Three Movies in Four Days Part 3


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Spoliers? Are you kidding? Who doesn’t know about Elton John? Familiarity with his music, and a growing appreciation of his present day style, had me thinking I might pass on this one. That would have been a HUGE mistake. On and off throughout this film I made comparisons to La La Land, which had none of Rocketman’s brilliance. Yes, I liked some of the dance numbers in LLL, but they are mediocre compared to Rocketman, especially Saturday Night’s exuberance. This is what a ‘Hollywood’ musical is all about and hasn’t been seen in way too long.

Elton John’s stage persona was/is bigger than life, but that becomes secondary in this homage to his music and Bernie Taupin’s lyrics. At some point it becomes apparent that Taupin’s lyrics are so well-woven into this story about Elton’s life and his eventual triumph over addiction, loneliness, and self-hate that it leaves one awed. And somewhat overwhelmed by the writing and production as a whole.

Look for Taron Egerton’s name in the Oscar nominations and on the fast track to win. (Haven’t seen the rest of the year’s contenders, so not sure about his ‘win’ yet.) All of the performances are superb. Richard Madden is deliciously vicious as a soul-sucking user. The always marvelous Gemma Jones warms the heart as his grandmother. Steven Macintosh as Elton’s father is a heartless creep, and Jamie Bell is subtle and true as the faithful Bernie Taupin. Elton’s brash mother is wonderfully done by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Ron Howard. (Remember her as pie-eating Hilly in The Help?)

A reason for my initial hesitation to see this film was because of inaccuracies that usually accompany biopics. Then I learned that Elton was a producer. NPR interviewed him a few years back. He talked about his mother being a gunner in WWII, the influence of the Royal Academy of Music, the happiness he’s enjoying now.

For many this will be a dance down memory lane to what you were doing, or where you were, when you heard each song. Tiny Dancer shot me back to younger years in LA at the parties that went all night, sometimes for days, and the look in Bernie Taupin’s face when he said that the next day he’d be going to Paradise Cove. Back then, it was a private beach, placid and gorgeous. Now, it’s paved over, impersonal, clogged with gawkers, much like Elton’s life was about to become after that party.

Since this is a musical, something must be said about the music. Giles Martin deserves every speck of attention that must be given to what he has created with the score of this film. He has done everything possible to enhance the genius of Elton’s music without being intrusive. It’s voluptuous, reverent, electrifying and eloquent as required. He does what the very best accompanist does and that is provide a safe platform for the vocalist to shine.

Don’t run to see this film. Slap on a rocket and blast off. Elton would appreciate that kind of entrance.

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML




Three Movies in Four Days Part 2


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John Wick 3 (no spoilers)

OK, so I’m just going to get it out of my system. We all have our favorites and Keanu Reeves has been one of mine since I first saw him as dopy Ted. Then came the conflicted Neo, and later my all-time fave movie of his, Destination Wedding.  He flings himself into all sorts of career risks and all of them work in his favor. Because Reeves in person is so laid-back and gentlemanly, it’s easy to overlook his history, unless an avid fan. (Passivity is not in the lexicon or personality of anyone who yearned to play pro hockey.) The eclectic range of genres in his film history is all over the place. He personifies my personal adage of: If you can do comedy well, you can do anything. He swings from courtly aristocrat (Dangerous Liaisons) to deranged avenger (JW2) without a misstep.

Anyway, I liked JW3. I wasn’t too impressed with 2, as you can tell, but 3 has incorporated some very creative and outré enhancements to a genre I don’t usually pay to see. And it has Reeves in it, so off I went to the cinema, especially after seeing The Impossible Dream trailer.

What stood out:

Halle Berry. You have to see to believe the kick-ass-ness. And her dogs.

Next, fight scenes with numerous opponents attacking separately. What we are usually served is a situation where the hero/heroine is surrounded by assailants coming at them one at a time. Not in this flick. It’s all pile on the rabbit, if you remember that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Angelica Huston as a Russian mafia queen

Xbox addicts are going to mainline this puppy. Their fingers will twitch through all the shoot-em ups. I loved the unique use of music for the finale shoot-out underscored by Vivaldi. Classical music, for me, allowed for suspension of belief and enhancement of the choreography needed for sustained violence. After a while,  constant glass breakage and auto weapon discharge sags into over-the-top sensory overload.

Much of what occurs in films of this genre has to be taken with a sense of humor or a chunk of salt. I mean, how many times can you get kicked in the head, ribs and chest and still function?

Worry about the story arc started to nag about halfway through. I know what I hoped to see and started to lose confidence in the plotline. The worries got resolved by the film’s end when I understood the reason for the red herrings.

Thumbs are up for JW3.

On CD: Destroyer

Nicole Kidman does a tour de force in this grim odyssey of a cop’s relentless pursuit of a stone cold criminal in order to expiate her mistakes of past and present. Kidman is remarkable and believable, almost unrecognizable. She would have benefited from a less heavy-handed makeup artist. That was overdone, and I think unfair to Kidman, and because of that bit of distraction, stole from her ability to relate all that the character was and going through, without slathering on the makeup with a density more appropriate for stage than screen. Kidman’s work in this film is a revelation. I got lost in her, not the story.

Next up: Rocketman

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML



Three Movies in Four Days


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Part 1: The White Crow

Overall, the time and money spent on this film was well worth it. If you love the ballet, it should not be missed. Since the primary subject, Rudolph Nureyev, was not a pleasant person, the emphasis on controlling an artist’s artistic freedom became an important, if not imperative, subplot. No apologies were made for the less attractive aspects Nureyev’s personality. He was what he was and no attempts were made to mask that aspect of the man.

Not many actors can be as gifted a director as they are as an actor. Fiennes is marvelous as Nureyev’s dance instructor but not quite there when in come to direction. Or maybe he needed a better editor. There were moments when the story came to a halt in the attempt to mine a juicy dramatic scene, especially when Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) slogs through the decision to defect. The agonizing internalization goes on too long. Care with this kind of scene needs to be carefully considered and rendered. When emotions don’t translate across the screen, an actor can look constipated instead of in dire emotional turmoil.

On the other hand, the dancing is absolutely brilliant, exhilarating. Ivenko is splendid, a joy to watch. Nureyev had an aggressive presence on stage but Ivenko has the grace and beauty. I did appreciate the attempt to ease viewer transition from original fifties footage to present day cinematography.  That was cleverly done. The production departments caught the era and settings effortlessly, from the brutal poverty in Russia to Parisian elegance and self-satisfied sophistication. Nureyev’s absolute arrogance combined with his thirst for art in all its forms must have confused Parisians, perhaps as much as his hunger for the arts fascinated and made for appreciation. This is a must-see film for anyone interested in dance.

Finally got to watch: My Dinner with Harvé

Before Tyrion, there were so many other roles Dinklage performed that I am always in search for his works. It was well publicized that he was interested in Villechaize, who led an extraordinary and wretched life. As a person, Villechaize was ruthlessly objectified, misunderstood, and ridiculed. In doing so, the public never got to know an intelligent, well-educated and talented man.

Since I never watched Fantasy Island, I had no interest in Tattoo and knew little about him. Thanks to this HBO film, I learned that Villechaize was also a gifted painter. That was an upside, and the rest of his life, largely horrific. He did have a marvelous father, but no matter how he searched, he never found emotional relief for his mother’s disdain and disappointment, but he never let that or anything else stop him. Per Villechaize,“Just because a man is small he doesn’t have to act it.” He was proof that big brains can come in small packages.

This film is worth seeing for its touching performances and its backstage eye-opener about Fantasy Island. Dinklage and Jamie Dornan, as Sacha Gervasi, director and writer of the biopic, are excellent in their individual roles. It’s not a happy film, especially due to Harvé’s eventual end, probably due to his ironical conclusion that people are the same “addicted to the fantasy that something or someone would take away the pain of life.”  He resorted to pain relief with a gun.

Next up: John Wick 3 (no spoilers)

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML



Tale of a Story: Marked

What happens when you refuse to quit.

Finding Faeries

*pulls blog out of the land of the forgotten*


I’ve missed my little piece of the blogging universe. So, I’ve returned to share past writing victory. My very first published work and how it came to be.

Back in the world before writing groups and critique partners and Twitter-writer-verse, I wrote a story called “Across the Purple Sands”…probably around 2007. I entered it in the Writers Digest Short Story competition. And it failed to place.

My mom and sisters read it (like I said this was pre-critique partners), and their comments got my creative brain going. I started it in the wrong place. THAT HAPPENS. A lot.

My mom also suggested that I change the title.

So I rewrote it. I added a new beginning. I set up the story and characters better. I changed the title to “Marked”. And I submitted it to a magazine. I took a…

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Q & A for Julia Donner (M.L. Rigdon) for writing historical Westerns

Writing friends are the best! And Judi is too modest to mention that she recently hit the USA Today bestseller list! Still down’ the happy dance.

Judi Lynn

I’m happy to have Julia Donner (M.L. Rigdon) on my blog today to tell us a little about her newest novel, NO EASY STREET, the second book in her Westward Bound series.  It’s available for pre-order on Amazon now.  NO EASY STREET and AVENUE TO HEAVEN are historical Western romances, and I enjoy them every bit as much as the Regency romances she writes.  Welcome to my blog, Julia!

Thanks for inviting me! I love the Americana 1800’s era as much as the Regency period. Since I’m a horse lover, I can relive the years riding the California canyons and fire trails.  And to start off the second book in this series, there is a Goodreads giveaway for AVENUE TO HEAVEN from February 16th until the 26th!

Here’s the link for the giveaway:

  1. So, Julia, would you like to give us a brief idea of what…

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Now that the end of the year film releases have opened the spigot and flooded theaters, it’s time to hit the cinema. I’m eager to satisfy curiosity and test the offerings—and to make comparisons and observations—so off I trotted to the nearest cinema.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

I waited a long time for this one. I’ve said it before and will most likely be saying it again, if you can do comedy, you can do anything. Melissa McCarthy is brilliant. Her sympathy for the abrasive, abusive, and broken Lee Israel is utterly absorbing. She made accessible a thoroughly unlikable person and will be a strong award contender and should be a frontrunner for the SAG. Richard Grant is also marvelous. He and McCarthy bring to life the strange and desperate friendship between Israel and Hock.

I’m not sure why this film isn’t doing better at the box office. Perhaps it’s some industry-insider thing, which is shameful. The story is entirely character-driven, which makes some Hollywood exec types crazed, much the same way they used to bash Spielberg when he made “serious” films, which reminds me, HBO and Susan Lacy did a fabulous documentary about Spielberg.

Green Book

Already slated for numerous awards, I mainly went to see Viggo. The man has the ability, as does Olivia Spencer, to communicate reams of information in silence. Those eyes. He killed me with them in History of Violence, and this movie has some comparisons when it comes to violence, understanding and forgiveness. It’s a story about how defensive, and ingrained, prejudice can invert itself, remold to become acceptance and admiration, an outcome unbelievable, except that it did happen. Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) and Dr.Don Shirley, (Mahershala Ali) were vastly different men. Tony was raised in a close-knit community that denigrated blacks, and Shirley well-educated and gifted, could barely tolerate Tone’s crassness.

The film title comes from The Negro Motorist Green Book, written by Victor Hugo Green. The screenplay is co-written by Nick Vallelonga, Tony’s son. There has been some backlash from Shirley’s family, who disagree with the eventual relationship between the two men and are of the opinion that Ali does not portray the terror evoked then, and still today, living and traveling in the south for blacks. They have their opinion, but mine is that Shirley, or the storyline, seeks to portray the dignity and courage it took to do that tour. The two men aren’t worlds apart, it’s more like universes. Tony, so violent and gross of manner, is so blessed with love for his family, while Shirley, so gifted and elegant, is estranged from his. Shirley learns to accept and allow himself to see underneath Tony’s persona, a man who accepts who and what he is, adores his family and yet thinks nothing of smashing somebody’s face into a bloody mess. That which horrifies Shirley is just another day on the job for Tony Vallelonga.

Don’t get so involved in the story that you miss the connection made between these two fiercely brilliant actors. It’s the sort of interplay that makes for a SAG award.

I Think We’re Alone Now (DVD)

I’ve adored Peter Dinklage since his portrayal of a scary on-the-edge-of-freaking-out children’s book writer in Elf. And what sort of asshat doesn’t love the wickedly droll Tyrion Lannister?

This dystopian story dissects the emotional fallout of a catastrophic planetary event with none of the disaster/violence theme. Its haunting and quiet until it gets ugly. Character motivation is deep and complex with a few surprising twists. What you think is weird at the beginning is given relevance as the story unfolds. Buy it, rent it, whatever. It’s worth your time and money. I have yet to see My Dinner with Hervé, a story Dinklage wanted told.

Next up, I’m itching  to see The Favourite.


M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML




How to Hide a Body


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It’s a pleasure to have the wonderful Judi Lynn visit my blog. When we met (long ago), she was writing mystery, then urban fantasy, then was offered a contract with Kensington to write a series of romances, which she doubted she could do. Hah! For them, and us, she wrote a marvelous series about Mill Pond, peopled by characters so real you wanted them as your forever friends, characters so alive that they made you laugh and cry, allowed you worry about their problems and rejoice in their triumphs. And oye, the food! (Ms. Lynn’s a kitchen goddess after all.)

The Mill Pond series was followed by a request to write cozy mysteries, just what Judi loves. To look at her, one would never think that someone so jolly and generous could think up so many unique ways to murder people. But then, you’ve never seen the bathroom wall she painted with splotches of red paint. And in this new cozy mystery series, she gives us Ansel. (Insert sigh here.) I love Prosper from her urban fantasy works, but her quiet Norseman, oh my… You only have a few days left to wait to meet him and to find out how the corpse ended up in the attic. It’s on presale now!

You can find The Body in the Attic here:

Thank you, M. L. Rover, for inviting me to your blog.  I’m a huge fan of yours, when you write as Julia Donner or as M. L. Rigdon, so it’s an honor being here today.  Thanks for letting me talk about the first mystery I wrote for Lyrical Underground, THE BODY IN THE ATTIC.

  1. Why mysteries?

I fell in love with mysteries when I discovered Agatha Christie in my high school years.  In between reading Jane Austen and English Lit assignments in college, I got hooked on Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple. I liked Sherlock Holmes, but not as much as Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain and Carolyn Hart’s Death on Demand series. Those led me to Martha Grimes, Elizabeth George, and many, many others.  In cozy mysteries, the gore is minimal, the characters are part of a tight knit community, and the killers always get their just rewards—one way or another.  Unlike real life, evil doesn’t go unpunished.  And it’s fun to match wits with the detective.  Can you catch the writer’s clues and distinguish them from the red herrings?  It’s like solving a jigsaw puzzle.  Lots of fun.

  1. Why have your heroine be a fixer-upper?

When my husband and I got married, we bought a bungalow that had great bones, but everything in it was too small or dated.  We were young and had no idea how much work it would take to update everything.  When I turned on the faucet in the kitchen and John turned on a faucet in the bathroom to brush his teeth, the water got confused and stopped moving completely.  We had to replace lead pipes with copper ones.  When we invited my family over for supper and put the leaf in our table, we couldn’t open the refrigerator door until we all stood up and moved the table sideways to make room.  Eventually, we ended up adding on to the kitchen, adding a dormer for a second bedroom upstairs, and finishing the basement into a playroom for the kids. Little did we know when we bought the house.  But to this day, we love the place.   We still have a fondness for old houses and go on house walks in old neighborhoods. Not that we’d ever do this again. If we HAD to move for some reason, we’d buy something newer that was move-in ready.  But I wanted Jazzi and her cousin to restore old houses to make them beautiful again.  It hurts me to see a lovely old house that’s neglected.

  1. What do you like to read besides mysteries?

I don’t like to read the same author or even the same kinds of books back to back.  Eventually, I need a change of pace.  So I might read two cozies and then read an urban fantasy. I wrote urban fantasies for a while as Judith Post and discovered Ilona Andrews and Patricia Briggs, among others. Then I might pick up a Regency romance—like you write as Julia Donner—and then a romantic suspense or something bracing like Mark Lawrence’s Jorg series.  I like to mix up the genres I read now and then.

  1. Why are family and cooking so important in your books?

My family is small, but close.  And I love to cook and entertain.  I get bored cooking the same things over and over, so I subscribe to different cooking magazines and buy way too many cookbooks.  My sisters don’t like to cook, so it’s fun to invite them and my cousin over for supper.  They don’t like it if I get too fancy.  They like roasts and Italian sausage sandwiches.  When it gets chilly outside, two of their favorites are chili or beef and noodles.  My friends have more sophisticated palates, and I can experiment more.  I can make bouillabaisse or chowders, Thai noodle salads, and Chicken Seville.   It’s fun, and it keeps me out of trouble.

  1. Is there a romantic interest in your books?

Be still my heart. Ansel Herstad is a contractor who works with Jazzi and her cousin, Jerod.  Jazzi calls him a Norseman.  He grew up on his family’s dairy farm in Wisconsin.  He’s six-five with blond hair and blue eyes and lots and lots of muscles. But he doesn’t realize what a hunk he is.  I wanted to people Jazzi’s world with lots of GOOD men.  My husband worked at a tiny hamburger drive-in all through high school, and to this day, he’s still friends with the guys he worked with.  When one of those men marries a woman, she becomes part of their group.  And after knowing them for years, these guys are the best.  My daughter’s single, and she swears it’s no walk in the park to meet a good guy these days, but they’re out there (probably already taken).  And I wanted them to part of Jazzi’s world.


Judi Lynn’s blog:


Facebook author page:




Thank you Judi Lynn/Judith Post for the interview! And here’s a link to some of her urban fantasy and myth genres:


Pre-Order The Body In The Attic by Judi Lynn #cozy #mystery

So excited for Judi and will be sharing an interview with her in a few days.

From the Pen of Mae Clair

Happy first day of November! To kick off the month, I’m delighted to welcome friend and sister author, Judi Lynn. We’ve shared the same publisher for many years now. Judi has a new mystery release coming out in November that I’m super excited about and have already pre-ordered. Before I turn things over so she can tell you about it, please be sure to check out her blog. She’s wonderfully supportive of others and shares engaging posts that I know you’ll enjoy. And now….take it away Judi!

I want to thank Mae for inviting me to her blog.  We’re sister authors for Lyrical Press.  I loved her Point Pleasant series and the start of her Hode’s Hill series.  CUSP OF NIGHT has such a great mix of mystery and paranormal, I’m waiting for the second book to come out in January!  My first mystery, THE BODY IN THE ATTIC…

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But with another kind of inference. If you’re a dog lover, one of the following films is for you—the other, avoid.

So, Alpha. It starts off slow and doesn’t take off until the wolves enter. There are a few content issues that make no sense, holes you could drive the proverbial truck through, but the most glaring is how the men trudge off for days and days to hunt bison. History and logic say that people are nomadic or prefer to live near food sources. At any rate, who would want to trudge miles and miles, get the meat and skins, then schlepp them all the way home for days and days. The visuals are lovely, the costuming, strange. The men’s leather coats looked like WWII bomber jackets. I can suspend reality but that was a bit jarring. The best part was the wolf-bonding thing and the interesting bit where the wolf teaches the boy how to hunt as a team. Wolves do have that down to a science. The best part was the surprise ending that made me tear up. If you love dogs, you’ll like this film, especially if you’re overloaded with vacuous digital mayhem.

Then we come to AXL. What a mess. If I hadn’t planned on doing a “dog” blog thingie, I would have gotten up and walked out. Oye, the stereotyping is criminal. The storyline is idiotic, as if written by a ten-year-old. I take that back. Make it younger. The poor dog robot changes size about ten times and every trite and overused idea that can be crammed into a story is there, including making teens look like idiots. I was young and dumb, but these kids are like the ones in the commercial hiding in a shed with the dangling chainsaws. And I resent that the young protagonist thought it was OK to rip off an ATM just because computer wonder dog AXL programmed it to spew money. My grandson would have immediately reported the problem and turned in the cash. I guess that’s what irked me most, the way teens were trashed, the military to look asinine, and the bad guy of Middle Eastern descent. The only positive about movie is that actors got paid (presumably) and kept their SAG membership active.

In Alpha, there is much to be admired in the young man struggling to survive and get home to his parents. There is much to despise in a film like AXL that insults our youth and audience intelligence. I see the fun in B-type movie genres, but AXL is cruel and unusual.

Sorry this was kind of crabby and I miss my dogs and horses. And have been reading Dorothy Parker poems and quotes.

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML





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Long ago in a land far away (Wisconsin), I sat in the dark inside my car, early for a night shift on the oncology unit. Looking out the front window, a vision blotted out the screen—a white temple, a robed woman standing in front of it. The image hounded me at work and in the days to come, until I had to write the story crammed inside my head. It roared to life in an unending stream that meant cutting over a hundred thousand words when it was done. That was the beginning of the fantasy trilogy, Seasons of Time.

Prior to this mental invasion, I’d been writing a western romance. That story needed lots of research about Native Americans. Regency requires even more, but with fantasy, the mind flies to faraway realms, unknown and new, strange and freaky wonderful.

Writing “in the zone” is an amazing experience, a bit like deep meditation, but without the placid floating off into peaceful relaxation. Writing it makes me think of what it must be like to smoke weed or peyote, neither of which I can do because of weird reactions to drugs and a wussy fear of getting caught. In the fantasy zone, protags are fearless. They can fly with the dragon-like fflorin, ride chargers that are part horse and reptile, escape from terrhogs—think blind, gigantic worms. Where did I get all this stuff spewing out of my brain? I have no idea. I’ve been asked and can only reply that they are just there, living inside my head, and causing havoc until I write it down, give it voice.

Fantasy also offers the freedom of the omnipotent power of world creation. What if you could make up your own world and go live there, sort of what Sheldon Cooper does on Sheldor? I’m not an antihero fan, so I can kill off the baddies, hurt them any way I want. Talk about your “heady” stuff. One may ask if that isn’t what every writer does in the writing process. Not exactly. Genre writing requires specific parameters. Fantasy has few, other than what its readership expects, and even then it’s pretty loosely defined.

It’s important to take seriously reader requests, so I’ve tacked on more to the Seasons of Time triology and by starting Seasons of War trilogy based in the same world. Oh, the places where my mind has gone. I’d forgotten what it was like to charge into battle and soar with the fflorin.

The first book of the Seasons of Time trilogy is free now and for the next 3 days. Get it here:

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML