Tuesday, December 31, 2013

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1988)

I find it fitting that my last post for 2013 involves Sherlock Holmes -- I spent a great deal of this year in his company.  After reading through all of Jane Austen's novels in 2012, I decided to read through the entire Holmes canon in 2013.  I'm forced to admit that I failed.  I still have His Last Bow and The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes to go.  But I didn't start reading the canon until March this year, so I could still manage to read the last two books in the next couple of months and have read the whole canon within one year's time, if not all in the same calendar year.  In 2013, I've also watched quite a few episodes of the Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett, as well as the first four episodes of the BBC's Sherlock.

Anyway, The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite Holmes story, and I absolutely love this adaptation.  It's got everything I want:  spooky atmosphere, an exceedingly sympathetic client, an intelligent and inquisitive Watson, and a perfectly Holmes-ish Sherlock Holmes.  Not to mention a gigantic hound that gleams with a spectral fire.  An odd choice of things to watch Christmas week, but it's what my mom requested, and I don't think I've ever turned down a chance to watch it.

If you want a quick recap of the story, I provided one in my blog post about the book here.  In this post, I'm going to discuss the various performances and production elements for this particular adaptation.

First, Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.  I discussed at length here why he is my favorite actor in the role, so right now I'll just repeat that Jeremy Brett's Holmes more closely matches the Sherlock Holmes in my imagination than any other actor I've seen in the role.  Yes, even more than Benedict Cumberbatch, though he is lots of fun too.  Physically, he's got the necessary hawk-like nose, long fingers, and is tall and spare (in later episodes he'd gained a lot of weight because of anti-depressants he was on, but here he's still, if not gaunt, at least not fleshy).  But looking like Sherlock Holmes isn't enough.  Jeremy Brett conveys all the little nuances of this character: his brusque dismissal of wrong or inferior ideas when Watson is theorizing about a walking stick, the energizing joy and thrill he feels when he's offered the case, and his genuine affection for and trust in Watson.

Add to that his boyish glee when he surprises Watson at one point and his rueful admission that the food he's offering Watson is "quite disgusting," and I couldn't be more pleased.

Next, Edward Hardwicke as Dr. John Watson.  He's the second actor to play the role opposite Jeremy Brett -- the first was David Burke, who only did the first season of the show (called "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes").  As nice as Burke's portrayal is, I love Hardwicke's more because he's a bit nicer, more sincere.  But not a milksop or a rug for Holmes to walk all over, don't think that.  He's very human -- for instance, when Holmes abruptly announces that he wants Watson to go to Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry, Hardwicke's Watson doesn't just look surprised or nonplussed -- he goes from surprised to not entirely happy at the prospect to resigned to accepting and trying to look at the bright side of the situation.  In about four seconds.

Also, he looks very cute in his little walking cap.

Okay, so on to Sir Henry Baskerville, played by Kristoffer Tabori.  I like him so very much.  Sir Henry has spent most of his life in America, and Doyle's American characters tend to have somewhat clunky dialog.  But Tabori does a good job making it sound realistic and charming.  Also, he has this very sincere, trustworthy face, instantly likeable.  He doesn't scare easily, this Sir Henry, and he's very game to walk into what could be terrible danger by moving to Baskerville Hall.

Dr. Mortimer (Alastair Duncan as Neil Duncan), Stapleton (James Faulkner), and Beryl Stapleton (Fiona Gillies) are all quite nice too, but not memorably wonderful.

The scenery is very atmospheric, full of boulders and mist and eerily open spaces.  There are lots of great shots like this that help set the mood.

This is Baskerville Hall in the daylight.

And here it is at night, all gloomy and forbidding.  This is how you usually see it.

And this is what the spectral hound itself looks like.  Not the best special effects, and the one aspect of this that I wish had been done better.  On the other hand, for a mid-'80s TV show, its not horrible either.

Well, that's about all I have to say about this adaptation.  The acting and script are superb, and if you enjoy Sherlock Holmes stories or period mysteries, I encourage you to find and watch this.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, dear blogging friends!  Has your day been merry and bright?  We began the day with fresh cranberry scones topped with clotted cream.

Made me feel very British!  My kids hated the clotted cream, which we were trying for the first time merely because I keep reading about it in books and wanted to try it.  Turns out that clotted cream is like if you had ricotta cheese that wasn't grainy, or really solid and thick butter.  Very, very rich.  Not something I'll be eating every day, for sure!

I got the clotted cream recipe from this book, and the mini cranberry scones recipe is here.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

"A Scandal in Belgravia" (2012)

Finally, four months after we finished watching season one of Sherlock, we started season two this past weekend.  About time, right?

First, I need to point out that yes, there's risque stuff in this ep.  But it didn't particularly bother me, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Because it's British?  Because it seemed to be done as tastefully as a story involving a bisexual (lesbian?) dominatrix could be?  (That sentence contains three words that I'm pretty sure have never appeared on my blog before -- highlight them to read.  I hid them so my kids can't stumble on them while I'm writing this.)

I think maybe it's because I had several blogging friends tell me that it was icky and horrid, and so I was expecting overwrought love scenes and/or nudity.  And while there IS a scene where Irene Adler (Lara Pulver) is entirely disrobed, all you see is her bare back or bare legs or bare arms, and then her curled demurely up in a chair.  The visuals are about what you'd get out of a shampoo or shower gel commercial.  As for the content... no one in bed, no groping, just a lot of implications and innuendo.  Sherlock Holmes does not wind up in bed with Irene Adler.  (Whew!)  Would I let my kids watch it?  No!  But I wouldn't let them watch any of this series until they're adults and able to discern the differences between fiction and reality, between actions we should emulate and those we shouldn't.

Second, I need to tell you that Cowboy and I laughed so hard during this episode, especially the first half, that we had to pause it several times because we couldn't hear the dialog.  We had to rewind this scene and watch it twice because it was so funny.

I'm still fuzzy as to why Sherlock was wandering around in a bed sheet to begin with, but no matter -- it was completely hilarious.  I love how stubborn he gets for no reason.  Probably because it reminds me of me.

And this was even a festive episode!  Involves an awkward Christmas party and everything.  How jolly.

I found this episode to be so much more morally complex than the last couple.  The whole idea of temptation, of how we are affected by what we choose to do and not to do -- kind of a rare thing to find in today's society where anything goes.

Unlike the vapid, fluffy Irene Adler from the RDJ movies,  this incarnation is a perfect antagonist for this Holmes.  Sherlock is so used to knowing everything about everybody, and his repeated inability to know what's going on with Irene frustrates and intrigues him.  Irene seems equally fascinated by him, mostly because none of her usual tricks work with him.  She has to go to great lengths to deceive him, though she succeeds at last.

I quite loved the plot twists in this, though that's all I'll say so I don't spoil anything.  They felt inevitable when they happened, but not obvious beforehand.  Everything a good plot twist should be!  So I'll just leave you with this gorgeous image (have I mentioned the awesome cinematography, framing, music, production values as a whole?  Stunning!) and the sad fact that I probably won't be able to watch the next ep until next year.  Sigh.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


My children brought this quote to my mind many, many times today.

Must be the full moon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

"White Christmas" (1954)

As I mentioned here, this is my absolute favorite Christmas movie.  It's also one of my favorite musicals.  I can still remember the first time I saw it -- I was probably six or seven, and I got to stay up a bit late to finish watching it when our local PBS station aired it.  I didn't see it again for a few years, until we borrowed a bunch of movies from my aunt while on summer vacation.  I bought my own copy shortly thereafter, and watching it became a Christmas tradition.  I took it to college with me, and my dear friend ED and I discovered that it would not snow on our college campus until we had watched it together.  Pattern held true all four years.

Anyway, the movie begins in 1944, with American troops overseas watching a hastily assembled Christmas production put on by Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye).

 Their commander, Major General Tom Waverly (Dean Jagger) is being replaced by a younger general, and they give Waverly a musical send-off to assure him they won't forget him.

Right while they're singing, bombs begin falling all around.  Phil Davis saves Bob Wallace from a falling wall, breaking his arm in the process.  He then uses his broken arm to convince Wallace to team up with him once the war is over, and the two make it big in show business and song-and-dance men.

Ten years later, they're wildly famous, but both getting tired of their lonely lives schlepping from one gig to the next.  Enter Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen), sisters who do a floor show.

Their brother (Freckle-faced Haynes the Dog-faced Boy) was in the army with Wallace and Davis, and the girls cash in on that to get the famous producers to come see their act, maybe get a little free advice.  Instead, the boys end up getting the girls out of a jam by taking over their place in the floor show.

Um, yes.  And then they all wind up in Vermont, where General Waverly now owns a ski-lodge that is foundering.

It's December, and there's no snow!  No snow means no people at the lodge means no money for General Waverly means everyone needs to somehow rescue him without him knowing they're rescuing him.  Which leads to lots of musical numbers, people falling in love, the usual.

 And then at the end, I cry happy tears and clap.

It's splendid, I tell you.

It's also the first movie ever presented in VistaVision, which is a nifty little bit of trivia.

Is this a family-friendly movie?  You bet!  No bad language, no violence (other than a few bombs falling off-camera), no innuendo.  A few costumes that look like a modest bathing suit are the closest it gets to objectionable material.

Speaking of costumes, I realized while watching this that I spent a lot of time as an adolescent dreaming of what it would be like to be a grownup and wear clothes like these.  I just grew up fifty years too late.  I know I don't talk a lot about costumes most of the time, but I want to share some of my favorites.

These are the Haynes sisters' dressing gowns.  I love them both.  I think Betty's classic red is my favorite, but the little clasp things on Judy's are really cute.

Then there's this pink dress of Judy's.  I love the way the skirt flares out!  And those sleeves!

Here's another shot where you can see how sparkly it is.  I really thought when I was a kid that some day I would get a dress just like this.  Still haven't.

Here you can see the sleeves and bodice more.

Here's an amazing, elegant dress on Betty.  Look at those unique shoulder straps!

It has such a cool silhouette too.  Although I like Judy better as a character, I like Betty's dresses better.  Maybe because I'm shaped more like her.

And this is my favorite dress in the whole movie.  It's a gorgeous dark green, which is hard to tell here because honestly, my DVD is not made from the clearest print and everything's a little dark.

There are almost no full-length shots of this dress, alas.  But doesn't it have the most interesting neckline/bodice thing going on, with those criss-crossing straps?  They're echoed on the back.  I did actually manage to find a dress once that reminds me of this one, dark green with short sleeves and a full skirt.  Mine is ankle-length instead of just below the knee, doesn't have the nifty straps, and instead of being totally velvet like this one appears to be, mine has a velvet bodice and a shiny skirt.  But I love it anyway -- I wore it on my first real date with Cowboy.

 The guys get some super fun outfits too -- this one from the "Minstrel Show" number is my favorite, just because the red and black are so striking, and the red gloves are amazing.  What do you suppose Bing whispered to Danny here?

I didn't take many screencaps of the more every-day clothes, other than this one just because it's a fun shot.

One thing I love about this movie is that some of the costumes get worn more than once -- both Judy and Betty have a couple of outfits that they wear at least twice, which is so realistic for two girls living out of suitcases!

So, anyway, there you have it, a whole lot of my thoughts on one of my favorite movies.  "May your days be merry and bright, And may all your Christmases be white!"

Friday, December 13, 2013

The End of the Giveaway

Congratulations to Hannah, who won the copy of The Best Years of Our Lives!  Hannah, please check the email address you provided here so I can send you your DVD!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

DVD Giveaway to Honor Pearl Harbor Day

Today is Pearl Harbor Day, in case you forgot.  Today, December 7, 1941, is the day that the Imperial Japanese Navy "suddenly and deliberately attacked" the American Navy at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Our shocked and saddened nation entered WWII as a result.  President Roosevelt called it the "date which will live in infamy."

You may or may not know that I am fascinated by WWII.  The courage, the sacrifices, the heroism of ordinary people on all sides -- I find it all so compelling.  My favorite TV show, Combat!, takes place during WWII, and so do a lot of my favorite books and movies.

And beginning today, in honor of the people who died during the Pearl Harbor attack and all the brave people who got swept up into the war, I am giving away a copy of one of the finest movies to deal with the aftermath of WWII.  It's not a war movie, with battles and blazing guns and splashy heroics.  It's a drama, winner of 7 Oscars, including Best Picture:  The Best Years of Our Lives (1946).

This giveaway is open until 12:00am on Friday, December 13, 2013.  I will draw the winner that day and post their name here on my blog, and also contact them via the email address provided to the widget.  The winner will have until Friday, December 20, 2013, to reply.  If they haven't responded to my email by then, I'll choose another winner.

I wrote a little about this movie years ago, the first time I saw it.  I've seen it probably four times since then, and it never fails to amaze and delight me.  It follows three American servicemen, Fred (Dana Andrews), Al (Frederic March), and Homer (Harold Russell), as they try to reenter their civilian lives after the war.  There are a lot of movies that deal with how ordinary people become heroes.  There are very few like this one, which deals with how heroes try to become ordinary people again.  This is not a funny or exciting movie.  It's not depressing either, but it is serious and heartfelt and, yes, dramatic.

Fred, Al, and Homer meet up when they all catch a ride on the same plane to get back to their hometown.  Al returns to the arms of his loving wife (Myrna Loy) and children (Teresa Wright and Michael Hall), and to his old job as a bank something-or-other.  Fred returns to the woman he married (Virginia Mayo) after a quick wartime romance, but his old job at the department store now belongs to his former rival, and he winds up as a lowly soda jerk.  And Homer returns to his parents and the girl next door (Cathy O'Donnell), whom he had planned to marry, though now he thinks she should leave him.  Why?  Because he lost both hands during the war.  Harold Russell actually lost both his hands in the line of duty, and he won a special Oscar for his performance here, for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."  His is the most affecting story, as he battles his own feelings of inadequacy as well as the stares and whispers of strangers.

Today, I'm giving away a brand-new copy of The Best Years of Our Lives on DVD.  All you have to do to enter is fill out the widget below.  I hereby vow not to use your info in any way other than to contact the winner to tell them the good news and ask them for their mailing address so I can send them the DVD.

You might be wondering if this is a family-friendly movie.  Yes.  Absolutely.  I will mention that there's some cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption, and at least one scene where a character has clearly had too much to drink.  Fred has PTSD, with nightmares and moments where he's emotionally upset by his memories, though his wartime experiences are not shown.  As mentioned before, Homer has no hands.  He has hooks instead, and little kids might be freaked out by that.  And there is a subplot involving a married man falling in love with another woman, and at one point that woman tells her parents she wants to bust up his marriage so she can have him herself.  This is treated very seriously, and I promise you that if you stick with the movie, you will like how that subplot is resolved.  I watched this with my mother-in-law years ago, and she raised her eyebrows and made some comments along the lines of "Oh dear" and "My, my" when we got to that part of the movie.  But she stuck with it, and approved of the way things turned out.  There is no bad language, no major violence (there's one fist fight), no nudity or sex.

So go ahead and enter, and then leave me a comment telling me why you'd like to own this movie.  Have you seen it before and would love your own copy?  Have you never seen it, but always wanted to?  Have you never even heard of it, but think it sounds great?  Whatever the case, good luck!  And remember Pearl Harbor!  

(This giveaway has ended.)

Friday, December 06, 2013

My Ten Favorite Christmas Movies

I haven't watched a single Christmas movie yet, and a whole week of December has passed already.  Argh!  Anyway, I decided to list my favorite Christmas movies even though several of these will show up on other lists too.  I don't think of a couple of these as strictly Christmas movies, but they either occur during Christmas or involve Christmasy stuff, so in they go.

I was originally doing these lists in order of how genres are arranged on my shelves, but I'm skipping over a few sections to get to this one because it wouldn't make much sense to post these in February, hee.

1.  White Christmas (1954)

A team of showbiz stars (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) try to rescue a retired general (Dean Jagger) from bankruptcy by staging a show at his ski lodge.  I've watched this almost every single Christmas season for two decades, and I never get tired of it.

2.  We're No Angels (1955)

Three escaped convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) try to rescue a bumbling businessman (Leo G. Carroll) from his unscrupulous cousin (Basil Rathbone).  Possibly the funniest movie I have ever seen, and also one of the most heart-warming.  DO NOT get the 1989 remake by mistake.

3.  While You Were Sleeping (1995)

When a lonely train fare collector (Sandra Bullock) rescues a handsome stranger (Peter Gallagher) from being hit by a train, his family mistakes her for his fiancee.  My favorite romantic comedy, my favorite Sandra Bullock role, my favorite Bill Pullman role, and another of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

4.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

George Bailey (James Stewart) decides he's worth more dead than alive, and it takes an unlikely angel (Henry Travers) all of Christmas Eve to convince him otherwise.  There's a reason it's so famous -- it's really that good.

5.  A Christmas Carol (1999)

Ebenezer Scrooge (Patrick Stewart) learns not to be so stingy.  A stellar performance from Stewart elevates this above the usual made-for-TV Christmas movie.

6.  The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is tasked with shutting down a Catholic school run by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), who is determined to save it.  I like this a lot better than Going My Way (1944), Crosby's other turn as O'Malley.

7.  Love, Actually (2003)

Lots of Londoners (played by a star-studded cast) learn that love is actually all around us.  This is my guiltiest pleasure, as it's chock full of naughty bits.  But it's so sweet and so funny that I can't help loving it.

8.  The Santa Clause (1994)

When single dad Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) accidentally kills Santa Claus, he's informed by Bernard the Elf (David Krumholtz) that now he'll become Santa Claus instead.  Silly, with some overly childish humor, but very enjoyable.

9.  Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

A skeptical little girl (Natalie Wood) meets a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) who tries to convince her he's the real Santa Claus.  One of my favorite Maureen O'Hara movies.

10.  The Nutcracker (1977)

A beautiful version of Tchaikovsky's ballet about a little girl who dreams her toy nutcracker comes alive and takes her on an adventure.  Starring the amazing Mikhail Baryshnikov, who also choreographed it.

Do you have any favorite Christmas movies?  Got any recommendations of things I should try to find and watch?  Please share!