Vertigo

Vertigo_1958_trailer_Kim_Novak_at_Golden_Gate_Bridge_Fort_PointAcrophobia is a perfect psychological ploy for a Hitchcock movie. Always fascinated with little psychological motivations, Hitchcock used fear of heights as the guiding principle of his 1958 movie Vertigo.  The plot, so detailed and involving, has become nearly iconic as the film has worked its way into the American psyche.  It will be discussed in some detail in this review, so if you haven’t seen the movie, please beware.

The film begins with a rooftop chase scene in San Francisco. A uniformed cop is chasing some criminal with Detective John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart) right behind him. Jumping from one roof to another, Scottie slips on the Spanish tiles and slides down, barely catching hold of a gutter to prevent himself dropping many stories to the pavement.  In an effort to help him, the cop climbs back down the roof and holds out his hand, but Scottie has entered a kind of fugue state where he is unable to respond.  Slipping, the cop falls to his death as Scottie watches with a kind of tunnel vision.

Diagnosed with acrophobia, Scottie, independently wealthy, decides to retire rather than take a desk job. He hangs out with his old pal, former fiance, Midge Wood (Barbara Bel Geddes), a former artist who now designs brassieres.  An old college friend, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) calls Scottie and asks for a meeting.  A shipping magnate, Elster is concerned about his wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), a stunning blond who is obsessed with her great gandmother, Carlotta Valdez, who was courted by and bore a child to a very rich San Franciscan, who built a great house for her in what is now the Western Addition, then abandoned her.  She gradually went mad and eventually committed suicide.  At first reluctant, Scottie takes on the job of tailing her as a protective measure, as Elster thinks she might do harm to herself.  He follows her first to a flower shop where she buys a little nosegay of rosebuds, then to the Palace of the Legion of Honor in the Presidio, where she sits before a painting called Portrait of Carlotta, in which the mysterious Carlotta Valdez holds an identical nosegay.  Looking closely, he sees that Madeleine’s hair, done up in a bun that terminates in a distinctive whorl, exactly matches the hair style of Carlotta in the portrait.  Afterwards, he follows her to Mission Dolores, where she visits Carlotta’s grave, and, finally, he tails her to the McKittrick Hotel, which he later discovers is the home that had been built for Carlotta.

The next day, Midge takes Scottie to visit the proprieter of the Argosy Bookstore, who tells him Carlotta’s history. Later, he follows Madeleine to Fort Point, underneath the Western end of Golden Gate Bridge, where, to his horror, she jumps into San Francisco Bay, an apparent suicide.  He jumps in after her and saves her life.  Rather than returning her home, he brings her back to his apartment, undresses her, and puts her to bed, hanging up her clothing to dry.  Scottie passes through phases of becoming fascinated with her, to becoming obsessed with her, and finally falling in love with her.  They meet the following morning, going to Muir Woods, where he begins to drill her on what she remembers of her rambling and especially her dreams, one of which includes a memory of being at the Mission of San Juan Bautista.  Stopping at Cypress Point, they kiss passionately, then he brings her to the Mission, hoping that he will be able to confront her with the past and help her to move beyond it.

At the Mission, she emotionally begs him that whatever happens, he should remember that she loved him, then she runs into the church and climbs the stairs of the bell tower. Following, he begins to have his vertigo attack and cannot go all the way to the top.  He hears a scream and sees her body falling past a window and she dies in the fall.

Although he is cleared of any wrongdoing during the inquiry, he retreats into himself and is finally hospitalized with extreme depresson. Visiting him, Midge sees that he is nearly catatonic and the doctor informs her that it will be six months to a year before he can be released.  Skipping ahead, we see him visiting the places that Madeleine used to visit.  One day, he sees a brunette that looks so much like Madeleine that he follows her back to her apartment and introduces herself.  At first reluctant to see him, Judy Barton (Kim Novak), a shopgirl who works at I Magnin, eventually gives in and agrees to a date at Ernies, the restaurant where Scottie first saw Madeleine.  After he leaves her apartment, Judy relives the moment at the top of the bell tower and we see Elster throw his wife’s body from the bell tower as Judy screams.  It becomes apparent that Judy had been playing the part of Madeleine for Scottie’s benefit, so that Elster would have a reliable witness (with vertigo) who would swear that she committed suicide.  Still in love with Scottie, Judy decides to pursue a relationship with him.

Obsessed with the memory of Madeleine, he begins to dress Judy to look like her, going to the extreme of having her hair dyed blond and recreated the whorl at the back. When she dresses for dinner, however, she makes the crucial mistake of putting on Carlotta’s necklace.  Recognizing it, Scottie assembles the pieces of the puzzle.  He brings her back to the bell tower and forces her to go all the way to the top.  In the process, he overcomes his vertigo.  She confesses to being an accomplice to Madeleine’s murder, but when a nun comes up the steps, Judy screams and turns to run, falling to her death, the same as Madeleine.

James Stewart and Kim Novak both give brilliant, breathtaking performances in this film, which must rank as one of Hitchcock’s very best in a distinguished career of filmmaking. Stewart gives the best performance of his own career as Scottie, perfectly believable from beginning to end.

The cinematography by long-time Hitchcock collaborator Robert Burks is excellent. As a long-time resident of San Francisco, I love the detail and love of landscape shown the San Francisco Bay area, from the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Palace of Fine Arts, Coit Tower, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, the Presidio, Muir Woods, Cypress Point, and Mission Dolores.  It is stunning to see the city in all of its beauty in the late 1950’s.  Although many things have changed over the years, the essential beauty remains unchanged.  At one point in the film, Elster, talking about his return to San Francisco, remarks that the city isn’t what it used to be, but he doesn’t understand the basic timeless beauty to be found there.

The opening credits, designed by Saul Bass, provide a dramatic introduction to the movie. Beginning with a close-up of a woman’s face, the camera moves into and extreme close-up of the woman’s right eye, dissolving into the distinctive whorl, in vibrant violet, that becomes a repeated motif in the movie.  The costumes, by Edith Head, are gorgeous.  And, of course, the music by long time Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann is great and illustrative of the action.

The screenplay, written by Alec Coppel and Samuel A. Taylor, based on the French novel D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac, is the perfect Hitchcock vehicle.  The pacing of the film is nearly flawless, although it must be considered a little bit long.  As with most of Hitchcock’s movies, the first viewing is the most important because all of the details are just being discovered, but it is also a film that can be watched many times merely to study the technique. 

Painstakingly restored to its original Vistavision glory by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, the DVD is simply stunning. It contains a special feature on the film’s difficult restoration process.  If there is one thing, however, that dates the film, it is the special effects depiction of Scottie’s dream after Madeleine has died.  Stewart’s head, framed against a pulsing stream of light and with evolving animation just doesn’t seem to work now.  It was state-of-the-art in 1958, but it doesn’t show well now.

Even with that flaw, the film remains one of Hitchcock’s finest.

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North by Northwest

north-by-northwest Samt and GrantMistaken identity, an innocent man, bloodthirsty spies, a long train trip, a beautiful, sexy blond, and suspense building to a nail-biting conclusion—all these staples of legendary director Alfred Hitchcock drive his epic 1959 film, North by Northwest.  This review assumes the reader has already seen the film, and thus reveals many plot details that might spoil the movie for a novice film viewer.  Beware!

New York advertising executive Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) is about to conclude another busy day when he is kidnapped by two vaguely eastern European men (Adam Williams and Robert Ellenstein) and taken to a mansion in the country. An erudite Englishman, whom Thornhill assumes is the estate owner, Mr. Townsend (James Mason) has mistaken him for a George Kaplan, a mysterious man who moves about the country making short stays in hotels before moving on.  Townsend recites Kaplan’s complete itinerary, demanding information from him.  When Thornhill tells him of his real identity and refuses to cooperate, Townsend tells his henchman, Leonard (Martin Landau) to kill him.  They force a bottle of bourbon into Thornhill, then put him behind the wheel of a stolen car and aim it at the ocean, but Thornhill revives just enough to avoid the plunge and leads them on a wild car chase.

Arrested for drunken driving, Thornhill calls his mother (Jessie Royce Landis) and tries to explain about his kidnapping. On a return trip to the mansion, Mrs. Townsend tells the police that he was there for dinner, got drunk, and went off on his own.  Thornhill then takes his mother back to the hotel where Kaplan was staying and they find evidence of his presence, but none of the hotel employees have actually seen Kaplan.  When Townsend’s flunkies show up, Thornhill grabs a taxi and goes to the United Nations, where he discovers that the real Townsend knows nothing about his adventures.  As he speaks to Townsend, Leonard sneaks up and stabs the diplomat in the back, leaving Thornhill holding the knife.  A photographer takes a picture, then Thornhill drops the knife and runs off.

Hitchcock usually includes a scene in his movies where the audience learns something that his hero doesn’t know. In North by Northwest, that scene occurs in a Federal Government building (FBI? CIA? Hitchcock never says) where a group of executives led by the Professor (Leo G. Carroll) ponder Thornhill’s predicament and wonder if they should help him.  Kaplan, you see, doesn’t actually exist.  They created him in order to make the spies think that they were closing in on them, while actually they are simply trying to get them to reveal information.  They decide to allow Thornhill to sink or swim on his own.

Knowing that Kaplan’s next stop is in Chicago, Thornhill boards a train, the 20th Century Limited. With no disguise but dark glasses, he should be easy to spot, but the beautiful blond, Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint) appears and hides him in her private room.  While the porter is putting down the bed and Thornhill is hiding in her toilet, she slips a note to Luther Vandamm (James Mason), the man who had posed as Townsend earlier.  In Chicago, she pretends to help him by calling Kaplan to set up a meeting, but she gives him instructions to take a bus into the country.  That is where the famous scene with the crop-dusting plane occurs.  Waiting on the side of the highway, surrounded by bleak, empty fields, a small plane dives him, trying to run him down and spraying deadly poison on him.  He makes it to a field, then runs back onto the highway, stopping a tanker truck, which the plane then proceeds to hit, causing an explosion.  Stealing a pick-up left idling by a local, he returns to Chicago and goes to Kaplan’s hotel only to find out that Kaplan had checked out and left before Eve could have possibly talked to him.

Now that he knows she is working for his enemies, he goes to confront her at an art auction, only to find Vandamm and his henchmen. Disrupting the auction, he is able to save his own life by getting arrested.  Diverted to the airport, the police deliver him to the Professor who explains that Eve is actually working for the government, gathering information on Vandamm, and that Thornhill has now endangered her life.

North by Northwest - Saint on RushmoreFollowing the villains to Rapid City, South Dakota, Thornhill and the Professor have set up a little scene in the restaurant at Mt. Rushmore where Eve shoots him with a gun loaded with blanks, but when he finds out that Eve will be leaving the country with Vandamm, he eludes the Professor and goes off on his own to save Eve, resulting in the famous final scene at Mt. Rushmore where Thornhill and Eve clamor over the president’s faces running from Leonard and the others with a statue filled with microfilm.

At two hours and 16 minutes, this should feel like a very long movie, but Hitchcock keeps the tension building so that viewers will not notice the passing of time. Even so, I wonder if it couldn’t have been cut a bit to bring it down to a more realistic length.  As with most of Hitchcock’s films, there isn’t much in the story, but action and suspense.  When Ernest Lehman wrote the script, he definitely wanted this to be the best Hitchcock film of all time and there may have been a certain amount of collusion from all of Hitchcock’s collaborators to make this movie his “masterpiece,” resulting in a greater length than usual.  It is Hitchcock’s longest running film and although it was stunning at the time of its release, in retrospective, there are many other films that would better fit the description “masterpiece.”

Although Hitchcock pulls all the right strings to keep the audience involved, I thought that Cary Grant really just mailed in his performance. Aside from a few moments early in the film, I really didn’t care what happened to him.  Eva Marie Saint was considerably better, bringing a level of nuance that was involving, but Mason, Landau, and all of the other actors seemed to be on automatic pilot.

The opening credits by Saul Bass are quite captivating, especially with the music of Bernard Herrmann behind them. This may be one of Herrmann’s best scores for Hitchcock as it does much of the work of keeping the film moving along.  The cinematography by Robert Burks and the editing by George Tomasini, both long time Hitchcock collaborators are terrific.  The widescreen color by Vistavision is magnificent.

What makes the film most memorable are the two iconic scenes, by themselves kinetic masterpieces: the scene in the fields with the crop dusting airplane and the scramble across the President’s faces at Mt. Rushmore. The scenes between Grant and Saint on the train are also very sexy and quite suggestive for their time.

North by Northwest deserves its place as a iconic Hitchcock film and it should be seen anyone who is a fan of suspense movies, Hitchcock or 1950’s Hollywood. It is an outstanding film and it definitely has its place in film history.  Even so, I would not call it Hitchcock’s ultimate masterpiece, as Ernest Lehman called it, “the Hitchcock picture to end all Hitchcock pictures.” 

In fact, Hitchcock’s very next film, Psycho, would leave a much deeper impact on his audience.

Rachel Getting Married

RachelGettingMarried_9This is a film that is uncertain of its genre. It starts out and has the feel throughout of a slice of life movie, yet, underneath, a great tragedy is struggling to get out, and, at the end, it bursts into a kind of feel-good film.

In Stamford, Connecticut, Kym (Anne Hathaway) is given a weekend pass from her drug rehab center to attend the wedding of her older sister, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) to Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). She is picked up by her father, Paul (Bill Irwin) and stepmother, Carol (Anna Deavere Smith), so the presence of two inter-racial marriages is brought front and center.  As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the wedding has a East Indian theme, with a group of fascinating Middle-eastern musicians who provide a kind of world music backdrop to the action and featuring Robyn Hitchcock, singing and performing.

Right from the beginning, Rachel and Kym clash and it is a battle that will carry until nearly the conclusion of the film. Kym is totally self-absorbed and constantly turns what should be a joyous occasion for Rachel into a story about her own problems.  Recognizing the Best Man, Kieran (Mather Zickel), from Narcotics Anonymous, she has sex with him and he reveals that she is not to be Maid of Honor. Rachel has asked her best friend, Emma (Anisa George) for that honor and Kym becomes extremely upset, thinking that it should have been her.  Exasperated, Rachel asks Emma to step down and let Kym be Maid of Honor.

At the rehearsal dinner, where we finally meet their mother, Abby (Debra Winger), amid a great many toasts, Kym apologizes to Rachel for her screwed up life, but afterwards Rachel viciously attacks her for making the wedding all about her and not about Rachel and Sidney.

The next time Kym goes to her Narcotics Anonymous meeting, she explains how, when she was totally messed up on drugs, she drove off a bridge and killed her little brother, Ethan, who could not get out of his child seat. Once this is revealed, we see the real tragedy emerging: the blame from Rachel and the protectiveness of Paul now make perfect sense.  Kym’s inability to forgive herself is at the center of the movie.  It shouldn’t be any surprise that the very best part of the movie is the wedding itself.

First, the good news.

All of the acting is stunningly good, especially the two leads, Anne Hathaway and Rosemarie DeWitt, who deliver such a natural feel to their characters that they are absolutely beyond a doubt believable and empathetic. You really care about them and what happens to them and you root for them to solve their problems and find a way out of their problems.  There were times when one or the other of them nearly brought me to tears with their beautiful performances.  The supporting cast is also incredible.  Bill Irwin and Debra Winger are so honest and believable as the divorced parents of the girls that not once do you question their action.  Anna Deavere Smith is also terrific and every supporting character has the solid feel of being a real person.

Filmed in a cinema verité style using hand-held cameras, sparked by extensive improvisation by the actors, the film sparkles as a slice of life movie.  This is the way people talk and act, in kind of a haphazard way that just doesn’t feel scripted at all.  Much of the credit for this success belongs to director Jonathan Demme, who urged the cast to be acting all of the time as a cadre of cameras worked their way around the set and the musicians improvised a soundtrack that was recorded at the same time as the dialogue.

This film was written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of terrific director Sidney Lumet and granddaughter of Lena Horne. A middle school drama teacher, she has attempted several screenplays, but this is her first effort actually produced.  Since I haven’t seen the screenplay—and since director Jonathan Demme depends a great deal on actor improvisation in this movie—it is impossible for me to judge the quality of the script. 

That being said, the film has a few obvious problems and I’m inclined to ascribe them more to Demme’s direction and control over the editing than Lumet’s screenplay.

At one hour and 53 minutes, this movie is at least 30 minutes too long. Demme filmed long, improvised scenes at the rehearsal dinner, the musical portion of the dinner, and at the wedding itself where he simply fell in love with the ensemble and included much, much more than was needed in the final cut.  Everything that takes away from Kym’s and Rachels conflict should have been cut down to size.  A sampling would have done the job and put us back soundly into the main story.  Sometimes what is left on the cutting room floor will determine whether a movie is good or great and I’m inclined to think that is the case here.  If it had been tightened up, then perhaps the tragedy and feel-good ending would have come together to make a truly great film, but the slice of life aspect overcomes everything else and makes the film really drag in places.

Anne Hathaway was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film and she certainly deserved it. In fact, there could have been multiple acting nominations because all of the actors are just that good.  Much of the directing is also excellent and all of the music is amazing.  All of the ingredients for a great film are present.

Ultimately, I think someone needed to step forward and say, “This is a about Kym and Rachel and we’re going to focus and hone the movie to that purpose.” The ending would have been much more poignant if it had been the natural outcome of a drama built steadily in that direction.  Perhaps the slice of life aspect of the movie would have suffered some, but I honestly believe that this movie has a great deal more in it and that great deal should have been more tightly focused.

Dragondrums by Anne McCaffrey

dragon-drums-det_0This review is written with the express understanding that the reader is familiar with the entire saga of The Dragonriders of Pern. It contains quite a few plot spoilers, so it is not intended for a reader unfamiliar with the story.  The Harper Hall trilogy is an offshoot of the Dragonriders of Pern Trilogy and takes place at the same time as the events in those major three books.  Since the stories dovetail and overlap, Anne McCaffrey assumed that the two trilogies be read either at the same time or back to back.

The first two books of this series, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger, tell the story of Menolly, a brilliant fourteen year old musician and songwriter escaping the confines of her brutal and ignorant family at Half Circle Sea Hold on the far eastern peninsula of the northern continent of Pern. Dragondrums, the third installment, is a distinct departure from the smooth relationship of the first two books, which occur right around the time that Brekke loses her queen dragon, Prideth, and her lover, F’nor, rider of brown dragon Canth, takes his dreadful trip to the Red Star.  They dovetail perfectly, with Dragonsinger beginning right where Dragonsong ends, but Dragondrums skips ahead three full turns, much in the same way that The White Dragon skips ahead several turns in the main trilogy.  And just as the main trilogy shifted focus from Lessa to Jaxom, this book changes the focus of character from Menolly to Piemur, the young rascal with the soprano voice who befriends her.

In the very beginning, Piemer’s voice breaks just as he is preparing to sing the role of Lessa in a new composition by Domick and Menolly, written especially for Lord Groghe’s Spring Festival. Without his voice, the boy’s world is turned upside down.  Fearing for his future he visits his voice master, Shonagar, only to find that he will be replaced as the man’s apprentice.  Shonagar sends him to the Masterharper of Pern, Robinton, for reassignment.  His depression over his change of circumstances changes to elation as he finds that he will become Robinton’s apprentice now, but there are, of course, complications.

Robinton plans to use Piemer as a kind of clandestine agent, so no one, except Menolly and Sebell will actually know that he’s working for the Masterharper. To cover his real role and to enlarge his education, he is reassigned to the Drum Master, Olodkey, to learn drum messages.  Only Olodkey will know that he is really working for the Masterharper.

His apprenticeship in Drum makes him the newest apprentice there, so he gets the worst jobs and is put upon by Dirzan, the senior journeyman under Olodkey. To make matters worse, he makes enemies of the other apprentices by learning too quickly.  Dirzan is quite familiar with Piemer’s reputation as a troublemaker, so he assumes that every little slip of information is Piemer’s fault.  In addition, Menolly frequently calls for Piemer’s assistance as a “messenger” in which he makes his clandestine trips.

The first leave of absence occurs when Menolly has him join her riding down to the seaside to meet Sebell, who has been journeying in the Southern Continent and for the first time he sees that Sebell has fallen in love with Menolly, although she appears to be oblivious. They treat his saddle sores and take care of him, but his absence only makes the other Drum apprentices meaner to him.  His second leave of absence is to make a trip to a Miner hold some distance away in the mountains.  While there, he witnesses T’ron, who had been banished to the Southern Continent, forcing the Miner to give him precious sapphires, reserved generally for new Harper Masters.  Hiding the jewels he was sent to pick up, he plays the ignorant stable boy and returns to the Harper Hall the next day with his treasure.  Every time he goes away, the other boys in the Drum heights become meaner to him and Dirzan keeps giving him more and more difficult measures to learn.

The third leave of absence is huge because he is taken by Menolly and Sebell to a Gather at Igen, on the southern shores of the Northern Continent with the assignment of gathering information by playing ignorant. Although he doesn’t learn much, Menolly and Sebell take him by dragon to Benden Weyr to witness a hatching.  There he meets Menolly’s friend, Mirrim, who appeared in the first of this trilogy.  She is fostered to Brekke and made friends with Menolly when she was picked up in Dragonsong trying to outrun thread.  Piemer is put off by her haughty attitude, but Menolly cautions him that he shouldn’t judge her too harshly because of everything she had been through with Brekke and F’nor.  Trying to keep an open mind, he witnesses the hatching with a great deal of envy.  Three years earlier, Menolly had promised him that when her queen fire lizard, Beauty, clutched, he could have a fire lizard of his own.  Apparently, fire lizards mature slowly because three turns have passed and Beauty still has not risen to mate.  The main feature of the hatching is that Felesson, the only child of Weyrleaders, F’lar and Lessa, impresses a bronze dragon, Golanth.  Things go a bit off plan, though, when a newly hatched green dragon rejects all of the remaining candidates and flounders toward the viewing tiers, seeking Mirrim.  Although the girl protests that she wasn’t supposed to have a dragon, F’lar and Lessa encourage her to go ahead an impress Path.  She is the first female green dragon rider in known history.

When Piemer returns to the Drum heights, he finds that all of his clothes have been soiled by the jealous apprentices, led by a big dummy named Clell. And even though he has kept his mouth shut about drum messages, several are leaked and Piemer is suspected as the cause, being well known as a rascal and scamp.  He doesn’t even tell Menolly about the abuse from the other apprentices, but that all comes to a head when Lord Meron of Nabol gets seriously ill and sends for Masterhealer Oldive.  Piemer is given the message to deliver and Oldive gives him a reply with instructions to have a dragon waiting for him to fly to Nabol.  On the way back to the drum heights, Piemer slips on the stairs and bashes in his head.  As he passes out, he is certain that the steps and railing were greased.  It turns out that they were.  Annoyed, Silvina, the headwoman, nurses him back to life, then he joins Sebell on a trip to a Nabol Gather, pretending to be a stupid herder boy.  As Meron is close to death, Piemer manages to steal a queen fire lizard egg from his hearth and escapes by hiding in a supply room, then he’s secreted to the Southern Continent in a bag of merchandise illegally traded by Meron to the Southern Oldtimers.

Escaping, he lives in the wild, waiting for his queen fire lizard, Farli, to hatch.

There are two considerable plot advances in Dragondrums.  First, there is the maturation and freedom of Piemer with his escape from the Harper Hall and acquisition of Farli, and second, when Menolly and Sebell travel to the Southern Continent in search of him, Sebell’s queen fire lizard, Kimi, rises to mate and Menolly’s bronzes, Rocky and Diver, fly to mate with her.  Diver is the successful male to mate with her, but the mating leads to Menolly and Sebell consummating their own relationship.

As the entire saga of the Dragonriders of Pern develops, these two major plot advances figure prominently.  For one thing, Piemer is permanently relocated to the south, where he will be instrumental in later books in the discovery of the original settlements of the colonization of Pern (as written in the prequel Dragonsdawn) and will find his own mate, Jancis.  For another, Sebell and Menolly will themselves be elevated from Journeyman and Journeywoman into becoming Masters of their craft and eventually running the entire Harper Hall, all the while having and nurturing their own children.

Even though this story is pretty well divorced from the first two books of the trilogy, it is very well placed alongside them because it tells of the major players in the Harper Hall’s future. Piemer was already a very well developed character in the second of the three books, so it is natural, once Menolly has found her place in the saga, that Piemer’s story would take over.  I can never get enough of Menolly, as I think she is probably the best character in the entire saga, and even though she is a secondary character in Dragondrums, she does appear in abundance and it is great to see her relationship with Sebell grow and mature to consummation.

It is a very well written novel, fun and fast to read, and absolutely essential to the overall development of the Dragonriders of Pern.

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Fargo Frances McDormandFargo

Alfred Hitchcock would have liked this 1996 Joel Coen and Ethan Coen quirky thriller that contains so much comedy it transcends genres.  It borrows a number of techniques from the master of thriller movies, including a clever McGuffin, a villain with empathy, horrific incidents that are hilarious, and a tremendous environmental atmosphere.


THE FIGHTERThe Fighter

There are just a handful of good boxing movies, but The Fighter must be ranked among them.  This 2010 film written by Scott Silver, Paul Tamasy, and Eric Johnson is based on the true story of two brothers who each attained some degree of success in the world of boxing.  There is some stretching of the truth in order to make a good movie—and that is just what director David O. Russell gives us.


First TimeThe First Time

The very sweet teen romance written and directed by Jon Kasdan is disarmingly honest, with characters that feel so real there isn’t the hint of artifice.  Centered around two teens who meet by accident, become friends, and each decide to give up their virginity to the other, this film will leave you with a warm, gooey feeling that makes it a worthwhile viewing experience.


Fly Away PictureFly Away

Written and directed by Emmy Award winner Janet Grillo, this 2011 low-budget independent film, shot in a mere 14 days is full of emotional punch and great characters brought to life by a bright and talented cast.


French ConnectionThe French Connection

If you are looking for the meaning of life, this movie is not for you.  Indeed, if you are looking for any meaning at all, this is not your movie.  Rather, it is a completely kinetic film.  Directed by William Friedkin, it echoes the French cinema of the 1950’s, which itself echoes the American gangster films of the 1930’s.  It is all movement and action, with practically no dialogue, moving in a steady arc of energy toward a violent ending.


french kissFrench Kiss

Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection.  Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.


Friends with KidsFriends with Kids

This 2011 movie, written, produced and directed by Jennifer Westfeldt, is about a group of shallow, sex-obsessed Manhattan Yuppies who start having children. It stars Adam Scott, Westfeldt, Chris O’Dowd, Kristen Wiig, Jon Hamm and Maya Rudolph.


frozen-river-pic-melissa-leoFrozen River

There are a lot of great movies that somehow never make it into the public eye and Frozen River is one of those films.  It deserves to be seen–and probably deserved a lot more national attention than what it actually got.