Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Captain Phillips" (2013) -- Initial Thoughts

I don't know quite what to say about this movie.  The acting was rather brilliant.  Some of the dialog was atrocious.  I spent half the movie wishing I wasn't watching it, and the other half forgetting that I was only watching a movie and not actually in grave danger.  Three-quarters of the way through it, a very minor character popped up and had me fervently wishing he would be in more and more and more scenes.  So I guess I can say it's an uneven movie, worth seeing if you're a devoted fan of Tom Hanks, dramas based on real-life situations, or very shaky camerawork.

Spoilage below.

Okay, by the end of the first ten minutes, I was almost ready to walk out.  And I have never walked out on a movie.  Ever.  I'm too much of a skinflint -- I'm going to get my $7 worth, blast it!  But the opening scenes contained some of the worst dialog I have ever heard in a major motion picture.  Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) and his wife Andrea (Catherine Keener) have a conversation in their minivan on the way to the airport that made me want to jump into the movie and put my hands over their mouths.  This conversation might not bother you at all, so don't stay away just because it drove me nuts.

Once Phillips got aboard his ship, things improved a lot.  The rest of the dialog was fine, if not inspired.  We got to know the pirates a little, we got to know the crew a little, the pirates attacked, and things got exciting.  All good.

The pirates

And then the Navy SEALS got called in to assist some Navy ships in rescuing Phillips, who wound up as a hostage, and things improved vastly.  Because the SEAL Commander is played by Max Martini, and as soon as he strode on screen, I remembered him from a couple eps of Castle, where he played a terrible bad guy that I found disturbingly fascinating.

I'm not sure if this is actually from Captain Phillips

And he kind of hijacked my brain, or half of it anyway.  And while half of me was paying attention to the movie, half of me was whirling around as a brand new character took shape before my inner eyes, Max Martini in a dark brown duster and cowboy hat, with a mean look and really nice boots.  By the time the credits finished, I had all kinds of ideas for a new western story, with four characters and the beginnings of a plot.

But anyway, I actually kind of hated the movie's ending.  They rescue Phillips at last, in a pretty gruesome and horrible way, and they take him aboard the Navy ship, and he's all in shock and breaking down in tears, and I wanted someone -- anyone! -- to put their arms around him and let him cry.  And no one did!  He so obviously needed the comfort of human touch, just a simple hug, and nope, he had to tough it out, sorry, buddy.  Grr.

That's probably a kind of incoherent review, but it's about all I've got for you, sorry.

EDIT:  Forgot to say if this was family-friendly.  There's some bad language, but not The Biggie, and a lot of danger and suspense.  The violence is mostly threatened, not enacted, though there's a scene of someone getting beaten up.  There's a good bit of blood here and there from non-life-threatening wounds.  And at the end, the "gruesome and horrible" rescue I just mentioned is mostly implied.  You don't see dead bodies.

Friday, October 25, 2013

No NaNoWriMo? No Way!

Okay, yeah, um.  Heh heh.  It seems I've signed on to do NaNoWriMo again.

Sort of.

Before you get too excited (or annoyed, if you're Cowboy), be aware that I am NOT going to write a novel in November.  I've done Nano six times and won four, and I'm a chapter away from finishing my sixth novel.  I know I can write 50,000 words in 30 days.  I know I can write novels.  So this year, I'm not caring about my word count.  Oh, I'll still enter it on the site when I write, post snippets, all that fun stuff.  But I'm not going to be bummed when it turns out I "lost."

So why am I signed up?  Well, I've got a handful of short stories that have been waiting a year to be written, while I concentrate on this novel.  I'd like to try to knock out rough drafts of them.  And I haven't done Nano since 2010, and I'd like to attend a write-in or two and meet some other writers, or some such fiddle faddle.

Anyway, if you're doing Nano too (seriously, or non-seriously like me) and you want to look me up, I'm Hamlette there too :-)

This will be going on my laptop's desktop again, starting next Friday:

Cuz who wouldn't want to make those guys smile, right?  Actually, it's kind of a dangerous thing to have on my desktop, as I tend to get lost in Avengerful daydreams, but daydreaming is good for writing.  If I don't have daydreaming, my writing productivity slacks off.  Honest.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

"Plunder of the Sun" (1953) -- Initial Thoughts

My goodness, Glenn Ford is delicious in this!  Totally makes up for the fact that this movie is kind of a patchwork quilt of different genres.  First, it's noir, then it's a history lesson, then it's a treasure hunt adventure, then it devolves briefly into a soap opera, and somehow it manages to wind all that up with a zippy conclusion.  If you are now scratching your head and going, "Huh?" be assured that I was doing the same thing while I watched this.

Delicious Glenn Ford screencap #1

And yet it all holds together thanks to Glenn Ford, by then a veteran actor with nearly 40 films under his belt despite being only 37.  His charming likeability means I don't really care that they never explain why an American insurance adjuster is stranded in Mexico, why said insurance adjuster is so deft at punching people and handling guns... I don't care.  I just want Glenn's character, Al Colby, to survive and get away from all these wacky people.

Delicious Glenn Ford screencap #2

 And by wacky people, I mean the femme fatale who's actually rather sweet...

Delicious Glenn Ford and Patricia Medina

...the floozy...

Diana Lynn

...the weirdo blond dude wearing sunglasses who switches from ally to enemy several times (and possibly bats for the other team, but that's subtext, let's not go there)...

Sean McClory

...this movie is jammed with odd characters, and if three of them turn out to be embroiled in a revealed-for-no-reason love triangle... I don't really care about that either.

Delicious Glenn Ford screencap #3

The filmmakers were very proud of the fact that they shot lots of this movie on location in a foreign country, which is kind of normal to us now, but not so much back in the '50s.  A huge chunk of the movie takes place in these ancient ruins, including a lot of exposition and some history lessons, just because they were having so much fun walking around on location.

Delicious Glenn Ford admires the view

Is this movie family friendly?  Er... there's a lot of sexy subtext, but nothing overt there.  One female character is drunk in nearly every scene (at least, I assume that's why she's so off-balanced).  There's a good bit of drinking and smoking, and some violence, both fisticuffs and gunplay.  But I don't recall any bad language, though there might have been a couple minor words I'm forgetting.  This doesn't get dark, and I could see myself watching this when I was eleven or twelve and thinking it was an awesome adventure.

I kind of collect pictures of people talking on the telephone.  So this is delicious Glenn Ford screencap #4.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Guest Blogging about "Anne of Green Gables" (1985)

I wrote a short review of Anne of Green Gables (1985) for the bookful blog The Book Chewers -- you can read it here.  They're spending this whole month focusing on the book, which is why I reread and reviewed the book this month -- you can read my book review here if you haven't already.

Anne (Megan Follows) about to clobber Gilbert (Jonathan Crombie)

(Sorry to post about the same thing on both my blogs, but I know some people read one and not the other.  At least I provided different pictures, right?)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Day is Not Wasted if I Created Something

That's one of the first things I ever pinned when I joined Pinterest.  Just felt like sharing it here today, and also a picture of what I created today:

Banana bread!  :-9

Thursday, October 03, 2013

If "The Avengers" Had Been Made 56 Years Earlier

So, this past weekend, my friend DKoren was trying to guess what I was doing for the Great Imaginary Film Blogothon.  She emailed me to say that she was quite certain I was creating a classic Hollywood version of The Avengers (2012).

Which is not what I was creating, as you now know.

However, that idea was just so brilliant that I couldn't get it out of my head.  And so I'm doing a second entry for the blogothon, presenting my casting choices for a 1956 version of The Avengers.  I would like to take a script of the 2012 movie back 56 years and have it directed by William Wyler, who showed with The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) that he could handle a large and complicated cast, and would prove with 1959's Ben-Hur that he excelled at directing a spectacle.  Here's who would star:

Glenn Ford would be Tony Stark/Ironman.  He can do the suave charmer, the smirky smart-aleck, and the wounded hero.  Devil-may-care, intelligent, smooth... just imagining him in the role is making me drool.

Lauren Bacall is my pick for Pepper Potts.  She can play the no-nonsense, savvy businesswoman.  She can also pull out that sweet and tender side.  And her opposite Glenn Ford?  Smokin'!

I choose John Agar to play Steve Rogers/Captain America.  He's got that All-American look, upright and noble and brave.  Plus, looks very good in a uniform.

Who but Lon Chaney Jr. would play Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk in the 1950s?  No one at all.  He's got lots of experience wearing gobs of makeup and playing sympathetic monsters.  And when he's not all monstered-up, he has the weariness and vulnerability that make Banner so likable.

Oh yes, the great Elizabeth Taylor is my choice for Natasha Romanov/Black Widow.  You do not mess with this lady!  She can eviscerate anyone with a glance or a barbed witticism, so whether or not she'd be able to pull off fight scenes (and, admit it, in the 1950s there'd be a lot less mixed-martial-arts stuff going on), she'd be very effective at interrogation and persuasion.

I'll admit I had trouble casting Clint Barton/Hawkeye.  You need someone who can build sympathy quickly so audiences actually care when he's "turned" by Loki very early in the movie, and he also needs to have a certain level of chemistry with Black Widow.  So I picked soft-spoken, haunted-looking Farley Granger, who I think would work beautifully opposite Liz Taylor.

I'm going with Richard Widmark for Thor.  I don't think he's perfect, but he's got that intense thing going on and... he's blond.  Kind of a must for a Norse god, yanno.  Plus, while he played a lot of tough, mean, even cruel people, he also played really nice guys very credibly.  And I really want to see him square off with my Loki.

Vic Morrow is my choice for Loki.  In 1955, a year before I want this to film, he burst on the scene in Blackboard Jungle as a knife-wielding hoodlum who oozed sexy menace.  And yes, I am a devoted Vic Morrow fan, you know that by now.  I'll confess that I chose 1956 for this imaginary movie because it meant I could include him.  But anyway, he can be sympathetic one moment, then sneeringly evil the next, then quiet and deadly charming.  I'm quite sure he would convert me to Loki fandom.  I keep running Loki's lines in my head in Vic's voice, and oh man, just amazing.  "Is this love, Agent Romanoff?" -- in his Bronxy accent, that line is killer.  So are all the others.

But moving right along... I'd get Frederic March to play Erik Selvig.  I know he can do foreign accents, and he has the sort of distinguished and reliable look that a scientist like Selvig should have.

I choose Errol Flynn to be my Nick Fury.  He's great at that smooth-talking, not-quite-trustworthy thing, and he's commanding enough that people will listen to him even if they don't agree with him.  And you know he'd rock the eye patch.

I want Jean Arthur to be Agent Maria Hill.  No one does trusty female sidekicks like Jean Arthur.  And she can boss people around really well too.

And I pick Roy Rogers to play Agent Phil Coulson.  Minus the cowboy hat and neckerchief, of course, but it's nigh unto impossible to find a photo of him without them, so you'll just have to do a little imagining here.  I wanted someone genuinely likable, a nice guy whose death would rally troops as disparate as the ones I've assembled.  He needs to have a certain quiet, unassuming presence, and that's totally Roy Rogers.

So, that's my dream cast for a 1956 version of The Avengers.  Now all I need is a time machine!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

"Murder Most Foul" (1943)

Just so you know, this is probably going to get reeeeeally long.  Given how much I love Hamlet and film noir, clearly a joining of the two is a dream come true for me.  I mean, probably the only thing I would like even better is a western version of Hamlet, and someone made one called Johnny Hamlet (1968), an Italian western that I've never managed to find.  Yet.  Give me time ;-)

But anyway, about Murder Most Foul (1943).  I suppose that, given how many noir movies Hollywood was cranking out in the early '40s, it was inevitable that someone would get the bright idea to rewrite Shakespeare into a murder mystery.  And I'm so glad they chose Hamlet instead of Macbeth!  Obviously.

I'm also glad they tapped Otto Preminger to direct!  This is a year before his masterpiece Laura, but you can see a lot of the same wonderful work here, with unusual camera angles to highlight subtleties, like how Claudius' murderous hands are almost always in the shot with him, sometimes very prominently.  Or the way the camera hovers over Hamlet's (Alan Ladd) shoulder while he gives his version of the "to be or not to be" speech, watching his reflection in the mirror behind the bar where he's drowning his sorrows with a bottle of scotch.  We see him "reflecting" on death by watching his reflection -- it's just one of many deft little camerawork touches.  But what do you expect from Preminger, right?

Okay, so, before I go on, I should note that this version does NOT use the original language from Shakespeare's play, except in one small scene.  Maybe that's why they retitled it, so audiences would know not to expect "Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I" kind of language.  Instead of saying "To be or not to be, that is the question" to his tumbler of scotch and the near-empty barroom, Hamlet says, "Here's how it is:  either I'm in or I'm out."  Just one example, and any purists out there will probably throw up their hands and run screaming for the emergency exits, but I like it.  Much as I love modern-set Shakespeare that uses the original language, I think this is a better choice for the genre and the actors.  I mean, can you really hear Veronica Lake saying, "I shall in all my best obey you?"  Nah, you know she sounds way more natural saying, "Sure, sure, anything you say."

So, here's how they updated the story (and I'm not going to say anything about spoilers, because if you don't know the basic story of Hamlet by now, that's your problem):  Old Hamlet (Orson Welles, in not the best old-age makeup I've ever seen), founder and CEO of Denmark Inc, dies -- his secretary finds him dead on the couch in his private office, presumably of a heart attack during a quick nap.  Young Hamlet (Alan Ladd) returns from UCLA, accompanied by his best friend, Horatio (Joseph Cotten), to attend the funeral.

Cotten as possibly the sweetest Horatio ever.

And then he has to stay to attend the wedding of his mother Gertrude (Barbara Stanwyck) to his uncle Claudius (Humphrey Bogart).  While this clearly bugs Hamlet, he makes good use of the extra time at home by continuing the flirty affair he and Ophelia (Veronica Lake) have had going since he was home from college the previous summer.

Ladd as an irresistible Hamlet.

But then the night after his mom's remarriage, he's sneaking down the hallway to visit Ophelia when he hears someone in the library calling his name.  Curious, he ducks inside, and there's the ghost of his father ready to tell him all about how he was actually poisoned by Claudius and Gertrude to cover up their affair and take over his business.  I have to say that the special effects are pretty good.  You can't see through the ghost, he's just sort of flat-looking, but he never looks cartoony or anything.  Then he just gets fainter and fainter until he disappears.  No swirling or whooshing or anything cheesy.

Orson Welles as Old Hamlet's Ghost

So Hamlet decides to investigate these accusations, and he enlists Horatio's help.  He suspects that Ophelia's dad, Polonius (Sidney Greenstreet) might know something about it, since he'd been Old Hamlet's right-hand man since before Young Hamlet was born.  But Polonius just gives him a lot of smarmy double-talk and won't answer any actual questions.  Hamlet tries to get Ophelia to ask her dad about it, or even her brother Laertes (Dana Andrews, who totally needed more scenes).

Andrews as Laertes, considering some advice he just got from his dad.

But Ophelia's afraid Polonius will rat to Claudius if she gets too nosy -- now that Claudius is head of Denmark Inc, Polonius has done a lot of boot-licking to keep his position as indispensable butler-assistant-advisor-errand boy.  To further complicate matters, Polonius soon asks Ophelia to pump Hamlet for information to figure out how much he knows.  She runs and tells Hamlet this, which makes him sure Polonius is in on any funny business.  But she doesn't feel she can spy on her father, and Hamlet doesn't force her to.

Don't you yearn for a happy ending for them?

Claudius gets suspicious anyway, and Gertrude suggests that they ask Hamlet's boyhood friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (Elisha Cook, Jr. and a horribly miscast Peter Lorre) to try to figure out what Hamlet is up to.  In return for a hefty amount of stock in the family company, etc.  Speaking of the company, when Old Hamlet died, another company called Fortinbras Enterprises tried to take over, and their CEO (Glenn Ford) keeps smirking around and threatening to buy up all the loose shares he can find to stage a coup or whatever you want to call it.  Gertrude is desperate to keep control of Denmark Inc, and she gets Polonius to send out false rumors about the company's well-being to keep stockholders happy.  Or something like that -- I got a little annoyed by how the plot got sidetracked into business politics for a bit.

Must admit I don't mind the sidetracks as long as this Fortinbras is around.

But it soon gets back on track.  Hamlet and Horatio get some college buddies of theirs who are into theater to make a record of this radio drama that actually uses Shakespeare's original dialog for "The Mousetrap," that play-within-a-play from Hamlet.  Then Hamlet just happens to listen to it when Gertrude and Claudius are around, and of course, they both look and act all guilty, though they try to be nonchalant.  Hamlet confronts Gertrude in her sumptuous boudoir, Polonius eavesdrops in the closet, and Hamlet ends up pulling out a gun and plugging him.

Stanwyck as Gertrude, thinking she can get away with murder.

Then everything unfolds rather fast -- Gertrude actually confesses her complicity to Hamlet, trying to convince him she's changed and doesn't deserve to die.  But Claudius overhears this, and when Hamlet leaves, he comes in and strangles her -- and I just about fell off my swooning couch!  Cuz that's obviously not how the play goes at all, but it totally works here.

Humphrey Bogart as Claudius, all guilty.

Hamlet goes out to confide in Horatio, who's looking all over for him because they just found Ophelia dead in the swimming pool out back.  Laertes comes running in, convinced Ophelia killed herself because Hamlet had ended their relationship (which he hadn't), so he's bent on revenge, waving a gun around and yelling a lot.  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform him that Hamlet just killed his dad too, which makes Laertes pretty much lose it -- I've never seen Dana Andrews act so angry before, and my goodness, my TV screen kind of sizzled for a minute or two.  He and Hamlet wind up outside the family mansion, shooting at each other from behind whatever cover they can find and trading angry quips between bullets.  They manage to wing each other, but nothing serious.

Then the screenwriter starts totally making stuff up.  Ophelia's ghost appears and tells them that she drowned herself because Claudius kept making passes at her and threatening to fire her dad if she didn't give in to his advances sooner or later.  Hamlet and Laertes both see and hear her, and they quit shooting at each other and go hunting for Claudius, who's been watching from an upstairs window.  I don't think he saw Ophelia's ghost, but when he sees both young men head for the house, he gets nervous, and when they get inside, he's up at the head of the stairs with a pistol of his own.

Bogart's Claudius trying to... talk them out of shooting him?

They shoot at him, he fires back and hits both Hamlet and Laertes.  But Hamlet gets him too, and Claudius topples over the railing and falls spectacularly to the floor.

Horatio runs in just in time for Hamlet to tell him Fortinbras should get to run the company and to make Horatio promise to tell his story truthfully and fairly to the press and police.  Then Hamlet dies in Horatio's arms, and Joseph Cotten looks so broken up I cried a lot more than I expected to.

Which brings us back to the cast.  I like most of their choices, especially Alan Ladd as Hamlet and Joseph Cotten as Horatio -- they play off each other so naturally, like good college buddies who know they're in over their heads here.  Veronica Lake as Ophelia, well, she's okay.  You know studio heads wanted to capitalize on the success of the Ladd/Lake pairing in This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Glass Key (1942).  I can think of better Ophelias, but I can think of worse too, so I'm not going to quibble.  I think her "ghost" scene worked really well, even though it's not in the original play.

Having Orson Welles play the ghost of Hamlet's father seems laughable at first -- come on, he's two years younger than Alan Ladd!  But he's got that wonderful voice, and that makes up for it.  Mostly.  The aging makeup still is kinda crummy, IMHO.  Oh well.  It's also illogical to have Barbara Stanwyck as Hamlet's mother, since she's only 6 years older than Ladd, but she's so darned gutsy and sneery and good that I don't care.  I wish that Dana Andrews as Laertes had had more screen time, but I always wish that about Dana, and he's a pretty good Laertes, though I wish he'd been more affectionate toward Ophelia.  But we can't all be Liev Schreiber, can we?

Honestly, the only actor I think was truly miscast is Peter Lorre as Guildenstern.  He looks too old to be Hamlet's boyhood friend, though they did a pretty good makeup job to hide that... dunno, maybe I'm just too used to him being sinister, ala The Maltese Falcon (1941).  Also, he spent too much time looking broody and contemplative -- like he wished he was playing Hamlet himself instead.  It was odd.

Lorre's overly broody Guildestern

I thought Humphrey Bogart did a fine job as Claudius -- sarcastic and sexy and honestly quite scary.  Definitely not one to mess around with.  You can see why Barbara Stanwyck's Gertrude would go for him.

And there's one of those hands again.

So, here's how I rank the various portrayals in this version, for comparison with other Hamlets I've seen:

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

If you're wondering where to find and watch this movie yourself, well, I'm afraid you can't.  The truth is, I made it up out of my head for the Great Imaginary Film Blogothon hosted by Silver Scenes.  I'm sorry, that was mean.  I know, I know, it's not even April Fool's and this was no fair, but I couldn't resist playing like it was real.  I even got my sister-in-law to create the movie poster for it to put at the beginning of the post.  And wasn't it perfect?  I'm very blessed to have such a talented digital artist in the family :-)

Visit the Silver Scenes blog to find links to all the other great entries into this unusual and imaginative blogothon!