january, february, march 2017: what I’ve been reading & watching

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Ya’ll know how this works, right?  Basically, I just list/discuss noteworthy books and movies that I’ve read and watched in the past three months.  It’s lots of fun (for me, at least) and a good way to keep track of my reactions to the different stories and films I’ve enjoyed recently.  And I want to hear what you’ve been reading and watching, too!  Drop a comment and let me know, if you have the time, ‘kay?

So far this year, I’ve read thirty-eight books and watched fifty-two movies (not counting re-watches).  Here are just a few from both lists.

Books:

The Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung Richmond – I enjoy checking out new books from the library, ones I’ve never heard of before (usually from the YA section) and this one was a winner.  Set during WWII and centered around a fictitious (though historically-inspired) OSS branch, The Darkest Hour has enough thrilling plot twists to rival an Alistair MacLean book.  I just wish it had had a bit of romance to balance all the nail-biting danger and espionage.

Redwall by Brian Jacques – I’ve heard good things about this series for years, but I only recently picked up the first book. (I’d tried reading another one or two before, but they hadn’t really gripped me.)  This is the kind of story that starts slow and finishes strong – I ended up reading it in huge swaths, completely immersing myself in the world of Redwall Abbey.

The Visitation by Frank Peretti – Peretti’s adult novels aren’t always my cup of tea, but The Visitation was pretty great.  Travis was awesome, the story was spellbinding, and…yeah, it all worked together very well.  At first I didn’t like how the POVs switched back and forth from first person to third person, but I got used to it.

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The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – Non-fiction for the win!  I know that Pureflix is making this into a movie, but I enjoyed The Case for Christ for itself.  The evidence for Jesus’ bodily resurrection was clearly presented, in an entertaining way, and that was only one of the issues Strobel tackled.  A thoroughly fascinating book that I would highly recommend to anyone.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (books 1-9) by Lemony Snicket – This series has been a part of my family’s history for years now, but I could never get past the first few pages of any of the books, for whatever reason.  But when I finally took the plunge, determining to get through the first book at least, I found myself drawn to the characters and pulled in by the books themselves.  I love the Baudelaires, the Quagmires, and Uncle Monty.  And, yes, even though I had no idea I would, I have teared up over certain parts of the series, simply because it’s so SAD sometimes.

Fear is the Key by Alistair MacLean – The plotting skills of this man.  Are incredible.  The story had me flipping pages quicker than I have in a while over any book.  It’s just…wowowowowow.  The characters were good, too, so that’s a nice bonus. (They didn’t get lost in the plot, I guess is what I’m trying to say.)

<3:

Holes by Louis Sacher – Holes is a good story, well told.  I love the old West, so that part of the book was neat, and Zero is my baby, and Stanley is pretty awesome as well.  The setting is unique and, admittedly, it took me a while to settle down and accept the fact that the storyworld is kinda like ours, but kinda not, too. (It weirded me out at first when I watched the movie.  And I watched the movie before reading the book.)  Overall, I’d call this a satisfying book, ’cause that’s exactly what it is.

Movies:

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) – I’ve heard about this movie for what almost feels like forever, and I finally got it from the library (we now own it on DVD, too) and, yep, it’s hilarious.  Really hilarious.  Even though John Goodman has creeped me out ever since I watched 10 Cloverfield Lane, it was still fun hearing ‘Sully’ voicing Pancha.  It’s not Disney’s best, but it’s an entertaining ride.

I’m Not Ashamed (2016) – One of the only movies that actually lived up to the high expectations I had after watching the trailer.  Inspiring, emotional, and even exhilarating in parts, I’m Not Ashamed is my current favorite Christian movie.  I was really looking forward to seeing Ben Davies in this and he did not disappoint.  And Masey McLain was gold, pure gold as Rachel.

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Beauty and the Beast (1991) – Read my first thoughts here. (They’ve only intensified with the re-watches, by the way.)

Risen (2016) – Best part of Risen?  The main character, Clavius.  I’d watch it again just for him.  It’s an interesting film, for the most part, and while there are a few issues with how they handled the Biblical account of events (as there invariably is in Hollywood movies), Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent appearances were handled with respect.  It’s a good film, the tone of which reminds me quite a lot of Ben-Hur (the Charlton Heston version).

Room for One More (1952) – Let me just say that if continue watching more serious Cary Grant movies (the other one I’ve seen so far being People Will Talk – 1951) I might have to revise my earlier, unfavorable opinion of him.  I dunno, there’s just something about guys who normally play comedic roles suddenly doing serious ones that gets me right in the heart. (That probably sounds weird, but I hope you can understand at least a little of what I mean.)  Room for One More does have its moments of humor, but it’s quite a serious film, too, and I’d recommend it to just about anyone.

101 Dalmatians (1961) – Another Disney classic that I only recently caught up to!  I tell myself I don’t like dogs, but I adored this film and Lady and the Tramp, soooo…I don’t know what to make of all that.  It’s a charming story with lovely dogs and human characters alike.  So sweet.

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How many of these books have you read?  How many of these films have you watched?  And what’ve you been reading and watching lately?  Can’t wait to hear what all you have to say. 🙂

Eva

wanted: dead or alive episode review/analysis – “secret ballot”

[This post was written for the 3rd Annual Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon, hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts.]

Ohhhhhh, that glare at the camera. EPICNESS.:

Wanted: Dead or Alive is an outstanding (though little-known) western TV show that ran during what many refer to as the ‘golden age of television’.  Westerns were hugely popular with TV audiences in the 50’s and 60’s and Wanted: Dead or Alive slipped through the cracks for whatever reason, running for only three seasons.  It might have been entirely forgotten, had not the show’s star, Steve McQueen, gone on to bigger and better things. 

Still, even apart from McQueen’s excellent turn as Josh Randall, Wanted: Dead or Alive is still a great western show, unique in that the lines aren’t as clearly drawn between good guys and bad guys as in some westerns.  Josh himself is often ostracized from ‘polite society’ because he’s a bounty hunter and at times the wanted criminals he pursues turn out to be decent people, falsely accused.  It’s an interesting take on the classic western. (And besides the uniqueness of the show, there’s cool guest stars, too, like James Coburn, Mary Tyler Moore, Lee Van Cleef, DeForest Kelley, and Martin Landau.  And that’s just naming a few.)

Anyway, today I want to discuss one of Wanted: Dead or Alive’s most powerful episodes, in my mind – ‘Secret Ballot’.

The episode begins with Josh riding down the street of a small town.  There’s  a large banner strung across the street that says NED EASTER FOR MAYOR.  That doesn’t make The Bad Guys happy, the ones who just a moment before were gloating about the much smaller poster that advertises their favorite candidate, Barney Pax, the current (and corrupt) mayor.  One of the bad guys is Steve Pax, by the way, Barney’s brother, and you can imagine what the town’s like if the mayor and the sheriff are not only corrupt, but brothers as well.

Anyway, one of Steve’s lackeys goes over, swings a rope over the banner, and yanks it down.  Josh takes exception to this and suggests that the guy put it back up.  That doesn’t go over well with Steve or his two deputies, of course (I dunno if the two guys hanging around with Steve are actually his deputies, but I’m just going to guess that they are) and they ‘suggest’ that Josh should move on.  (Surprisingly, he does.)  And then there’s this great little exchange that always cracks me up.

Henchman #1: “You figure Ned Easter’s hired a gun to run his campaign?”
Steve: “[If] he did, it’s the greatest mistake since buttermilk.”

Cut to the opening credits. (Which are awesome, I might add.)

So, after the credits, Josh goes into the town schoolhouse which has become Ned Easter’s campaign headquarters.  Ned and his wife, Carol, are excited/happy/pleased to see Josh, but when Josh tries to explain what he’s doing in Crater City, Carol hurries Ned out the door.  We soon find out why – Carol doesn’t want Ned to know that she sent for Josh because apparently Ned thinks he can beat Pax alone and “he’d be furious” to find out that Carol doesn’t think so…?  I guess? (Fun fact: Ned is played by John Lupton, who I first saw in Disney’s The Great Locomotive Chase.  It was neat to see him in a Wanted: Dead or Alive episode.)

After Ned leaves, Josh and Carol discuss some things, like how Ned’s the first person to stand up to Barney Pax, how Ned deserves to win the election more than anyone else, and how Barney made Steve sheriff to keep all his dirty dealings and murderous tricks legal.  There seems to be no way of stopping Barney, especially because he tends to scare people out of voting for anyone other than him.  But then Josh pulls out a wanted (dead or alive, naturally) poster for Steve Pax, alias Steve Patrick.  According to Carol, the poster could win the election for Ned, I guess because it would discredit Steve and so people would be less afraid of Barney’s threats.

A moment later, they hear gunshots from outside.  Steve’s deputies are riding back and forth, shooting their guns, and one of them goes so far as to throw a lasso around Ned and drag him along the street until Josh shoots him (the deputy, not Ned).  Then the deputy tries to shoot Josh.  Then Steve tries to shoot Josh.  Then Barney shoots the gun out of Steve’s hand and does the whole ‘concerned civil servant’ act and it’s nauseating, but what can you do?  Ned does try to do something, ’cause in the next scene, he’s talking to a bunch of people (it’s nighttime, just so you know), but his efforts appear to have been successfully thwarted when Dolly, who owns the town’s saloon, shows up with a carriage full of dancing girls from Denver City.  But Josh sees through her. (Duh.)

“Excuse me.  Now you didn’t bring these girls all the way from Denver just to heckle up Mr. Easter’s campaign, did y’ now?”

Dolly gets pretty angry, but even more so when Josh shows her the reward poster for Steve Pax.  Then he gets Ned to read it out loud and everyone drifts away from Dolly and her dancing girls, so I suppose it made a pretty big impression.  Later on, at the schoolhouse, Ned tries to get Josh to change his mind and leave Crater City instead of sticking around and maybe getting himself killed.  That’s when you learn Important Backstory Information ’cause Josh mentions that Ned (‘Corporal Ned Easter’) went out of his way to help him a couple times (during the Civil War, I’m assuming).  And that just makes what happens at the end of this episode even more heartbreaking and just…ugggggh.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dolly shows up at the schoolhouse with a message for Josh: Barney Pax wants to see him.  Josh follows her into a room at the back of the saloon, where she leaves him to wait, saying she’ll go get Barney.  While Josh waits, he either hears a noise coming from a closet in the room or just assumes that someone might be hiding in there, and when he opens the closet door, out tumbles Steve Pax.  Dead.  There’s a bullet hole in his back and, of course, Barney and and a couple of his/Steve’s friends come in right then and find Josh standing over Steve’s body.  Barney takes his (Josh’s) gun.

Commercial break.  I’d like to point out right here that Steve Pax is played by DeForest Kelley and I promised my dear friend Maribeth a screenshot just of him since she’s a huge Trekkie (and I’m a second-hand one because of her), so here it is. 

By the way, Barney was the one who killed Steve, or at least ordered the killing. I don’t think it’s ever proven or said outright, but you just know.

This post is getting super long, so I’m just going to go over the next few scenes as quickly as I can.  Barney goes to the schoolhouse and tells Ned and Carol that Josh is being held on a murder charge and will be hung for it…unless Ned agrees to step out of the campaign, leaving Crater City in Pax’s slimy hands.  Ned agrees to do so, on the condition that he can see Josh first, to make sure he’s still alive. (Oh, and Barney also says that the printer in town, who owes him a few favors, will swear that he printed the wanted poster for ‘Randall’ just to smear the Pax brothers.)

To make a longish scene short, Josh ends up escaping from the room he was being held in.  But Ned still agrees to give Barney the whole ballot, because Barney says that he’ll make sure Josh is hunted for the rest of his life, until he ends up dead.  Barney wants the agreement in writing, and Ned goes back to the schoolhouse to write it all down.  Carol is angry that Pax has finally succeeded in stopping Ned and, in a frantic attempt in stop Ned from taking himself out of the running to save Josh’s life, she ‘admits’ that the reason Josh came to Crater City was to see her, that he’s been writing to her for months, that he’s been trying to convince Carol to go away with him.  Ned doesn’t believe her and still plans to go ahead with what he feels is the only way to save his friend. (Note: I can kind of see where Carol’s coming from, but I really, really, REALLY don’t like her.)

Let me just say that whoever cast this episode did a great job because the actors and actresses all perfectly inhabit their roles, making Ned upright and honest, Barney seemingly upright and honest but with a certain untrustworthiness, Steve a creep (sorry, DeForest Kelley fans!), Carol conniving, and Dolly cheap.  It’s very interesting, watching them all play off each other.

Anyway, Barney comes over and takes the written agreement from Ned.  When he leaves, Ned asks Carol if what she said about Josh was true (as opposed to something she just said to make turn him against Josh so that he wouldn’t give up the election).  And she says “Oh, what difference does it make now?”.  PLENTY of difference.  A years-old friendship is at stake!  UGH.  Ned goes off to find Josh after that little exchange (I don’t know if he still believes Carol’s lies or not right here) and once he’s gone, Carol grabs a gun and goes off to the saloon to see Barney.  Meanwhile, Josh has slipped back into the saloon’s back room and listens in on Carol and Barney’s exchange.  She threatens him with her gun so that she can get Ned’s agreement back.  Barney says that it’s already at the printers, but that’s a lie, as Carol points out – he hasn’t had enough time.

Things happen really fast after that.  Josh opens the door he’s hiding behind and Carol turns and tries to shoot him.  Josh slams the door shut and then Barney fires three shots at said door.  Then Barney cautiously enters the room, Josh emerges from the closet with his shotgun ready, Barney turns from the window to Josh, and Josh shoots him.  Obviously, Barney dies and that’s the end of him.  Dolly seems quite upset about it, though…but enough about those two.  Josh gives Ned’s paper back to Carol.  In all fairness to Carol, I think it was more of a reflex thing, her shooting at Josh, based on their little exchange right after she gets the paper back.

Josh: “Well, that’s the resignation.”
Carol: “Josh, I…I almost killed you.”
Josh: “Yeah.  You almost killed me.” [He says it with his signature little grin/smirk/smile, so he’s not mad at her or anything.  And then he leaves, with very dramatic music playing on the soundtrack.]

And thennnn there’s The Awful Tag Scene.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.

Basically, Carol comes running down the boardwalk after Josh and tells him about some of the lies she told Ned and she’s all ashamed and upset and kind of puts her head on his shoulder and then Ned walks up and asks Josh if what Carol said was true and Josh says “Yeah, she told you the truth” and then Ned gives him a look and he walks away and it’s horrible, it really is, because of (among other things) the expression on Josh’s face as he leaves.  Plus, he and Ned were such good friends.

The ending of this episode is powerful and unexpected and completely unfair, but that’s sometimes life, y’know?

*sigh*

Despite the ending, I do love and admire this episode.  It’s one of the finest – if not the finest – of the entire show.  And here’s a bunch of pictures for ya’ll – all the screenshots that I couldn’t really find a place for in main body of the post (except the one of Dead Barney Pax which doesn’t really belong anywhere).  I’m not one to let good screenshots go to waste. 😉

Have you seen this episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive?  What do you think of it?

Eva

my definitive ranking of {almost} every Pixar movie

I say ‘almost’ because I haven’t seen A Bug’s Life or Brave yet.  But I don’t feel like waiting to do this post.

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Pixar is awesome.  End of story.  However, not every one of its films has reached the same level of spectacularness (sad to say) so I thought it would be fun to finally decide where each movie stands in my mind + heart.  Expect a few surprises and lots of fangirling.  And feeeeeels because it’s Pixar, for crying out loud. (Please excuse the terrible pun.)

LET’S DO THIS.

~The Good Dinosaur~

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Where did you go so wrong, Pixar?  The story is predictable, the characters are dull, and the mix of realistic scenery and cartoon-like dinosaurs is more than a little weird.

~Cars 2~

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Wayyyy too much focus on Mater, a story that feels more like an Illumination Entertainment Studies plot-line, and no emotional grip. (A must for Pixar, in my opinion.)

~Finding Dory~

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The story is all over the place (I really dislike how the characters spend more time out of the water than in the water) and the new characters don’t really make their mark on the list of Epic Secondary Pixar Characters.  The new short film that came on the DVD, Piper,  is almost perfection, though.

~Ratatouille~

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The food looks delicious, but I don’t like rats.  And the whole rat-controlling-the-human thing (I forget names so easily) was a little odd, I thought.  Favorite part?  Peter O’Toole voicing the exacting food critic.

~Toy Story~

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This is where the rankings get tricky.  And this is also the point where the positions on this list become more fluid, depending on my mood.  Toy Story is fresh and funny and the characters are unique and lovable (BUZZ), but it still kinda falls flat for me.

~UP~

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Most of UP is not particularly interesting (for me, anyway).  It’s good fun, very entertaining and colorful, but when my siblings watch it, I usually just stick around for the prologue, the bit where Carl discovers the other half of Ellie’s scrapbook, and the ending.  Still, it’s a charming film.

~Monsters, Inc.~

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I know so many people go on and on about Tom Hanks and Tim Allen’s rapport in the Toy Story films, but I think John Goodman and Billy Crystal deserve to be mentioned just as often in that respect.  And the world of MI is endlessly fascinating.  (Plus, y’know, JAMES COBURN.)

~Finding Nemo~

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The visuals in this film are stunning and I really like how Marlin and Nemo’s stories are given equal time/importance throughout the movie.  Pixar has a knack for creating great minor characters and I love all the fish in the tank that Nemo ends up in – they’re so funny.

~Toy Story 2~

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I enjoy the Western element of this film.  Also, Buzz’s unfailing devotion to finding/rescuing Woody.  ALSO the whole subplot with the other Buzz and Zurg and that ridiculously funny “No, Buzz, I am your father!” scene.  I’m definitely not as attached to the Toy Story movies as some other people, but the second movie is one of Pixar’s best.

~Toy Story 3~

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Stuff I like in this one: Ken and Barbie’s romance (I know it’s unbearably cheesy, but still…), the Very Elaborate Escape Plan, the final scene, Bonnie, and Buzz and Jessie’s relationship.  Oh, and all the end credits scenes.

~Monsters University~

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Mike makes me laugh a lot, tear up a little, and cheer inwardly as he navigates the world of Monsters University, all while in the shadow of some big guy who’s inheriting good grades while Mike has to work extra hard to earn his.  Plus, I just happen to love prequels.

~WALLE~

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The music in this one, guys.  You can’t beat it.  Swingin’ songs like ‘Put on Your Sunday Clothes’ and ‘La Vie en Rose’ and Thomas Newman’s delicately beautiful score. (Just listen.)  Add to that one of the tenderest love stories ever portrayed on the big screen, and you’ve got a great snapshot of what makes Pixar so amazing.

~Inside Out~

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Sure, a lot of the concepts are too big and complex for little kids to understand, but what makes Inside Out work so well is the colorful characters (literally), the fantastical road trip through Riley’s mind, and, let’s be honest, Bing Bong.  Definitely a winner in every way.

~The Incredibles~

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Love the prologue, love the sixties spy movie-esque soundtrack, and I love the themes of family and married love and not hiding who you really are.  And the characters are golden and beautiful.

~Cars~

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I’ll just let my review do the gushing talking when it comes to Cars. (Which a lot of people view as one of Pixar’s weakest films.  What even???)

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You’ve been a brick to read through all of this.  Thanks so much!  Now let’s discuss the wonders of Pixar in the comments, shall we?

Eva