Tuesday, November 24, 2015


With all the tragic news out there, The Kitties are visiting Paris this week to spread some cheer. That is, as soon as they conquer the biggest cat climber they've ever seen....

L'amour, la paix, et la joie, Paris!

City (November 24, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: November 20, 2015)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Typically, flowers don't last long at my sister's house.

Bouquet (November 11, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: October 30, 2015)

Monday, November 09, 2015


When Gordon isn't dreaming about his next adventure, he's on one...

Adventure (November 6, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: October 23, 2015)

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015


On sparkly nights, what do you see in the stars?

Star (October 22, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: October 9, 2015)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Norman and Mini got inked the other day. I thought it was okay as long as it's temporary; but Ashes prefers her coat just the way it is, thank you!

Ink (October 12, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: October 2, 2015)

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Lily is on the mend after a recent illness. To celebrate, I bought her a few gifts, including a large scratching post, a cozy bed, and a little plush catnip-filled turtle toy. She likes her new stuff – except for the turtle, which she continues to completely ignore.

But the real prize among all of these cat treats, of course, is the packaging. Who knew Lily could be so predictable?

Prize (September 30, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: September 25, 2015)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


When Comet first met Ashes in Cincinnati all those years ago, he was sure he had met her before. If his tale is true, it's no wonder that she's the best singer among all The Kitties. Aren't mermaids known for their bewitching voices? Mercats may be famous for other talents, but Ashes is not divulging any information on the topic. This is why the myths have lasted so long.

Mermaid (September 22, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: September 18, 2015)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Hi everyone,

This week's Illustration Friday topic is Villain. I'm skipping it because none of The Kitties are villainous no matter how hard they try. Instead, since I couldn't finish last week's topic (Old) in time, here it is.

In 1999, my dad gave me a pair of bookmarks that came with a commemorative scroll noting the following historical information:

"The two cats commemorated here are known by a variety of names around the world.  In Pakistan and Western Asia, they are known as Rhowaul and Bagthami; in China, as Ching Mao and Dzang Mao; and in most European countries, as Mme. Chratien and Gormtharp. In America, they are well known as Mother Kitty and Gordon. 

Their exact ages are unknown but both are certainly more than 200 years old. An event in 1993 – in which Mother Kitty supposedly gave birth to Gordon – has since been discounted as a ruse, though no formal charges were filed. Various historical documents refer to similarly staged contrivances, sometimes with Gordon giving birth to Mother Kitty. It is now generally accepted that these episodes are rooted simply in boredom.

Mother Kitty is best known for her writings for the cause of the Libertarians during the French Revolution, and Gordon for his humanitarian work in India during British colonial rule. The lifespan of most cats is 14 to 17 years. There have been many attempts to explain the remarkable longevity of these two, but they are all silly. 

Mother Kitty currently resides in Northeast Ohio in the U.S., where she continues her vehement campaign against further exploitation of the common people at the hands of Siamese cats. Gordon is a pastor in the Mormon church and lives with his eight wives in Provo, Utah."

I questioned the validity of these claims at the time, but I've since discovered that they are totally true! See the photographic evidence below.

Old (September 12, 2015)

I always knew these two were bound to be legendary.


Monday, September 07, 2015

House of Earth

Hi everyone,

House of Earth is a long-lost novel written by Woody Guthrie in 1947. While preparing to celebrate for the folk singer's 100th birthday, someone found the manuscript tucked away in a box. I don't know how Johnny Depp got involved, but he's magic like that sometimes. He and his friend author/historian Douglas Brinkley edited and got the book published through Johnny's new publishing imprint, called Infinitum Nihil, under a division of HarperCollins. While I intended to only flip through the book in person at my local Barnes & Noble, I got so excited seeing Johnny's name on the cover that I ended up buying it. (I also felt obligated since the person who helped me to find the book, which should have been out on display somewhere, dug it out of storage for me.)

House of Earth tells the story of Tike and Ella May, a poor couple living in a run-down wooden shack on a farm in the Texas Panhandle. Encouraged by a government pamphlet, Tike dreams about building an adobe home, one that would protect them from the elements of the Dust Bowl region, but this goal appears endlessly out of reach. Though they love the land they live on, they do not own it, and they are hindered by their status in life, big business, and inevitable changes that are beyond their control.

Even though I bought this book when it was first published in 2013, I just got up the courage to read it now. I'd seen the Ken Burns documentary about The Dust Bowl, and I didn't want to be further depressed by that subject. I'd seen Bound for Glory, the movie about Woody Guthrie, and I couldn't get excited about him either. (Aside from his most famous songs, I don't know much about Woody Guthrie. I told my friend a few weeks ago that I know him most for being Arlo Guthrie's dad.) It wasn't until I recently finished watching the Foo Fighters' series Sonic Highways, which featured the New York music scene and included interviews with one of Woody Guthrie's daughters about his life and influence there that I decided to open the book.

House of Earth is a good, quick read. I'm not going to lie: my favorite part of this book is its introduction, not only because Johnny Depp helped to write it, but because it taught me more about the author, his life, and the context in which House of Earth was written. It also highlights and explains passages and plot points, which helped me understand the history and reasons behind them. What I like best about the novel itself is the writing. The story is a slice of life about proud people in unfortunate circumstances. The characters are fully developed and realized right down to the way they talk. House of Earth reminded me of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (see my review here) because it captures a specific pocket of time and people so accurately. At times, I could tell the book was written by a songwriter; some of the passages were poetic, set with their own rhythm. I also loved that the book included artwork by Woody Guthrie on the cover and throughout its pages, fully immersing readers into Woody Guthrie's world. While House of Earth is more of an introduction for me to Woody Guthrie's artistry, fans will welcome it as an authentic piece of his vast body of work.


Friday, September 04, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


Lily is afraid of this week's Illustration Friday topic. I'm still trying to calm her down.

People (August 25, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: August 22, 2015)

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Here are the hearts of Melissa's Kitties: Tyrone, Lily, Simon, Gordon, The Mother Kitty, Comet, Ashes, Norman, Mini, and B.J.

Heart (August 16, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: August 14, 2015)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Lily is an easily stressed kitty. In the worst instances, everything about her gets pointy.

Pointy (August 15, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: August 7, 2015)

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Mini dreams of being big, if only she could find the potion Alice drank.

Grow (August 14, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: July 31, 2015)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

Hi everyone,

When my sister saw Cary Elwes's memoir, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, on display as soon as she stepped into Barnes & Noble, she snatched it up for me for Christmas. I finished this book in about a week's time because The Princess Bride is one of my all-time favorite movies. After I finished it, I watched my 20th Anniversary Buttercup Edition of The Princess Bride on DVD. Now, I'm searching for my old beat-up copy of the original book by William Goldman to read it again.

I had no idea that The Princess Bride was not a huge hit when it first came out in 1987, but that's the kind of thing you'll learn in this memoir. I was waiting for this movie. It was Robin Wright's first starring role in a feature film, and she was one of my favorite actresses on the soap opera "Santa Barbara," which was very important to me at the time. (I knew she was bound for greatness well before "House of Cards.") So, I saw this movie in the theater at Carnation Mall in Alliance, Ohio. I loved it so much that I walked down the hall to Waldenbooks afterward and bought the novel on which the film is based. I loved that too! (Written by request for his daughters, William Goldman's original novel is even his own favorite. You'll get a taste of it from the film because he also wrote the screenplay.)

If you haven't seen The Princess Bride, it's a wonderful movie that is suitable for the whole family. It starts as a storybook fairytale being told to a sick grandson (Fred Savage). Poor farm boy Westley (Cary Elwes) loves Buttercup (Robin Wright) and leaves their home in Florin to seek his fortune so that they can be married. Soon after, though, Buttercup hears that Westley had been captured and killed by pirates. Five years later, Florin's Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon) chooses Buttercup as his bride. But, before the wedding, she's kidnapped by a Sicilian (Wallace Shawn) and his helpers,  who intend to start a war with neighboring country Guilder. I'd explain more of this adventure, but there is too much. The grandfather (Peter Falk) offers a good list of what's involved: "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles!"

Directed by Rob Reiner, The Princess Bride has a fantastic cast, including not-yet-mentioned Christopher Guest, Mandy Patinkin, Mel Smith, Peter Cook, and Andre the Giant, with a great cameo by Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. Not just a fairytale adventure, it's also a perfect mix of satire, drama, and comedy with so many classic lines and memorable moments. It will never go out of style, and I'm sure that anyone at any age would find it heartwarming and entertaining.

In this book, Cary Elwes (who I still refer to as Westley) recounts his experience in making The Princess Bride with great detail and fondness. You get a sense of the fate and camaraderie that, after several other attempts over the years, finally brought this film to be in 1987. You'll read similar reflections from other cast and crew members, all of whom felt lucky to be involved – even though, worried about his performance, Wallace Shawn (Vizzini) assumed he'd be fired at any second. (Can you believe it? Inconceivable!) Speaking of casting, they considered Arnold Schwartzenegger to portray Fezzik. (Can you imagine?) Even more shocking, Sting was contacted about playing Prince Humperdinck! (What are the odds of this being a fun fact for me to discover?) Want to learn more, read this joyful tale about the making of a classic film based on a classic novel. You'll want to experience it all again.


Tuesday, August 04, 2015


All kitties take care of things in their own time.

Nature (July 30, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: July 24, 2015)

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Hi everyone,

Maybe I watched too many cartoons as a kid, but Daffy Duck's reaction to finding treasure was the first thing that popped into my head for this one.

I only remembered this scene and not the name of the cartoon. Who knew that all I'd have to do to find it is Google "Daffy Duck It's mine! Mine!" I'm not sure if that makes Google amazing, scary, or just funny. I guess I'm not the only one who has this permanently stamped into memory.

Animation Movies 2014 by AnimationTV: Ali Baba Bunny: http://dai.ly/x2ax4ic
Cartoon image and short ©Warner Brothers Pictures (1957), Merrie Melodies series

Here's what I came up with in the end, along with a craving to find and watch more Warner Brothers cartoons....

Treasure (July 29, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: July 17, 2015)

That's what Google is really for, right?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


Like Mom, The Mother Kitty is an excellent gardener.

Garden (July 19, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: July 10, 2015)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #49. Mortdecai (2015)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

Mortdecai is very unique and special. It's very different from anything I have done before. We haven't seen that type of caper movie for a number of years. If you go back and watch movies, like The Pink Panther or some of the wonderful French films with Louis de Funes, there's really something great about those caper films that teeter toward farcical. 
Johnny Depp on Mortdecai

Who is Mortdecai?
Based on the novel Don't Point That Thing at Me by Kyril Bunfiglioli, Mortdecai stars Johnny Depp as an aristocratic art dealer, who is drowning in debt and denial. When his old friend and rival, Inspector Martland (Ewan McGregor), ropes him into helping to search for a stolen painting, he becomes bogged down by Russians, a terrorist, and other troubling inconveniences. With a beautiful but unhappy wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) at home, Charlie Mortdecai at least still has his trusty man servant Jock (Paul Bettany) always nearby to take care of everything. But will everything turn out all right in the end?

I tried to tame my anticipation.
Ewan McGregor has always been one of my favorite actors, but – unlike my Johnny Experience – I'm not sure how or when my love for Ewan McGregor began. I don't always know what movies he'll be in or when they're coming out, but I see them all. I love catching him on talk shows, but I never think to check for his name on the schedules ahead of time. I've even read his books about his motorcycle trips around the world, and I don't even like motorcycles.

I love them!!!
So, when I found out that Ewan McGregor signed on to co-star in Mortdecai with Johnny, I was thrilled. Then, when the Mortdecai previews came out, they made me laugh out loud. I was really excited about the director, David Koepp, who directed Johnny in Secret Window, and the rest of the cast, which included Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow, Olivia Munn, and Jeff Goldblum. Then, one day, it occurred to me that I was setting this thing up for failure: No pressure, everyone, I just want this to be the best movie ever.

So, I went back to trying to ignore it was happening. It wasn't too hard because I was distracted by an endless string of colds that I was trying to expel from my body with Sudafed and sleep.

There's a first time for everything. 
By the time Mortdecai opened, my most recent persistent cold had dragged my mood back down to blahville, and I kept putting off seeing Mortdecai during opening weekend. Because I was indecisive about when I had to leave my apartment, I ended up scanning the theater schedules on Fandango, where I couldn't help being shocked by Mortdecai's cumulative critics' score of 12 out of 100. So I did what I never do – looked at what critics had to say. I didn't actually read the reviews, but saw some short, memorable takeaways, like:
  • "Charmless, mirthless, witless, this waste of time is another black mark on Depp's card, while his co-stars fare little better. Even low expectations won't help you here." 
  • "Mortdecai is an anachronistic mess that never succeeds..." 
  • "What a frantically dull spectacle this vanity project is."
  • "Johnny Depp's done so much for us over the years; let's forget this movie ever happened." (I don't think this one was from Fandango, but it's my favorite.) 
Come on, it can't be that bad, I thought. Yet, by the time I got out of the house to see Mortdecai that Sunday afternoon, I approached it like an errand.

It's not a good look, Johnny!
And I hated it! I couldn't believe how much I hated it so immediately. I sat, stunned and annoyed by Johnny's wimpy character, pleading in my head to him to talk normally and slower and just be more Johnny-like. When that didn't work, I searched frantically for something good to say about Mortdecai. What about his co-stars, the sets, the direction, and the story? What was even going on in this story? I couldn't follow it. Why were the jokes so stupid? How many times were they going to refer to that horrible mustache? I finished my popcorn and began falling asleep – another troubling first. In the theater, though, one person kept me awake: A big black guy, who sat a few rows in front of me,  cracked up at everything! Does that guy represent the audience for this movie?, I wondered. I left the theater bewildered, disappointed, and very panicked that I got nothing out of what I just saw; did this mean the end of Johnny Kitties?

Jock saves the day here....
"Johnny doesn't have to make awesome movies every time," my dad said when I told him my horrible news. But he does and he has, I disagreed unreasonably in my head. Clearly, I was under the influence of nagging illness, Sudafed, and mean critics when I first saw Mortdecai. (My advice to everyone is don't read reviews before seeing a movie and make up  your own mind.) Still, I worried while waiting for the movie to be released on DVD. What if, after my cold is gone, Mortdecai is still completely awful?

Relax, I'm over it. 
I may have been recovering from something still when Mortdecai arrived from Netflix. I had to restart it a few times because I kept falling asleep. Maybe it was leftover trauma from my first viewing, my fear of a second reaction, or maybe I was just really tired. My unplanned naps were a good thing: the more times I had to start the movie over to watch it again, the funnier it got. It turns out that I actually like Mortdecai after all!

He takes care of things here too.
Still, this isn't my favorite of Johnny's roles. His accent, which didn't bother me at all in the commercials, sometimes gets on my nerves after a while; other times, I can't even understand what he says. Also, this character bumbles around a lot. When trouble brews, he just asks his man servant what he should do and waits around for someone else to fix his situation. This helplessness takes me out of the movie at times because, obviously, Johnny can take care of himself. In some moments, I just want him to be cooler, as I know Johnny can be. Johnny's above some of this movie's humor, in my opinion, which I just don't always find funny or clever. Maybe I'll get there after more viewings.

This still may be my favorite moment. 
In any case, Johnny explained himself in a DVD featurette, which helped me appreciate everything about Mortdecai more. Someone gave him the book that Mortdecai is based on, which he describes as "one of those books that makes you laugh out loud. It's just so beautifully irreverent and insane, but it's one of those stories, you're thinking, it translates to cinema only if you go to the extreme." He describes his character as pure and honest, someone who never thinks about what others are thinking. Charlie Mortdecai always assumes things will work out, despite whatever chaos is surrounding him, and whatever he says he believes to be true. Knowing that, I found everything about this character funnier and even a little endearing. Maybe I need to read the book for a full understanding.

By the fourth and final time I restarted and watched Mortdecai, I found plenty to like about it. Before the movie came out, everyone involved was comparing it to The Pink Panther movies,directed by Blake Edwards and starring Peter Sellers. Comparing this or any new movie to any classic, like The Pink Panther, is not a good idea; why put that standard in people's heads? However, I know why they all made the comparison, even if it's an unequal match. I see what they were going for with the performances and David Koepp's slick direction. From the opening credits on, you get the light-hearted, comedic feel for what's to come.

Spinoza is a mechanic full of creative insults.
Johnny's performance may be distracting in some moments, but it's brilliant in others. The rest of the cast is wonderful too. My favorite is Paul Whitehouse – who's shown up in several of Johnny's movies, like Finding Neverland, Alice in Wonderland, and Corpse Bride. His brief appearance here as Spinoza makes me laugh out loud every time. I'm also happy to see Olivia Munn in this movie because she always makes me laugh too. Paul Bettany, who previously co-starred with Johnny in The Tourist and Transcendence, makes an impressive, funny tough guy. Gwyneth Paltrow is great, as usual (and in an equally great wardrobe), and Ewan McGregor is, of course, awesome.

Timing is everything in this movie, and this cast not only gets it right but seemed to have a blast working on it. "It's the most fun I've ever had on set," Johnny says. His kissing scene with Gwyneth Paltrow, in which she's too repulsed by his new mustache and which was in all of the commercials for Mortdecai, apparently took 15 or so takes because they couldn't stop laughing. "Most of my energy on set has been spent trying not to laugh," Paul Bettany admits.

These high spirits come through in the final product. I suspect they might even be contagious; as I said, I laughed more and more with each viewing. And, again, I saw some critic reviews without even trying – this time noting the DVD release – saying that Mortdecai is worth another look. But don't take their fickle word for it. I promise, Mortdecai will grow on you, so give it a chance!

These are my two favorite kitties!
I was really worried about finding something to draw for Mortdecai at first; it's one of the reasons I had to watch it four times. Since the most exciting thing about this movie to me was the prospect of Johnny and Ewan working together, I limited my options to the scenes they shared. Unfortunately, they don't have many. (They'll make up for it by working together again someday, right, casting directors?) Luckily, however, I realized eventually that one of their scenes is the key to everything.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film 49. Mortdecai (2015) [May 31, 2015]

In this scene, Inspector Martland (Comet) reveals the plot when he enlists Charlie Mortdecai (Gordon) to help him find a stolen painting. In return, his host offers him some rancid cheese. This scene not only tells you the plot, but captures Charlie Mortdecai's posh lifestyle and past, these characters and their rivalry, and even secret treasures. I stuck Jock (Norman) in there too because he really is always around to save the day.

What's next?
Johnny hears my illness-induced complaints and sinks his teeth into a serious drama, playing mobster Whitey Bulger in Black Mass. I haven't seen the previews yet and am afraid of the violence in store, but I'm very excited just the same. See it September 18th! A Johnny Kitties tribute will follow its DVD release.

Photo credits: All images © Lionsgate

Tuesday, July 07, 2015


Just like the rest of us, all kitties start out small.

Small (June 30, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: July 26, 2015)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


Hi everyone,

This Illustration Friday topic is from two weeks ago. I tried to think of something else, but "Vacation" by the Go-Go's popped into my head and still hasn't left. Listen to it here, and see what happens to  you!

(Link to video: The Go-Go's - Vacation© I.R.S.)

I'm surprised that some of the Kitties were game for recreating the Go-Go's classic 1982 album cover.

© I.R.S.

For this drawing, Simon is filing in as the fifth Go-Go. His brothers think he's crazy, but he's actually pretty good at water sports.

Vacation (June 29, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: June 12, 2015)

Maybe the summer heat's gone to our heads. 

Happy 4th! 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Lily gets a bad wrap because she's inhospitable to visitors. I warn her against acquiring a bad reputation. When thinking about this blog post last night, I planned to explain how, when alone with me, Lily is very affectionate. She follows me around and always investigates what I'm doing, misses me when I'm out, greets me at the door with purrs when I return, watches TV by my side, and cuddles with her head against my cheek at night. She does these things in the same way that Michigan J. Frog sings –  when no one else is watching.

Then, this morning while I cleaned her litter box, she decided to attack, swipe, and hiss at me for several minutes without any real cause or reason other than to make the task treacherous and spill litter everywhere. So, I'm going back to my shorter explanation of Lily's attitude: Tiger is in her name for a reason, and I probably should have gone with calling her Sybil instead.

Danger (June 30, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: June 26, 2015)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


With laps in sight, Simon and Gordon come in for a landing.... Happy summer, everyone!

Airborne (June 16, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: June 5, 2015)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


I just finished reading The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, a new, great novel with an old dragon in it. Don't get any ideas that I read to my cat, but somehow Lily started dreaming about mythical creatures. I don't know if a dragon qualifies as a monster, but maybe a Dragon Kitty would, especially if her name was Lily.

Monster (June 16, 2015)
(Illustration Friday: May 29, 2015)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Buried Giant

Hi everyone,

A few weeks ago, I finished The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I had picked up at a book signing event in March at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Before this, I had only read Mr. Ishiguro's first novel, The Remains of the Day, which was a big hit and turned into an equally fantastic movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. (See the movie; read the book!) He's written six other book, including another popular one called Never Let Me Go, which was also turned into a movie starring Keira Knightly. (I didn't read that one because the movie was disturbing enough for me.) I went to that movie not knowing about the book from which it came and left the theater amazed that the same guy who wrote The Remains of the Day wrote this completely different kind of story.

The Buried Giant is Mr. Ishiguro's first novel in 10 years and, again, I'm surprised by his range and imagination. The story takes place after the reign of King Arthur. The Saxons and the Britons are enemies, though not actively at war. Elderly couple Axl and Beatrice have muddled memories, but seem to recall having a son and decide to embark on a journey to his village, where they are pretty sure he is waiting for them. Along the way, they befriend a Saxon warrior named Wistan, an old knight of King Arthur's Court named Gawain, and a Saxon boy named Edwin, who is on the run after the people in his village turn against him, believing that he suffered an ogre bite and is therefore doomed to be possessed.

Snippets of the past are revealed as characters think they remember certain things. A mysterious mist – a spell drawn by Merlin to end the ravages of war – is causing the memory loss inflicted among them, and Wistan is charged with the task of slaying the dragon whose breath is the source. Along the way, Wistan becomes a father figure to Edwin, grooming him to become a warrior like himself. Meanwhile, Gawain finds Axl vaguely familiar, remembering him as a fellow fighter during the fog of war. These days, however, Axl and his wife Beatrice are determined to help Wistan on his mission because they think that restoring their memories will only strengthen their bond. Yet, both sense unclear bad memories and worry that recalling them in full when the mist subsides will be too much to bear.

During the book signing's interview, Mr. Ishiguro shared his curiosity about memory, which motivated the idea behind this book: "How can I move from writing about individual memory to memory of a society, or shared memories, as in a marriage? That's what I've been sort of wondering about for a long time." While waiting in line to get my book signed, I overheard someone who had already read it: "It's very good," she said. "It's very strange but very good." I agree! Some days, though, I couldn't get into reading this book because the setting and language felt too foreign. On other days, I was fully engaged for hours, curious about what would happen next.

The Buried Giant offers an exciting journey, but the best thing about it is the writing. As he did with The Remains of the Day (and I'm sure his other books), Mr. Ishiguro paints a convincing portrait of a time and place in which readers settle. He writes poetically, setting  a measured pace and revealing plot twists and turns in unexpected ways. He focuses so much on relationships and emotions that the setting becomes timeless. With all of his book, he confirmed, "I'm trying to share emotions. I think there's something very valuable in people sharing emotions in music, books, and movies." What became most interesting to me while reading this story was seeing how the characters think, react to situations, and interact with each other. The setting of this book may be ancient and fantastical, but the characters are very real and universally familiar. I love how the mysteries of the past are revealed in this book to offer a full picture of who everyone is. While its ending is open to interpretation, The Buried Giant is a beautifully written, satisfying thinker. Read it and let's discuss!

(If interested, visit The Library to find this and my other book reviews. A link to the new page is located in the menu bar below the Melissa's Kitties banner.)  


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #48. Into the Woods (2014)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details. Visit the Johnny Kitties page for a full list of Johnny Depp's filmography and links to all previous Johnny Kitties blog posts.]

Happy birthday, Johnny!

Johnny on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in early 2015
Here's the latest Johnny Kitties tribute....

The one thing I love about this film is there's so much entertainment. It's so much fun – the joy, the ride of it. – Director Rob Marshall

It's so far beyond anything you could have expected because it is. You know all these characters from your youth in a deep way, but when they come to life in this sense, you get to know more about them, and it's even spookier and it's even funnier and it's even weirder. It's a brilliant idea. It's beautifully put together. – Johnny Depp

Go to the Woods!
In this film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's musical, the fairytale characters that we all know and love come to life and coincide in a new adventure. Cursed by the Witch (Meryl Streep) to remain childless, the Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) head into the woods to break her spell by finding four requested items in three days' time: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold. On their journey, they find an indecisive Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), contemplating the prince (Chris Pine) she's met at the ball; Jack (Daniel Huddlestone), to whom they give some magic beans; and Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), who runs into trouble with the sly Wolf (Johnny Depp) on the way to her grandmother's house. The Witch, too, has her own set of problems, including trying to keep her restless daughter Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy) safely hidden away in a lonely tower. Directed by Rob Marshall, Into the Woods takes you on a high-spirited, entertaining ride that turns these familiar stories into something modern, fresh, and more relatively realistic. It turns out that happily ever after isn't always how things end. 

If at first you don't succeed...
I first saw Into the Woods in Ohio with my parents just after Christmas. It was my dad's idea, but soon after the lights went out, he fell asleep. My mom stayed awake but her first comment after the movie ended was, "That was a little long." I admit, I felt that was true. But maybe it only seemed long because the screen was small and far away from where we sat; everyone around us in this packed little space had noisy colds, kept fidgeting, and walking in and out of the theater; and dad was snoring. It wasn't the best experience, especially when Johnny showed up 20 minutes into the movie and was finished about 5 minutes later. 

I waited until Into the Woods came out on DVD to see it again in my apartment, where I gave it my full, undivided attention. That's when I discovered that this movie is actually a really good one.  

What's to Love?
Stephen Sondheim with cast members at the
Into the Woods world premiere in December 2014
The music. I was unfamiliar with Into the Woods before I saw this movie, even though it debuted on Broadway in 1987 and has been popular ever since. While I knew it was a musical, I was still surprised by the amount of singing involved. Everyone sings, and they sing together seamlessly, even when they're their scenes take them to different locations to focus on their own life stories and problems. Sixty musicians recorded the songs in a studio with the cast; the recordings were then blasted on set during the scenes while the cast belted the songs out again, singing along to the recorded versions. The extra layer of coolness here is that what they sang on set while filming was also recorded and, for the final product, both versions were mixed together to make the singing match best with whatever is happening in the scene. "When we need the [studio] recordings, we have them; and when it's live and working, we use that as well," producer Marc Platt explains. "What you get is a seamless marriage of the two, but you get performances that are so brilliant." 

These impressive songs are unmistakably Stephen Sondheim's with their fast-paced, clever lyrics and challenging melodies. I loved how they moved the stories along; you really had to listen for that reason. "It's a very lyric-heavy piece, and in those lyrics is the story," Rob Marshall explains. "That's how Stephen Sondheim wrote it. That's how he writes. He writes as if it's a scene. Everything's a scene; it's not a number." Producer John De Luca concurs, "There's relentless intelligence in Stephen Sondheim. The lyrics – every time you listen, you hear something new." 

The direction. Rob Marshall is good at directing musicals, and this one doesn't disappoint. "He's very true to his vision of the author's work. His approach is very pure, and he's out there to make something beautiful, affecting, artistic, emotional," Johnny says. Here, he creates a world and puts you in it. The camera takes you into to the action, like when it follows the jerky movements of the Wolf spying on Little Red Riding Hood through the bushes. It sweeps you along with the music, moving like a dancer to Stephen Sondheim's orchestrations. 

The movie isn't so long as it is packed with stories. At times when story lines conclude, others begin, which left me wondering how this thing was going to end. Yet, from start to finish, you're never bored because Rob Marshall keeps all the pieces moving in an environment that becomes its own key character. "How the woods sounds and feels, the sonic texture of it, was a vital ingredient in bringing the world alive and making it feel vibrant and specific to the story being told at the time," Marc Platt explains. These woods may be intimidating, but plenty goes on in there to keep us well entertained. 

The cast. This all-star cast is impressive. Meryl Streep earned her 19th Oscar nomination for playing the Witch in this movie and it's clear why: she's the best witch out there. In this movie, everyone shines. I particularly liked James Corden and Emily Blunt as a desperate yet determined couple on a mission. Newcomer Lilla Crawford was also fantastic as Little Red Riding Hood. 

It must have been difficult for cast members to take such popular characters and make them modern and uniquely their own, but each is fully realized with gusto. "It's visually fun and emotionally satisfying," Meryl Streep says of the film. "But it also has this other thing that is what engages us as artists and makes us want to bring everything we can to it." They all definitely bring it, but no one stands out and above the rest in my eyes (well, Meryl Streep and Johnny aside). As Rob Marshall says, "It's all about the piece and all about the ensemble – everybody working together to create this magic." 

The Wolf. While short, Johnny's performance as the Wolf is a memorable one. He sings one song, "Hello, Little Girl," while sneakily eyeing his unassuming prey. Who knew Johnny would ever sing another song on film after Sweeney Todd? "I was very excited to do it," Johnny says of the role. "I was honored and somewhat proud that not only Rob [Marshall] and John [De Luca] wanted me to play the Wolf, but Sondheim again believed in me to play the part and to sing his notes. It's one of those moments that you realize you will never in  your life have an opportunity like that again, as an actor or as a musician; it's kind of a joy to approach, even though it's incredibly daunting." 

Before the movie came out, I saw Johnny's costume and immediately thought of the Big Bad Wolf character in the classic Tex Avery cartoons I grew up watching, like this one. It turns out that that's what Johnny was going for: a cool '50s-style wolf in a zoot suit, who could be seen more as a villain than the literal animal. "The idea with the Wolf is that he is the Wolf of Little Red Riding Hood's imagination, so we didn't want to put Johnny in a wolf suit or give him a fur collar," costume designer Colleen Atwood explains. I can really see that cartoon inspiration in Johnny's appearance and performance. He brought that Big Bad Wolf to life, and I love it!

Watch out, Kitties!
Here's Johnny's key scene, becoming acquainted with his next meal (Mini). 

48. Into the Woods (2014) [May 16, 2015]

It's too bad that I couldn't fit my favorite part of this scene in here, when the Wolf sneaks some quick sniffs of the goodies in Red Riding Hood's basket while her gaze is turned, but these lyrics take up a lot of room. Stephen Sondheim's wordy, but in the best way. These lyrics are killer. 

What's next? 
One of my dreams came true when Ewan McGregor signed on to costar with Johnny in Mortdecai. We'll celebrate this dreamy pairing, among other things, next month on July 9th!

Photo credits: All film images © Disney Pictures; photo of Johnny Depp © ABC; cast photo © Kevin Mazur/WireImages.