Dec 30, 2009

Blogger Fail!

Pre-Teen Horse Fiction EXPOSED

(Because when I've abandoned my own blog for a while, I like to come back and point to other things of amusement while I get my act together.)

Dec 12, 2009

A little intentionally lost in translation.

Race
2008

Every so often, I don't think about the consequences of my actions. Today, while halfway through this megalith of a movie, I thought to myself oh my god, what have I done?

Granted, I thought Race was pretty hilarious. In all sorts of ways, many of them having to do with the bad subtitles and the fact that it is two and a half hours long.

Let me see if I can explain this quickly before getting to my notes. Okay. Try to imagine what would happen if James Bond from A View to a Kill finds himself trapped in a Bollywood version of Goodbye Lover that was remade with heavy inspiration from The Fast and the Furious. Imagine what sort of brilliance/insanity it would take to pull that off, because it was kind of awesome. Also, you can watch this in full on YouTube, if you feel so inclined. If you really want to go wild and have a Netflix account...enjoy, because for reasons I cannot understand it's available instantly.

You know you want to.

We begin with a wreck. But let's back up, because we've got backstory afoot! A narrator helpfully informs us that "people live, die and kill too," whatever that means, before we are off exploring the world of Ranvir, the Brad Townsend/Batman of Bollywood. Ranvir owns Stallions, possibly the most blunt stud farm name in history, in South Africa somewhere. When he is not busy breeding and racing his horses, he is busy bungee jumping into a moving convertible that is speeding toward a cliff so he can play a game of chicken with himself...or something? I think the narrator called this "outdoor sports." Whatever, everyone loves it.

Ranvir has a half or step-brother named Rajiv, who drinks whiskey in a flask in slowmo. We learn that "people drink tea when they wake up, but to get rid of the hangover of the night, Rajiv drinks beer." Then there is Sonia, Ranvir's model girlfriend, and Sophia, Ranvir's personal assistant, who "loves Ranvir, but Ranvir thinks it is just her efficiency." (Quotes, by the way, are absolutely and totally direct.)

At the racetrack, a rival trainer has paid off Ranvir's jockey to very obviously fix the race. Rival trainer laughs at Ranvir's misfortune, but Ranvir helpfully mutters, "when a person laughs a lot, he also cries a lot" right before giving the jockey a stare of doom. Soon after, while driving along some South African road, he nearly sideswipes the jockey's car, pulls out some device, and casually makes the jockey's car explode after explaining that "who can stop someone's departure?" I don't know what that means, Ranvir. You and your strange logic!

Well, the jockey is dead because Ranvir is channeling his James Bond/Batman/Brad Townsend pretty hard. He and Rajiv road rage back to Stallions and absolutely nothing is ever heard about this jockey ever again. And then Ranvir flips his car over a truck, appears to die, but is totally fine at a hospital two seconds later, not a scratch on him. 15-20 days of hospital rest later (I don't know why), they have a party so Rajiv can rock out in a music video to something about "rock the dance floor" and "rock the jamboree." Sonia strolls in, and Rajiv falls for her, indicating that he will give up his alcoholism if only she would be with him. Ranvir being the good guy he is breaks up with her so Rajiv can have a shot. Sonia isn't too excited by this prospect, especially when Rajiv starts to imitate Edward Cullen and stalks her outside her house by leaning on his car and acting all weirdly emo. Only to saxophone music instead of Muse. And predictably she finds this charming, wanting to get married right away!

But Rajiv has looked up her bio-data! Oh...my god? They decide to get married and plot together to kill Ranvir in order to commit insurance fraud. Moving on, Ranvir is off personally exercising this racehorse that records a time of "two minutes and seven seconds" which is "seven seconds more than last time." I don't know what they're up to, but it doesn't sound productive. Rival trainer shows up with an offer to buy Stallions, and Ranvir says that rival trainer is an ignorant moron with a small brain, and can he borrow his pen? Without rival trainer's knowledge, Ranvir switches the pens with one of his own that happens to be a microphone. During the races, rival trainer happens to have the pen and happens to decide to very loudly fix the upcoming race. Ranvir decides that he will also fix the race, and when he appears triumphant afterward (despite losing money, however that works) he appears in front of rival trainer to personally inform him about the microphone pen. That's right, Ranvir is awesome and he's going to show you how!

Personal assistant Sophia points out to Ranvir that he lost money on this weird James Bond moment, but Ranvir isn't having that, saying, "if someone defeats and kills me, I can tolerate that." Well, whatever, because sooner or later Sonia comes along and tries to guilt trip Ranvir into stall sex, because he has just come back from riding in the rain and has taken off his shirt. Because this is Bollywood, they can't really kiss, but they can run around in the rain and rub all over each other, and have sex in stalls while other people just randomly have hidden cameras trained on them. Totally okay.

Ranvir then goes to a club called Gallops and thinks about having sex with Sonia some more while Sophia tries her best to get him to notice her for more than her efficiency. Rajiv says, "The gun is ready." Oh, really? Is it, Rajiv? I'm starting to wonder if they didn't mean "The trap is set" or something a little less weird, because since when are guns not ready?

Plot twists happen. I cannot begin to explain them, but it turns out Sonia is actually with Ranvir instead of Rajiv, but then Ranvir bites the pavement from twenty floors up and it looks like he's gone from the story at the hour mark. So you know he's not gone from the story, as the guy who plays Rajiv is not as good looking or featured in more than one dance number.

Then the narrator shows up to inform us all that the detective who is dealing with Ranvir's death has an assistant, Mini, who is "good at office work!" Exclamation point! Also, "often people die because of their wife." And "hold this banana and get in the car. I will eat it peacefully inside." Then there is this exchange:

Mini, the assistant: "You are having sugarcane at such a time!"
Detective: "The dead body won't take my sugarcane!"

I wish I could tell you what this means, but all I really know is that he was chewing on a piece of sugarcane the size of a flute.

Eventually we discover that Sophia and Rajiv are actually married, sort of? Also, Rajiv has daddy issues and jealousy issues stemming from bike races he always lost to Ranvir when he was ten. Sibling rivalry sucks, Rajiv. Of course, according to this movie the oldest sibling is always the most awesome because that sibling is oldest...and therefore the most awesome. Birth order is everything, and for the love of god don't question it.

And then Ranvir comes flying (literally) out of nowhere and Batmans his way back into the heart of Sonia, saving her from certain doom by truck, steel beams, knife, and parking garage.

Ranvir: "The plan is working."
Me: "THERE IS A PLAN?!"

Then we take a break for another dance video, right before Ranvir awesomes his way back into Stallions with a gun and a ballsy suggestion that the brothers put all the insurance money (which has doubled to 200 million, somehow) on a match race instead of just putting a bullet in Rajiv's brain. Because a match race is more fun! I guess! Instead of using bicycles, as I was really hoping would be the case, they use cars. Ranvir proposes they switch cars, because it is the driver and not the car that really matters. Rajiv appears to have prepared for this, and cut the break lines of his own car, sending Ranvir careening down the road.

Ranvir, not at all ruffled by certain doom that could easily be avoided by simply taking his foot off the damn gas pedal, decides to call Rajiv and explain to him, while he is racing around at god knows what speed, that he has seen the movie Speed and was inspired to plant a bomb in his own car that will go off if Rajiv slips under 100 miles per hour. Rajiv is clearly upset by this news, and also the following obstacle course that suddenly pops up: tourist buses, boats, kids on four wheelers, and an RV.

Well, the RV takes out his car and it explodes in mid air. Ranvir crashes into some buckets of water, climbs out of his car and sadly explains that he did not actually plant a bomb in the car, despite the fact that the car exploded by itself. Which...um, yeah.

Detective comes out of nowhere to explain that the movie is not done! He is important too! Ranvir takes the insurance money after having successfully faked his death, gives half to the detective, who I guess helped him out the whole time, and then ends the movie by helpfully explaining how awesome he is. Let the man explain!

Dance video!

Dec 1, 2009

The Calm before what?

Wildfire
4.3: Calm

This show keeps getting weirder, and I am back to bring you the fabulous point system that will in no way make anything clear. Let's go!

(Remember, I supplement Thoroughbred series characters for Wildfire characters. This show is in no way related to the Thoroughbred series, although it mirrors it in a really amusing, fan fiction sort of way.)

The Good:

+ Apparently Townsend Acres is now Townsend Industries, and Brad has been made CEO, which may just be a figurehead for the time being, but I am still all about this development. +1!

+ Brad literally cannot remember stealing some poor guy's prom date, during prom. Look, I went to prom, and I remember it quite clearly as the giant waste of time that it was. How awesome do you have to be to forget that you stole someone's date? Has Brad attained some super echelon of awesome? I think that he has. +3!

+ Dani goes through this episode being right about everything. I like it when Dani is right about everything. It just feels...natural, somehow. +1!

+ The poor MIT graduate that got his prom date stolen wants to know how Brad discovered his address. Really, is anyone shocked? He's Brad. +2! It is also kind of sweet that Brad will go this far to apologize to someone for something he can't remember doing that was probably awesome an unspecified number of years ago. (How old are these people? I am so confused.)

+ I kind of like the wind turbine idea. However, I don't know how anyone would feel about having a six foot turbine attached to their house. Also, does it work when it's not windy? Also, how does MIT guy have power if he has his whole apartment attached to the turbine that he has to blow into in order to turn on a light? Regardless of these questions, I still give a point! +1!

+ Brad will stop global warming! +5!

+ I said it once, and I'll say it again. Dani and Ashleigh being friends is awesome. Plus, considering neither have any other friends whatsoever, it's about freaking time. +2!

+ The scene where Wonder jumps out of her little baby paddock to nuzzle Ashleigh is...actually good. For a while there I was doubting the super girl and wonder pony plot, because Wonder was a little sidelined last season by the melodrama, and it's nice to actually get a completely unexpected and unrealistic reaction from Wonder. Thank you Thoroughbred...I mean Wildfire. +4!

+19!

The Bad:

- Who the hell is Ian to come waltzing into Dani's equine clinic to demand that Ashleigh leave town? Dude, this is not the old west. I think Ashleigh can coexist in the same town with you. Don't make me take Ashleigh's side, Ian. You know how I don't like to do that. -2!

- Wonder is whored out for the good of Whitebrook for the, oh, fourth time. Once a season is usually our average, and someone always gets upset about it, despite the fact that this someone has, without fail, whored out Wonder in the past. This time, instead of taking Wonder to a child's birthday party, she is a photo op for all of Whitebrook's dude ranch guests. And Mike, who dreamed up the birthday party scenario from seasons previous, is upset. Mike, how much do you suck? -2!

- While I do think Jean had a lot of reasons to be pissed off last season, now she's just being a rampant jerk. Granted, it doesn't help matters that Ashleigh is acting like a kicked puppy, but I just want some realistic anger, not insane psychobabble, okay? Is this asking too much? -1!

- Wonder ties up, which in Thoroughbred/Wildfire land means she falls over and can't get over it without magical super girl tears. Or, actually, I guess Ashleigh just happens to walk by and everything is better. I don't know what's going on there. It was too Thoroughbred series to make any sense. -1!

- Noah still creeps me out. Stop digging for love with Dani, Noah, because she is so going to get back together with RJ when he magically comes out of his coma! -1!

-7!

19-7=12

The More Things Change (1): 22
The More Things Change (2): 1
Calm: 12

Not bad, show. Not bad.

Nov 20, 2009

Annual Holiday Gift Guide!

Elizabeth, blog correspondent and all around awesome person, apparently always gets her holiday shopping done early. Thus I got an e-mail about all the fantastic horse-themed gifts you can give your loved ones this holiday season. I am here to show you her greatest finds, and add in a few of my own.


Do you have a Saddle Club fan on your hands? I am told this is the exact sweatshirt that Carole gives Stevie in Starlight Christmas, and while I don't know what the significance of that is, if any, you can buy them in a mother-daughter pair. How adorable, I think. Get them here.








Do you have the unyielding desire to decorate your home with the same pattern over and over in the same design probably found at Lyssa's home at Thunder Ranch in Star's Chance? Back In The Saddle has anticipated your needs, and brings you this pattern in the form of coverlets, window valances, place mats, pillow shams, chair cushions, table runners, and sofa covers. Two sizes of sofa covers, just in case you also have a love seat. I officially request that someone buy all of these things, so I can see them in use all at the same time. Please go here to purchase all of them.



Have you ever found yourself immensely critical of the holiday decoration choices of others? Of neighbors and loved ones? Of fellow family members, perhaps? Of course you have! So we bring you ornaments in "palomino, bay and crystal." I'll give you one guess on who the odd man out is in this group. That said, I actually sort of like these, and I have seen a lot of awful horse ornaments on display at Hallmark and on Christmas trees that I have tried not to find fault with because they were the Christmas trees of friends. That's right, I will only silently judge you. No worries. Get the glass ornament ponies here.



There is nothing better than cubic zirconia. Not only can you trick others into thinking they're worthy of precious jewels, but you get to only spend $40 when you should realistically be spending much, much more. It's sort of a win-win! This is another one of those situations where I would like someone to buy the pendant, ring and earrings so I can see them in use all at the same time. I know someone out there is willing to do this. I mean, I once saw a person go to great lengths to buy an entire outfit of solid Pepto-Bismol pink topped off with gold sandals. I know you're out there somewhere, person. Go buy them.

In terms of children's toys, I am sad to say there isn't much out there that really caught my attention. At least not in a way that resulted in an oh-my-god-what-is-that-and-why-is-it-awesome (question mark, exclamation point!) reaction.

There is the Breyer horse with giant fairy wings, Disney princesses come with their own horses now, and Shrinky Dinks. (I love saying Shrinky Dink! It makes me giggle.) But I think the winner goes to Barbie this year:
Yes, that's a horse with a shower. Also, there is a Barbie groom that is sold separately. The shower head actually works, and when wet, the horse's mane will turn pink. Sounds like a beautiful time to learn about mildew, and yet it is pretty awesome. It also comes with ton of accessories, as well as a bucket and shovel, which for some reason really amuses me. $29.98! Thank you, Barbie.

That's your annual toy and gift guide, you guys. Happy Holidays!

Nov 18, 2009

Star's Chance: And then they got lost in Montana.

Star's Chance
Thoroughbred #45
by Karle Dickerson
2001

Will Star ever regain his spirit?

At last, Wonder's Star has recovered from the illness that halted his promising racing career so suddenly. The vet says he'll be back on the track in no time. But Christina Reese is convinced the colt has lost his spirit. She can't seem to communicate with him like she used to. Christina needs help.

When Lyssa Hynde offers to work her magic with Star, Christina takes the colt to Lyssa's ranch in Montana to rehabilitate. But Montana is worlds away from the track, and Christina and Star are lost there. Will Christina and Star learn to take risks and trust each other again?

The last time I read about Lyssa, I remember wishing she would drown in a shallow puddle of water. That desire really hasn't gone away, so I was curious to see how I'd react to Star's Chance, which initially seems like a flagrant device to get Lyssa back into the storyline.

Because we all love Lyssa.

Star's Chance begins with Star having rebounded from death, which seems like a pretty nifty trick because the last we saw him he was practically cast in his stall and only Christina's magical girl tears saved him from certain doom. The vet proclaims him fine, but cautions Chris about taking it easy with Star until he regains his strength. There's no telling if he'll ever bounce back to racing form, and the vet takes it even further by saying there's no telling he'll ever be strong enough to even breed. But what does he know? He is merely a vet! Christina knows what is best for her wonder pony, okay? And he's going to run in the Kentucky Derby next year, because that's what's best for the horse.

About two and a half days go by, with Christina getting ever more frustrated with Star's "lack of spirit" when she rides him. Parker mentions that if Lyssa were here, she would have Star back to his old self in a couple of hours, max. Then he has a most fantastic idea! Perhaps Christina should take Star to Lyssa, who lives on a dude ranch in Montana. Christina is certainly unenthused about this idea, telling him he is "absolutely nuts" and in no way is she taking her wonder pony to Montana to re-enact The Horse Whisperer, just without the death and the sex.

Enter Brad Townsend, because where plot goes stagnant, Brad Townsend has to be called in to stir up the pot. Asked to accompany Parker to a Townsend party, Christina is forced to stand around with people who are just as well off as she is, but have the gall to actually act rich and wear sparkly things. The nerve.

Instantly, Brad appears by Christina to tell her that he's heard about her troubles with Star, this being the third day after Star's been cleared for some light activity. Christina begins to ask how he heard, but he says, "No, it wasn't Parker. But I have my ways." Yes, he reads minds. Stunned, Christina instantly goes on alert, falling back to her default stance as indignant horse loving teen, asking him why he even cares, apparently having forgotten that Brad only antagonizes her because it is basically good sport. Brad insists that selling Star was the best business decision he ever made, taking the time to lift up her hand and point out her blisters and broken nails, because he is a master at deduction.

Christina promises that he'll regret selling Star, and he pretty much tells her that no, he will not. Then he saunters off, his work here done. Game, set, match. Brad Townsend wins at life. Immediately Christina rushes back to Parker, insisting that they have to go now so she can call Lyssa and go to Montana to help Star. Despite having only worked with Star for three days. I think someone has some instant gratification issues.

Because no one in Thoroughbred goes to school, and Ashleigh is a horrible parent, Christina goes to Montana with Lyssa's uncle, subjecting herself and me to every Western stereotype you can think of for the next hundred pages. Star is loaded onto a trailer with cattle, hauled by a truck that could very well fall apart at any second, with the radio station permanently tuned to Western music. Once they arrive in Montana, Christina is ushered into the house, where everything is beige and tastefully decorated in horse themed or Navajo prints. Instantly, some guy named Ray asks Christina if her horse's spirit is broken, and what the hell it totally is not! How dare he kind of be ignorantly astute like that! Only Christina can use similar verbiage to basically say the same thing.

Lyssa tries to placate Christina by saying that Ray doesn't know any better. He is, after all, from Arizona, where jerks come from. Ray continues to try to win Christina over, using common forms of conversation starters that Christina construes as "creepy" behavior. When she's not avoiding Ray, she's on super defensive mode with Lyssa, because despite the fact that she trailered Star all the way to Montana with heifers she ultimately wants nothing to do with Lyssa's supposed advice. Also despite being totally about Lyssa's training techniques back in Close Call.

Eventually, Lyssa demands that Christina take Star out into a reservoir in order for him to fight out his problems with her, because that's what the American Indians do, I guess. Christina isn't having any of that, no matter how many American Indians gentled horses this way. Star is a racehorse, damn it. She cannot hurt him, despite the fact that she's trailered him all the way to Montana for seemingly no reason and is about to take him on a round up type thing in the wilderness, where he will inevitably get lost and wind up roaming the countryside in search of his previously completely insane personality.

So this is what they do. Star gets loose up in the mountains, and Christina speeds off after him. Eventually they all get lost, Christina finds Star predictably injured, and winds up spending the night with him out in the wood somewhere. The next morning, Christina rides Star (sans tack, of course) into a river, where Star completely flips out and does his fight the water deal that brings his old personality back. And then they both climb out of the river and die of hypothermia.

Or not. Lyssa finds them, and all is well. Christina gets to put a checkmark next to Montana on her list of states that she has visited, and Star is set to win the Kentucky Derby. Surely he will not finish, you know, last. Or anything. That would be entirely too unjust.

  • There is one thing I liked about this book: Christina never really admits that Lyssa's advice helped or did anything positive at all. By the end, she's really had it and starts to freak out at Lyssa about how it is entirely useless to train horses to open gates. And Lyssa actually does manage to look a little sheepish about it, because her horse was the one that let Star out to begin with.
  • I really don't buy Parker telling Christina to take Star to Lyssa. I would accept this plot if Christina had dreamed up this idea, and then gotten totally overwhelmed when she finally gets there because she is a mother hen when it comes to her horse.
  • Ashleigh, you suck so much. When Christina calls her mother up to tell her about this round up she's taking Star on, the very round up in which she loses Star, the only thing Ashleigh says is, "Sounds like it will be an adventure." Right about here is when you put your foot down and demand that your daughter bring her damn wonder pony back to Kentucky, because if the magical trick is thrashing around in water, I'm pretty sure you could have done that at home.
  • Three days! She only waits three days before taking Star to Montana. Seriously.

And that was a Thoroughbred book.

Nov 9, 2009

The First Saturday in May


The First Saturday in May
2007
Tagline: Two minutes can last a lifetime.

Documentary time! Again!

So here's the deal: two brothers drop everything for over a year to follow these guys (and these horses): Michael Matz (Barbaro), Dan Hendricks (Brother Derek), Bob Holthus (Lawyer Ron), Dale Romans (Sharp Humor), Kiaran McLaughlin (Jazil), and Frank Amonte Jr. (Achilles of Troy) on the trail to the Kentucky Derby.

It's interesting to watch this a few years removed from the 2006 Kentucky Derby, knowing the stories of what happened to these horses after the Triple Crown trail. For instance, Barbaro and Lawyer Ron are both deceased, Jazil won the Belmont Stakes and that was pretty much all, Brother Derek and Sharp Humor suffered injuries and faded into stud duty, and Achilles of Troy probably has the saddest story of them all. Poor Achilles completely disappeared, and only rumor puts him in poor condition at Aqueduct days after the 22 counts of abuse were filed against his owner in April of this year.

But those stories could not be part of The First Saturday in May, although I think it would have been fascinating had they touched more on why Frank Amonte Jr. got the head trainer job with Achilles of Troy just before the Gotham, considering it was the last race Achilles of Troy was ever in. The only story they follow up on is Barbaro, for obvious reasons.

The documentary itself is much better than I thought it would be. In short, it isn't an overlong, overproduced montage in the same vein of the kinds you see during the Triple Crown broadcasts. It's realistic. Some of these guys are the type to drink whiskey straight from the bottle while playing golf, some of them curse up a storm, and some of them really are just straight-laced family guys. It was sweet to watch Michael Matz teach his son about approaching a horse with confidence (plus, I am sort of in love with Michael Matz), and I did enjoy watching Frank Amonte accost his son for complaining that the dirt they're standing in might ruin his new shoes.

What with the 2006 Triple Crown being so tragic in the case of Barbaro, I was curious to see how they handled the aftermath of the Derby. I am a person who went on Barbaro overload about two and a half years ago. Granted, I always kept up with what was going on with him, but now I just want to move on with my life. If this documentary had been made any other year, it would have skipped straight to the "here's where they are now" section and called it a day. Because it happened in 2006, they give us a two minute Barbaro clipshow that I am almost certain could have felt less pieced together. However, for the purposes of showing how important the Kentucky Derby winner is to American sport, I suppose it works.

In all, I thought it was well done. I sort of want to buy it, but I'm restraining that impulse.

(Next: books! I promise.)

Nov 5, 2009

Shergar is probably haunting some remote part of Ireland.

Shergar
1999

I enjoy movies that romanticize real life events that were in reality needlessly bloody. The true story of Shergar will undoubtedly never be fully known, although it does look like some fairly recent digging into the matter resulted in some gruesome claims.

Basically, in 1981 Shergar became the European Horse of the Year. He won the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby, and several other important races before being retired that year. In 1983, he was kidnapped and never seen again. That is pretty much all you can say with 100% certainty about his disappearance, but it is greatly assumed that he was taken and held for ransom by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, or IRA. Apparently they took the horse on the misapprehension that kidnapping a national (Irish) icon would enrage people less than kidnapping your run-of-the-mill wealthy person. Needless to say, after the complete failure that was this ransom attempt, they stuck with snatching people.

There are two running theories on how Shergar was killed: 1) the IRA didn't know what they were doing with a stallion, who possibly went crazy and was subsequently shot hours after being stolen or 2) Shergar was held until it became clear the horse's syndicate had no intention of paying, the IRA had no idea what to do with the stallion, and felt they should kill him as they perceived him to be injured. With machine guns. Yes, with machine guns. The horse's remains have never been found.

Either way you look at it, Shergar died a violent and upsetting death. So, after this enlightening little history lesson, let's look at the movie version.

About a year ago, I decided I had to take a break from books or media that involved the Irish. For those who have followed this blog for some length of time, you know why. For those who haven't, I can't explain myself briefly, so I won't try. Needless to say, there are Irish people in this movie, and I put up with it because this movie was requested and I am happy to put my problems with the Irish aside for a request.

Anyway, the movie is pretty cut and dry up to a point. Shergar is stolen and hidden away in some guy's barn, where he is to stay until the IRA gets their money. (As an aside: apparently the IRA didn't know that Shergar was owned by a syndicate, which amuses me for lots of reasons.) Unknown to the IRA, this guy has a stable worker. I never caught his name, so I will call him Boy. Boy is freakishly obsessed with Shergar. He has yellowed newspaper clippings about the horse on his bedroom wall, which should have been a clue for the guy (I didn't catch his name either, so I will call him The Guy) that keeping a wayward teen in your barn with a stolen racehorse isn't the best of ideas, especially when there are men with guns out there that are willing to kill you for withholding this information.

They proceed to act very, very suspicious. At one point, a police helicopter approaches the farm and everyone runs. Boy freaks and Guy runs into the stable, because this is totally normal, rational behavior! The only one acting normally is the wife (I actually only caught two names in this movie, and neither were hers, so she is the Wife), who curses at the helicopter for scattering her laundry. Damn it all! And then, like complete idiots, the police helicopter away like what they just saw was not at all obviously telling.

Eventually we have another brush with the police, who are out combing Ireland for the horse. This resulted in a British officer having a cow spray manure all over him, which immediately made me annoyed. Poop jokes are never appreciated, especially in dramas. I firmly believe that, as a society, we need to get over feces being funny. Because it is not.

Anyway, the IRA decides that the syndicate is just jerking their chain, so they decide to kill the horse. Except Boy, who dreams of being a jockey and has been having Cindyesque interaction with Shergar for a good forty minutes, decides he's not going to let that happen and runs away with with horse.

Insert dramatic hour long cross country chase! After dyeing Shergar a dark bay color, Boy runs into a tinker (read: Irish Gypsy) and his granddaughter. Joe and Kate. (See, I was paying attention!) We get a moment to kick back and relax, ride horses over the hills, have family moments, and bond. Then Boy rides Joe's mare in a steeplechase, which he wins. Unfortunately for him, the IRA love Irish festivals, and show up with the Guy in tow. Guy tries to warn Boy, but it is too late because the IRA get all besides themselves and tear off after Boy, who rides into the countryside on Shergar.

It rains. Shergar's dye job goes to hell, just in time for the dramatic confrontation between Boy and the IRA. When it comes right down to it, the gunmen fail to shoot the horse. Instead, they hesitate about five times, and Boy jumps Shergar off a cliff. The IRA members decide to be sad about this and walk back to wherever they came from, despite the fact they were all in cars previously.

Ultimately, I was not horribly disappointed in this movie. It had silly moments, it had sentimental crazy moments, it involved the Irish all the time, the Boy rode the horse off a freaking cliff, but mainly I'd say it just failed to entertain me. I mean, I only caught two names. I'd say that's relevant.

Nov 3, 2009

In your head, in your head, Zombie...

The Young Black Stallion
2003

Tagline: The greatest story of friendship ever told.

My reaction: lies!

Weirdly, this movie managed to get Zombie by The Cranberries stuck in my head. The only reason this happened is because the old man character tells the annoying young girl character something about someone bringing "their tanks and their bombs" somewhere to maybe blow something up. And I narrowed my eyes at the television and cried bitter, awful tears. It is stuck in my head now. It is truly horrible.

Anyway, I don't know why this movie was made. Quite frankly, it is bad. It was like a mash up of The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns done in forty-five minutes, and let me tell you, the length of this movie is the only thing good about this. That, and maybe it's pretty occasionally. The rest of it is awful. Awful! Yes, with an exclamation point!

First things first: the main character is a girl. And wow, is she irritating. Plus, she couldn't act her way out of a paper bag, even if she was given a map and a flashlight and verbal cues. She wouldn't be able to find the light of day. I don't care if she is a child, damn it, she was wasting mine and everyone else's precious time. Actually, no one in this movie could act their way out of a moderately large trash bag. I am pretty sure they would all get lost somewhere and die in a desert of dehydration after having convinced themselves they've escaped and are actually successful. The only good actor in this bunch is the horse(s). And even then I feel that someone overdid it with the rearing.

Moving on, the voice dubbing that was mainly used to insert lines of dialogue such as "go, Shetan, go" and "you're such a good boy" and "wait!" I...sort of wanted to smack someone after a while. My favorite: "No, it's really me in person, see?" Shut up, really? You're here in person? Like, right in front of me? People, she was only gone for maybe a day or two. A month, tops. Or however long it takes to tame a wild yearling, which in this movie looks like it took a handful of water and two seconds.

And now, the plot, which is The Black Stallion meets The Black Stallion Returns meets the most annoying girl on the planet. This girl almost immediately gets lost in the desert, and is saved by the Black, who is a yearling and is off roaming the Arabian countryside because some mean man caught his mom. As we know from this movie's bonus features, the Black is really the son of some celestial Friesian (I have heard this is actually supported by the book, much to my horror), and this little girl's grandfather's mare named Gina. Or something. Whatever. The important thing is that the Black led the girl to water, and then she gives him water, which means that they are now super fabulous lifetime friends!

Only she randomly stumbles across her house (goody!) and the Black books it out of there, abandoning her to her grandfather and this small boy who was maybe her brother. Or cousin. Or someone. The Black is gone for a year, only to magically come back because I suppose it took him a year to get over this spooking episode. No matter! Little girl rides out to the Black, hops on his back because he is now tame for some reason, and decides that she's going to ride him in the upcoming festival race a la The Black Stallion Returns and win all the best mares and restart their family breeding stable, which I guess went to shit.

But Grandfather forbids it! This horse is like the devil! The little girl does the most shockingly predictable thing and decides to disguise herself and enter the race anyway, putting Shetan on the line. Her grandfather is too busy cuddling with Gina to really notice what's going on. I have a feeling he was drunk, because he sort of got weird halfway through the festival and abandoned the kids to find a hookah tent somewhere. Ah, parenting.

They race, the girl wins, they bring all the mares and Shetan back to the old homestead, and Shetan kisses his mom because of course he remembers her!

Of course this is not what the book is actually about, because I remember paging through it one day out of boredom and I remember it being much darker, but almost as ridiculous, and it actually was a prequel to The Black Stallion. I am not quite sure what this movie even is.

Oct 31, 2009

It's Virginia and the Spoiled Brat!


Virginia's Run
2002

Tagline: Two sisters. One remarkable adventure that will bring them together.

This is another one of those movies that I like despite its sentimental, unrealistic core. If you're in this for faithfully depicted equestrian scenes, you need to put the DVD down and back away slowly, because you're too serious for this movie. If you're here to grin evilly and compare this to the Thoroughbred series for no reason other than you get a strange kick out of it, well you're in for an hour and forty-five minutes of joy!

It starts out normal enough: a girl with super hearing jerks awake because a mare in a pasture somewhere is having a foal during a thunderstorm. This mare needs her assistance! Virginia speeds out into the storm to save the mare and foal, because this mare used to be her dead mother's and naturally she would be attached to any progeny it might have. The mare dies, leaving behind the foal.

So, the story goes that Virginia used to dash around on horseback all the time before her mother fell off of the mare and met her end, which means that Gabriel Byrne has forbidden Virginia from riding or in any way associating with horses. He doesn't want Virginia to get attached to the new foal, despite the foal's owner coming by to give her milk because the foal has attached itself to her. The foal's owner is Blake Raines (think New Generation Brad Townsend, complete with cravat), father of Darrow Raines (think Brad Townsend, Joanna Campbell era), the resident jerk who is dating Caroline, Virginia's older sister, and has a weird antagonistic relationship with Virginia for seemingly no reason. It's like everything I could possibly want in a movie!

Virginia ignores her father and bonds with the foal anyway, naming it Stormy and spending probably every waking second with it as her father goes on his oblivious way. Two years pass, and Virginia has taken up speeding around on Stormy during the night, nearly getting hit by cars during her adventures in teenage juvenile delinquency. Darrow is still dating Caroline, inexplicably enough, but turns his sights on Stormy as his new endurance horse.

(Yes, the horse is two. I know, I know.)

Stormy and Darrow don't get along, giving Virginia a way to weasel in and accuse Darrow of being, well, Darrow. Darrow threatens to have the horse shot, but instead settles on selling him, which he tells Virginia all about later at school, giving her his winning smile as she reacts in typical horse story main character fashion, which would be to get on her bike and ride as fast as she can to the ranch, only to get there too late and burst into impotent sobs.

The Caroline/Darrow relationship keeps going, and is remarkably everything I wanted it to be. Darrow gets pissed off that she won't put out in the backseat of his car, so he takes out his sexual frustration in road raging, which sends the car into a telephone pole. Caroline breaks her nose, and Darrow proceeds to never call her, only showing up later at a town dance with another girl. Caroline takes a moment to man up and punch him in the face. This is the Caroline who embraces violence as a means to solve problems, and who is therefore awesome.

Meanwhile, Virginia has started to work at the Raines ranch because her dad believes this will shake her out of her funk over losing Stormy. Instead he just catches her riding, and breakthroughs occur that send him off in search of the horse, which he finds and gives to her for her birthday. Life is super fantastic. Stormy is living in the garage, Caroline punched Darrow in the face, their dad is sort of dating the ranch manager but not...and then comes along the endurance race.

While training for the race, Virginia has a run in with Darrow and his posse, because Darrow has a posse that follows him everywhere, be he on horseback or not. Because they have a weird antagonistic relationship, they immediately decide to have a match race right there. Somehow a train gets involved, and Virginia decides that she just has to beat Darrow and spurs her horse across the tracks and in front of the train, nearly getting them both killed.

Darrow and Virginia stare at each other across the tracks as the train goes by, Virginia looking like she just swallowed something very bitter, and Darrow giving her this look that I immediately associate with disbelief that the main character nearly splattered herself all over the train tracks, but the movie associates with rampant rage that she beat him. In my head, they are so having angry sex when they get out of high school.

Anyway, the movie starts making some dumb moves after this. Darrow steals Stormy on the morning of the race, Virginia finds Stormy just in time to enter the race based on the town mob insisting that she ride, Darrow is a little too obviously attempting to win the race at all costs because his father is being sort of super insane about winning, then Virginia wins after a prolonged Virginia/Darrow hate fueled match race in which they glare at each other a lot.

And it just occurred to me that I have no idea what that tagline is talking about. This movie is so not about sisters.

Points:

- Typically, Darrow gets all the awesome lines in this movie. And then the movie kicks him in the balls. Poor guy.

- Crimped hair! When was this allowed to claw its way out of the 80s?

- "Who would steal a horse in the middle of a thunderstorm?" Yeah, who? I mean, rain and thunder should be all it takes to dissuade anyone from doing anything.

- "Stormy was my horse even though he didn't belong to me." I am so tired of this line. Why can't we tweak it into something like, "I loved him and now he's gone and now I'm really freaking depressed about it." Granted, that may need some tweaking of its own, but at least it's sort of got some truth to it.

- "If Darrow is such a jerk, why hasn't he told Dad about you visiting the foal?" Good point, Caroline! The movie was trying at something interesting initially.

- I think Gabriel Byrne slept through most of this movie. He looks like he was just gently roused from a coma during all of his scenes.

- I don't know what's up with this endurance race, but everyone in this town takes it very, very seriously.

So, I guess you could say that I've got my own reasons for liking it. And mainly they all hinge on the antagonistic relationship that made me smile.

Oct 26, 2009

At least none of the characters were Irish.

Ride a Dark Horse
by Laura Moore
2001

Cassie Miller was on track to be one of the best equestrian riders of the sport when a terrible accident left her as the guardian of an orphaned niece and nephew. Seeking means to support the twins--now five years old--Cassie takes a job as a horse trainer at the prestigious Five Oaks farm where she finds not one, but two worthy adversaries--Orion, a bold, dark horse that has yet to find a rider it deems its equal, and local veterinarian Caleb Wells, a man whose startling good looks and quick wit leave Cassie unnerved.

As Cassie trains Orion for competition, Caleb, a partner in the farm, watches over their progress. A womanizer since his recent divorce, he soon finds his heart softening for this strong and gifted woman--and for her unconventional family. But as Orion's Hampton Classic competition looms, Caleb's vengeful ex-wife threatens to ruin everything Cassie and Caleb have worked for....



I continue to totally fail at reading romance novels. They just make me want to bang my head against the nearest hard object until I fall into a blissful state of unconsciousness. This urge takes over about a quarter of the way through the book, and to save my poor brain I make a courageous effort to understand the plot as I read one sentence every five to ten pages until I finish the book in five minutes and call it a day.

That's what happened here. Nothing against Laura Moore. I'm sure she's a nice lady. It's just that I've (sort of) read Chance Meeting, and I know what she's up to.

Let's all meet Cassie. Everything about her is sublime on every level you can imagine. Basically, Cassie is better than you. At the tender age of nineteen, she adopts her dead brother's infant twins, drops off the face of the earth in order to raise them, and for reasons that don't make a whole lot of sense, goes to Virginia to interview for their trainer position because everyone before her has predictably sucked. And where they have so routinely failed, Cassie will be vaguely awesome.

Her interview is essentially the sob story that is Cassie's life. Because backstory can't be subtly woven into a story, it must be smashed in your face and ground into your pores until you curl up into submission and wait for it to stop. Everyone is appropriately stunned by the news that life is hard, and Cassie gets the job, becoming the rider of the fabulously difficult Orion.

Now let's meet Caleb. Caleb is an oversexed asshole, and Laura is doing him absolutely no favors by having him be an oversexed asshole for about the first hundred pages. First impressions are everything, Laura! Your character? He's kind of a jackass. I wanted Orion to kick him in the face. I do not care that halfway through the book you made him a loveable, kindly veterinarian who sits by the bedside of a comatose dog all night. By that point I was skimming and I still wanted Orion to kick him in the face.

Anyway. Caleb learns that Cassie has been hired, and since she is only twenty-four to his thirty-two, he immediately has a fit about her being a baby, a girl, and a child. Yes. All of those things! After proceeding to meet her, however, this opinion changes rather swiftly. Why do you do this, romance genre? I will never stop being disturbed by your father figure issues.

Because Caleb is a jackass, he lays it on pretty thick with Cassie, who is instantly repulsed by his ridiculous behavior. This does not cause Caleb to pause and think to himself, "Hey, maybe I'm being a douche. If I want her to sleep with me, perhaps I should turn it down about a billion notches until I seem like a presentable man again." He just continues being a jackass until Cassie presents her mare, who may or may not have a strained tendon. And it is so super oh my god nail biting that Caleb, being a vet, finally latches on to his professional persona and finally levers Cassie's personality back into doe-eyed female who watches in awe of the strong, manly man who fixes everything by stating the fucking obvious.

And then three hours later he's trying to cover her face with his saliva in a bathroom, and because she's seen his professional side for all of two pages, this is a good idea...until it isn't! Just what the hell is going on here? Cassie is a lady!

Faced with reason, Caleb finally calls it a day after threatening her that they will indeed make love. Maybe not now, but he's (kind of) patient and you just wait. Oh, you just wait.

The next day Cassie goes running in the quaint Virginia countryside and somehow manages to bump into Caleb, who is all pissed off because she is alone and there could be rapists and molesters just waiting to pounce on Cassie at five thirty in the morning. This is totally likely! He tries to devour her face with his mouth again (I guess failing to see his own point), but a truck rumbles by and Cassie doesn't want the whole town of rapists and molesters finding out that she's easy, so she pulls away. And thus starts the three hundred pages of Caleb trying not to be an asshole, Cassie being vaguely good at riding, and everyone being rather boring as they try to establish an actual relationship built on friendship and trust before they have the aforementioned sex.

I kind of skipped most of those pages. But I did pick up on the following:

- Cassie has a brother, Alex, and Alex is the "if you hurt my sister, I will end you" type. Caleb picks up on this and instantly loathes him with a burning passion that left me cold. He's her brother, you asshole. So I kept up with the book mainly to see if Alex would punch Caleb in the nose.

- Somehow, the turning point in this story becomes Caleb's ex-wife attempting to give him a fake blow job in the middle of a stable. It's not shocking that this happened. What is shocking is how hurt Caleb is after everyone really believes that he's the kind of guy who would get a blow job in public. Caleb, may I refer you to the first hundred pages of this novel?

- I cannot believe how long this book is. Oh my god.

- Cassie talks like she's an elderly woman living in the 1950s. Based on every romance novel I've ever read, it is clear to me that none of these writers remember what being twenty-four is like.

- At random, Cassie's ex-fiancé shows up specifically so Caleb can beat him to a pulp. You have to love forced plot and one-dimensional characters! I know I do.

- Orion is awesome! And they win everything!

It's been a while since I've read a romance novel. I guess we were due.

Oct 23, 2009

The Georges and the Jewels


The Georges and the Jewels
by Jane Smiley
2009

Abby Lovitt has been riding horses for as long as she can remember, but Daddy hasn't let her name a single one. He calls all their geldings George and their mares Jewel and warns her not to get attached. After all, the horses are there on the ranch to be sold, and if they're not gone in six months, they're just a waste of time and hay.

But with all the stress at school (the Big Four--Linda, Mary A., Mary N., Joan--have turned against her) and home (nothing feels right with her brother, Danny, gone), Abby can't help but seek comfort in the Georges and the Jewels, who greet her every day with pricked ears and soft nickers. Except for one: the horse who won't meet her gaze, the horse who bucks her off every chance he gets, the horse Daddy insists she ride and train. Abby knows not to cross her father, but she knows, too, that she can't get back on Ornery George. And suddenly the horses seem like no refuge at all.

The only other book I've read of Jane Smiley's is Horse Heaven, a megalithic opus that I have a vague memory of liking despite what I always felt was a muddled and tedious storyline. I had no real expectations with The Georges and the Jewels, only that I desperately wanted it to be good so I could have another YA horse book to put in my steadily growing stack of good YA horse books. It's such a malnourished little pile of books, you guys. It needs a good writer to love and nurture it!

Well, Jane Smiley has a Pulitzer, so I don't think we can get better than this. The Georges and the Jewels is set in 1960s California. Abby helps her father with the family business: buying and selling horses. This feels like it used to be a fairly smooth operation, but Abby's sixteen-year-old brother recently left due to differences with their father, putting all the work on Abby, who is facing down Ornery George, the first horse she's genuinely a little afraid of. Abby's dad is determined to train all of their horses to the point where "a little girl could ride them," and Ornery George is light years from this goal.

Meanwhile, a new girl has arrived in Abby's small seventh grade class, creating drama with the Big Four, a group of girls that rule seventh grade with an iron fist. Abby is a girl who can only be described as nondescript. She keeps her head down and minds her own business, keeping silent when she sees things and ignored when she tries to bring anything up. Stella, the new girl, stirs up trouble without even trying, and drags Abby into it both as a buffer and a scapegoat, all for the attentions of a boy that finds wonder in discussions about bologna sandwiches. Abby just wants to get through seventh grade, keep the one friend she's got, and get a good grade on her Catholic mission model without her born again parents finding out and having a fit.

Oh, and she also wants to figure out Ornery George, who is a long way from help. The book does a nice job with Ornery George. There aren't any quick fixes to be applied to his character, and Abby is not the sole person responsible for his training. She's a good rider, but she's inexperienced and frightened. Not to mention, Ornery George has her number. The descriptions of the training they put George through are nicely done, and I actually followed a lot of it, which means I can give this book bonus points for making sense. Like I said, no wacky sudden revelations will be found here. Ornery George is a slow but steady student, and Abby is an easy kid who is falling into the business of buying and selling horses without really realizing it.

The one qualm I have with the book is what felt like a loose end regarding what happens when Abby's parents find out about the mission models the school is having the kids build. There's a string of religion in the book that abruptly comes to a frayed end, with Abby getting worried about her father Bible thumping one of her teachers as she looks on helplessly. I didn't expect the religion aspect to come to some great enlightened ending here, but there was something about it that felt unfinished.

The rest of it, however, finishes quite nicely.

Oct 22, 2009

The wildest horse race in the world.


The Last Victory
2004

Strap in, you guys. It's documentary time!

Okay, actually, I employed the fast forward button through a lot of The Last Victory, because I'm like that with documentaries. It's not that it's bad, it's just that I am easily bored.

The Last Victory documents the August 2003 Palio di Siena, or Il Palio (The Palio), in Siena, Italy. It follows the Civetta contrada (Little Owl district) in its quest to win the Palio for the first time since 1979. The only other contrada looking at a worse string of losses is Torre (Tower), which as of 2003 had not won since 1961. So, hey, at least they're not Torre. They should be happy with their lot in life, right?

We follow a few people in the contrada as they prepare for the Palio, stopping their normal lives and dropping everything to either talk about the Palio constantly, set up the local stable in which they will keep their randomly assigned horse, secretly convene with other contrada members and jockeys to determine secret things that most likely have to do with money, make banners and flags, cook a lot of food, drink champagne out of Dixie cups, and try not to get into any rivalry related brawling. It's all good fun!

When the draw for their horses finally comes along, everyone is besides themselves when Civetta is assigned Number Six, a nice little bay with a white star, who won the previous Palio. Everyone cries and drinks more champagne out of Dixie cups, because they have the best horse and they have a really good jockey, so this could very well be their year. They sequester Number Six away in a pretty awesome stable, where he is surrounded by photos of previous Civetta winners and cast in the glow of a chandelier.

The next morning dawns. Most of Civetta watches the Palio on a television they've hooked up in an alley somewhere, totally ignoring the festivities going on at the actual Palio. This sort of annoyed me, because when we could be watching Palio related festivities we are watching small children stare at a television.

In fact, we see almost nothing of the actual Palio. Mainly, we watch the people from Civetta cry while it appears someone from the documentary crew gets into the mass hysteria after the race and gets punched in the face. (As an aside, I was rooting for one of the grays, so I win!) It's a tough break, Civetta. In fact, Torre wins the Palio in 2005, leaving Civetta with the dreaded Nonna status, having not won the Palio in thirty years by the summer of 2009.

But luck has to shine on them eventually:



Good for you, Civetta. I assume this is how I will feel when someone, anyone, finally wins the Triple Crown.

The Last Victory kind of makes me want to read Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio by Marguerite Henry now. Perhaps this will happen.

Oct 20, 2009

The Hallmark Channel, you guys. Check it out occasionally.

A Horse for Danny
1995

Tagline: It's one great season on the racing circuit.

An eleven-year-old girl falls in love with a chestnut horse and success soon follows! Where have I seen this before? Let me think. It will come to me eventually...oh, wait.

You know, this movie isn't as horrible as I remembered it being. It's sort of like Dreamer with a young Leelee Sobieski instead of a young(er) Dakota Fanning. Danny is an orphaned girl living with her uncle, Eddie. They live in a trailer in the backside of Ellis Park, and young Danny spends most of her time spying on the work outs, using her findings to hone her handicapping skills. I couldn't help being impressed by this beginning, because I really didn't expect the main character to be an eleven-year-old handicapper. However, it gets a little out of hand, especially when she wins the Pick Six (yes, the Pick Six) in her efforts to raise enough money to claim the resident chestnut colt, Tom Thumb.

I do not like that name, but it's better than many things that have been thrown at me in the past. Regardless, Danny is smitten with Tom, and manages to convince her uncle to go to an Ohio track to claim him. This sets issues rolling all over the place. Once the colt is claimed, the owners have the nerve to be offended about it, launching a campaign to wow Eddie and Danny into selling the colt/giving up their nickle and dime public stable operation to work for them. Because Eddie and Danny are morally superior they initially turn them down, although Danny, in her penny pinching way, worries over the $50,000 check the previous owner gives her just long enough to cause some chaos.

Tom Thumb becomes quite the winner, but someone doesn't want him to keep up his splendorous ways. A hit man encased in black leather is dispatched to make sure the colt doesn't win again, in various ways that hit a high note with his beating an assistant starter unconscious and taking his Keeneland baseball cap and windbreaker. Then, black leather guy somehow weasels his way into the position of holding Tom Thumb's head before the break.

A lot of this starts to raise some questions. Namely, am I seriously supposed to believe the rest of the assistant starters wouldn't realize what's going on here? Also, would a racehorse allow itself to be held back at the start? Also, where does this guy think he's going after being so blatantly shifty about fixing a race in front of just about everyone?

Well, these questions are not answered because Tom Thumb bows a tendon despite winning. Danny pitches a fit, someone calls her a selfish brat, and this is all forgotten when they discover black leather guy getting paid off after he somehow manages to get back to the stables. The police come along, because this is Serious Business.

But, hurrah! They win and Tom Thumb is on his way to a speedy recovery.

  • The previous owner of Tom Thumb invites Danny to walk in her rose garden, implying the whole way that Danny may love horses now, but eventually she will grow old and only find solace in the silence of botanical gardens.
  • $50,000 is so not enough for Tom Thumb. Danny should have ripped the check up immediately.
  • Danny knows what a Pick Six is, but she doesn't know what a claiming race is. Bad writing. That's the only thing that can explain this.
  • Laptops in 1995 look like tackle boxes.
  • I love that Danny acts like a forty-year-old woman. No, Eddie, you cannot use the savings to go drinking at the bar! Don't you touch that envelope of cash, you worthless legal guardian! If not for Danny's surreptitious handicapping while she is supposedly supposed to be going to the local public school, your stable would be in tatters! TATTERS!

My overall opinion is that there is no reason for anyone to view this more than once. If you've reached that quota, you're good for life. Next up, I'm going to try watching more Heartland. I've also got The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley coming up soon. Then we'll get into Thoroughbred again, I promise.

Oct 17, 2009

Homestretch by Paul Volponi


Homestretch
by Paul Volponi
2009

Gaston Giambanco Jr. never figured himself for a runaway. But then again, Gas never figured his mother would be killed in a head-on collision caused by an illegal Mexican. Or that his poor excuse for a father would
actually go too far and beat him. So he hitches a ride out of state without a plan, only to find himself working at a racetrack stable alongside a family of Mexicans--exactly the kind of people his dad always taught him to hate, the kind of people who caused his mother's death.

What will Gas learn about himself, and the true meaning of family? And what will he do when his small stature causes an unscrupulous horse trainer to promise him glory and riches as a jockey, even if he can't ride well?


Review:

Paul Volponi is the namesake of the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, which you can witness beating out many fine racehorses here if you so desire, and correspondent for The Blood-Horse. I mention this because these qualifications hint at the rarely seen, yet undeniably powerful duo: racing knowledge and ability to comprehend grammar! It is like a balm for my tired soul.

Homestretch is short, sweet, and to the point. Gas lives in southern Texas, a hotbed of illegal alien activity if ever there was one, and his life is changed for the worse when his mother dies in the midst of all this activity. His father goes appropriately crazy, and Gaston suffers the alcoholism and beatings until he decides enough is enough.

This isn't to say that, although he is escaping his father, Gas hasn't picked up on his father's rampant racism. He has, although for the most part he keeps it to himself. Any outward sign that Gas is racist toward the illegals he winds up hitchhiking with is cut down to basic moodiness. The Mexican brothers he finds himself with in the back of a horse trailer probably chalk this up to teenage angst and collectively move on with their lives. Meanwhile, Gas rails to himself about "beaners" and abhores the notion of eating enchiladas and tacos while he mentally envisions his mother's car wreck. The horror!

The trailer drops off the boys at a fictional Arkansas racetrack named Pennington, near Hot Springs, where the very real Oaklawn Park resides. There, the Mexican boys are given jobs as grooms, and Gas is demoted to hotwalker when Dag, the "unscrupulous" trainer, discovers he has no idea what he's doing. Therefore the Mexicans are earning more than Gas, prompting another volley of internal racial angst. Eventually, Gas finds himself exercising the local crazy horse, Bad Boy Rising, and because he manages to hang on during the horse's careening around the track, Dag gets it into his head that Gas would make an excellent bug boy.

Gas is totally inexperienced, and should not be on a racehorse in any way, shape or form. Dag is very well aware of this, and intends to set himself up to win big as a result. If only Gas will play along.

Short, sweet, and to the point. Regarding the race issues this book spends the first hundred or so pages on, I'd say it's a little too short and to the point regarding their resolution. However, I liked the rest of the novel well enough that this didn't really bother me. Plus, it is a horse racing book set in Arkansas that I happened to read while in Arkansas. And the semi-love interest is a student at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, a little detail I apprecate because I am totally easy to please in that way.

Perhaps I am biased? Perhaps not. It's not a bad little book.

The Black Stallion


The Black Stallion
1979

Tagline: From the moment he first saw the stallion, he knew it would either destroy him, or carry him where no one had ever been before...

I couldn't tell you how many times I've seen this movie, and oddly it never gets old. Going out on a limb, I'd say it's the best horse movie ever made, mainly because it is so visually stunning and all the characters spend so much of their time saying nothing. Honestly, so many horse movies are ruined the instant the main character opens their mouth, and considering this movie probably gives each character about a page of dialogue, we have little to no problem with ego and attitude from our characters. I love it.

Somehow, The Black Stallion doesn't fall into the all the worn out cliches. Alec doesn't fly into hysterics about how only he can understand The Black, and while The Black has inspired countless books and movies about horses that only love and respond to one person, The Black himself is understated. He's not the raging crazy thing you find in The Adventure of the Black Stallion, and it's certainly never stated outright that Alec is the be all and end all of The Black's existence. Because, through the entirety of the film, you have a feeling that he really isn't. The Black is wild first, and Alec is a good runner up. They certainly owe each other over their time on the island, and it's this beginning of the relationship that connects the rest of the movie, from shipwreck to match race.

Anyway, it's written by Melissa Mathison (of E.T. fame), and directed by Carroll Ballard. It was always going to be one of the best horse movies in existence, based on these two things alone. The Library of Congress agrees, having selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, calling it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

So, there you have it.

Oct 12, 2009

Rec: Bug Boy by Eric Luper



Bug Boy
by Eric Luper
2009

It is the summer of 1934, and even at the height of the Great Depression, money is no object for the socialites at posh Saratoga Race Course. The trouble is times are tough for everyone else, especially penniless track workers like fifteenyear- old Jack Walsh. When Jack suddenly graduates from exercise rider to apprentice jockey, or bug boy, he is an overnight sensation. Success brings him all sorts of attention, including that of a brainy blond beauty who is more involved with the gritty underbelly of the track than she lets on and a vicious thug who presses Jack to break his code as a jockey for a payoff that could solve all his family’s problems.

Set amid the rough backstretch of Thoroughbred racing, this edge-of-your-saddle read follows the course of a young athlete whose rise to glory in the most popular sport in America is accompanied by ever-increasing pressure to do something that could leave him trampled in the dirt.




Review:

We all know that I am a sucker for young adult horse fiction. Well, for good young adult horse fiction. My most dorky dream is that Sarah Dessen decides to write about a horse loving girl, and I cling to this dim hope in a slightly obsessive manner. To pass the time, I am on a neverending hunt for good YA horse books, and they are few and far between, my friends.

Yet, for whatever reason, the publishing world decided to sprinkle the market with YA horse fiction this year, taking a quiet breather from all the vampire books hoping to catch a ride on Twilight's super insane comet of crazy. Bug Boy by Eric Luper is one of these books. Set in Saratoga during a time when America was fresh out of Prohibition, but still suffering through the Great Depression, horse racing is at its height of popularity. Jack Walsh, exercise rider, is about to become New York's most celebrated bug boy. Thanks to a tragic accident, Jack is shoved into actually playing out what it means to live your dream. It may or may not be all that he had hoped.

Jack isn't what one might call a natural fit for the job. He's a tad too tall, a tad too heavy, and the ordeal of making weight is daunting, disgusting, and everything you'd expect it to be. The glitz and the glamour of 1930s Saratoga, however, is also what would make most people go through just about anything to be able to experience. He lands a girlfriend, a car, enough money to send home, but that dead monkey in his locker probably isn't a good sign, right?

No. No it is not.

I liked this one. The details were amazing, but Luper blends them into the story so that they don't feel like pointless trivia obtained to prove that there was some research going on here. Jack is a good, solid character, and I could never find myself wanting to throw something at him, which I find is my main reaction to most characters in most horse books. The only weaknesses, for me, were the great reveals in the end and the reactions to said great reveals that felt unbelievable or slightly forced. One reveal in particular felt like a moment where someone whips a sheet off the elephant in the room, and then having someone quickly cover it back up again. And most people never noticed the elephant, or the fact that it was uncovered, even briefly. Which made me question why there was an elephant to begin with.

I recommend this one, elephant or no.

Oct 1, 2009

I clearly didn't read enough Black Stallion books when I was a kid.

The Adventures of the Black Stallion
The Complete Second Season
Episodes 2.1-2.6
Sometimes I choose not to be productive, and this usually leads to a blog entry. Such is the case today, because I had this fabulous romp through the first six episodes of The Adventures of the Black Stallion, season two. This happened randomly, because Netflix just decided to send me this disc without much of an explanation. It certainly wasn't supposed to come along until later (as if there is a plan, or something!), but here we are and whatever.
Six episodes. I honestly thought they were all fabulous in a totally campy, hilarious way. Every single episode involves something nefarious happening to The Black, and in every single episode something totally convenient happens that causes The Black/Alec to escape the evil clutches of the villain of the week, and then someone has an even more illogical change of heart that ultimately leads to boy/horse bonding bliss!
They are also poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly produced. Everything you could possibly want! Also, they are filmed in France.

Consider:

2.1: Barn Burner
Nicole, the spunky French gypsy is introduced! Nicole wants to clean The Black's stall, but Henry says no in a repetitious way that has Nicole throwing empty cans at him in indignant fury! However, Nicole has other problems because someone keeps randomly lighting fires to horse barns in the area. At one point, she is actually in custody when one barn bursts into flame, but she is still held accountable! Oh, those French. Guilty until proven innocent is serious business there, but apparently developing police cars with doors that don't unlock from the inside is also an issue there because Nicole bursts out and singlehandedly saves all the horses except The Black, who kicks down the door and strides through the flames in super slo-mo. So who is the barn burner? The crippled ex-jockey, who, no joke, tries to run away from the cops. He gets about two feet before being slammed into the hood of a police car.

2.2: Diamonds
Arguably my favorite episode, in which The Black, Alec, and Nicole take on diamond thieves! When diamond thieves hide their diamonds in The Black's trailer in order to avoid police check points (although, quite frankly, that uzi is probably giving you away, guys), they are flummoxed and upset when they come back to discover their diamonds have predictably disappeared! (Nicole took them, hoping to finance her trip to America to find her wayward father, but that is not important.) In order to find their diamonds, they take Henry and his lady companion hostage while Alec is off vaulting on The Black, or whatever the hell it is he is doing. So Nicole and Alec ambush the thieves, which doesn't quite work because this leads to The Black being used as target practice. As an aside, the guy with the uzie really is a horrible shot. Nicole and Alec argue about some moral principles while The Black is getting shot at before Nicole finally gives up the diamonds and Alec plays into the evil thief's hands. Of course he's still going to shoot The Black! Hasn't Alec learned anything from all these other episodes? Only all that shitty target practice means the uzie is empty. The thieves turn on each other, and then somehow Nicole shows up in a carriage led by Friesians? Well, it happened!

2.3: Chateau Sauvage
The Black is kidnapped by a rescue group! I...have no idea why! And their aim is to send him back to the Arabian Penninsula, which I am sure is not a good idea. So Henry winds up getting shot with a horse tranquilizer, Nicole spends an hour clinging to the back of a horse trailer, and Alec is forced to prove that The Black loves him. The Black loves him.

2.4: Killer Stallion
The Black is doped! And because of this he goes stark raving crazy! And then someone hires a big game hunter "who likes to kill big animals" to track and shoot him! This one was actually a little forgettable, but I will always remember the hunter using his rifle scope to find The Black, when in reality the horse is about twenty yards away.

2.5: Machine Rider
Alec has a jockey nemesis! And this jockey knows he cannot beat The Black in a fair race, so he turns his whip into a cattle prod and uses it on The Black VERY, VERY OBVIOUSLY in a race. Nicole chews out France's most beautiful actor for being a poor father after she completely takes out the guy's toddler daughter in an effort to save her from The Black's state of pure crazy. Actor guy is suitably chastened, but the message doesn't sink home that he has to supervise his child until she somehow manages to wander out onto the track. The child stands in the grass, waves at the oncoming horses, and is then taken out by Alec as he sweeps her off the ground during the middle of the race. I will always remember the surprised shriek from the child as her legs go blurring off the screen. This seems to be what it takes for actor guy to promise Nicole that he will teach his daughter how to ride by himself, thank you. Lesson learned!

2.6: The Alhambra Zarr
Apparently there are four founding stallions in the Thoroughbred line, and The Black is now a Thoroughbred? Someone in America is not thrilled about this development, and has French people attempt to assassinate anyone who attempts to sanction The Black. Eventually his orders are to just kill them all. All of them! Yeah, that doesn't work. So The Black is headed back to America to race...apparently.

I honestly cannot figure out how this show was produced in France and New Zealand and the US. It totally boggles my mind.

Sep 30, 2009

emptying the query bin

It has been so long! I have collected such an entertaining variety of search queries, I thought it was time to reveal a select few.


wildfire based on thoroughbred
This is a popular one, and I'm not quite sure if the blog helped this idea along or if it was originally out there to begin with.

best sex novel ever
Ever?

a romance novel including a man who lives on a farm
This sounds like the most intellectually stimulating romance novel in the history of the world.

are racing stripes stupid?
I once knew a man who put racing stripes on his car. Only they were made out of duct tape. I think that's the only time racing stripes are awesome. When you are openly mocking them, that is.

australian men are assholes
I believe you!

booked in jail strip search thong
I cannot help but wonder what this is all about. Also, I am curious how it landed them here. (ETA: Nevermind. I totally know how this landed them here.)

can i buy drover run farm in australia
Again, we're having issues with separating fiction from fact. It's such a trial, you guys.

can jessica burkhart ride horses? and did jessica burkhart learn to ride horses at the stable behind her house
Apparently Jessica has a bit of a cyberstalker. Fun!

down syndrome romance farm movie
Again, sounds like a fascinating romance. I am so fascinated.

do sandy and stripes mate in racing stripes?
Yes, because in the middle of a children's movie the two main animal characters are going to get it on. Totally logical.

how can you use "willow" in an exclamatory sentence?
Willow!

how should i use last brain cells
Okay, this one wins.

how to reenact pretty woman
Personally, I love the questions the most.

i love the 80s daterape movie
I also love the random declarations.

stalking used to be acceptable
I know! What ever happened to this wonderful pastime?

what should i do if a boy tells me i am stalking him?
Sweetie, the appropriate thing to do is deny, deny, deny. And then suck it up and move on, because obviously you've really creeped him out.

what would happen if christina reese got pregnant
Personally, I got a kick out of this one. Also, I can't remember it ever being addressed in fanfic. Or this could be because I ignored most Christina fanfic. (Yes, Thoroughbred fanfic about Christina existed! Be amazed!)

brad townsend ashleigh griffin sex
WHO ARE YOU PERSON WHO REPEATEDLY MADE THIS QUERY?



Upcoming reviews:
Bug Boy by Eric Luper
Homestretch by Paul Volponi
The Georges and the Jewels by Jane Smiley
Star's Chance, Thoroughbred #45

Sep 19, 2009

Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?


Conformation Faults
Pine Hollow #5

Friends don't keep secrets from friends, do they? But now it seems that everyone is hiding something. Callie Forester has things that she doesn't want people back home to know. But when an old friend betrays her, Callie has to wonder if any secret is worth keeping.

Impressions (Because I can't in good faith call this a review):

I genuinely don't remember a lot of this book, because I sort of skimmed through it several weeks ago and never bothered to write a review after what I managed to learn from my bored glancing.

Know this: everyone is annoying. Lisa is trying to keep it under wraps that she ever entertained the possibility of staying in California, because she is scared of her asshole boyfriend's possible reaction. Stevie, not understanding how awful her brother is in general, is threatening to tell. Carol is stupidly focused on Samson to the point that she doesn't bother to clean out Starlight's water every hour (horrors), and on the off chance that she remembers to go to school, she's cheating on her tests because she appears to spend most of her time riding Samson or thinking about riding Samson. Callie is trying to decide if she was ever friends with this Sheila girl (maybe that was her name? If not, they're basically mortal enemies, so the answer is no). Phil's friend is stubbornly refusing to be functional, causing chaos while he does an impressive display of not caring whilst playing loud music in his room. How dare he act like a normal teenager! God!

Basically it's like a very serious, drawn out Saved by the Bell episode with horses. That isn't as funny as you might think.

And that, my friends, is a Whitebrook Farm Blog non-review.

Sep 18, 2009

I imagine being named Tex in Oklahoma would be a hardship.

Tex
(1982)

I never knew this before, but Matt Dillon is in three movie adaptations of S.E. Hinton novels: The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and Tex. From this I assume that Matt Dillon was the perfect portrayal of all poor, white males everywhere in the eighties. I've only read one S.E. Hinton novel, Taming the Star Runner, and from the info I gleaned from that book, a young Matt Dillon would have been perfect for the role.

Also, from Taming the Star Runner and this adaptation of Tex, I think S.E. Hinton novels are hilarious. In that the plot's going along true to normal YA conventions, and then suddenly there are drug dealers! And guns! And serious injuries! And seriousness! Oh my god!

So I find seriousness amusing. I can't help it.

That said, I'm reviewing Tex because the main character loves his horse, and his brother sells his horse because they are poor. And their father is a rodeo clown, or something, and refuses to come home and be an adult. And Tex doesn't know how far to go with a girl, only to be helpfully told by his brother that the girl will tell him when to stop. Yes, all responsibility thrown onto the girl. As always. Nicely played, Tex's brother.

The deal here is this. Mason is the responsible brother, and Tex is the brother who is slightly ditsy and loves his horse. To feed them, Mason sells the horses and Tex goes ballistic. They get into a groping fight on the kitchen floor. Two-liter sodas are thrown at walls, Mason lands a punch, and Tex runs off to search the Oklahoma country for his horse. This doesn't work out for him, because hiking around on foot in search of a horse that has been sold is clearly a waste of time.

Things happen that I don't really care about because I didn't. Only at one point Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez make eyes at each other across a patch of Oklahoma dust used for dirt biking. The music swells. Will they ever be friends again? Will that boy with the flowing long hair and the pink comb get between them? Will Emilio crash his bike after taking off on a dare? (Yes.) Will Matt be awesome on the same bike afterward? (Yes.) Will they get back to being friends again, despite Emilio's father's disapproval? (Yes!) Sweet, sweet teenage love.

Oh, um. Tex is supposed to be in love with Emilio's sister, Jaime? I guess? Anyway. Things are going along fairly normally, to YA standards. A fortune teller even tells Tex that he isn't going to get his horse back, much to his chagrin. And then they, in true S.E. Hinton fashion, pick up a hitchhiker. And he pulls a gun on them. Shocker. I was so shocked.

Tex saves the day, and the hitchhiker is shot dead by the police. After this, more drama ensues with the return of rodeo clown dad, which means that Tex has to discover that he is not the biological son of rodeo clown dad. (Honestly, he should be thrilled with this.) Dad decides to buy back Tex's horse, which has been sold to a Christina character. The Christina character tells him that the horse is hers. Fair and square, damn it! Who the hell is he to just walk into her residential backyard and stare at her as she jumps fences? Christina informs him that she has renamed the horse Gentleman, and Tex is disgusted, as most would be in the face of such snobbery. So he gets together with this drug dealer friend, which naturally ends in Tex getting shot in the stomach.

So he wanders around a little bit, bleeding all over his shoes. Unexpected, maybe. Or maybe this is what all Oklahoma kids do? Having been raised in northwest Arkansas, I surprisingly don't know the answer to this. Sadly.

Anyway, Tex survives. And everything is okay. He gets a job at a horse farm. And his brother goes to college in Indiana. And, um, it was uplifting or something?