Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Unexpectedly Joyful Morning

At the public library on Saturday, I walked past the CD collection on my way to the stacks, and happened to see the soundtrack for While You Were Sleeping (1995).  I thought, "Hey, I love that movie -- why have I never listened to the soundtrack?"  I got it, put it on top of the little CD player in my kitchen, and forgot about it until this morning when I was making breakfast.

I popped it in (had to take out the Les Miserables soundtrack, a birthday gift from my dad), turned it on, and didn't stop grinning for several minutes.  I hummed and whistled along with nearly every cue.  Before I'd even listened to the whole thing, I went to Amazon.com and ordered my own copy.  It's such happy, bouncy music (with some pensive tracks thrown in), and brings back so many great memories of the movie, of people I've watched the movie with... I love it!

I first saw While You Were Sleeping in the theater with two of my best friends, the morning after a sleepover.  A year or so later, I rented it and watched it with my mom -- not sure where my dad and brother were.  She loved it too, and before long, we owned a copy.  My dad and brother then watched it too, and also found it hilarious.  Really, just a fun, sweet movie. I watched it many times in college with various friends too.

Anyway, you can listen to the soundtrack on YouTube here.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

"The Man from Snowy River" (1982)

This has been my favorite film since I was two years old.  And I've already written a lot here about my relationship to this film, so today I will just review it briefly.

The Man from Snowy River himself is Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson), a young Australian man who is orphaned early in the movie when his father dies in an accident due to a mob of brumbies (wild horses).  

Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson)

Jim has to earn the right to live up in the mountains on his father's homestead, so he goes down to the flat country and winds up working for Mr. Harrison (Kirk Douglas), a wealthy American rancher.  

Mr. Harrison (Kirk Douglas)

Jim falls in love with his boss's daughter, Jessica (Sigrid Thornton), but Mr. Harrison hates mountain men, so he forbids the match.

Jessica Harrison (Sigrid Thornton)

Then this really valuable horse goes missing, and Jim is blamed for the disappearance.  To clear his name, he joins the group of men hunting down the horse, which has joined the same band of brumbies that caused his father's death.  And then a lot of amazing horse riding commences.  

The super-famous shot of Jim riding his horse down a steep mountain.

This is Jim's chance to clear his name, prove he's grown up and can live on his own up in the mountains, and show Mr. Harrison he can succeed at really hard things, thereby maybe earning his permission to court Jessica.  "Prove yourself" is a very important theme to me, though I'll never know if it's because of this movie, or if I love this movie because I was going to love that theme no matter what.

I love some of the costumes in this movie!  Jessica gets some very Victorian dresses, as does her Aunt Rosemary (Lorraine Bayly).  I managed to capture this, which shows off Jessica's bustle and most of Jim's usual outfit.

There's a scene or two where Mr. Harrison, his daughter, his sister-in-law, and some guests wear evening clothes.  They spend the whole time seated at a table, so this is about all you see of them, though you do get close-ups now and then.  I love all the period props in this shot too.

But Jim Craig and most of the men wear your ordinary Aussie-western apparel.

Jim meets his horse.
Jessica watches Jim return to the homestead.
The Harrison Homestead.
Is this a family-friendly movie?  Pretty much.  There are a handful of bad words, and there's a question about Jessica's true paternity, though I can tell you from personal experience that the latter flies right over the head of a small person.

Well, there you have it, a brief review of my favorite movie of all time.  I got to watch it over my birthday with one of my best friends, which was a great pleasure.  I'll leave you with one final shot of The Man himself, tipping what I consider to be one of the greatest hats in cinema history.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hamlette and "Hamlet"

Today is Shakespeare's birthday, supposedly.  We don't know for sure, we just figure it was probably today cuz he was baptized on the 26th, and at that time, babies were baptized when they were 3 days old.  So his birthday is probably today.  Happy birthday, Bard of Avon!

Today is my actual birthday, no supposedly about it.  I love sharing a birthday with Shakespeare (and Sandra Dee, Sergei Prokofiev, and Shirley Temple).  I'm 33 today, and Shakespeare was 36 when he wrote Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, which really has nothing to do with anything except that I've been feeling like writing about why I love that play, so this seems like as good a time as any.  I think today I'll post about how I discovered it, and go into deeper stuff about themes and characters and identification another time.
I bought this journal on Etsy a few years ago -- real leather and so gorgeous.

I first read Hamlet when I was 17, nearly half my lifetime ago.  A year or so earlier, I had attended a presentation with some other homeschoolers staged at a local community college, a presentation about Shakespeare.  Get the kiddies excited about the classics, that sort of thing.  Well, my brother and I were obsessed with exceedingly fond of classic Star Trek at that time, and at this Shakespeare presentation, they recited some of his most famous lines and speeches, including several from Hamlet.  And Johnnycake and I recognized a whole bunch of Trek titles!  Like "The Conscience of the King," "Dagger of the Mind," "The Undiscovered Country," "By Any Other Name," and so on.  I decided that I would read through all of Shakespeare's plays, searching for titles and lines used in Star Trek.

Yes.  I started reading Shakespeare because I love Star Trek.  See where good pop culture can lead you?

Okay, so I got this massive, red, gilded, leather-bound copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare out of the library.  I began at the beginning of the book, I think with Two Gentlemen of Verona.  I toted it everywhere, even to the bowling alley at one point.  I read and read and read, searching for those Star Trek references.  And falling under Shakespeare's spell at the same time, of course.

Eventually, I ran out of renewals on that copy and had to return it.  I'd only read five or six plays!  I remember Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet and Love's Labour's Lost were among them.  What to do?

I went and bought my own copy, of course.  Paperback, weighs a ton, onionskin pages with teeeeeeeny print.  I had to break the binding in order to read the words on the inner edges of the pages.  Eventually, I got to Hamlet.

At this time, I was also obsessed with exceedingly fond of the word "dream."  Any song that had the word in the title or used it a lot in the lyrics, I'd memorize the lyrics.  Bought journals, t-shirts, bookmarks with the word "dream" on them.  And guess what word is used eleven times in Hamlet?  By the time I'd finished reading it, I was hooked.  I memorized the entire "To be or not to be" soliloquy.

But I really didn't understand the play as a whole until I saw it performed.  The first version I saw was Franco Zeffirelli's 1990 movie starring Mel Gibson and Glenn Close and Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Bates and Ian Holm.  I convinced my parents to tape it off TV, and oh my goodness, it was obsession at first viewing.  Revolutionized my whole way of thinking.  I don't know how many times I watched that version in the year or so before I went to college -- probably half a dozen.  Would have been more, except no one in my family wanted to watch it with me very often.

In college, I studied the play in two different classes, though both with the same professor.  My senior year, I also got to help teach it in a class called Poetry and Drama that was part of an internship I did.  I got to write and grade the tests on it, which was thrilling.  Truly.

And here you see where my obsession has led me.

Okay, not all of these are "Hamlet."  But most are.
These are the versions I like well enough to watch over and over.

I've seen ten versions on DVD/VHS, but I've seen it performed live only once so far.  That once was on Broadway, with Jude Law in the title role, so I can't complain ;-)   (Read what I thought of it here.)  I have lots of Hamlet-related things, I've devoted a Pinterest board to it, I read all kinds of essays and critiques of it... and I'm constantly seeing different parts of it in a new way.  It never gets old for me.  Or, at least, it hasn't in the last 16 years, so I'm kind of guessing it never will.

I have this as a magnet on my fridge.  He still hasn't shown up, though.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Movie Quote Link Up 4

Today's quote comes from Pirates of the Caribbean:  Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).  The original and the best.

"But why is the rum gone?"

I don't like rum.  But I love this quote.  It fits so many situations.  I usually use it in reference to coffee, but "But why is the coffee gone?" just doesn't have the same ring, so I still say rum.

This will be the last of these link ups for a while, as Little Lady is taking a blogging break :-(

Sunday, April 21, 2013

"42" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

Go see this movie.  Just go see it.  I'm serious.  Even if you don't usually go to the movies, go.  Even if you don't like baseball movies, go.  If, for some extremely legitimate reason (lack of money, lack of a diver's license, or lack of a theater within 100 miles that's playing it) you can't see it in the theater, rent/stream/buy it as soon as it comes out.

I don't know that I've ever said that about a movie before.  I mean, I like a pretty crazy mix of movies, and I know everyone has their own tastes, so I don't usually tell people to go see a movie just cuz I like it.  But I really, truly think most people should see this movie.  (Due to strong language, racial slurs, and a little mild innuendo, it's PG-13.)

Okay, in case you didn't know, 42 is the story of how Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) became the first African-American player in Major League Baseball.  It begins with Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the Brooklyn Dodgers' General Manager, announcing he wants to add a black baseball player to the team, and selecting Jackie Robinson as the one he think can handle the job.  It's the mid-1940s.  World War Two is over, but segregation and Jim Crow laws are not over.  Rickey needs a man who can stand up under all the torment and abuse that will be coming at him, and he believes Robinson has the courage needed.  Robinson isn't so sure, but he can't resist the challenge, so he signs on.  Then promptly calls his girlfriend back in California and proposes to her.

The rest of the movie is about how he proves himself as a ballplayer and human being, gradually winning over  white fans and teammates alike.  I clapped, I bounced with joy, I cried, I clapped some more.  I can't wait to buy this and see it again.  It's the best baseball movie I've seen since The Natural (1984).

But this is so much more than a baseball movie.  It's a movie about Americans, some choosing to do what is right, some choosing to do what is accepted.  And some changing their minds and learning to follow their hearts and consciences.  It's a movie about how we became a better nation.  (Not that we don't still have room for improvement, of course.)

Speaking of The Natural, I read on imdb.com that Robert Redford was the first choice to play Branch Rickey in this.  I'm so glad that didn't work out, and not just because Harrison Ford is my second-favorite actor ever.  I think Robert Redford would have been too sweet, too kindly.  Not that Harrison Ford wasn't kind, because he was.  But he had this underlying steel that made me sure he would never back down no matter how much heat got turned on.  Not to mention, this movie has some of the finest acting I have ever seen Harrison Ford do.  He wasn't a grouchy old guy.  He wasn't an angry, vengeful action hero.  He was a proud, determined baseball lover.

Ford's Branch Rickey has a growly facade, with a phlegmy voice and stooped shoulders, a shuffling walk that makes you think he's harmless, just a nice old guy who means well.  But over the course of the movie, you come to see that this isn't just a schtick on Ford's part -- it's Branch Rickey the character bamboozling the world.  In a very pivotal scene where Rickey finally explains his decision to Robinson, his shoulders gradually straighten.  His voice clears and rings deep and true.  And after he's explained himself, the mask slips back on, and he's back to being the forward-thinking old coot.  It's masterful.  I want him to get an Oscar for this, I really do.

Okay, enough rhapsodizing about Harrison Ford -- I need to talk a bit about Chadwick Boseman's performance.  First, I think he's a lovely match for Robinson, physically.  They both have boyish faces, a bit of a mischievous twinkle in their eyes, a contagious smile.  He's got a lovely voice, and a very natural, engaging, thoughtful style.  He's got an athletic build and that controlled grace that comes from all your muscles working together (something I lack and envy).

Jackie Robinson
Chadwick Boseman

Nicole Beharie played Rachel Robinson.  A relative newcomer, like Boseman, she exuded confidence and love.  It was obvious from her first scene why the dynamic Jackie fell for her.  I hope to see her in more things!

And finally, I'm going to mention Alan Tudyk.  He plays the closest thing to a Bad Guy that this film has -- Ben Chapman, the vitriolic, bigoted, loud-mothed manager of a rival team who insults and heckles Robinson and his teammates, leading to a moment where Jackie thinks he might just have to quit this whole idea.  I love Alan Tudyk, I really do -- he's phenomenal and memorable in everything, even if he's just voicing a robot like in I, Robot (2004).  Here, he's despicable and disgusting... and indispensable.

Okay, time to talk costumes!  They were unobtrusive, and by that I mean, I didn't really think of them as costumes.  I thought of them as clothes, real clothes worn by real people, and I don't think there can be any higher praise than that for the wardrobe department on a biopic.  The men wore suits and ties (or bowties, in Branch Rickey's case), and there were lots of suspenders, which I loved.  The women wore dresses or skirt ensembles.  The baseball players wore baseball uniforms.

Extras... only some of which are alive...

Is this movie family-friendly?  Like I said at the beginning of this review, not necessarily.  But what is there is there for a reason, to make a point, not just to add shock or raunch to the movie.  There's no nudity, no sex, no real violence other than a bunch of guys trying to get in a fist fight a few times.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Hamlet" (1969) -- Initial Thoughts

From the author of 'Romeo and Juliet' -- duh!
The other night, after the kids were all in bed, I said to my husband, "Well, I suppose I should finish watching that Hamlet now."

This is not my usual reaction to having some Hamlet to watch.  Guess that's kind of obvious, since I took my user name and blog name from the play.  I love studying the text, watching adaptations, and reading everything I can find about it, from various rewrites of the story to literary criticisms to Manga books.  If it's about Hamlet, I'll try it.

But I don't like every production I see or every update I read.  I don't agree with every textual criticism out there.  I have my own (constantly evolving) ideas about the play, the characters, its meaning, etc.  But I love how almost every version I see or read will give me a new insight into a scene or a character or even just a line.

Since this review is also part of the Period Drama Challenge, I'll do a little recap of the story here:

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark concerns Prince Hamlet, whose father (King Hamlet) died recently.  Shortly after that, his mother (Queen Gertrude) marries his father's brother (Claudius).  Prince Hamlet is not amused.  Then his father's ghost appears and tells Hamlet that he was murdered by Claudius, and makes Hamlet swear to avenge his murder.  Hamlet may or may not go a little or a lot crazy at this point.  He may or may not then pretend to be crazy in order to try to figure out whether the ghost is telling the truth -- if he believes the ghost, then he's going to need to kill Claudius, who has assumed the throne.  The rest of the world will probably think Hamlet is just mad that he didn't get to be king, like he should have when his father died, and is committing vengeful regicide for that reason, so Hamlet wants some proof before he acts.  He confides all this in his friend and fellow university student, Horatio.  Also around are Ophelia and Laertes and their father Polonius, who's the king's top adviser.  Hamlet and Ophelia may or may not have been in love.

Or, as the old song says, "A ghost and a prince meet, and everyone ends in mincemeat."

While I didn't care for this production on a whole, it did have amazing readings of two key scenes, readings I absolutely loved.  And they both involved Ophelia!  She's not one of my favorite characters... well, okay, she's probably my 4th fave, after Hamlet himself, Horatio, and Laertes.  Too often, she gets portrayed as a frail beauty who is too emotionally fragile to withstand getting dumped, much less her dad dying at the hand of her erstwhile paramour.

Hamlet and Princess Leia... no, no, I mean Ophelia

This Ophelia (Marianne Faithfull) is no hothouse tea rose.  She teases Hamlet (Nicol Williamson).  He teases her back.  I absolutely loved the first half of their main scene together, the one where Claudius (Anthony Hopkins) and Polonius (Mark Dignam) are spying on them and she knows it.  She and Hamlet tease and canoodle -- when he says, "You should not have believed me -- I loved you not," he's about to kiss her and clearly kidding.  She flirts back with an "I was the more deceived" that could curl your toes.  It makes that whole scene work so much better for me, as Hamlet's not being mean at all, which is how he usually comes off.  But then once he figures out they're being watched, he does get really angry, and justifiably so.  The second half of that scene was so much sadder because the first half was joyful.  Awesomely done.


The other scene I loved, because it was not the way we usually see it done, was Ophelia's mad scene.  Which in the play is two scenes, but they're kind of all one scene in this, somewhat interrupted by Laertes' return.  Ophelia seemed to have taken her cue from Hamlet, playing mad to get away with saying things she would get in deep trouble for otherwise.

Gertrude, Ophelia, and Claudius

Her little song about the man who sleeps with a girl and then won't marry her?  While she sings it, she pointedly looks from Gertrude (Judy Parfitt) to Claudius and back.  And when she comes in with her flowers, she gives the rue to Gertrude, not Claudius, which is who she usually is shown giving it to.  This Ophelia clearly knows that there's something very rotten going on indeed, and with Hamlet gone and her father dead, she has thrown caution to the wind and is going to try to have her say.  It was really just amazingly done, and I may end up keeping my copy just for that scene alone.

Okay, but I said I didn't like this version, so what didn't I like?  Well, first of all, I didn't really care for Nicol Williamson as Hamlet.  Once in a while, he would be seized with emotion and be lovely, but most of the time he seemed... disconnected from the role?  I don't know, maybe he was trying to portray Hamlet's growing detachment from everyone but Horatio.  But it didn't work for me.  And if I don't care for the Hamlet, I'm not going to care for the play.

Also, um, Hamlet looked older than Claudius.  That's just wrong.  Truth be told, Nicol Williamson is actually a year older than Anthony Hopkins.  (What was Gertrude thinking???)

But speaking of Anthony Hopkins, he was quite good!  He's only 32 here, if you can imagine him that young (my age!), and very sinister and plotty and lustful.  I'd say he was probably my third-favorite Claudius of all the ones I've seen. One nifty touch -- he wore this dangly earring through the whole play, which turns out to be the poisoned pearl he sticks in the cup during the final duel.

Polonius and Claudius -- see the earring?

As for Horatio (Gordon Jackson), I spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I'd seen him before.  Looked him up on imdb.com just now, and of course!  He played MacDonald ("Intelligence") in The Great Escape (1963).  No wonder he seemed familiar!  I liked his Horatio okay, though he seemed a bit more jovial than I usually like.  Also, his mouth hung half-open almost all the time, which was annoying.

This Gertrude is very cold, especially toward Ophelia.  When Ophelia comes in, "mad," crying for the beauteous majesty of Denmark, Gertrude clearly wants nothing to do with her, and just agrees to see her to keep the court gossips quiet.  I tend to want Gertrude to be at least sympathetic toward Hamlet, but even in their confrontation in her chambers, she seemed really distanced from Hamlet.  Not motherly.  I was not a fan.

Gertrude and Claudius

And Laertes (Michael Pennington)... I'm used to being disappointed by Laertes.  Only once have I seen him played to my liking (Liev Schreiber in the 2000 version), but this guy... eeeeeee!  He looked like a Monkee who wandered onto the wrong soundstage.  I happen to love the Monkees, but not in a serious production of Hamlet.  Also, there was some severe weirdness going on between him and Ophelia.  When she said goodbye because he was returning to Paris, they kissed.  Like, reeeeeally kissed.  I know this was the '60s and all, but... ew!  There's wrong, and then there's wrong, and then there's that.

Laertes and Ophelia.  Are they watching TV?

Polonius (Mark Dignam) was just kind of there.  I was indifferent to him, but I often am.

And I really hated how the duel between Hamlet and Laertes was shot.  They stuck a big candelabra between the actors and the camera for almost the entire scene!  Was this to mask their ineptness at swordplay?  Suddenly try to distance the audience from the action?  It was distracting and annoying.

Also, they never showed the Ghost!  It was just a bright light shining from behind the camera.  And Nicol Williamson did the voice.  Which, in a way, was kind of intriguing, like maybe Hamlet really was just imagining everything the Ghost said, and that's why he's the only one who can hear it.  But that's not an interpretation I like much (that Hamlet is truly mad), so that didn't really spark any joy for me.

From now on, whenever I watch or rewatch a version of Hamlet, I'm going to do a little rating thing at the end of my review.  Just to make it easier to compare what I think of different versions.  Here's how I rate this one:

Hamlet:  C-
Horatio:  B-
Laertes:  D
Ophelia:  A
Claudius:  B+
Gertrude:  C-
Polonius:  C
Overall Production:  C-

As for the costumes, they were your usual doublets and hose kind of stuff.  (Though I just realized that, of all the versions of Hamlet I've seen, only 3 have used doublets and hose.  So it's more stereotypical than usual anymore.)  I watched a VHS version, so can't screencap it in any way, and there are very few photos around online of this production.  Ophelia had a very pretty dress toward the beginning, but her overall look was so very Barbra Streisand that... yeah, it was the '60s, and you can tell.

Ophelia's prettiest dress, which I can't find much of a picture of.
Is this movie family-friendly?  As much as a story of about murder and probable adultery and vengeance can be.  Plus, there's that one icky kiss between Laertes and Ophelia that I want to scrub out of my brain.  And a low-cut dress or two, and of course a bunch of people die.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Movie Quote Link Up 3

My quote this week comes from Tom Elder (Dean Martin) in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).  Mary Gordon (Martha Hyer) brought over some food for the four brothers.  After she leaves, he says, "I'll bet she's a good cook, too!"  He takes one bite of a chicken leg, pulls a face, throws the rest of the leg back in the basket, and says:

"I'm glad I didn't bet -- I'd've lost."

I don't think they mind she's not a good cook, do you?
I say that relatively often, though I quote a lot of other lines from this too.

The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) my third-favorite movie of all time, and my favorite John Wayne movie.  Not to mention my favorite western.  In it, John (John Wayne), Tom (Dean Martin), Matt (Earl Holliman), and Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.) Elder come back to their home town for their mother's funeral.  Their father died  earlier, which they don't seem to have cared about at the time, but now they suspect there was some skulduggery involved in his death, as he lost his ranch in a poker game the same night.  So they set out to find out who was behind both events.

The Elder Boys
There are several light-hearted moments throughout the movie, like the one above where the brothers reminisce about boyish escapades.  But there's plenty of excitement too, including a couple of shoot-outs.  Also, this is a really clean movie, only one foul word in it, which is sadly rare in westerns from the sixties.

Want to link up too?  Click on the button above to visit the hosting website.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Francis, Daffodils, and The Garden

So... I've named my new camera Francis.  After Bruce Willis' character in Red.  Yeah.  Hee.

Anyway, I got it earlier this week, and have been having a blast trying out all the new settings!  I'm so happy that my daffodils bloomed later than everyone else's, because they're still lovely and I got to take all kinds of pictures of them.  They're my first daffodils of my very own, which is so exciting to me because they're my favorite flower.  So here are a few of the photos I've taken of them this week, using some of Francis' settings:

See the nifty effects I get to play with?  That one with the shadows in the corners is called "toy camera," and so far it's my favorite.  This last photo shows where the daffodils are in relation to the front of the house.  This fall, I plan to plant more so they totally encircle that tree instead of just being around the front half.

Here's what else we've been doing outside:  building a garden!

We decided to try a Square Foot Garden this year, since it uses all new dirt.  Last year, our  garden failed abysmally.  Cowboy planted a peach tree in the middle of our old garden, and clover all around it:

There you can see how the tree and garden are up on the hill behind our house.  We planted clover around the peach tree because the two are supposed to grow well together, and because bunnies like clover and we have bunnies.  They and the deer are why we have the fence around our garden.  Cowboy just finished putting up the fence today, and I'll be planting peas later this week.  He built our box a couple weeks ago, and filled it with dirt earlier this month.  Doesn't it look like it'll be fun to plant in?

So anyway, I have lots more photos of flowers on our property, but I'll post them some other time.  For now, I'll just say that so far, there's only one thing Francis isn't very good at taking clear pictures of:  little boys riding big-wheels :-D