Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Growing Fondness for... Javert?

I listened to the Les Miserables CD in the car with the kids the last few mornings, and I realized yesterday, as I searched out my favorite tracks, that I was seeking all the songs with bits of Javert singing in them.  Stuff like "The Confrontation" and "Javert at the Barricade."  And, of course, "Stars."  I went around singing, "Shoot me now or shoot me later -- every schoolboy to his spot.  Death to each and every traitor!  I renounce your people's plot" over and over in my head for much of yesterday.  And not cuz I was having a bad day, just cuz I like how vehement it is.

This is all Russell Crowe's fault.

I realized when I got the soundtrack for my birthday that I actually like Russell Crowe's singing voice better than Hugh Jackman's.  No worries -- I still love Hugh Jackman greatly, and I do enjoy his singing in this movie... it's just that his singing voice is a little too nasal for my taste.  But Russell Crowe's voice is richer and more colorful, resonant, plummy and yummy.  "Stars" has gone from one of my least-favorite songs from the musical to one of my favorites.

And now I've realized I no longer dislike Javert.  I actually sympathize with him.  Ack!  I picked up a copy of the novel a couple weeks ago, and while I doubt I'll get to it before next year, I'm really looking forward to seeing if my perceptions of the character have truly changed, or if I'll go back to disliking him and being 100% Team Valjean.

Meanwhile, here's a song-only version of "Stars."  Next time I watch the movie, I'm going to watch that scene with my eyes closed so I'm not distracted by the bad staging I complained about here.  I think it will work much better that way.

After listening to this a lot lately, I think that maybe Russell Crowe focused so much on the singing side of his performance that he didn't have any concentration/energy left for the acting part, leading to the much more restrained performance in that scene than I'd wanted.  If they hadn't recorded the singing live, who knows how different that scene might have been.  Or maybe it was just staged really boringly and there was no help for it no matter what.  But the song... oh, the song.  Yowza.

Okay, just to highlight the contrast between Jackman and Crowe's voices, here's their dueling duet:

Russell Crowe, Russell Crowe -- how could you do this to me?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Happy Birthday, Joss Whedon!

I hope you have a wonderful birthday, O Great and Mighty Joss!

(Please don't kill Thor in Avengers 2!)

(Also, I would go see Much Ado to celebrate your birthday, except it seems that "Nationwide Release" does not equal "Coming Soon to a Theater Near Me.")

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Northanger Abbey" (2007) -- Initial Thoughts

Yes, I have finally seen this!  People have been recommending it to me for ever so long now, and so I took a couple of quiet evenings and watched it on YouTube.  With Italian subtitles.  Hmm.  Anyway, it was really fun!  (But why are Henry and Catherine so deadpan on the cover?)

As you may know, I only read Northanger Abbey for the first time last year.  With that one reading, it tied Pride and Prejudice for my second-favorite Austen novel.  (I still love Persuasion best.)  I found myself charmed by its mix of naivete, spunk, imagination, and cheek.  Henry Tilney is now my second-favorite Austen hero, supplanting Mr. Knightley (barely), and second only to dear Captain Wentworth and Mr. Darcy, who tie for first.  Not only that, but Catherine Morland is now my third-favorite Austen heroine, after Anne Elliot and Elizabeth Bennet.

And all of that is why I hesitated to watch the movie.  What if it just... failed?  What if it was too glossy or too gooey or just plain silly?  But, with Kara's assurances of its delightfulness, I took a deep breath and watched it.  And I'm so very glad I did!

Felicity Jones blended naivete, curiosity, and candor so sweetly.

JJ Feild seemed a little too slick and handsome at first, but by the end, I'd changed my mind and deemed him perfect.

The rest of the cast was suitable, though none of them really stood out to me.  I'd heard a lot about Carey Mulligan's portrayal of Isabella Thorpe, and she was vivacious and vacuous (and I felt quite sorry for her by the end), but she didn't especially wow me.  It was also a nice surprise to see Hugh O'Conor playing James Morland --  I love him in Chocolat (2000) and The Three Musketeers (1993).

Something else I'd heard a lot about were the additional fantasies Catherine has that are not spelled out in the book, ones that some people said ruined her as a character for them.  In fact, that was one of the reasons I was hesitant to see this -- what if it had turned dirty and horrid? Imagine my delight, then, when it turned out that all her actual fantasies were hilarious and not smuttified!  I laughed aloud as she imagined the drive to Bath beset with marauders.

But Catherine also has dreams in this movie that I can see could be considered objectionable.  These are dreams she has at night while asleep, not daydreams.  They mostly involve mixing novels with her new acquaintances in Bath, and do involve heaving bosoms, a woman chained up, and a waist-up shot from behind of Catherine rising nekkid from a bathtub while holding Henry Tilney's hand.  However, because these are dreams and not fantasies, I don't feel like they substantially change her character.  I know there are some people who say they can control their dreams, but I also know that from my own personal experience, that is really hard to do.

So anyway, I really liked the costumes in this.  I especially liked this dress:

And I liked how some of Catherine's dresses, and especially her blue coat, were used more than once.  So much more realistic than to think she'd have had a different dress for every day!

Is this movie family-friendly?  Not unless you use Clearplay or someone to hit fast-forward during Catherine's dreams.  Was I offended by them?  No.  But I wouldn't let my kids watch them, either.

My favorite part of this whole movie was probably the kiss at the end.  So eager and awkward and adorable.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Posse from Hell" (1961) -- Initial Thoughts

I knew nothing about this movie until Patti reviewed it here on her blog, They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To.  I've only seen Audie Murphy in one movie before, his own biopic, To Hell and Back (1955), and that was long, long ago.  But this has Vic Morrow in it, playing the heavy of course, so I knew I needed to see it.

I'm so glad I did!  This is a great B western, one that grapples with tougher questions than most A westerns, especially for a movie of the early sixties.  What happened on the frontier to a woman who was kidnapped and raped?  What kind of life would she have after that, shunned by so many for having lost her maidenly virtue, even though she is a victim?  And what do you do with a prisoner who's wounded, perhaps mortally, when you don't have enough men to leave one to care for him and you can't take him with you?  Tough questions, and these characters face them straight on, no polite ignoring or glossing-over.

The movie begins with four escaped convicts (including Vic Morrow and Lee Van Cleef) swaggering into the little town of Paradise.  They rob the bank, kill several townspeople, and mortally wound Marshal Webb (Ward Ramsey), then take a woman hostage and ride out of town.

Everybody look sad now, got it?

Enter Banner Cole (Audie Murphy), the marshal's best friend who just arrived in town.  Just before dying, Webb deputizes him and sends him out to catch the outlaws.  Cole is a misanthrope who would rather go after the four bad guys alone, but he promised Webb to do this thing right, so he asks the townspeople to form a posse.  Only seven men volunteer, among them the kidnapped woman's uncle (Royal Dano), a tenderfoot bank inspector (John Saxon), a boastful gunslinger (Paul Carr), a bossy former cavalry officer (Robert Keith), and an Indian seeking acceptance in the town (Rudolph Acosta).  And also a couple of guys to be cannon fodder.  This motley posse starts off after the bad guys, but you know it's going to boil down to a shoot-out between Cole and the lead outlaw, Crip (Vic Morrow).

The posse finds the hostage, Helen Caldwell (Zohra Lampert), abandoned by the outlaws to slow the posse down.  Although the word "rape" is never used, we all know what happened to her.  I thought Lampert's performance overall was superb, showing a woman by turns numb, enraged, and despondent.  And I absolutely loved how the men, especially Audie's Cole, don't touch her more than they have to.  Some keep their distance out of disgust or a kind of fear, but others seem to respect the fact that for a long time, she's going to need to control who touches her and how.  Or at least that's how I took it.

Helen and her uncle

The posse sends Helen and her uncle back to town, and then the other men are killed or wounded one by one until only Cole and one other are left to give the outlaws a little taste of western justice.  Which, of course, they do.

The posse.  From Paradise, actually, but whatever.

This movie is jammed with familiar faces!  I know Robert Keith from Guys and Dolls (1955), where he played Lt. Brannigan, of the New York Police Force (yes, I always have to say it that way.  Nicely, Nicely, thank you!).  I know Royal Dano from a zillion westerns -- he's one of those ultra-prolific character actors you see all over if you watch a lot of old movies.  I know John Saxon from the James Stewart/Maureen O'Hara comedy Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962).  And I know Paul Carr from both a Combat! ep (he's Kleinschmidt in "Hills are for Heroes") and a Bobby Darin/Gregory Peck/Angie Dickinson/Tony Curtis movie, Captain Newman, M.D. (1963).  So cool to see all of them, especially Paul Carr, since he would go on to work with Vic again a few years later in such a critically acclaimed ep of Combat!  There are other familiar faces too, like Lee Van Cleef, who had much more minor roles.

Vic being menacing in his own delightful way.

But enough about all of that.  You want to know how Vic Morrow was, right?  I'm sorry to say he's not in it much, though he makes the best of his screen time.  He's got a lot to do in the first eight minutes, menacing and shouting and shooting and all.  But he's doing this weird thing with his voice -- like he's almost trying out a falsetto and a western accent all at once.  But he still drops all his 'r's, so I don't really think it's a dub.  Still, I missed his usual voice.  But anyway, after those first 8 minutes, he only has a smattering of moments on screen until the final shoot-out.  But that shoot-out has a nice amount of him sneaking around in the woods, running at a crouch like he'd spend the next 5 years doing on Combat!, and that was mighty enjoyable to watch :-9

You can watch this whole movie on YouTube starting here, which is what I did.

I don't have a lot to say about the costumes here.  They're your average western costumes.  Audie Murphy wears a neatly knotted bandana throughout, which gives him just a little bit of a dandified air that I found a bit incongruous with his tough-as-nails character, but it also gave him a touch of mystery, so I'm cool with it.

UPDATE:  I forgot to mention if this is family-friendly.  Depends on the family, as is so often the case.  If you would be offended by the idea of a woman being raped, then you already know this movie is not for you.  If you like seeing difficult subjects handled deftly and gently (and the word 'rape' is never used, they said instead that she'd been 'used badly' or something to that effect, so young children would probably be satisfied with the explanation that the outlaws hurt her), then you'd dig it.  Nothing more than a torn sleeve is shown on screen, though she does appear in her petticoat later (which is basically a sleeveless dress).

Monday, June 03, 2013

Yet More Period Drama Tag

Time to answer Miss Laurie's questions for May :-)  Only one month left!

1. What period dramas have you watched in May?

The Count of Monte Cristo (1975), Moran of the Lady Letty (1922), Sherlock Holmes (2009), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), and Rio Bravo (1959).  That puts me up to 20 for this challenge!!!  And to think I originally questioned whether I could watch 8 to 10.

2. Do you enjoy period drama set murder mysteries (such as Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes)?

Ever so much!  I think I enjoy mysteries more than anything besides westerns.  I'm not a huge Agatha Christie fan, but I adore Sherlock Holmes.  I've watched four different Holmes adventures during this challenge so far, and I'm trying to reread all the original stories over the course of this year.

3. If you could choose any period drama character's wardrobe to wear for a day, which character would you choose?

Well, if it was for only one day, and I wouldn't have to wear them all the time, I'd probably choose Anne of Green Gables's clothes.  I love many of her clothes (we're talking the Sullivan Entertainment versions starring Megan Follows), and I think wearing them would be fun for a while... but I would miss my jeans and their pockets eventually.

4. Have you ever watched a period drama solely because your favorite actor was in it?

Absolutely.  I will watch most anything just for an actor/actress I love.  Once, anyway.

5. How many Louisa May Alcott adaptations have you seen?

One, just the version of Little Women with Winona Ryder.  But I've read all her books!