Aug 29, 2009

Dear God, please bring me a 12-gauge.

Sylvester
1985

When I was a young child, I would comb through the videos at Hastings for what felt like hours until I had a stack of horse movies I may or may not have seen. Sylvester was one I stumbled across when I was about twelve, which is why I'm using the old artwork for this movie.

It occurs to me now that this movie was probably more than I could handle as a twelve-year-old, because Sylvester is your Cinderella-style horse story surrounded by a crusty Texas attitude. There is cursing, fighting, horse abuse, alcoholism, underage sex in a stall, and attempted rape. However, there is also magical wild horse-girl bonding and totally random western girl turned three-day eventer. And not just three-day eventing. Rolex Kentucky three-day eventing. That's right. She doesn't gradually enter the world of eventing. She makes the jump from working in a stock yard to riding at Rolex.

Charlie is a sixteen-year-old orphan. She takes care of her little brothers in a trailer, breaks horses and rounds up cattle for Mr. Foster's stock yard, and spends a lot of time telling this Matt character to back the hell off already. Matt (Michael Schoeffling of Sixteen Candles and Wild Hearts Can't be Broken) insists that he's going to marry Charlie after she's done with her horse phase, although I'm pretty sure Charlie is unaware of these plans because she's too busy falling for this fleabitten gray--Sylvester. She succeeds at turning him into a cow pony, but he's way too big for the work and eventually her asshole coworker spooks him into jumping a fence and getting both of them fired.

Due to her sudden unemployment, the state is eager to take Charlie away from her brothers and stick her in a typing course. Charlie, not wanting to be a secretary, runs to Mr. Foster, who is drunk and not exactly a logical choice as a safe haven. Her brothers, however, insist on moving in with a drunk (and say so, vehemently) and the choice is made. Mr. Foster suddenly becomes their surrogate father, and has little intention of dropping his Cuervo habit. Around this time, Charlie decides to start jumping Sylvester over anything and everything, upsetting Matt and Mr. Foster for various vague reasons. Why can't she just get married to Matt and stop being annoying? God, life is so hard.

Eventually, Matt realizes that he's not going to get anywhere with Charlie unless he, like, attempts to support her dream of Olympic gold. This method works perfectly, and he's suddenly eating dinner with Charlie's highly dysfunctional, partially drunk, family. Then, all of a sudden, Mr. Foster knows everything that can be known about three-day eventing because he was in the cavalry. So he gives in and starts to mentor Charlie, leading her to her first event, the Rolex.

Granted, she's competing in preliminary, and back then it was possible to do this. Also, this is still obviously absolutely and completely insane. Also, Mr. Foster makes at least one massive disparaging comment about how stupid this plan is, but is bullied into line by Charlie insisting that he's killing her dreams. So they pack up Sylvester and head to Kentucky, where Matt gets pissed if anything male even glances at Charlie and Charlie proceeds to impress just about everyone.

This all comes to a head with Matt and random USET member getting into a brawl in the middle of a cocktail party. Because Texans solve problems with their fists! There's a big issue made out of how Charlie doesn't belong with these people, and how she needs to get Sylvester sold for the sake of her family, but in the meantime has been just so gosh darn impressive she's probably never going to see Texas again.

It's my opinion that she probably doesn't.

That's Sylvester. You pick it up because it's a horse movie, you stay for the crusty Texas alcoholics, no matter how unrealistic the plot.

Aug 26, 2009

There's Something About Flicka

Flicka (2006)
My Friend Flicka (1943)

Most people know the story of how these movies came to be, but I'll go over it anyway. Mary O'Hara wrote My Friend Flicka, the first of a trilogy, in 1941. Two years later, the movie came out. Thunderhead (my personal favorite) closely followed. Apparently Green Grass of Wyoming was also made into a movie, but that one is the lesser known of the three. About sixty years pass, and for whatever random reason someone comes along and decides to remake My Friend Flicka. Only this time it will be with a girl named Katy and Flicka will be a female version of the Black Stallion. Awesome, right? Maybe? Sort of?

Flicka (2006)
Despite thinking that turning Ken into a Katy was a really bad, but fairly obvious course of action, I do like this movie. Even if Katy is annoying, has few manners, and makes really poor decisions that would've won her a Darwin Award if she hadn't been graced with main character status. Even if her brother is the guy who plays Jason in True Blood, and as a result I snickered every single time he arrived on screen. Even if I could draw parallels between this and Joanna Campbell's The Wild Mustang until the end of time. It may have been hit and miss concerning the original story, but it's a pretty movie and it held my attention.

Downsides are it's predictable, Katy is every horse story main character rolled into one, and Banner is not there. I mean, come on. Banner was the most awesome ranch stallion to ever exist. Flicka is rocking the Black Stallion look. Rob has this "I am a man, and you live under my roof, blah blah blah" attitude that does a 180 about five minutes from the end. Upsides are the pretty, it is the opposite of boring, and at least there is some action to speak of.

My Friend Flicka (1943)
This is the horse story classic and helped set the standard for the "horse of my own" plots you see so frequently. Ken wants a horse, sets his heart on a filly his father disapproves of because her grandsire is The Albino, a local mustang stallion, and in order to win the approval of his father he goes about attempting to bond with this filly everyone claims can't be tamed. Today, I find this interesting given that so many current movies make a big deal about how fantastic and wonderful mustangs are, because in 1943 they made it a point to connect Flicka's crazy gene to The Albino being a mustang. There is no "mustangs are worthwhile and beautiful creatures that should be cherished!" line in this movie. Ken just basically wants to be friends with Flicka, and thinks he's up to the task of taming her. The main story revolves around Ken and Rob, and Ken trying not to be the eternal screw up who causes stampedes and picks the worthless mustang filly.

Downsides are it's slow going. Not a whole lot happens here. And there was one weird moment where Rob's advice to Ken concerning gentling Flicka had to do with taking away everything she knows, her friends, etc. And I thought that was insanely creepy, despite the fact that he was talking about a horse. Upsides are that the characters actually don't annoy me, and Flicka is not black. She is sorrel. Like she's supposed to be.

And in case you weren't finished with Flicka...

Flicka (2010)
When her grandmother is diagnosed with dementia, skateboarder Carrie McLaughlin (Tammin Sursok) is forced to leave the pavement of the big city behind to go live with her estranged father Hank (Patrick Warburton) on his horse ranch in Wyoming. With her skateboard tightly in hand, and no ramps or cement in sight, Carrie feels completely alone and is determined to make it back to the city. While putting in her time at the ranch, Carrie makes an unlikely friendship with a wild horse named Flicka who is just as unhappy and alone as Carrie.

That's right. Flicka meets Caitlin's Way! Due out next year, you guys. I know you just can't wait.

Aug 23, 2009

Wildfire: And then this happened, and then that happened, and then...

Wildfire
4.2: The More Things Change (2)

+ Brad's non-marriage proposal to Lavinia is impressive, because only Brad can suddenly non-propose to someone and make it look totally planned. (+2)

+ Dani and Ashleigh are friends. I had no idea how much I wanted to see this until now. (+4)

+ Season 4 actually includes morning works at an actual racetrack. Color me shocked! (+1)

+ Lavinia is precisely how I imagined her, right down to the attitude. Nicely done, show. (+1)

+ I could say that Jean is being a little childish when she tells Ashleigh they really don't need her around, but I'm still riding pretty high on this feeling I get whenever someone kicks Ashleigh when she's down. So I am giving her points for this. (+2)

+ Dani wins at life. (+1)

+ Ian's "we did what was best for Wonder" message is another thing that wins points for me because it's another cheap shot at Ashleigh. (+2)

+ Brad's real proposal to Lavinia is pretty adorable. Everything he does is adorable, so I guess that's not surprising. (+1)

The Good: 14

- This episode really pushes the envelope in terms of coming across as every Thoroughbred book ever written. We've got a healthy dose of Pride's Last Race (love saves everything!) combined with a dash of Fallen Star ("You just have to get better!"), and a sprinkling of Cindy and Glory's codependence. It was actually pretty amazing in that regard. However, it's overkill. (-5)

- That horse Noah helps on the track? If that was supposed to be a racehorse, that was the most out of shape racehorse that ever existed. (-1)

- Yes, because putting screws in a horses leg when they have a fractured cannon bone is totally new and controversial! (-2)

- I love how Noah doesn't work at Dani's clinic, yet because Ashleigh saw him perform a miracle back adjustment on a plow pony/racehorse he is magically recruited to do the surgery on Wonder's broken leg. It is all very insane. (-2)

- I actually feel a little sorry for Mike in this episode, because Ashleigh spends a lot of time avoiding him and then whips up a vague reason to break up with him. And then she says, "Sorry." She is queen of the ambiguous break ups. (-3)

The Bad: 13

14 - 13 = 1

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

Aug 11, 2009

Behold...a book!


Behind the Bit
Canterwood Crest #3
by Jessica Burkhart

With friends like these...

It's midwinter break and Sasha Silver has been invited to attend an exclusive equestrian clinic. Problem is, Callie, Heather, Alison, and Julia have also been invited. And after the way things ended at Canterwood's Sweetheart Soiree, the line between friend and frenemy is thinner than ever.

You know how people went a little nuts over the boys vs. horses dynamic in Pine Hollow? Oh, crazy people. What would I do without your capslock rage?

I bring up this topic because so many horse books are so bad at finding a happy medium between the two. Ashleigh and Samantha from Thoroughbred treated the opposite sex as if they were hazy on if it even existed, and when boys were there they were not there, relegated to boredom for the rest of their fictitious lives. And from what I can gather, young girls everywhere approved heartily. No to sexual chemistry! Yes to horses! May this never, ever change! Until it does. Sorry, kids.

And then Jessica Burkhart and Canterwood Crest came along, totally confusing this established horse book trope. It is refreshing to see a change. I am definitely reading these books with an emotion I'm pretty sure is glee. Mainly because it's finally been proven: boys and horses can successfully be coinhabitants in a 12-year-old girl's brain. It can be done! Do not shy away from this, authors and tween girls! It's okay! Everyone put away the capslock and take a deep breath. A deep, soothing breath.

I am still enjoying this series, despite what I felt was a disconnect coming into Behind the Bit. I opened it up, read the first chapter, and put the book away for something like two weeks. I don't know if it was just the tween boy drama (ironically) that I didn't want to deal with at the moment, or what, exactly. It could possibly be that Sasha, despite being what I feel is a somewhat submissive personality, can be very in your face with the first person narrative. And when you're straddling the line between perkiness and angst, I just need to be in a certain mood to read this sort of thing. And that sort of mood occurs the day before this book is due at the library, apparently.

While it did take me a while to get going, the book does pick up as Sasha tries to piece her friendships (and possible romantic relationship with Jacob) back together over the two weeks of a clinic, during which the rest of the school is off on break. Eric, the other part of the love triangle, stays behind to help out with the clinic. Jacob, the other other part of the love triangle, flits off to be whatever the twelve-year-old equivalent of broody is. Here is where I say that I loathe love triangles, and yet I am drawn to them like a moth to flame. I find this very pathetic, but it can't be helped. Mainly, I hate them because the outcome is always obvious. I give Jessica points for creating a non-obvious love triangle. Although, I am still very wary of this development. Actually, I suppose this is more of a love quadrangle. Which is better, really.

While Callie isn't speaking to Sasha, Eric and Heather are. Ignoring Eric for a moment, because that was predictable, I loved what was going on with Heather. Because I like antagonistic relationships and/or friendships that are complicated, yet work in a dysfunctional way, this worked out for me. I enjoy that the main cast doesn't always have to get along, or never get along. And I think this aspect of Canterwood Crest is what I'm going to always love.

I also liked the end. Sure, there's a twist that you'll tilt your head and squint at, while trying to remember that these are seventh grade kids, but it works out and leaves you eager for the next installment. So, high marks on much of this book.

Now, let's get to some other points:

  • I am not a fan of describing clothing for no apparent reason. Behind the Bit takes this too far, in my opinion. Not to the insane levels of insane insanity like, say, Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter or anything (I'm sure you always wanted to know the color of the Nike swoosh on your favorite character's shoes, didn't you?), but I'm a firm believer in describing clothing for two reasons: to say something about the character, and/or to help set the scene. If your character is in the barn, where he/she seems to always be, I'll assume they're wearing some normal barn attire. I don't need to know exactly what in this or that shade of color, and that was a problem I found multiple times here. To the point that I started to worry that this series was going to start namedropping a few brand names every chapter.
  • I love Heather. She is my favorite character. There, I've said it! (I'm sure exactly no one is surprised.) That said, I've got issues with Jasmine. Who the hell is she and why is she such a bitch? I would take school rivalry, or something, but over this book she's just there at the clinic specifically to be an irritant. It's just...plain.
  • Maybe this is just 100% how I was taught, but taking up a lunge line by only six inches seems like an easy way to get your line caught around your hand. I...am not sure about this whole scene. Overall, however, I was pleased with most of the horsey scenes in this book.
  • Sometimes, I think these books could really benefit from being cut about twenty pages. There's still a lot of extraneous details that don't need to be there, aside from random clothing description, such as getting a little too into the details of studying and how to make a warm bran mash or thin out a mane. It's not that they're bad, they're just slowing the pace of the book. Which I'm sure had a lot to do with my slow start in reading it.
  • Oh, and I'm pretty sure I am a part of Team Eric. Although I've been known to jump bandwagons...

That's it! I have no idea what is next, as Riders completely failed to captivate me. I will get back to staring at it in a little bit, and I'm sure season four of Wildfire will serve as a good distraction.

Aug 1, 2009

Perfect Image: I am not on board this crazy train.

Perfect Image
Thoroughbred #44
by Alice Leonhardt

Will Melanie save Image?

Image is wild--perhaps too wild to train for the track. But she's fast, and Melanie Graham wants nothing more than to be her jockey. If only Image's owner and trainer would let her work with the temperamental filly.

Melanie isn't the only one interested in Image. Greedy Brad Townsend wants to add her to his breeding stock. Melanie is sure that Image's talent would be wasted as a broodmare--the filly was born to run, and with the right rider she could win big. Will Melanie prove that Image can race before it's too late?

This, you guys, is a synopsis that makes sense. It's okay to be amazed, I promise.

However, the book itself is...troubled. It walks a thin line between annoying self-righteousness as usual and tremendously strange to the point of awkwardness. Then there is this tiny little problem of me reading it and not really processing anything that was happening. It had that "we've been there and done this about 44 times, so what else is new" feel to it that made me want to smack the book against my forehead in a pathetic display of mental exhaustion brought on by creative stagnation.

This book is about Melanie being awfully tenacious, as our Thoroughbred characters usually are. Her problem, however, is that Vince Jones hates this pesky quality about her, and Freddy just seems amused by it, which gets Melanie just about nowhere except into an offhanded conversation about Freddy's husband's Civil War gun collection. Melanie persists--tenaciously--and gets Vince to offer her a job at his stable at Keeneland, where Image is slowly being "drugged" into a stupor in her dark "jail cell" of a stall.

Only Melanie will have to start out as a groom! Because this is the only proper plot device we can dream up. Melanie is okay with this, but spends most of her time shirking her duties and acting indignant at the handling of Image when most of the employees just don't want their heads bashed in by one of her metal shod hooves. A twitch? How dare you! A gag bit? I don't even know if that's logical, but clearly Vince is the most evil trainer there is ever! Except...he isn't. Somehow he gets away with just about everything that Brad Townsend would have been verbally and ineffectually bitchslapped for.

Speaking of Brad, he is still plotting to turn Image into a baby mama and probably doing something very enticing when he's off screen and Melanie is not there to disapprove of how awesome he is. There is also Alexis, whom Melanie is increasingly suspicious of because she seems to support selling Image, and those that want to sell Image are clearly evil.

During her time at Turfway and Keeneland, Image apparently went quite mad. Like...locked in solitary for months without seeing the light of day mad. But don't worry, kids, the moment Melanie gives up on Image is the moment Image does a complete 180 and nuzzles Melanie's cheek, or whatever, causing Melanie's hope to blossom like the trembling little flower it is. Convenient? Maybe! Expected? Oh, hell yes. And don't worry, because one major convenience isn't enough in this book. It happens again when Vince randomly decides that sure, yeah, he'll do exactly what Melanie wants and send Image back to Tall Oaks with an additional stay at Whitebrook because naturally he's a-okay with letting other people train her. Uh-huh.

So Image goes back to Tall Oaks, and Melanie has some near disasters caused completely by Alexis. Eventually Melanie makes the discovery that Alexis is sweet talking Freddy into purchasing horses she can't afford in order for Alexis to collect hefty broker's fees. Since Brad has wanted to buy Image, this is a fee on the line for Alexis, and Melanie's repeated success is just enough for her to contemplate serious rein-cutting sabotage! I am so let down. Honestly, Freddy has got to be the most adorably ignorant person on the face of the earth.

And then Image does well in her training and is shipped off to Whitebrook, the most splendid horse paradise in all the land!

Also:

  • Someone mentioned Brad's hands in an effort to emphasize how horrible he is, and I blanked out again.
  • Image can't possibly become a broodmare now! She would be swaybacked and fat by her third birthday! As opposed to being swaybacked and fat by her...fourth birthday! Damn you, Brad Townsend! Damn you!
  • I'm loving the seeming abuse going on with Image, and the fact that Vince isn't immediately maligned by every Whitebrook character in existence. If this was Brad Townsend's barn, someone would be having a conniption fit right about now.
  • "Christina Reese got what she deserved. She was always bragging about how wonderful that colt was..." says the anonymous Keeneland groom who has only glowing things to say about Brad's new colt. I admit that I find this fascinating. I have a feeling that if I could poll every random character in this series, the majority would say that Whitebrook farm irritates the crap out of them.
  • Why do you insist on dressing Brad in navy, Alice?
  • Whoa, Ashleigh has chin-length hair all of a sudden.
  • I'm glad to report that Alice has at least incorporated a starting bell with her insistence on a starter's gun. Although this begs the question: does she really think the starter is firing a gun and opening the gates at the same time? Doesn't this present some coordination issues?
  • I do like Melanie's concern over her weight in this book. It brings an element about jockeying you rarely see in this series.
  • Mike also practically looks like a teenager now. Why? Because he has flowing blond hair, that's why! Flowing hair is to male teenageness as baseball caps are to female teenageness. I suppose. This is all so disturbing.
  • Congratulations, Alice! You win the most inadvertently hilarious racing scene award for the Blue Blood Stakes. I'm not even talking about the actual race. That went along fairly normally. It was the actions of everyone around the race that entertained me to no end. Lavinia is over there clapping happily to herself during moments of tense silence. And she says "I declare" in a way that is supposed to be serious. Melanie says, "I think someone needs to punch the announcer in his fat face" and Cindy fantasizes about mussing Lavinia's hair. It was just...brilliant. That was what this scene was.
  • You know, I'm about 1000% sure that no one at the Kentucky Derby gives much of a shit about whether or not the winning horse is bred in Kentucky. That holds absolutely no sway for multitudes of reasons, the main one being who really cares about this ever, and the second being most Thoroughbreds are bred in Kentucky. It isn't a racing/breeding backwater, Alice.
  • If Freddy calls Image her "princess" one more time I am going to go mad.
  • "We're turning into the driveway!" OH MY GOD!
  • Did David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars, and the PEN/Faulkner Award just get name dropped in Thoroughbred? Did that just happen? Why are they talking about Kabuo Miyamoto? This is Thoroughbred, Alice. No one wants to know about what your book club was reading when you wrote this.

So that was a Thoroughbred book. I'm finding it really hard to like these characters these days. Their attitudes annoy me. They are smug brats most of the time, which tends to irritate me even more when they act so catty toward characters like Lavinia, who in the New Generation strikes me as more of a fashionable socialite who believes it's always happy hour somewhere. How does this deserve their scorn?

I guess this is why I so love it when the random anonymous characters in this book treat Whitebrook with open disdain, and appear so frustrated by pretty much everything the main characters do and say. Because at this point, I honestly do not see the difference between Townsend Acres and Whitebrook Farm.

Okay. I have officially thought about this too much. I am done now.