Friday, June 28, 2013

My Top 10 Favorite Movies of All Time

I love movies. I love movies almost as much as I love books. It's a different kind of love, I suppose. Books mean time and commitment. Movies, they're brain candy. Two hours and they're done. If it was horrible, you've hardly invested a thing. I'm sorry to admit this, but I must be a product of my instant-gratification society. I will, however, post my favorite books at some point. For some reason that's a harder assignment.

With that preface, and the preface that Bob says no one will care about my favorite movies (it's so nice to have someone around who will tell me what he really thinks), here I go with my top 10 favorite movies.

#10. Inception. I'm not nearly smart enough for this to be one of my favorite movies. But if I claim it to be, maybe some of its smartness will wear off on me. This is scriptwriting and movie making at its best. And I love being blown away even if it means missing half the plot. Hey, I can always pick up the pieces of my brain later, just blow me away and let me deal with my own stupidity. 
#9. 12 Angry Men. Maybe it's the unexpected wow factor that got me. Roughly 95% of the film takes place in a single room, yet I was captivated. To achieve this is nothing short of brilliance. Just like it proclaims on the poster, "It explodes like 12 sticks of dynamite!" If you haven't seen this 1957 gem, check it out.
#8. Pride and Prejudice (BBC). If I've seen a film more than 20 times (and a 6-hour one at that) I think it's safe to place it in my top 10. Love it!
My favorite scene is when Darcy's sister is playing the piano and one of those horrid Bingley sisters mentions Mr. Wickham. This throws off poor Georgiana who stops playing. Darcy shifts nervously. Awkward glances are exchanged. Elizabeth rushes back to Georgiana. "I'm so sorry. I’m neglecting you. How can you play with no one to turn the pages? There. Allow me." A look passes between Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett that brings out the giddy schoolgirl in me. (Sigh.) There is one slight disappointment for me and that's a lackluster end to the ever-building romance. "Quite the opposite" does not count as a declaration of love, Miss Lizzie! Where's the eloquence you so scathingly used to reject him? (Still love it, though.)
#7. North and South. What Pride and Prejudice lacks in a romantic ending is every bit fulfilled in North and South. Oh my goodness. One evening after everyone was asleep but me, I watched the ending scene at the train station probably ten times. (Another sigh.) Some have called this a grittier version of Pride and Prejudice, and I can somewhat agree, though it definitely has legs to stand on its own.
#6. Amelie. An adorable film about a quirky, sweet girl. Loved it! It's in French but worth watching and reading the subtitles. The movie poster is a little creepy, but this is definitely a feel-good movie.
#5. Hamlet (Kenneth Branagh). I love this play. So many dramatic questions and thought-provoking concepts. I like the Mel Gibson version as well. In fact, I've never met a Hamlet I didn't like. But this Hamlet is superior to all the film versions and is definitely the most complete. (The Mel Gibson version chops the original script in half, probably.) I applaud Kenneth Branagh for this visual feast as well as for making so many other Shakespeare masterpieces palatable to a modern audience.
 #4. Dear Frankie. I'll always be baffled as to how this movie manages to be so sad and so happy at the same time. If you find the ambivalence to be too much, console yourself with the fact that Gerard Butler is in it.
#3. Band of Brothers. Some people don't know this, but I'm a bit of a World War II junkie. Band of Brothers is based on a true story. It's one of my favorite books and the movie is just as good. It may be long and not for the faint of heart, but so well done. Reading the book first made it so much more enjoyable for me to watch. You come to appreciate the characters in the book and the movie makes you fall in love with them. It's raw, honest and action-packed. And, um...the title comes from Shakespeare.
#2. It's a Wonderful Life. Just typing the title makes me smile. What a sweet film. Without fail, I cry every time I watch it. Jimmy Stewart is amazing and I can't say I'd love it as much if another actor played George Bailey.
And my all-time, number one, favorite movie is...

#1. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. I never get sick of this movie. In fact, it seems to get better every time I watch it. I always notice something new. Brilliant, compelling and inspiring. Here is my favorite line from Captain Jack Aubrey as he rallies his troops/shipmates:
“They mean to take us as a prize. And we are worth more to them undamaged. Their greed...will be their downfall. England is under threat of invasion, and though we be on the far side of the world, this ship is our home. This ship is England. So it's every hand to his rope or gun, quick's the word and sharp's the action. After all...surprise is on our side.”
 (Surprise is the name of the ship.)
 Then the crew gives a resounding “Huzzah!”
There you have it. My top 10. What is your favorite movie? I love knowing this about a person because I think it tells quite a bit about their personality. I'm not sure what this tells of me. I like costume dramas, historical fiction, awesome characters, and a well-written script all rolled into one?
I have a few honorable mentions, but Bob is right. If you've made it this far, I've already taken too much of your time.
*Copyright notice: I spent considerable time searching the Internet to see if it was OK for me to post the DVD covers in my blog post. Since I am promoting these movies, I figure no harm can be done. I think I found my answer in this article. All the images I retrieved from 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Sword of Quintelle

Shield of Faith by Judy Cooley
A few years after I wrote my play I found this image that reminded me of my Quintelle.
All this self-imposed Shakespeare cramming reminds me of the time I wrote a play in the style of Shakespeare. That’s right, I think it’s time my 18 readers knew this about me. The play was enormously fun to write, but unfortunately only mimics in a cheap and vile manner the grandeur of the Bard himself. If the afterlife affords me an encounter with Shakespeare I will truly shrink in horror. Perhaps it’s not so vile, though, if I think of it as experimentation rather than attempting at emulation.

Tonight I found a copy as I rummaged through some old memorabilia. I wrote it back in college and I had the happy experience of seeing it performed on stage. The actors held their scripts and wore minimal costumes, but it was a high point in life for me to invite my friends and family to come hear what I had written. One of my favorite college professors even showed up then discussed it in class the next day. (Thanks, Dr. Oaks, wherever you may be!)

The story of Quintelle is about a princess who, at birth, is given a prophecy. A day will come when she will defend her kingdom with the sword and when her father dies she will succeed the throne. This doesn’t sit well with the king. He envisions his firstborn son as the successor and is mortified at the thought of his daughter breaking societal rules in such a manner. He executes the seer (harsh, I know) declaring him an impostor and orders the words forgotten.

 The words may have been forgotten over the years, but Quintelle grows up to embody this prophecy without knowing it took place. She learns how to fight with a sword and learns all kinds of valuable leadership skills while her brother fritters away his birthright womanizing and behaving recklessly.

There’s romance, too. Quintelle falls in love with the top knight, Thomas. There’s mistaken identity, poison, swordplay, arranged marriages, an epistle sent to the wrong person, and a character called the “Dark Man.” Good times. I included a few sonnets as well.

This is a sonnet, written by my character Thomas for his fair Quintelle. What think ye?

 My lady rests upon a throne of gold
A demigod whose crown doth amply shine.
Her beauty to Shaherezade doth scold
Yet forsakes the noble helm that she be mine?
What oracle should bid my lady so—
Some tainted tincture give her lips to drink?
A spell-bound trap some sprite to her o’erthrow?
'Tis more than sage can say, than fool can think.
If I were for an instant but to steal
A glance from her—my soul should find its rest,
But selfish hours my craven heart appeals
That I might openly my love confess.
My Joan of Arc, my queen, my sovereign, she
Unlocks the chain to my felicity.
Perhaps one day I will resurrect young Quintelle, polish up the script and send it to…someone who reads scripts. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Born in the Wrong Era?

Ever wish you could have lived in another time and place in history? I definitely do.
Mostly, these days, my mind wanders to the Old West when America was still in her infancy, when horses were the most common form of transportation, when folks found gold and silver in the hills, when shooting was a necessary skill, and when the saloon served up just as much justice as whisky. What an exciting time!
Since I haven’t mastered the art of time travel yet, my imagination resorts to the way my favorite westerns portray it: SilveradoTrue Grit, Shane, and High Noon.
These mind-wanderings were what fueled the idea for my book. I was at an old Mormon outpost taking the guided tour and the host mentioned the Pony Express. I thought to myself, Now that would’ve been fun. Thus, the idea for my book was born.
Longing to escape to another time period is probably why historical fiction exists and why it continues to attract readers. It allows us to crawl through its wormholes and live vicariously through the characters in countless settings of the past.
Sadly, I must mention that in my study of the Old West, I found that it wasn’t all trail blazing and card playing. The American West has a very sorrowful side, especially if you were a Native American. Much of what we see in the westerns is a romanticized version of our history. Every time period has its flaws, and that, too, makes it interesting to read about.

If you could’ve been born in any other time and place in history where would it have been?  What are the best historical fiction books that have brought history alive for you?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wherefore Art Thou—What, Huh?

I had one of the biggest epiphanies of my life the other day while watching the Franco Zeffirelli version of Romeo and Juliet. Huge. And I can’t believe I never got this before.
One of the most quoted lines of Shakespeare is often misinterpreted!
Imagine Juliet on her balcony longing for her beloved Romeo. My favorite Juliet, I must say, is Olivia Hussey. To me she perfectly captures the role. Consequently my favorite Romeo is Leonard Whiting of the same movie. Mercutio (John McEnery) blows them all out the water. What a stellar cast!
OK, back to the balcony.

O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
I think most people interpret this to mean ‘where are you?’ But wherefore actually means why. Why are you Romeo? She goes on to say:
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
She’s lamenting the fact that he’s a Montague and she’s a Capulet. Why do you have to be Romeo? Why must our names be an obstacle to this romance?
Maybe you figured this out long ago and praise be to you if you did. Alas, I have been in the dark. But I know I’m not the only one dwelling there. Just after my epiphany I heard a radio commercial where the lady said, “Romeo, Romeo, where the heck art thou, Romeo?”
Which is funny, of course. There were plenty of days when I wondered where the heck my Romeo was. But that’s not the meaning of the quote either.
In context, it makes so much more sense for her to ask why. Oh, poor Juliet! At this point of the story she has no idea how much meaning that simple question holds. Why is possibly the most important question of the play.
There are two reasons why I post this. First, in case anyone thought I forgot about my commitment to Shakespeare this summer, this is to let you know I’m still on target. Second, I can’t help myself! I had to share this personal breakthrough. I warn you, there may be others.  

Sunday, June 9, 2013

My Dedication Page

According to Wikipedia, a dedication page is is the "expression of friendly connection or thank by the author towards another person."
This cowboy-turned-college-professor is my father and I think the world of him. Without further ado, the dedication page of my book.
"For all those who believe our loved ones watch over us after they die. Thanks, Dad."
Who is your book dedicated to? And if you haven't written one, who would you dedicate it to if you did?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"I Survived"

Yesterday as I walked through the airport toting our rolling luggage in one hand and my son's hand in the other, I saw something that has stayed with me.

Three businessmen walked alongside us, having recently deplaned. One of the men struggled as he walked--presumably something he was born with--exerting great effort lifting his knees.

Our pace must have been faster because suddenly I heard a loud noise close behind us. The man had fallen and was on his hands and knees. One of his colleagues asked if he was OK, to which he said, "Everything but my pride."

I quickly turned away so as to not stare. But I wished I could've helped in some way. Was there anything I could've said or done that would've helped? Probably not. His friends were there to get him back on his feet. Still I longed to help lessen his embarrassment.

Pity is not exactly a noble virtue so I'm ashamed to admit I felt sorry for him. I'm guessing that's not what he needed or wanted.

Life is so hard. And I do believe it's harder for some than others. I had my problems and insecurities growing  up, but they were nothing, I imagine, to what this man has endured.

We're just not getting out of this thing called life unscathed, are we? Nobody is going to escape pain and hardship. In fact, nobody is getting through this life without feeling the full range of human emotions.

As I awoke this morning, I no longer felt pity for this man. Instead I felt something more of admiration. I really respect a person who can navigate his or her way through something difficult and keep going, keep trying, keep showing up.

After all the lives have been lived, will we look back on this mortal experience and talk about the things we survived? For some reason those stupid t-shirts emblazoned with "I survived Tower of Terror" or "I survived Slick Rock" came to mind.

Will the things we survived become our badges of honor?

These are some t-shirts that could be made for some people I know:

I survived cancer. I survived infertility. I survived the death of a loved one. I survived college. I survived motherhood. I survived junior high. I survived divorce. I survived being single. I survived betrayal. I survived loneliness.

Perhaps the most important of these will be one we all share: "I survived."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

My Man Shakespeare

Not long ago I listened to someone who claimed to be a literary sort bash Shakespeare. She—I’m ashamed it was a member of my sex—said that Shakespeare was outdated, too difficult to understand, and irrelevant to our day. Part of me wanted to laugh and the other part wanted to go off on her Elizabethan style.

"Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood!” Wouldn’t you agree that people don’t insult each other with “embossed carbuncle” nearly enough? I vow to start now.

Please don’t assume that I claim to be an intellectual or a Shakespearean expert. In fact, I found the above quote by Googling “Shakespearean insults.” You should try it. There are some real gems you can use to stun and stupefy.

But the experience did get me missing the man Shakespeare. We had a brief love affair in college. My husband knows about it. It was before he came along anyway. First I dabbled then I delved into the delicious world of William. It’s a fascinating place full of romance, intrigue, passion, murder, deception. There is nothing off limits in Shakespeare. And there is no human foible or noble characteristic not exploited.

Difficult to understand? Definitely at times. Some of the words and phrases are no longer used, much to my dismay. (Carbuncle…snicker.)

Time out. There is one point on which I hang my snob hat. Shakespeare is not written in Old English. Neither is the Bible. Old English is no longer spoken and is basically a foreign language. Take the first line of the Lord’s Prayer: Fæder ūre, ðū ðē eart on heofonum, Sī ðīn nama gehālgod. Shakespeare and the Bible are considered Early Modern English. There, now you can be a snob about it, too.

Where were we? Oh yes, difficult to understand. Well, I know a certain teacher whose first graders seem to do fine with the language of Shakespeare. Guidance from her is necessary, but once they get into it, they love it. And remember, Shakespeare is meant to be seen on stage. In its proper context, suddenly Shakespeare comes alive and is comprehensible even to small children.

It’s not for everyone’s taste. I understand that. But to bash it as irrelevant and useless in our day? I think my urge to insult has just turned into pity. For without Shakespeare, we would miss out on this from Romeo and Juliet:

Love is a smoke made with the fumes of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears;
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.

There are countless other passages, of course. Frankly I could get lost in them. What my husband doesn’t know is that Shakespeare is nothing if not passionately quoted to his wife.

And as far as literature goes, shouldn’t the fruit sometimes hang high, slightly out of reach rather than served on a platter? Doesn’t the effort make it taste all the sweeter?

With that, I declare the summer of 2013 to be my own personal Summer of Shakespeare. My goal is to watch, read, or listen to all of Shakespeare’s 38 plays by the time my son starts school. (There is some dispute as to how many plays he actually wrote, but I’m going with 38 because that’s the number included in my anthology.) In fact, because my son is starting kindergarten, perhaps now is a good time to introduce him to the Bard.

I’m certain to come out of this Shakespearean deluge sharper, deeper, more refined, a better writer, and more in touch with humanity. I’m looking forward to all I will learn. If anyone out there is mad enough to take the challenge with me I wish him or her Godspeed!