Sunday, April 27, 2014

Coming Soon to a Soliloquy Near You

Just a heads-up about two cool things I'm participating in this May.  First off is the Middlemarch watch-along that Birdie is hosting on her blog, Lady of the Manor.  I have never seen or read Middlemarch, but I've been hearing good things about this version lately, so I'm quite excited to be participating in this watch-along.  She's going to do one episode a week, starting later this week.  She'll be posting thoughts and discussion questions on her blog, and she promises a giveaway at the end!  Click on this button for more details:

Middlemarch watch-along

Second is the Tyrone Power blogothon hosted by They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To and Lady Eve's Reel Life.  It'll be on Tyrone Power's 100th birthday, May 5.  I'm doing a post here on my blog about the movie version of The Sun Also Rises and comparing it to the book, and if you click on this button, you can see a list of all the other awesome things people will be blogging about:

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Opera Version of "Hamlet" (2004)

On Wednesday, I celebrated Shakespeare's birthday, and my own, by finishing watching this opera with my best friend, Deborah.  It's a filmed version of the Barcelona Opera's production from 2004.  We'd started it last week, but... it's three hours long.  Takes a while to get through when I only have between forty-five minutes and an hour of watching time one or two nights a week.

I should mention that I haven't seen that many operas.  I went to see three of them performed live while in college (La Boheme, Otello, and Tosca), but those are the only others I've ever seen in their entirety.  I've seen bits and pieces of various operas on YouTube and so on, but I didn't grow up watching or listening to opera.  We listened to a lot of classical music, but not much opera, other than an aria here and there on some compilation CD or other.  However, Deborah was raised on opera the way I was raised on westerns, and she is very passionate about it.  If you want to know her more opera-oriented thoughts on this, read her post here from when she first watched it a couple years ago.

So anyway, the music for this was written by Ambroise Thomas back in 1868, and the libretto by Michel Carre and Jules Barbier is based not on Shakespeare's text, but on the French adaptation of Shakespeare's play by none other than Alexandre Dumas, pere.  (You can read an English translation of Dumas' French adaptation here -- it's quite funny.)  So there are some pretty big differences in the story, which is mostly what I'll talk about here.

Spoilers from here on out.

Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet.

The biggest difference between this opera and Shakespeare's play is that at the end, (drumroll please) Hamlet is still alive!  And is declared king!

Yeah.  Whoa.  I was pretty shocked.  Part of me was so happy that Hamlet (Simon Keenlyside) didn't die, and part of me was like, "But where's my catharsis?  Where's my tragedy?"  And if you're going, "Dude, how can Hamlet get to be king when he totally just killed King Claudius in front of pretty much everyone in the castle -- they can't reward regicide with the crown!"  Well, they fixed that by having the Ghost (Markus Hollop) appear to everyone and declare that Claudius had murdered him, so everyone knows Hamlet is justified in killing Claudius.  Also clears up the whole "Is Hamlet just imagining this Ghost?" question -- if everyone's seeing it, he's clearly not mad and delusional and what have you.

The Ghost condemns Claudius in front of everyone.

Okay.  That's the biggest difference.  Also, Gertrude doesn't die.  Neither do Polonius or Laertes!  But Ophelia (Natalie Dessay) does.  She gets to do her mad scene all alone on stage, singing on and on about how she thinks she's married to Hamlet now, and she talks to some imaginary people about how lovely her wedding was and how much Hamlet adores her, and gets crazier and crazier, finally stabbing and cutting herself a few times before collapsing on stage, then getting up and wandering off, presumably to drown her sorrows permanently.  She got a HUGE standing ovation, which Dessay totally earned.

Ophelia singing about flowers.

Other differences?  Laertes (Daniil Shtoda) was completely fine with Ophelia and Hamlet being in love.  Instead of warning her not to let Hamlet turn her head before he leaves (this time to go to Norway, not to Paris), Laertes tells Hamlet to take care of Ophelia and says he knows he's leaving her in good hands, they'll take care of each other, etc.  I really liked this Laertes so much (up until the end, when I decided I hated him forever because he's a dirty rat).  Also, Polonius was barely in it and never gave anybody any advice.  Huh.

Hamlet and Ophelia.  Because I couldn't find another place to put this and I love it.

And Gertrude (Beatrice Uria-Monzon) was totally in on Claudius' plot to kill King Hamlet.  Definitely an accomplice.  And really freaky looking.  She had this wig that made her forehead HUGE and made her look like she was an alien from Star Trek:  The Next Generation or something.  Weird.  She was very conniving, and pretty much drove Ophelia crazy by convincing her Hamlet would marry her, and then when he instead was playing mad and wouldn't have anything to do with Ophelia, yeah, it could only end in tears.

Gertrude and her wonky wig.

Horatio (Lluis Sintes) was barely in this, which saddened me.  Had no feel of close friendship with Hamlet, seems about as important as Marcellus.  In fact, by the end, I'd forgotten which of the dudes in trench coats on stage was Horatio.  I was not amused -- that was my absolute least-favorite change from Shakespeare's play.  Horatio is extremely important, folks -- I know I like to natter on about Laertes a lot, but honestly, I love Horatio almost as much as Hamlet himself, and without him, poor Hamlet is totally friendless and alone and unhappy and... badness, okay?  Much badness.

I'm not going to say much about the music.  Some parts were lovely, but nothing stuck in my head.  But I wasn't really watching this for the music, so that's okay.  Simon Keenlyside as Hamlet and Natalie Dessay as Ophelia were very moving, and I will absolutely watch this again just for them.  Keenlyside is one of those rare opera singers who can not only sing beautifully but also act very, very well, and I totally recommend this version because of him.  I'm really sad, though, that he sang this role at NYC's Metropolitan Opera while I lived in Connecticut, and I never went to see it.  At the time, neither Deborah nor I knew who he was, and I had never seen the opera, didn't know anything about it other than it was a retelling of Hamlet, so I didn't go.  Such a mistake.  Sigh.

Anyway, what else shall I talk about?  Costumes!  The costumes were wacky.  Most of them.  Deborah says that's pretty par for European opera productions.  The soldiers and Laertes all wore trench coats with metal breastplates -- huh?

This is Laertes in one of those trench-coat-and-breastplate ensembles.

And then there were these gonzo red robe thingies at the beginning.  Yeah...

Gertrude and Claudius and their loyal subjects.

But.  Hamlet looked scrumptious.  What else matters?  He generally looked like this:

Looooooooooove those coats.

But sometimes he looked like this:

In his trench coat at Ophelia's grave.  Also nice.

And when he looked like this, I melted completely away:

Suspenders!  And you can't see it, but also he has bare feet.  Swoon.

So.  I wasn't going to add this to my "Hamlet Comparisons" file because it's not Shakespeare's text and so many of the characters are in it less, and things are so different.  But I'm going to anyway, just leaving some ungraded because they don't apply.  Here's how they stack up:

Hamlet:  A
Horatio:  N/A
Laertes:  F for making me Furious (B+ for everything except the ending)
Ophelia:  B+
Claudius:  C
Gertrude:  C
Polonius:  N/A
Overall Production:  N/A because it has so many differences.

I'm really glad I saw it, and if you're somehow tired of watching the same Hamlet performances you've seen before and want something new, absolutely find and watch this.

Did I mention this Hamlet and Ophelia were very sweet together?

Is this movie family friendly?  As much as any version of Hamlet can be.  There's lots of death, accusations of marital unfaithfulness, some mild curse words in the English subtitles, and a pretty creepy ghost.  Not for little kids.

Did I mention the Ghost is creepy?  And amazing!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We Cook Too Much

Cowboy and I cook a lot.  Maybe too much.  Over the twelve years we've been married, we have tried out thousands of recipes -- usually 3-5 new ones a week.  Recipes we like, we keep, tweak to suit our lives and cooking styles, and make over and over and over.

A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law asked if we could please start putting those recipes on a blog with lots of labels so she could search through them.  So I've started a brand new blog for that purpose, and I call it We Cook Too Much.  Because we probably do.  This is a bare-bones recipe blog -- no pictures, nothing fancy.  Just recipes and a brief note from me on each one as I see fit.

I know some of my lovely readers also love to cook and bake, so thought I'd share the link.  I'm adding recipes as I have time -- only have about a dozen there so far, but we have more than 600 recipes that we have tried and found worthy, so I will be posting more and more and more.  Eventually.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

"Red Dawn" (2012)

I have Strep throat.  Which, as we all know, is highly contagious.  So I've spent most of today holed up in my bedroom, downing cough drops and popsicles and watching stuff on the laptop.  Including Red Dawn, just cuz it was up for free on Amazon Prime and I never got around to seeing it before, and hello?  It's Chris Hemsworth!

This will probably be less than coherent, thanks to the large numbers of painkillers and antibiotics coursing through my veins.  You've been warned.

(SPOILERS)  So, yes, Chris Hemsworth is the sole reason I watched this.  Which is why I was screaming (silently, in pantomime, cuz my throat hurts a lot) at this movie by the end, and why I will never watch it again.  Because he was absolutely wonderful until the last 12 minutes, when he got suddenly and irrevocably killed completely dead with no warning and I was very distraught.


The rest of the cast was acceptable at being high school students thrust into a war zone, with only big brother/older friend Chris Hemsworth the Marine to help them adjust and fight back against the bad guys led by Will Yun Lee, who has popped up a lot lately, first in The Wolverine and then in a couple eps of Intelligence.  Actually, there was another Intelligence guest star in this too, Matt Gerald.  Kinda random.

Is this movie family friendly?  No.  Lots of violence and bad language, including the big, bad F-bomb.

That's really all I have to say.  Feast your eyes on pictures instead:

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"Captain America: The Winter Soldier" (2014) -- Initial Thoughts

So... when I go to see a movie that is subtitled "The Winter Soldier," I kind of expect that said soldier will be an integral part of the plot.  And, I'm afraid, I was left feeling like if they had pulled Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) out of the movie and thus trimmed 45 minutes and several action scenes, this movie could have been awesome.

Alternatively, if they wanted to focus on Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) coming to grips with confronting the last vestiges of his past, and trimmed out all the conspiracy stuff, this movie could have been extraordinary.

But nope, they tried to do both, and wound up with an okay movie.  I'd say I liked it as well as Captain America:  The First Avenger and Iron Man 2.  Too unfocused for me to love, but containing enough character goodness to make me want to see it again.  I'll probably wait for DVD for that, though.  Unless a friend wants to see it with me or something.

And I did really like so much of what went on with the characters!  I just wish the movie as a whole had worked better.  For instance -- all that shaky-cam nonsense.  Don't people remember The Bourne Identity (2002) and how the camera waltzed slowly and serenely around Jason Bourne as he decimated his foes with lightning-fast hand-to-hand stuff?  This movie could have used a similar approach.  I know the shaky-cam is supposed to make us feel like we're in the middle of the action, but I'd like to see all those fastidiously choreographed fights, not just get a glimpse here and there.  Sigh.

But about those characters...

(SPOILAGE from here on out.)

First, Nick Fury.  Wow, so much Nick Fury in this!  It was cool to see him take a more active role, even have some action scenes.  I thought for a little while that it was going to turn out someone had been messing with his brain and using him as a puppet without his knowledge, but that's not where they chose to go.  Oh well.

Then we have Agent Romanoff.  She goes through quite the metamorphosis here, doesn't she?  Being willing to let her entire history be public knowledge as part of taking down the bad guys -- I kind of thought she'd balk at that.  Good for her.  And I was amused by all her attempts to hook Cap up with various women.  The Black Widow as a matchmaker is incongruous enough to make me chuckle.  (And I'm seriously considering dying my hair the same color as hers.)

I quite liked Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie).  He was snarky and solid, and I really hope they make another movie about him and Cap, because the two of them together was great fun.  And I'd love a pair of those wings.

But of course, I need to talk about Cap himself.  I love that he's grappling with modern life, starting to accept the world around him a little.  And I love how loyal this guy is.  I could have handled a little more character growth -- he's still pretty much the same Cap by the end that he was at the beginning, determined to save Bucky whether he wants to be saved or not, dedicated to always doing the right thing... not that any of that is bad.  In fact, it's a lot of why I love him, but... it does feel a little static.

I think the biggest happy surprise for me in the whole movie was having Alan Dale pop up as a member of the World Security Council.  Weirdly, lists him as uncredited, and yet, his name was in the credits.  Huh. Anyway, he was Charles Widmore on Lost and then on NCIS as Director and then the head of Homeland Security, both of which would make for really fun cross-over stories, hee.

Of course, it was quite cool to have Robert Redford in the movie too.  It made me want to go rewatch The Natural (1984) and The Sting (1973).

I was rather disappointed that there was absolutely zero mention of Agent Barton.  I mean, he's listed as being in Avengers:  Age of Ultron next summer, so it would be nice to have heard something about him, even just Natasha on the phone and you know that's who she's talking to.  She was so concerned about him in The Avengers that it feels a little weird that she didn't even mention him.  After what happened to Erik Selvig in Thor:  The Dark World, I was kind of expecting there'd be a mention of Hawkeye working on getting his brain unscrambled completely or something.  Oh well again.

Oh, I should say something about Bucky Barnes, shouldn't I?  I liked the final stinger after the credits, and I could get behind him being a sort of lost soul trying to reclaim his humanity.  Could really dig that.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Beautiful Blog Award

Sweet Emma Jane over at For the Beauty of the Earth has nominated me for the Beautiful Blog Award!  Thank you so much, Emma Jane!  Here are my answers to her amusing questions:

~What is one of your favorite period drama lines that you find yourself quoting often? 

I probably quote a line from the Jeremy Brett version of The Hound of the Baskervilles more than any other -- I say, "It's quite disgusting, Holmes" a LOT.

~What was the last book you read? 

Tales of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

~What is the best movie you've seen so far in 2014? 

Hmm.  I'm assuming you mean movie I hadn't seen before.  I'd say either Frozen or Saving Mr. Banks.

~Who is one of your least-favorite period drama couples?

I can't stand Holly Golightly getting paired off with Paul at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany's -- it's the whole reason I hate the movie.  (The 1960s is a period, right?)

~Who is the one period drama man you can most imagine yourself marrying? (This doesn't have to be your favorite literary/period drama hero, just the man you think you would be most suited to.) 

ONE?  Okay, I asked my husband for his advice, and he says I should marry Dr. John Watson, and we could be quiet, helpful, and nice together.  I think we could be happy, so I'll go with that.  (The two that first popped into my head were Boromir and Shane.)

~ What is your favorite time period and culture to read about? 

I love the Wild West, but I'm also very fond of the Victorian Era.

~Are you familiar with the Irish music group Celtic Woman? If so, who is your favorite of the singers? 

My mom's a fan, does that count?  :-)  I've heard a few of their songs, but I don't know them well enough to have a favorite.

~What is one of your all-time favorite book covers? 

I love this cover for The Lord of the Rings:

It's the one I have, and I wrote a whole post here on my book blog about how much I love my copy and what all I've done with it.

~Is there a specific period drama/literary character whom you often find yourself quoting? 

I quote Anne of Green Gables with some regularity. 

~Is there a specific period drama/literary character whom you find yourself acting a lot like sometimes? 

Hmm. I've always thought I was a lot like Jo March from Little Women and its sequels.

And now that I've finished answering these questions, I get to nominate some other bloggers and set them some questions to answer.  I hereby nominate:

Lady Eowyn of High Noon
Heidi at The Far Side of Forever
Lydia from Shelves in the Closet
Heidi from Along the Brandywine
Jessie from So Much More Than They've Got Planned

And here are my questions for you:

o What's the first movie you can remember seeing?
o What's your favorite fruit?
o What's your least-favorite kind of pie?
o If you could be any superhero(ine) for a day, who would you like to be?
o What was your favorite picture book when you were a child?
o What was the last board/card game you played?
o Do you prefer feather pillows or foam?
o What are three of your favorite blogs?  (Please provide links)

Play if you want to -- don't feel like you hafta ;-)

Okay, this post has taken me three days to write, but I've got it finished at last.  Huzzah!