanese couple sitting across from him watch him with apprehension.  You see this train makes a stop near Aokigahara (The Sea of Trees) - also known as the Suicide Forest.

In case you've missed stories about The Sea of Trees, it is a forest at the foot of Mt. Fuji. For generations, Japanese citizens have gone to those woods to commit suicide. It is reported to be haunted with the souls of those who took their lives there.

When Brennan arrives at the forest entrance, he enters and begins trekking deeper into the woods. He runs across Takumi Nakamura (Watanabe) battered with cuts, bruises, and leaking wrists from a failed suicide attempt. Nakamura has apparently changed his mind. He asks Brennan to help him as he is lost and cannot find his way out. So Brennan bandages Nakamura's wrists and shows him the way.

But something is wrong, Brennan was certain he knew the way out, but he cannot find the path to the exit. While they stumble through the thick forest and the bodies of successful suicides in various states of decomposition, he has flashbacks of his recent life and what led him to The Sea of Trees.

Does this sound like a horror movie to you? I can see where it would, but it isn't. It's a journey of discovery born of loss.

The ending is lovely. What can I say? I'm a sucker for spirituality and the healing it can bring.

The biggest surprise for me in the film is that it was filmed in Massachusetts, even the scenes for The Sea of Trees. They had some long shots of Mt. Fuji, but the rest was made in New England.

I have always loved Ken Watanabe, he is a talented actor capable of playing any part. McConaughy has proven his talent, especially in recent years.  He was incredible in "Dallas Buyers Club." Naomi Watts is a talented actress who has played many different kinds of roles. They form a powerful triumvirate of actors who bring life to these characters.

Maybe I'm coming down off the high of surviving the hurricane with relative ease, who knows? This film affected me more than any film I've seen in the last few months, at least.

Available on pay-per-view, at least on Comcast, and in limited theatrical review, it's worth a bit of work to find it in your area.

This one will stay with you for a while.

Until next time, take care, and avoid big blowhards with fancy French names!!!

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Night Of ... HBO/BBC Mini-Series

First, I have to apologize for not posting this sooner as last night the final episode of this amazing mini-series aired. I was so enthralled, I wanted to watch the whole thing before reviewing it. Sorry about that. However, I'm sure it will be available in its entirety for HBO subscribers On Demand and will land on other viewing services soon.

Based on a BBC series, this one takes place in the New York City area. A young Palestinian-American, Nasir Khan (Naz), played by Riz Ahmed, is a college student. One Friday he has an important exam, which he aces.  Some of his friends urge him to come to their party in Manhattan. He politely declines as he's not the type who goes out much.  He is a practicing Muslim and stays close with other Muslims and Palestinians. He lives in one of the boroughs, I don't remember which. He rarely is in Manhattan at all.

But after his whole family goes to bed at 10:00, he decides he'd like to go to the party, after all. So he grabs the keys to the cab his father, uncle, and cousin share. He drives into the city. On his way to the party, he has to fend off a couple of men wanting a cab.  He tells them he's off-duty and finally persuades them he's not for hire. Later, at a stoplight, an attractive young woman gets in to the back seat.  He tries telling her he's off-duty, but she pays no attention.  She asks him to stop at a gas station/convenience store to buy beer for her, so he does.

When he comes back to the cab she says she wants to go to the beach.  He refuses saying it's much too far. He asks her if the river would be okay. So she agrees.  They end up on the riverbank drinking beer.  She is obviously under the influence of something she took earlier. She gives him a pill which turns out to be Ecstasy. Then they get back in the cab and go to her home.

There she gives him something else which turns out to be Ketamine, a major horse tranquilizer, which is sometimes used to put dogs to sleep. They begin to have sex. He passes out.

A couple of hours later, he wakes up in  her kitchen with no idea how he got there from the upstairs bedroom. High and fearful about getting home so late, he goes up to the bedroom. He finds her lying on a blood-soaked sheet, with blood spatter on the walls, and major stab wounds on her body.

In full panic mode, he grabs his clothes, dresses and runs out the front door, only to realize he left the keys in the brownstone. The door locked after him when he went out, so he must break the glass in the door to get back inside. Unfortunately for him, he is seen by the voyeur neighbor across the street. The man calls the police and the inevitable happens.  He identifies Naz as the man he saw running from the house.

Naz is taken in for questioning while the police enter the house and find her body. The forensic team follows and you can guess what happens.

Veteran actor John Turturro, plays a small-time attorney, Jack Stone, who sees Naz sitting in the holding cell in the station. So he says he's his attorney and is admitted to the cell to talk to him.

I must say Turturro's performance is perfect. His role is an actor's dream and he fulfills that dream on every level. I'm predicting an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe for him next year. His performance is astounding in this one. Always a favorite character actor of mine, I loved him in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" one of the funniest films I've ever seen. I could watch it over and over. This performance tops that one in every way. Amazing job.

The supporting cast are all spot on in their roles including Glenn Headly, the high-powered attorney Naz's parents hire instead of Jack Stone. Trouble is, she wants him to take a plea and doesn't care he may well be innocent. She quits the case when he refuses before the judge. Amara Karan plays a young attorney who takes his case next, with Turturro aiding her. Jeannie Berlin plays Helen Weiss, the assistant DA who prosecutes Naz's case. Jeff Wincott plays Detective Lucas, the retiring NYPD detective who doesn't believe Naz did it, but he is in the minority.

Michael F. Williams, the late Slappy White of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, does an excellent job as Freddy Knight, the powerful prisoner/lord of Riker's Island.

Paul Sparks plays Don Taylor, the husband of the victim's late mother who will inherit a nice estate which includes the $10,000,000. brownstone where the victim was murdered.

Paulo Costanzo, late of the series Royal Pains, is another suspect. He was the victim's financial advisor.
Apparently he was embezzling from her accounts.

Neither of the above suspects are seriously considered by the NYPD nor the DA's office.

This series is a powerful piece of drama, which reflects the injustice often found in America's courts and prisons.

With incredible performances and a surprising end to the story, this is an award worthy series. Don't miss it, if you can take drama at this level.

Oh, one more thing, watch for the last appearance of the cat...just sayin'.

Until next time...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Angry Birds the Movie

I don't know about you, but lately I have been inundated with serious films, sad ones which bring you down. Last week I saw Anthropoid and wrote a treatise similar to a dissertation, giving my readers a history lesson of WWII.  Sorry about that, but I call 'em as I see 'em.

On Friday night I happened upon a movie entitled Infamous. I've been disturbed by it since then. Starring Toby Jones and Sandra Bullock, it is another version of Truman Capote and the case that inspired his masterpiece In Cold Blood. Hardly a barrel of laughs...Interesting casting, though, with Daniel Craig (our current James Bond) with black hair playing one of the killers, Perry White. I remember the film Capote in which the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman gave an Oscar winning performance as the title character. As magnificent as he was, I like Toby Jones better.  He brought more pathos and humanity to the role. They explored the relationship between Capote and White. It was magnificent but a real downer. As in real life White and his partner on the crime spree, are executed in the end.

I give kudos to Jones, best known for the evil doctor, sidekick to the Red Skull, in the Marvel Avengers movies. Who knew?

Okay, okay, we're done with the downers right now.  After seeing endless promos for Angry Birds the Movie when it released earlier this year, I was mildly interested. Yes, I know about Angry Birds, many of my friends are hooked on it or were. I don't keep up with the latest game crazes.

Anyhow today I watched it on pay-per-view. It's child friendly (for the most part) but filled with sly winks and nudges that grown-ups enjoy.  It's funny,colorful, and a bit of a mystery about where some of the characters fit into their universe...at least it was to me.

I laughed like a loon as I watched it. I laughed harder when I read the cast list. To think Peter Dinklage, Tyrion Lannister of Game of Thrones fame voices the Mighty Eagle. He was wonderful and very funny.  The rest of the cast includes: Jason Sudeikis as Red, Josh Gad as Chuck, Bill Hader as Leonard, Maya Rudolph as Matilda, and Danny McBride as Bomb.  The list reads like a Saturday Night Live reunion with Kate McKinnon added to the mix. Also included is Keegan-Michael Key.  Talent, funny folks whose line reading leaves you laughing.

My favorite though was the bird mime (French style) who would only voice "Oh. My. Goooood!" at appropriate times.

This one is almost completely mindless, but hey, that's the point, isn't it?

With all the stuff we are exposed to in the media in this election year, it's easy to get mired in all the negative press on both sides.

We NEED Angry Birds for some light-hearted insanity once in a while.

Last night I watched The Peanuts Movie and howled my way through it, even though it was a rehash of things I'd seen over the years in the television specials.

Do something fun...we all need  it these days!

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Anthropoid

Well, it's another movie marathon as today I went to the cinema to see Anthropoid. Haven't heard of it? I'm not surprised. It's based on a true story of the Czech Resistance and the successful assassination of (SS) Schutzstaffel Obergrupenfuhrer Reinhold Heydrich in Prague in 1942. Third in the line of his command after Hitler and Himmler, Heydrich was the highest ranking SS (Schutzstaffel) officer assassinated during the war. Several other German high-ranking NAZI officers were hung after the Nuremberg Trials.

Brief history lesson - in 1938 Hitler called together the European Allies, who defeated Germany in World War I twenty years earlier, for a conference in Berlin. During the conference, he swore to them he didn't want another war.  If they would only agree to cede Czechoslovakia back to Germany, he would be content. See, there were lots of people of German ancestry living in that country. After World War I, the German Empire had been stripped of much of their territory. Many German speaking people found themselves in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Hitler asked only for the Saar back (the region renamed as Czechoslovakia.) He promised them peace if only Germany could get that region returned.

Poor Neville Chamberlain (English Prime Minister at the time) flew back to London and proclaimed "Peace in our time!" Bless him, within the year, Germany declared war on England and her European allies. He was replaced by Winston Churchill and you know the rest...

There were several high-powered Czech Army Officers who made it to London, just like Polish Officers who got there later.  Anyhow the resistance was run from London, whether it was the Czech, the Poles, or the French as the war progressed. So the Czech officers in London decided to send a team of resistance fighters to Prague. Their target was Heydrich. The creator of the Final Solution - the planned extermination of every Jewish person in Europe, along with Gypsies, LGBTQ people (known in the NAZI world as  "deviants"), insane people, criminals, and anybody else they didn't like (or who didn't like them).

Anthropoid is the story of the mission. It is atmospheric, bleak, and dark at times. With the subject matter it couldn't help being dark and bleak. But there are two romances in the storyline, borne out of the desperation of the times. The resistance fighters manage to execute their plan. Heydrich is badly injured but not killed in the attack. As you can imagine, the Germans are furious and begin searching Prague for the culprits. After Heydrich dies of his injuries, many innocent citizens are killed in the reprisals.

Eventually the Gestapo (which is a German acronym for Geheime Staatspolizei -Secret State Police) tracked down some people who helped the team. With savage efficiency they extract the knowledge of the hiding place after brutalizing a teenage boy. There is a last-ditch battle with none of the resistance fighters left alive. They had all been furnished with cyanide capsules as a last resort and most used them.

In the impotent rage of having no one for a show trial which could be filmed and shown to the German people at home, the NAZI's destroyed a Czech village in retaliation, killing every living thing there.  In all they killed over 5,000 people in their manic killing spree. You see the murder of Heydrich put a chink in their much publicized armor of invincibility. Other resistance groups began murdering NAZIs whenever possible. That and the allies bombing raids on the Vaterland (Fatherland - they would never call their home Motherland) (Insecure much?) marked the beginning of the end.

Of course Hitler's insane plan to open a second front by going into Russia ended in Germany being surrounded by oncoming enemies and the pincers closed. Otherwise, my German would be lots better than it is...

The cast comprised of mostly British actors is excellent in the film.  Notable are Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan as the two resistance fighters who are the main characters. Toby Jones (the sinister scientist of the Captain America films) plays a straight role in this one. He is one of the Prague contacts for the fighters. His suicide is poignant as his glasses drop off and he drops the cyanide capsule when the Germans break into his apartment. Feeling all over the floor, he finds it.  When they break the door down, he is already dead.

Most of the people at the movies today were my age or older, i.e.Vietnam era vets and their wives. It's sad that WWII is fading into the past as most people who lived it pass away. As many of you know, my dad was a WWII vet. I grew up watching archival footage of some of the battles with him. It taught me how insanity can overtake a country and run rampant.

Please you younger folks out there, it is important to remember your history. Remember the words of George Santayana:

Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it.

Until next time...