Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Notable Passings

There have been a number of interesting people who passed from the scene in recent days...I wanted to take time out to remember each of them.

First and foremost, of course, is actor-philanthropist Paul Newman (click title of post for story). I particularly liked him in 1957's UNTIL THEY SAIL. I also think his voicing of Doc in CARS worthy of special mention. A productive life which not only brought joy to many through his movies, but with his food products and many charitable endeavors.

Tributes to Newman can be read at The Shelf, Another Old Movie Blog, and Self-Styled Siren.

Big Band singer Connie Haines passed away recently, age 87. Haines performed with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras alongside Frank Sinatra. Haines had a very interesting life, and rather remarkably is survived by her 109-year-old mother.

Robert Steinberg, the Harvard-educated physician who cofounded Scharffen Berger fine chocolate, has passed away at 61. Steinberg was diagnosed with terminal cancer -- nearly two decades ago. He sold his medical practice and eventually went into the chocolate business with a former patient, John Scharffenberger.

Two years ago Steinberg and Scharffenberger authored a beautiful, highly regarded cookbook, THE ESSENCE OF CHOCOLATE.

Southern Californians like me have watched and listened to restaurant and travel critic Elmer Dills for decades. I was surprised to learn Dills was 82; I would have guessed his age at least a decade younger. His presence in the local media will be missed.

Over the years John Taylor's name has periodically popped up in my reading. He worked for the National Archives for a remarkable 63 years. Taylor, who was 87, was still working there the week before he died.

Five very different lives, each making a unique contribution to our world.

Why Agree to Gwen Ifill?

At some point Republicans need to stop agreeing to play by the rules of old media.

I've never thought much of Gwen Ifill, and if you read Michelle Malkin's story on Ms. Ifill, you'll wonder why the McCain campaign ever agreed to have her moderate the vice-presidential debate.

Ms. Ifill clearly has a horse running in the Presidential race, and one guess which party that candidate is from.

Wednesday Update: We all know most members of the mainstream media lean left, but Ms. Ifill not having recused herself with such a blatant financial conflict of interest demonstrates a clear lack of professionalism. Can you imagine if a proposed moderator stood to profit from a book on McCain being released on Inauguration Day?

Update: Ifill attributes questioning of her bias to racism: "'Do you think they made the same assumptions about Lou Cannon (who is white) when he wrote his book about Reagan?' said Ifill, who is black. Asked if there were racial motives at play, she said, 'I don't know what it is. I find it curious.'"

Ifill dismisses "one-day blog chatter," but that "chatter" thoroughly covers Ifill's biases, including writing a fawning magazine article on the Obamas, criticism of Sarah Palin, and a financial stake in a book on the "Age of Obama" set to be released on Inauguration Day. Not one of those complaints has to do with race.

Ifill's reaction is sadly typical of too many liberals. Dismiss the issue on the merits and whine you're being picked on due to your race, when it's never been an issue. It's all too reminiscent of Senator Obama repeatedly bringing up race and charging that McCain and the Republicans have done so, when they never have.

A pathetic defense for unprofessional behavior on Ms. Ifill's part.

More from Power Line.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Coming to DVD: The Waltons, Season 8

Here's some cheery DVD news for fans of classic television: Season 8 of THE WALTONS will be released on DVD next January 6th.

Isn't the cover art gorgeous? I actually had this particular still hanging in my college dorm room "back in the day." My favorite seasons of the show were those depicting the World War II era.

What's even better about this DVD release is that, as I was hoping a year ago, the 1980 special A DECADE OF THE WALTONS will be included with this set. This documentary chronicled the history of the show and the characters from THE HOMECOMING up to the time the special was filmed. The show also included interviews with Earl Hamner's family members who inspired the Walton characters.


The dismay I feel about the Democratic Party and their media enablers is off the charts this week.

The entire trumped-up drama is unbelievable: first of all, as Instapundit notes, there must not really be much of a financial crisis if the House is going to take a few days off before voting again.

It also must not have been much of a crisis if the Senate refused to vote today.

And the Democrats using the situation as an excuse to lard up the bill with millions, possibly billions of taxpayer dollars for disreputable leftwing groups like ACORN and La Raza sure doesn't give one a sense of urgency.

And isn't it strange that the Democrats are refusing to pass the bailout bill themselves, but wanted the Republicans to do it for them, after being tongue-lashed by Nancy Pelosi that the current financial crisis is the fault of President Bush and Republican policies? As Power Line notes (see subject link), the vote may have been a setup from the beginning. First Pelosi and Co. blame the President for the crisis, then the Democrats will blame Republicans in Congress for passing a bailout plan which is unpopular with voters.

Either there's not really a problem and the Democrats are creating fear to consolidate power, or there is a problem but the Democrats are continuing to play the same irresponsible political games which got us into this mess in the first place.

It's completely bizarre that the same Democrats whose policies caused the problems are now supposedly going to "fix" things, all the while blaming the President. And with few exceptions, the media let the Democrats get away with their spin.

As Power Line notes, we now live in a "mediated democracy" in which the media elite "dictate the terms of political discourse."

The "reality" put forth by the Democrats and the mainstream media is so far from the actual truth -- such as Congressional Democrats refusing to reform Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae just a couple years ago, despite warnings from the President and Congressional Republicans -- that at times it makes one simply want to give up and walk away.

Which is, of course, exactly what the Democrats and the media want.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Hondo (1953) at USC

Tonight we enjoyed a 3-D screening of HONDO as part of USC's weekend-long celebration of the centennial of John Wayne.

It was hard to top last night's showing of THE QUIET MAN, but HONDO's 3-D technology was truly spectacular. What made seeing the film even more special was that although I loved the novel and recently acquired the DVD, this was, in fact, my first-ever viewing of HONDO. I very much enjoyed the movie; it's simply a good, solid Western with an excellent cast, made with great craftsmanship.

I especially liked the scenes developing the relationship between Hondo (Wayne) and Angie (Geraldine Page). Lee Aaker did an excellent job as Page's little boy. Seeing familiar faces like Ward Bond, Paul Fix, James Arness, and Leo Gordon come onto the screen is always fun; Bond in particular is just about my all-time favorite character actor. Michael Pate, who played the Indian chief Vittorio, co-wrote the story and screenplay for ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (reviewed here), which was released the same year as HONDO.

I've seen a few movies in 3-D, including KISS ME KATE, but the 3-D effects were truly impressive. You felt as though the actors were almost standing right in front of you. The 3-D was particularly effective in scenes inside Angie's house, as it gave the set so much more depth than we are used to seeing. And, of course, there were a few arrows and spears which seemed headed right for the audience at certain points! Dr. Jewell said HONDO has already been worked on twice, as 3-D technology continues to evolve, and there may be a third restored edition of HONDO in the future.

HONDO was directed by John Farrow and runs 83 minutes.

Libertas describes a screening of the print which was hosted by Maltin and Gretchen Wayne at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater last year.

HONDO can be seen on DVD in a beautiful edition released by the John Wayne Estate. Extras include a commentary by Leonard Maltin and others, plus featurettes on Ward Bond and writer James Edward Grant. Although I had not seen the DVD copy of the film yet, I had previously watched and enjoyed some of the featurettes very much.

Update: Today I watched the 20-minute DVD featurette on the making of HONDO, which was excellent. Michael Pate and Lee Aaker shared their memories of being cast and shooting the film in Mexico.

It's quite interesting that John Ford shot the climactic battle between the wagon train and the Apaches, as Farrow had to leave to shoot another movie. Stefanie Powers also shared last night that Ford shot a small portion of MCLINTOCK! when Andrew McLaglen was hospitalized. She recalled waiting with trepidation for the great man's arrival at their location; Ford was in a huff as his proteges, Wayne and McLaglen, had not previously consulted him on making the movie.

While watching the featurette I was struck anew at HONDO's visual beauty: stark desert landscapes contrast with cloudy blue skies and the lush green around a creek. To some extent I don't think it was possible to fully absorb all of the film's qualities on the first viewing, especially as the 3-D was fascinating but perhaps a bit distracting in and of itself. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing it again in the future.

2018 Update: I wrote more on this film for Classic Movie Hub.

John Wayne Weekend, Part 2

Last night I wrote about our wonderful evening at USC's John Wayne celebration.

This afternoon and evening were even more enjoyable. We arrived during a lovely catered reception outside the theater which was available free of charge to all of the event's guests:

During the reception we had the opportunity to chat for a few minutes with Leonard Maltin, which was a very special experience for both my husband and myself. His movie rating books have been part of our lives since we were teenagers!

We let Leonard -- who wears a Disney pin on his jacket -- know how much we enjoy the Disney Treasures sets and asked about the chances for future releases of the Jiminy Cricket "I'm No Fool" cartoons and another season of SPIN AND MARTY. He said he hopes to bring them out someday as Disney Treasures, but it is very difficult to convince the powers-that-be about approving each release and that it's also difficult to convince higher-ups that the DVDs are being enjoyed by families like ours, with viewers of all ages, and not just by Disney collectors.

It was fun to spot familiar faces such as Aissa Wayne, Lee Meriwether, and Stefanie Powers as they arrived. (I had seen Stefanie Powers once before, when she played Roxanne in a theatrical production of CYRANO DE BERGERAC opposite Stacy Keach in Long Beach in the late '70s.) Later in the evening we had the chance to say hello to Batjac President Gretchen Wayne, Michael Wayne's widow. I asked her about whether there was any chance of Wayne's production BULLFIGHTER AND THE LADY (reviewed here) coming to DVD in a special edition similar to the release of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, but she didn't seem too hopeful; her company owns the negative but she thought offhand that Paramount is also mixed up in the rights. She is a very gracious, knowledgeable lady who is an excellent representative for Batjac and the Wayne family.

Maltin moderated a very enjoyable panel discussion with Gretchen Wayne, Powers, Meriwether, director Mark Rydell (THE COWBOYS) and screenwriter Miles Swarthout (THE SHOOTIST) sharing their memories of John Wayne.

Following the panel discussion and an intermission, we were all asked to don our 3-D glasses so a photographer could attempt to duplicate the famous Life Magazine photo from the '50s.

There was also a trivia contest preceding the movie; I won a t-shirt for correctly answering how many of Wayne's children were in THE QUIET MAN...as I wrote here just last night, the answer is four. I was then asked if I was able to name the children...and yes, I'm enough of a movie trivia geek and John Wayne fan that I could successfully name all four, though it was a bit nerve-wracking with a couple rows of Wayne's children and grandchildren sitting behind me!

Dr. Rick Jewell then introduced HONDO, which was shown in 3-D; I'll be writing about the film in a separate post. Suffice it to say that it was a spectacular print, the best-looking 3-D movie we've ever seen. Watching it with Leonard Maltin sitting five seats down in the next row was pretty cool for serious movie buffs like us. Stefanie Powers and Lee Meriwether stayed to watch the film as well, sitting front row center.

Batjac had prepared a special tribute featurette honoring Wayne especially for the evening, which included photos of Wayne in his USC days. It was really lovely and would make a wonderful extra on a DVD one day.

As I have shared here before, I have been fortunate to see many classic movies shown in theaters in years past, during the pre-video, pre-cable era in the late '70s and early '80s when Los Angeles was home to many revival theaters. Such opportunities still exist in Los Angeles, at places such as USC, UCLA, and the Los Angeles County Art Museum, but there are not nearly as many "big screen" options as there used to be, and our busy schedules haven't allowed us to take advantage of nearly as many experiences as we'd like. It was really wonderful to not only enjoy a terrific "movie weekend" but to share it with our children.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tonight's Movie: The Quiet Man (1952) at USC

THE QUIET MAN is, in a word, perfect.

There really isn't much of a need for further adjectives to describe this masterpiece, although it would be easy to come up with them. For me the film is, quite simply, 129 minutes of bliss.

As many fans of classic films already know, THE QUIET MAN stars John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a tale about romance, a dowry, and boxing, set in a tiny Irish village. The film won Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and John Ford was awarded his still-record fourth Oscar for Best Direction.

I'd seen THE QUIET MAN countless times before tonight's USC screening -- one of those occasions was particularly memorable, an Academy Award movie marathon at Filmex three decades ago -- and yet I was rather amazed to find myself feeling tonight as though I were seeing the movie for the first time. It was all so familiar, yet I was struck anew by so many things, such as the use of remarkable use of light in the film's outdoor scenes. The very funny bit with the General (Sam Harris) never stirring from reading his paper, even during the fight, was also something that caught my eye for the first time. Maureen O'Hara's nervousness and delight when Fitzgerald comes to tell her that Wayne wishes to court her is charming, as is her lovely singing voice.

I believe one of the things that is the mark of a true classic is its ability to remain fresh and provide the viewer with new things to enjoy on each successive viewing. Indeed, I enjoy the film even more now than I did the very first time I saw it in the '70s.

I found myself tearing up at a couple points in the film, including during the marvelous "curtain call" sequence which concludes the movie, out of sheer joy at the film's artistry and appreciation for the remarkable talents behind it -- so many of them now gone. Maureen O'Hara, bless her, is still with us at age 88.

One of the fun things about the movie is that it was very much a "family" production. Barry Fitzgerald (Michaeleen) and Arthur Shields (The Rev. Mr. Playfair) were real-life brothers. John Ford's brother, Francis, is the elderly man in the film who memorably rises from what appears to be his deathbed in order to see the climactic fight. Ford's son-in-law, Ken Curtis, is the accordion player and singer Dermot Fahy ("no E!"). Maureen O'Hara's brother, Charles FitzSimons, plays Hugh, one of the dark-haired young men who serves as a frequent commentator on the goings-on in Innisfree, while O'Hara's other brother, James Lilburn, plays young Father Paul. Four of John Wayne's children appear in the racing sequence. Ford's son Patrick and Victor McLaglen's son Andrew both worked as second unit directors, while Ford's daughter Barbara served as an assistant editor.

THE QUIET MAN is available on DVD in a beautiful Collector's Edition. Extras include a commentary track by Maureen O'Hara. (2017 Update: THE QUIET MAN has now been released on DVD and Blu-ray in the Olive Films Signature line.)

It can also be seen on VHS.

You can read more about THE QUIET MAN in THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE QUIET MAN, as well as in Maureen O'Hara's excellent autobiography, 'TIS HERSELF.

The music can be enjoyed on CD, although it should be noted this is a studio recording, not a soundtrack.

If you have not yet caught up with this wonderful movie, you're in for a treat.

Related posts: John Wayne Weekend, Part 2 and HONDO (1953).

John Wayne: Actor, Star, Icon, Trojan

This weekend USC is celebrating the centennial of John Wayne's birth with a celebration titled "Actor, Star, Icon, Trojan."

The agenda includes screenings of Wayne's movies, panel discussions, and the opening of an exhibit on Wayne in the Doheny Library.

This afternoon we attended a screening of THE QUIET MAN in USC's Norris Theatre, followed by a panel discussion moderated by USC film professor Dr. Rick Jewell.

Jewell recently wrote the article John Wayne, An American Icon. He teaches a course on Westerns, which our daughter is currently attending. Fans of DVD extras will recognize his name from his many documentary and commentary appearances regarding classic movies, including the new edition of Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS coming out October 14th.

The other panelists were Stephen Aron of UCLA, Sharon Carnicke of USC, and USC Cinema School's Dr. Drew Casper. Each of the professors gave a presentation on a different topic related to Wayne, including Wayne and the evolution of the Western, Wayne as an actor, and the reasons behind Wayne's success in postwar America.

It was wonderful seeing THE QUIET MAN on the big screen again for the first time in many years and sharing that experience with our children. I'll be writing more on THE QUIET MAN in another post.

Tomorrow we'll be attending a panel discussion moderated by Leonard Maltin, followed by a screening of a 3-D print of HONDO.

More about the weekend-long tribute, including interviews with Rick Jewell and Leonard Maltin, can be found in this article from the L.A. Times.

Sunday Update: John Wayne Weekend, Part 2 and HONDO.

Obama's Odd Debate Behavior

As I wrote last night, I found Senator Obama's debate behavior off-putting, to say the least, but that angle went largely unremarked on by the TV pundits in their post-debate analyses. I remembered that although Al Gore got high marks immediately after the first debate of 2000, over time the debate became infamous because of the bad impression Gore made on viewers at home, and I wondered if we would see the same reaction gradually set in regarding Senator Obama.

Dean Barnett of the Weekly Standard thinks Obama lost the debate with his rudeness: "...the real damage came with the debate's optics...Obama by his own creative antics often came across as childish, petulant, and a little odd."

For example: "Several times during the debate, Obama would smirk and laugh while McCain spoke. The optics of this were just awful. If Obama had wanted to come across as an arrogant jerk, this is the strategy he would have chosen. Frankly, it's rather shocking that Obama repeatedly made such a mistake. Al Gore cost himself the 2000 election with his first debate performance where he derided everything George W. Bush said with a series of sighs and smirks. Oh yeah--the polls and the pundits said Gore 'won' that tussle right after it concluded, although history has rendered a different verdict."

Barnett also cites Obama's disrespect in repeatedly referring to Senator McCain as "John" (a habit shared by Senator Biden), while McCain respectfully referred to Senator Obama by his title; Obama's odd pronunciation of Pakistan; and what may be the debate's most infamous moment, "I've got a bracelet too!"

I was a bit surprised the pundits said there were no memorable soundbites, because Obama's petulant "I've got a bracelet too!" -- then demonstrating he didn't even remember the name on his bracelet -- immediately jumped out at me.

Barnett doesn't even delve into Obama's repeated rudeness in talking over McCain and trying to drown him out.

The pundits may have felt Obama "held his own" on debate points, but it will be interesting to evaluate in the coming days whether Obama's behavior left a negative impression with viewers at home.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"A Clear Win For McCain"

When I listened to the TV pundits following tonight's debate, I had to wonder if gentlemen like Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, and Dick Morris had just watched the same debate I watched. They all declared the evening free of interesting soundbites and felt that Obama won or tied (and, in tying, won by exceeding expectations).

Although Senator McCain started out slowly and I think could have answered some questions better -- and more conservatively -- he was authoritative, knowledgeable, humorous, and pleasant.

Senator Obama was petulant, rude, whiny ("I have a bracelet too"), and clearly outclassed in terms of knowledge and experience.

Only one man on the stage was Presidential, and that man was Senator McCain.

You can read some of my thoughts as the debate unfolded in the comments at Holy Coast.

My memory is a bit fuzzy, but it seems to me as though some pundits didn't immediately recognize how poorly Al Gore's body language and facial expressions played on TV in the first Presidential debate in 2000. I'm wondering if over the next few days we're gradually going to hear more negative reaction to Senator Obama's grimaces, anger, and particularly the obnoxious way he repeatedly tried to talk over and drown out Senator McCain.

Bill Kristol, whose commentary has been spot-on throughout this campaign season, felt McCain was the clear winner. Ed Morrissey (click title of post) and Michelle Malkin, one of McCain's strongest critics, also declared McCain the winner.

Update: Welcome to readers of Holy Coast. It was fun posting updates while Rick was attending to "real life" -- high school marching band!


The news that the bailout plan included funneling millions in bailout "profits" to anti-American, left-wing voter fraud groups like ACORN and La Raza is but one reason that so many Americans are right to be skeptical of the bailout plan in its current form.

Michelle Malkin and The Corner have more.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dodgers Win the West!

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched the National League West today, so both the Dodgers and the Angels will be in the playoffs this year.

We're fans of both teams, although if it came down to a Dodgers-Angels World Series, we're rooting for the Dodgers all the way. :)

(And yes, I've ironed these flags since I took this photo, when both teams were in the 2004 Playoffs!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"The Man Who Never Was"

This is a must-read by Tony Blankley about the media's campaign for Obama.

Biden: FDR Went On TV When Stock Market Crashed

If a Republican said something so silly, he or she would be driven from the race...

As noted by several pundits, in the highly unlikely event you owned an experimental TV in 1929 and saw FDR speak on it, you would have asked "What happened to President Hoover?"

Monday, September 22, 2008

Books, Beautiful Books

Be sure to check out Jacqueline's post on novels turned into movies over at Another Old Movie Blog (click title of this post). She mentions many of my all-time favorite books and has some wonderful illustrations of book jackets.

By coincidence, my 13-year-old has been reading MAMA'S BANK ACCOUNT by Kathryn Forbes. She finished it tonight at 11:40 p.m. One of the advantages of homeschooling is you don't have to quit reading if you're in the middle of a book you can't put down!

We have a video copy on hand of I REMEMBER MAMA, with Irene Dunne's Oscar-nominated performance in the title role, so I suspect she'll be watching it soon.

I first came across MAMA'S BANK ACCOUNT in my junior high school library. That's also the place where I first discovered GONE WITH THE WIND, MRS. MIKE, JUBILEE TRAIL, CELIA GARTH, OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY, PAPA'S WIFE, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, and LET THE HURRICANE ROAR. My oldest daughter attended the same school -- based on her experience, the other children are all skipping it -- and they still had the same copies of GONE WITH THE WIND in the library. I wonder what happened to the rest of the books...

The high school library was also quite good back then. That's where I first found I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, AS THE EARTH TURNS, THE EDGE OF TIME, TRYST, and my all-time favorite books, Elswyth Thane's seven WILLIAMSBURG NOVELS.

When my daughter attended the high school, she brought me a unique treasure: the library's copy of Thane's YANKEE STRANGER still had a "check-out" card with the signatures of students who had checked out the book, including my own name. In this computerized age, the card had been unused for over 20 years, as the library had changed to a "modern" checkout system; it was pure chance that the card was still in the pocket of this particular book. (I hope the fact that the card hadn't been thrown away didn't mean the book was sitting on the shelf ignored!) The card was certainly destined for the trash at some point, so she brought it home to me and I tucked it in my own copy of the book. It's a wonderful little memento of the first time I "met" Thane's Day and Sprague families.

Happily, over the years I've managed to track down copies of almost all the above titles for my own bookshelves and share them with my children.

Disney Parks Offer Free Birthday Admissions in 2009

Disneyland's theme for 2009 is "What Will You Celebrate?" and as part of the promotion Disney will be offering free admission to Disneyland or any of the parks at Disney World.

As an Annual Passholder, I'm quite excited that in lieu of the free admission ticket, passholders who visit the park on their birthdays will be given gift cards of the same value as an admission ticket, currently $69.

On my last birthday I received matted posters of the Matterhorn and Skyway Buckets, and I'd love to add to my collection of Disneyland attraction posters next year with the gift card!

There are more details about the promotion in today's Mouseplanet Updates for both Disneyland and Disney World.

Be sure to check out the other interesting info in the updates. The Disneyland update includes a rumor about the return of the dearly missed Big Thunder Ranch barbecue restaurant (but will it be expensive if it's for birthday parties?!), as well as information about a new monthly payment plan for annual passports.

The WDW page has great photos of the new Contemporary Tower -- my kids were interested in the design of the pool slide -- and plans for reopening the Treehouse Villas as part of the Saratoga Springs Resort. I glimpsed the Treehouses when I was at WDW in January; staying in one would be a completely unique experience!

You'll also find some discussion about Disneyland's 2009 plans in the comments for my Disneyland post of last Friday.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Highway 395 and Tioga Pass

The Long Beach Press-Telegram published a fun article today about sightseeing along Highway 395. The article mentioned many of our favorite stops, including Lone Pine, Schat's Bakkery in Bishop, the ghost town of Bodie, and of course Bridgeport, which is our home away from home for a week each summer.

One of the stops mentioned in the article is the Tioga Gas Mart and Whoa Nellie Deli, which is located at the intersection of Highway 395 and the Tioga Pass, just outside the Eastern entrance to Yosemite. This is a truly unique stop: a gas station, gourmet restaurant -- yes, a gourmet restaurant in a gas station! -- mini mart, and entertainment center all in one. The deli regularly hosts concerts, and there is even a large trapeze set up alongside the highway.

I've been meaning to post the photos I took at the Gas Mart this summer, and the article is a good impetus for me to do so today.

The menu was amazing:

It includes lobster taquitos, buffalo meatloaf, and herb crusted grilled pork tenderloin. Unfortunately it wasn't in our budget this trip -- we had extra expenses this year, including flying our oldest daughter home from Reno! -- but maybe we'll try it next year.

More photos of the Whoa Nellie Deli can be found here.

North of the Deli is the quaint little town of Lee Vining, which has a great view of Mono Lake:

The slight haze in the air in some of these pictures was due to smoke from the Mariposa fire near Yosemite.

Incidentally, the two-hour drive from Yosemite to the 395, along Tioga Pass Road, is beautiful. Here's a shot of Tioga Lake:

Another view of the lake:

And one of the many domes which dots the area:

If you live in or are visiting California and haven't yet explored the 395, I highly recommend the experience.

Previously: California's "Mother Road," posted April 22, 2007.

Dolly Parton Saves Premiere of 9 to 5

Dolly Parton's musical version of 9 to 5 opened here last night at the Ahmanson Theater in Los Angeles.

As recounted by various sources, Dolly saved the day when there was a lengthy technical glitch during the opening night performance.

According to the reviewer from the Orange County Register, "After a minute or two, a familiar voice came from somewhere in the Ahmanson: 'Don't make me have to sing!'

"Someone handed the diminutive dynamo a microphone and suddenly we were all in Dollywood..."

During the delay, Parton sang a couple of her greatest hits and took questions from the audience, which the Register reviewer termed "impromptu magic."

The crowd included Parton's costars from the original film, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.

The musical stars Allison Janney (THE WEST WING), Megan Hilty, and Stephanie J. Block. Reviews seem to be generally good-but-not-great.

My daughter hopes to see it with friends from college before it leaves Los Angeles for Broadway.

Book Review: Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood, and Communism

Over the past year or two I've come to very much enjoy the films of Robert Taylor; my reviews of his movies are included at the end of this post. Growing interest in Taylor's films caused me to learn more about him, and the more I read, the more I found to like about him.

Taylor seems to have been greatly admired by a number of his colleagues. Director William Wellman said Taylor was "one of the finest men I've ever known." In her autobiography actress Rosemary DeCamp wrote Taylor "must have been the kindest and least troublesome star on the MGM roster...a dear and gentle man." When Taylor died in 1969, he was eulogized by his best friend -- the man who was then Governor of California, Ronald Reagan.

Given my growing admiration for Mr. Taylor, I was happy to discover Linda Alexander's new biography RELUCTANT WITNESS: ROBERT TAYLOR, HOLLYWOOD AND COMMUNISM. I read the book while on vacation this summer, but my plans to review it immediately (as well as an excellent book I read on Gene Tierney) were delayed due to the busiest few weeks I've had in all my years as a proofreader.

Alexander's book is an important contribution to film history, as she did a huge amount of primary source research. Taylor's youth and the years before his film career were especially interesting; Taylor was torn between potential careers in medicine (his father was an osteopath) and music, and was headed toward a career as a professional cellist when he fell into acting and a career at MGM. Taylor originally moved from Nebraska to California when he followed a music professor to Pomona College.

Alexander's analysis of Taylor's relationships with his invalid mother and his first wife, Barbara Stanwyck, are of particular interest. Stanwyck's hardscrabble background as an orphan in the big city was the antithesis of Taylor's secure, somewhat rigid Nebraska upbringing, and over the years their differences caused increasing conflict in their marriage; after a dozen years Taylor and Stanwyck ultimately parted. Stanwyck never remarried, and attended Taylor's funeral.

As the title indicates, Taylor's role testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee is also explored in detail. While this is a lengthy chapter in the book, it's not really the main topic of the biography, although the book title might cause one to expect otherwise. It's just a guess on my part, but the title might have been meant to help provide a unique angle for marketing the book.

The focus of RELUCTANT WITNESS is on Taylor's private life. Naturally, his films are referenced throughout the book, as part of his life story, but for the most part there is not detailed analysis of his films and performances, nor is there a filmography; the book tends to approach Taylor's films from more of a "business" standpoint in terms of where they fit in his life and career. As I mentioned here recently, Charles Tranberg, author of a new biography of Fred MacMurray, is working on a Robert Taylor book which is currently planned for a 2010 publication date; perhaps Tranberg's book will delve more extensively into Taylor's acting career. There is definitely room on my shelves for another book on this subject.

RELUCTANT WITNESS would have benefited greatly from the inclusion of photographs, particularly of Taylor in his younger years, but given that there are no photographs whatsoever, I am guessing that this was an economic decision to keep the book in a lower price range. (Amazon's discount price, for example, is $13.49.)

There are some minor errors in RELUCTANT WITNESS; for instance the films BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 and BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938 are referred to as A BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936 and A BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938. However, on the whole the book is well researched and adds a great deal to the published record on Robert Taylor, who was one of the biggest stars of his era yet sadly is relatively lesser known today.

The book contains a fairly detailed bibliography; it does not have an index. Including the bibliography and end pages, this softcover book is 361 pages. It was published by Tease Publishing of North Carolina.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that author Alexander's next book will be A MAVERICK LIFE: THE JACK KELLY STORY. Kelly, who was once the mayor of Huntington Beach, here in Orange County, was always my favorite of TV's Maverick brothers -- the other, of course, being James Garner. I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Kelly briefly on a couple occasions and found him to be friendly and courteous to his fans. I'm very pleased to know that his life story will be preserved in print.

Fans interested in more on Taylor's movies may want to seek out Lawrence J. Quirk's THE FILMS OF ROBERT TAYLOR, which is filled with stills from Taylor's films. Originally published in the '70s, the book is available from used book vendors in both hardcover and paperback. I note that virtually all of the photos in Quirk's book are publicity or film stills, so it's possible that photographs from Taylor's personal life are hard to come by.

Taylor's widow, Ursula Thiess, published a book last year titled ...BUT I HAVE PROMISES TO KEEP: MY LIFE BEFORE, WITH, AND AFTER ROBERT TAYLOR. I haven't read it yet, but look forward to checking it out in the future.

For Robert Taylor fans -- or those who want to try his movies -- I provide links to his films I've reviewed here thus far: SMALL TOWN GIRL (1936), FLIGHT COMMAND (1940), WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951), ROGUE COP (1954), MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955), SADDLE THE WIND (1958), and PARTY GIRL (1958). My favorite to date is WESTWARD THE WOMEN; all these titles are recommended.

Update: More Taylor movie reviews: HIGH WALL (1947) and ABOVE AND BEYOND (1952).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Second Fiddle (1939)

SECOND FIDDLE is a wonderful illustration of the phrase "the Silver Screen." Filmed in crisp, shimmering black and white, the film depicts what must have been a fantasy for many filmgoers of its era, the discovery of an unknown who becomes a great Hollywood star. It's a lovely piece of escapism from the Dream Factory.

Sonja Henie plays Trudy, a schoolteacher from Minnesota who is cast in a much-anticipated film based on a best-selling book, "Girl of the North." The story was no doubt inspired by the casting search for Scarlett O'Hara in the same year's GONE WITH THE WIND.

Jimmy (Tyrone Power) is a publicist who concocts a "romance" for Trudy with new film actor Roger Maxwell (Rudy Vallee) as a way to get Roger's name in print. Jimmy plays Cyrano, writing romantic notes to Trudy for Roger, and soon Jimmy finds himself actually falling in love with Trudy, while Trudy is falling for the man she believes is behind the romantic gestures, Roger.

It's a lightweight story, but executed with great polish by a terrific cast. Edna May Oliver has a scene-stealing role as Trudy's aunt. The cast also includes Mary Healy, Lyle Talbot, Alan Dinehart, and the voice of the great character actor Charles Lane as the studio chief, heard only over an intercom. SECOND FIDDLE was one of 20 films Lane appeared in which were released in 1939.

The movie is also known as IRVING BERLIN'S SECOND FIDDLE. Berlin's score is pleasant, though fairly undistinguished compared to his many standards. The film's best song, "I Poured My Heart Into a Song," was nominated for the Oscar. Berlin turns his classic Astaire-Rogers song "Cheek to Cheek" inside out in this film with a tune called "Dancing Back to Back" which is a bit odd, though fun.

Henie's skating numbers are beautiful; my favorite was her solo set to an instrumental version of "I Poured My Heart Into a Song." She's joined in one number by Stewart Reburn, who was a Canadian skating champion.

SECOND FIDDLE was directed by Sidney Lanfield. It runs 85 minutes.

SECOND FIDDLE is available on VHS.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Today at Disneyland

We enjoyed a quick visit to Disneyland this afternoon. It was great to relax and unwind for a few hours at the end of a busy week.

It still looks summery at the Hub...

...but you can also tell Autumn is just around the corner:

Dusk on Main Street on one of the last official days of summer...

...with Fall on display in one of the shop windows:

Have a good weekend, all!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Michelle Malkin on Obama the Obnoxious

Senator Obama is telling his followers: "I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face."

Oh, yeah, someone getting "in my face" is really going to convince me to vote for Senator Obama...

So much for Mr. Post-Partisan. Bring on the Chicago pol.

Michelle Malkin chronicles the recent trail of bad behavior from the Obama campaign, ranging from the snarky to the thuggish.

Then be sure to read Rush Limbaugh's column for the Wall Street Journal, "Obama is Stoking Racial Antagonism." Rush writes, in part, "What kind of potential president would let his campaign knowingly extract two incomplete, out-of-context lines from two radio parodies and build a framework of hate around them in order to exploit racial tensions?"

He concludes: "Any candidate who employs the tactics of the old segregationists is unworthy of the presidency."

I don't agree with Senator Obama, but once upon a time I really did think he was a different sort of politician, who would at least treat his opponents with respect. That wore off months ago.

I suspect the "new Obama" -- who is actually the old, once-hidden Obama, the one who has spent decades hanging out with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers -- won't wear well with the American public.

Friday Update: Read every word of Ed Morrissey on the above topics: "Rush finally states what the national media has been too cowardly to report: that Obama has a strategy to inject race into this campaign in order to silence criticism, and that he’s willing to lie to do it. It hasn’t been exactly a secret, as the long list of links above will show. He uses language in the general election that he never dared used in the primaries..."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Madame Alexander Dolls Return to McDonald's

For the second year in a row, the dolls have a WIZARD OF OZ theme. I wonder if this is due to the popularity of WICKED...

Some of the dolls, including the Flying Monkey and the Lollipop Munchkin, look a bit on the creepy side, but there's a new Dorothy doll, complete with Toto in a basket, a pretty Glinda, and a cute Wizard dressed in emerald green.

The dolls can be viewed at the Madame Alexander website. They'll be available at McDonald's until October 9th.

Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco

When I recently reviewed SHADOW OF A DOUBT after seeing it for the first time, Carrie recommended the book FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal.

The book just arrived from Amazon and it exceeds my expectations -- nearly 300 glossy pages with photos, maps, and much more information about the filming of SHADOW OF A DOUBT, THE BIRDS, and VERTIGO. There is a great deal of information about the locations, including photos of buildings as they appear today.

FOOTSTEPS IN THE FOG also contains information on Northern California locations used in other Hitchcock films, including REBECCA, SUSPICION, MARNIE, and PSYCHO.

Although I haven't read it yet, the book looks like an absolutely wonderful piece of film history. If you're a Hitchcock fan, you'll want to read it.

My thanks to Carrie for a great tip.

Stephanie Edwards Returning to KTLA Rose Parade Coverage

Over the past few years, some of the biggest traffic here at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings has been generated by an annual New Year's discussion regarding the disappearance of Stephanie Edwards from KTLA's Rose Parade coverage.

The station's firing of longtime host Stephanie in favor of a younger woman, while they retained Stephanie's colleague Bob Eubanks, was disappointing to those of us who have watched KTLA's excellent parade coverage over the span of many years.

You can follow some of the history of this controversy in posts dated January 2, 2006, December 29, 2006, and January 1, 2008. You can find further posts by clicking on these links.

Today comes most interesting news, via Al Lutz's Editor's Note at MiceAge: "Not Disney-related, but probably still of interest; KTLA's Rose Parade telecast this year will bring back Stephanie Edwards to co-host with Bob Eubanks. Two years ago they tried to replace Edwards with a younger morning show personality, humiliating the long-time veteran by relegating her to the bleachers in the soaking rain. But it became painfully clear the change was a mistake, as audiences missed the rather 'unique' banter between the two long-time hosts."

Many thanks to Irene for the tip.

The L.A. Times (click title of this post) confirms that Stephanie will return to the broadcast booth on January 1, 2009.

Kudos for KTLA for -- finally -- listening to its viewers and restoring Stephanie to the Rose Parade team.

Congratulations and welcome back, Stephanie!

Update: Welcome to readers of L.A. Observed!

Update: Welcome to readers of the L.A. Daily News blog Come On Feel the Nuys.

Thursday Update: KTLA told Stephanie: "Stephanie, if you need $50,000, you shall have $50,000."

Stephanie, who describes herself as "very moved and humbled," has certainly come out of this smelling like the proverbial rose. Good for her.

January 1, 2009 Update: Welcome to everyone looking for information on Stephanie Edwards returning to the KTLA broadcast booth. You can read an update posted today here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Christmas Music: Kristin Chenoweth

If Fall is just a few days away, Christmas can't be far behind...gulp!

One of my favorite things about Christmas is Christmas music, and I'm always on the lookout for interesting titles to add to my (extensive) collection.

I think I've found a good addition for this year: Broadway-TV star Kristin Chenoweth is releasing a Christmas album, A LOVELY WAY TO SPEND CHRISTMAS, on October 14th.

The track list is appealing, including "Christmas Island," which I don't believe I've ever heard anyone perform other than the Andrews Sisters.

Chenoweth, who previously appeared on THE WEST WING and is currently Emmy-nominated for PUSHING DAISIES, is a veteran of many Broadway musicals, including her Tony-nominated role as the original Glinda in WICKED.

According to an interview in yesterday's USA Today, Chenoweth has written a memoir, A LITTLE BIT WICKED, which will be released next spring.

What's Obama So Afraid Of?

Senator Obama is getting in the habit of trying to silence journalists who have done significant research on his career -- the same kind of research, incidentally, which most of the mainstream media isn't bothering to do.

Update: More from Power Line and NRO's Media Blog.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Power Line on Mel Torme

Scott Johnson had a nice birthday tribute to Mel Torme posted at Power Line this weekend.

Torme fans may or may not know that he was a great fan of "old movies." When revival theaters were popular in Los Angeles in the late '70s and early '80s, before the rise of cable and video, I saw him in the audience for a classic film on at least a couple occasions. The memories are foggy -- no Torme pun intended -- but I believe at least one of those times was at a Filmex screening in Century City. It was neat knowing he was in the audience enjoying a film at the same time. (Tuesday Update: My dad confirms my Filmex memory.)

My kids think of him as "the guy with the ukelele" because of his role in one of their favorite musicals, GOOD NEWS.

Coming to DVD: Sleeping Beauty (1959)

My favorite animated Disney movie, SLEEPING BEAUTY, will be released in a Platinum Edition this coming October 7, 2008.

Five years ago Disney released a lovely Special Edition of the film, but although some of the extras -- such as the Oscar-winning short GRAND CANYON (1958) -- are the same on the new DVD, there are wonderful new extras in the Platinum Edition, so I will happily be "double dipping" and buying a new copy.

DVD Times details the extras. One of the most exciting new features is a "virtual walk-through" of Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle; the walk-through includes an optional commentary track.

As reported here in July, the actual Castle, which has been closed for the past seven years, is being restored. It's expected to reopen around Veterans Day 2008.

Another exciting DVD extra is an "alternate opening." The recreation of this musical number sounds like a wonderful piece of Disney and cinema history which has now been preserved on DVD.

An all-new documentary will also be part of the set.

SLEEPING BEAUTY has been playing at the El Capitan in Hollywood; I wish I'd had the time to make the trip! Here's a report from Ultimate Disney on a screening of the film with some special guests, including Mary Costa, the voice of Sleeping Beauty.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

It's been an unusually hectic few days, between my business and the resumption of homeschool lessons. I'm closely following political news, in particular, but haven't had the time I'd like to write about it. Here are some of the interesting stories which have caught my eye lately...

At the link above (click title of post): Is New York in Play? It may not be close enough for McCain to win, but close enough that Obama will have to divert time and financial resources away from battleground states to secure New York. Interesting... (Tuesday Update: It now appears Obama will also have to defend New Jersey.)

Real Clear Politics Electoral Map: RCP has McCain in the lead in the Electoral College...and so does Karl Rove.

ABC News Edited Out Key Parts of Sarah Palin Interview: And what's more, Charles Gibson applied a vastly different standard to his questions than he used for Senator John Edwards in 2004, despite Edwards' sketchy resume. Gibson also lobbed softballs to Senator Barack Obama this past summer.

Bring Your Own Camera: That's the advice to candidates from Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, who says that policy will prevent networks from repeating the kind of biased editing job they pulled on Governor Palin.

Charlie Gibson's Gaffe: Dr. Krauthammer, who coined the phrase "the Bush Doctrine," explains why Charles Gibson was in error.

McCain Flies His Campaign Past Obama: Michael Barone on how fighter pilot John McCain got inside Obama's "OODA Loop."

Palin Did Not Ban Books In Wasilla As Mayor: What's the old saying, a rumor is out the door before truth gets its shoes on? The bogus stories which have circulated about Governor Palin over the past couple weeks boggle the mind.

How Team Obama Pays Women: When it comes to putting women in positions of authority and paying them equal to or even better than men, it's the Republican McCain who is soundly in the lead.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tonight's Movie: Day-Time Wife (1939)

DAY-TIME WIFE is a sparkling '30s marital comedy starring two of the most gorgeous stars to ever grace Hollywood, Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell.

Jane (Darnell) suspects Ken (Power), her husband of two years, is two-timing her with his secretary Kitty (Wendy Barrie). Jane gets a job with an architect, Barney (Warren William), to find out what the life of a secretary is really like and figure out how to win back her husband's affections. Matters come to a head when Ken negotiates a business deal with Barney and realizes Jane hasn't been waiting for him at home each day...

It's a silly premise -- and more than a bit unbelievable, as we never really do understand what could drive Ken to look at anyone other than sweet, gorgeous Jane -- but if you love the stars and '30s comedies, it's terrific, fast-paced fun, clocking in at 72 minutes. The stars are beautiful, the film is amusing, and as an added bonus the set designs are absolutely spectacular. My favorite set was a seaside restaurant with a clear aquarium in the window that made it look as though the fish were swimming on top of the sea beyond the window.

This was the first of Power and Darnell's four films together. Darnell, physically mature beyond her years, was only 15 when she filmed DAY-TIME WIFE. According to the outstanding Darnell biography HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY by Ronald L. Davis, the film was completed on Darnell's 16th birthday. Darnell once said, "I would be kissing Tyrone Power and the school teacher would come and tell me it was time for my history lesson. I never before or since have been so embarrassed." Power understandably viewed Darnell as almost a child at this point, despite the fact she was playing his wife; according to another book I recently read, he was very helpful to Darnell and when she blew repeated takes due to being nervous, he would muff lines himself and claim it was his fault so that she wouldn't be blamed by the director and crew.

Power and Darnell would go on to make BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940), THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940), and BLOOD AND SAND (1941). All are available on DVD.

The supporting cast of DAY-TIME WIFE includes Binnie Barnes, Joan Davis, and Leonid Kinsky. The movie was directed by Gregory Ratoff, who was also a writer and actor; he played Max Fabian in 1950's ALL ABOUT EVE.

DAY-TIME WIFE is available on DVD as part of the 10-film Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection.

Films in the Power DVD set previously reviewed here are LOVE IS NEWS (1937), SECOND HONEYMOON (1937), and I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU (1951). This is an absolutely marvelous set. There may not be a four-star classic in the bunch, but the collection is filled with entertaining movies made with the polished craftsmanship typical of the studio era.

It's something of a miracle to me that a relatively little-known movie like DAY-TIME WIFE, which I last saw hacked up with TV commercials at least 20 years ago, is now available in a sparkling print on DVD. This is a great time to be a fan of classic movies.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Obama Campaign Sinks Into the Mire

I'm beginning to think that the not-ready-for-prime-time Obama campaign is in such a free fall it will be unable to recover, particularly given the simultaneous success of the McCain-Palin ticket.

Senator Obama pledged to come out swinging and get tough with fresh attacks on Senator McCain beginning today. Instead, as John Hinderaker at Power Line headlined: "Obama Gets Tough, Shoots Self in Head."

Senator Obama -- who we will remember cites his ability to manage his campaign as one of his qualifications for President -- decided to release an ad today citing John McCain's horrifying inability...to send email. The message was clear: John McCain is an out-of-touch old fogey.

In and of itself, the ad was silly, potentially alienating thousands if not millions of our citizens who also don't email...especially older citizens who are reliable voters.

But it gets better: it turns out Senator McCain can't send an email because his war injuries left him unable to easily type on a keyboard. (He also can't tie shoes or comb his hair.) He reads email and dictates responses. He also reads certain websites.

All of this info was easily available on the Web.

So it turns out that Obama, the candidate slinging mud because his opponent is unable to use email, reveals of himself that he is unable to use Google! And because of his lack of computer know-how, poor judgment and bad campaign management, Senator Obama recklessly slimed an American war hero.

Instapundit has a large roundup of links.

I note that the New York Times, which cites the ad's message that McCain "does not use a computer or send his own e-mail messages," also hasn't bothered to mention why.

Speaking of not-ready-for-prime-time, I believe Senator Obama's decision to go on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE tomorrow is ill-advised, but then I've never understood why anyone would go on that show, so maybe it's just me. It seems to me as though it will reinforce that he's not Presidential material...which is fine with me. (Update: Senator Obama has cancelled at the last minute, citing Hurricane Ike.)

I also believe Mrs. Obama's decision to skip the 9/11 memorial ceremonies yesterday was a mistake. These are the types of national events where Americans appreciate seeing a First Lady accompanying her husband, and it would have been a nice gesture of respect if Mrs. Obama, who famously had never been proud of her country until her husband's campaign, had put in an appearance. Mrs. McCain attended ceremonies in both Pennsylvania and New York.

The explanation, that Mrs. Obama was at home for her daughters' first week of school, seemed rather weak once it was clear that Mrs. Obama had not spent Wednesday at home in Illinois, but campaigning in two different states. If she was going to be away from home one day this week, one wonders why she couldn't have made September 11th her priority, rather than campaigning.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tonight's Movie: United 93 (2006)

NOTE: This is a reprint of a review originally posted September 9, 2006. I post it again this evening with the thought that it might encourage anyone who hasn't yet seen the film to view it. It is worth the investment of time and emotion.

I approached UNITED 93 with a good deal of trepidation. When it was released a few months ago, I was intrigued by its outstanding reviews and inspiring story, yet I wasn't sure I actually wanted to view the ordeal experienced by the passengers on United 93. I decided not to see it in a movie theater, as I felt seeing it in the dark on the big screen would be too intense. I wanted to be able to put some emotional distance between myself and the movie by watching it on a smaller screen, with my finger on the fast-forward button if things got to be too much.

Earlier this week the film was released on DVD. I was still uncertain about viewing it, but Mike Clark of USA Today, a film critic I particularly like, mentioned in his 4-star DVD review that among other things, UNITED 93 is "one of the best films about on-the-job professionals ever made."

I was especially interested in the story of the air traffic controllers on that day, and I decided that viewing this film as we approach September 11th would be a meaningful way to mark this somber anniversary. (Has it really been half a decade since that day?) I'll be honest, I did use that fast-forward button a couple of times. I just couldn't watch the evil in action, as the hijackers prayed at the start of the film and then again when they took over the plane.

That said, this was a superbly made film. The low-key documentary-style approach was pitch perfect. How many of us have sat in an airport lounge with the early morning sunlight streaming through the windows, watching the crew walk past us as we wait to board a flight? Small details like that brought home that these were ordinary people on an ordinary flight. Or so they thought.

The remarkable quick thinking and bravery of those on United 93 is fully captured. Truly, these men and women were American patriots to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.

As I expected, I particularly enjoyed, if that word can be used in this context, the depiction of the air traffic controllers. Ben Sliney, who was on his first day as the FAA's Head of Operations on 9/11, plays himself, as do other cast members. Non-actors, including at least one actual stewardess, fill other roles. (Indeed, the only actor I recognized in the film was Gregg Henry.) Watching the controllers unravel what was happening in the skies was as gripping as any suspense film I've ever seen, even knowing the story. One of the wonderful things that happened on that day, along with the heroism of the passengers of Flight 93, was the courageous and unprecedented decision to ground every plane flying over the United States.

The movie has a running time of one hour and 51 minutes. (The final 10 minutes is a written epilogue and the end credits.) It is rated R for language and intensity.

Roger Ebert's four-star review can be read here.

A 2-disc special edition DVD, which contains a couple of extra documentaries, including one on the flight controllers, was apparently made in very limited quantities and is not easily available. Both the single- and double-disc editions of the DVD contain a director commentary.

Was UNITED 93 worth seeing? Yes.

I recommend watching this film, whether this coming week or in the future, as a very meaningful way to remember the heroism of our fellow Americans.

In Remembrance

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Roger, Roger, Roger...

...you need to stick to what you know, which is reviewing movies.

Roger Ebert is unhappy about Governor Palin being the nominee for Vice President. His biggest problem with her seems to be that she hasn't traveled abroad; he spends the bulk of his anti-Palin essay complaining about her not being a world traveler.

"How can a politician her age have never have gone to Europe?... What kind of a person (who has the money) arrives at the age of 44 and has only been out of the country once, on an official tour to Iraq? Sarah Palin's travel record is that of a provincial..."

Does Ebert have any idea what it costs just to get passports for a family of six or seven? Let alone the airline tickets, hotel bills, and everything else that goes with travel abroad?

The Palins married relatively young, have had a good-sized family, and have been busy in multiple endeavors including politics and running their own business, along with raising children. Is it possible they would have liked to travel abroad, but the finances or logistics just haven't all come together to facilitate it in this particular season of their lives?

Unfortunately the Palins' worthy pursuits don't meet Mr. Ebert's requirements: "I want a vice president who is better, wiser, well-traveled..."

I wonder if Ebert believes that Senator Obama's childhood in Indonesia or visiting Africa makes him more qualified to serve?

Roger, your elitism is showing.

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