Friday, July 25, 2014

"The Art of Love" (1965) -- Initial Thoughts

Three days ago, I had never heard of this movie.  Two days ago, I read The Millie's review here on her ever-amusing blog, Classic Forever, and watched the movie on YouTube that same day.  Her review is brilliant, and I strongly urge you to go read it.  Especially if you've never visited her blog, which is a unique delight.  Because her review is so awesome, I'm going to be very brief here, and if you want more details, you can read her post.  It's actually funnier than the movie itself.

I've seen many, many wacky '60s comedies.  I've seen far more truly outrageous and bizarre movies than might be healthy -- my best friend/college roommate has a penchant for off-beat, absurd movies, the wackier, the better.  But The Art of Love ranks among the very looniest movies I have ever seen and liked.  Because, despite the fact that this movie was a crazed mixture of silliness and nonsense, it's also quite funny, and I would not be surprised if I watched it again some time.

Okay, so it's about two Americans in Paris, starving artist Paul (Dick Van Dyke, fresh from Mary Poppins) and charming mooch Casey (the dearly departed James Garner).  Casey thinks Paul commits suicide, starts making lots of money off Paul's paintings, which sell very well once Paul is "dead."  Paul's fiancee (Angie Dickinson) arrives from America, and she and Casey fall for each other. But Paul is not dead, as Casey knows by the time the fiancee arrives, and when Paul finds out Casey has stolen his girl, he does the only logical thing he can do.

He frames Casey for his murder.

Um, yes.  Dick Van Dyke frames James Garner for murder because James Garner just stole Angie Dickinson from him.  And if that doesn't make you want to watch this movie, then you probably wouldn't enjoy it anyway.

Did I mention this was directed by Norman Jewison and co-written by Carl Reiner?  A year later, the two of them would make one of my all-time favorite comedies, The Russians are Coming!  The Russians are Coming!, a movie that makes a lot more sense than this, and is a lot funnier, IMHO.

Still, if the thought of a maniacal Dick Van Dyke pitted against a whimpering James Garner makes you chuckle, you'd probably get a kick out of this wacky romp.

Is this movie family-friendly?  Somewhat.  There're a couple of instances of artists painting using nude models, but the nudity is implied.  There's a nightclub with dancers clothed in basically swimming suits, there are mentions of someone being a "dirty old man."  There are some passionate-for-the-'60s kisses.  There may have been a mild curse word or two, but I can't recall any for sure.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bucket List Tag

More tag!  Miss Laurie of Old Fashioned Charm and Miss Jane Bennet of Classic Ramblings have both tagged me in a round of Bucket List Tag.  The general idea is to list at least ten things you want to do before you die, and then tag at least five people.  Here goes!

Visit Alaska

Visit the Alamo

Visit the Normandy beaches that were involved in the D-Day invasion

Visit Baker Street in London

Visit Prince Edward Island

Take a cake-decorating class

See the Northern Lights

See Ben-Hur on the big screen

See a John Wayne movie on the big screen

Publish a book

Read War and Peace

Read Don Quixote

Read Moby-Dick

Read all of Bernard Cornwell's books about Richard Sharpe

I hereby nominate:

Ashley G. at [insert title here]
Emily at Classics and Beyond
Hannah at Miss Daydreamer's Place
Jessie at So Much More Than They've Got Planned
Maggie at An American in France
Ruby at We'll See How This Goes

And if anyone wants to do this but didn't get tagged -- I hereby tag you too :-)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Sunshine Award

Evie has nominated me for the Sunshine Award on her blog A Period Drama Fangirl.  Thank you, Evie!  Here are my answers to your questions:

What was the last thing you bought? 

Toothpaste, ibuprofen, a box of fudgecicles, and some antibiotics.  (Hey, guess what I have again?)

Would you rather meet Jennifer Ehle (Lizzy Bennet) or Colin Firth (Mr Darcy)?

I would rather meet Lizzy Bennet than Jennifer Ehle, and Colin Firth than Mr. Darcy.  I think Lizzy would be a lot of fun to talk to and hang out with, but Mr. Darcy might frighten me with his brusqueness.  I have no real interest in meeting Jennifer Ehle, but if I met Colin Firth, I could get his autograph for my best friend.

If you could have any job, what would you want to do/be? 

Other than what I do now, I assume you mean?  I'd love to work at a movie theater or a book store.  I used to want to work at a video rental store, but those barely exist anymore, so that's probably out.

Are you a morning person or a night owl? 

A morning person.  I spent my college years trying to be a night owl, but once I graduated, I reverted.  I wake up happy, am my most productive in the morning, and generally like mornings better.

If you could master any instrument what would it be?

The trumpet.  I can play it, but not well.  I'd love to be able to play this some day:

So.  This is the part where I nominate other bloggers for this award and set questions for them.  I hereby nominate:

Carissa at Musings of an Introvert
Eowyn at Captured by the Word
Heidi at Along the Brandywine
Joanna at The Squirrel's Diary
Kara at Flowers of Quiet Happiness
Maddie Rose at The Madd Rose
Monica at Spilled Ink

And here are the questions I ask you lovely ladies to answer, if you choose to accept this nomination:

1.  What is the next book you plan to read?
2.  Have you ever seen the same movie in the theater more than once?
3.  Do you prefer pirates or cowboys?
4.  Have you ever been to an ocean?
5.  You're casting a new movie version of your favorite book.  Who are your top choices for the leads?

Spread sunshine all over the place!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Goodbye, James Garner :-(


Goodbye to James Garner, the star of many of my favorite movies, including Support Your Local Sheriff! (1969) and The Great Escape (1963), and I love his TV show Maverick (1957-1962).

When I was in high school, I read a biography of Steve McQueen that said that for a while McQueen and James Garner were neighbors.  According to the book, Garner was a bit nitpicky when it came to keeping his lawn and grounds neat and clean.  McQueen's house was uphill from Garner's, and he used to roll empty beer cans down the hill at night so that when James Garner would wake up in the morning, his lawn would have a bunch of beer cans on it, and then Steve McQueen could enjoy the sight of Garner stomping around, ranting about, "Where do these keep coming from?!?!?!" as he picked them up.  I don't remember any more if he ever found out it was McQueen littering on his lawn, but the story still makes me chuckle all these years later.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Ten Favorite War Movies

I had to wait to finalize this list until I'd seen Monuments Men a second time, to know whether or not it really belonged on this list.  It does.  I've seen most of these many times, some of them more than twenty.  The only other exception is Defiance, which I've also only seen twice, but which is so phenomenal I must love it.

You'll notice a lot of patterns here.  Lots of WWII movies.  Lots of big ensemble casts.  Lots of true stories.  Lots of John Wayne, though interestingly, he's not in either of my top 2 movies.  Those both feature Steve McQueen and James Coburn.  Hmm.  Anyway, most of these are also from the '50s and '60s, when war movies were still about heroes.  In the '70s, war movies got cynical, and I find them depressing.

1. The Great Escape (1963)

The Nazis brilliantly put all their worst eggs (Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Garner...) in one prison camp, and naturally all those escape artists work together to escape.  I love this on so many levels, from the whole band-of-misfits-working-together angle to the clever planning to the actual escape itself.  And it's based on a true story!

2. Hell is for Heroes (1962)

One small American squad (Bobby Darin, Steve McQueen, Fess Parker, James Coburn, Bob Newhart...) holds off a Nazi attack thanks to lots of clever ruses and some spectacular sacrifices.  This was written by Robert Pirosh, who also created my beloved Combat!, and this whole movie almost feels like a long episode of the show.  Lots of human interest, some great humor, heroics, and my dearest Bobby Darin.  LOVE!

3. Operation Pacific (1951)

Commander Duke Gifford (John Wayne) leads a submarine crew on a bunch of adventures (most of them based on actual WWII events) and tries to win back his ex-wife (Patricia Neal).  My 6-year-old son asks to watch this at least once a month right now.  This is a clean and lovely movie.

4. The Longest Day (1962)

The story of the D-Day invasion, told from many viewpoints, with one of the most impressive casts ever assembled:  John Wayne, Richard Burton, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Sal Mineo, Richard Todd, and a very young Sean Connery, to name a very few.  Until we had kids and lost our big chunks of movie-watching time, Cowboy and I used to watch this together every D-Day.

5. Gettysburg (1993)

Another talented ensemble cast shows many of the events leading up to and during the turning point of the American Civil War.  Jeff Daniels turns in a wonderful performance as Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberalain, one of my personal heroes.

6. Monuments Men (2014)

A special American task force tries to rescue important art from the Nazis.  Another great ensemble cast (Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, John Goodman, George Clooney), and another true story.

7. Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)

Sgt. Stryker (John Wayne) takes a group of Marines from boot camp to the battle of Iwo Jima.  This is one of John Wayne's sadder, more multi-faceted characters.

8. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

A bunch of Allied POWs (including William Holden and Alec Guinness) build a bridge for their Japanese captors, then try to blow it up.  A fascinating study in morale and endurance.  And a true story.

9. Defiance (2008)

Three Jewish brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell) in Nazi-occupied Poland help lots of other Jews hide out in the Belarussian forest.  Gets grim and intense, but so, so good.  And guess what?  Another true story!

10. D-Day:  The Sixth of June (1956)

A woman who's engaged to a British officer (Richard Todd) falls in love with an American officer (Robert Taylor), and both men end up storming the Normandy beaches together.  Personally, I think anyone who ditches Richard Todd for Robert Taylor is an idiot.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Persuasion" (2007) -- Initial Thoughts

Rather like the 1995 adaptation, I have mixed feelings about this movie.  Some aspects I liked a great deal, and other things bugged me a lot.  Now, unlike the 1995 version, they do use some voiceover narration, and there was never any doubt about what had happened before the story starts here.  I was never confused about what was going on, who was who, etc.  The writing was clean and orderly, for the most part.  The ending did feel a bit rushed, with Mrs. Smith zipping in from nowhere to denounce the young Mr. Elliot.  And what was with all the running?  Did we really have to have a wild goose chase all over Bath just to prolong suspense for another 3 minutes?  That was rather silly.  And who takes 45 seconds to decide if they're going to kiss or not?  And I really could have done without that trippy-troppy, clippy-cloppy, glippy-gloppy piano that intruded on every emotional moment, not to mention the eerie violin sounds that sometimes hovered around Anne like she was about to be abducted by a creepy stalker or something.  And, while I'm listing things I disliked, I could have done without all that shaky-cam stuff too.

Now on to what I liked.  I very much enjoyed Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliot.  Really, I can't imagine any way she could have been better.  She was sweet, thoughtful, intelligent, and brightened from careworn to pretty in a very subtle and believable fashion over the course of the movie.

And it was such a delight to see Anthony Head as Mr. Elliot -- I had to fight down giggles to hear any dialog whenever he was around.  I kept wanting to say, "Oh, Giles, come off it already.  Stop being such a git."  Because gittish he was, to the extreme -- just what Mr. Elliot ought to be.

But Rupert Penry-Jones didn't convince me.  I somehow could never imagine him captaining a ship, and he seemed to lack the anger and bitterness I expect from Captain Wentworth.  He was more like a half-grown puppy who was sad because you wouldn't let him climb on the furniture.  And he seemed too young, I'm afraid.  Especially in all the scenes in Bath -- he looked younger than Anne.  And, well, Wentworth is my favorite Austen hero.  I'm picky.  He did wear those tall boots very nicely, though.  I would not be at all adverse to seeing him in another role.

I should mention two actors who made a couple of side characters very enjoyable.  Amanda Hale was an absolutely hilarious Mary Musgrove -- I was more amused than appalled by her, which is a switch.  Joseph Mawle was a splendid and memorable Captain Harville.  I wanted more scenes with him.  I could definitely imagine him commanding a fine ship.

And I didn't even recognize him, but I see from IMDB that Nicholas Farrell played Mr. Musgrove!  Must have been the whiskers that fooled me.  He's one of my favorite Horatios ever!  From the 1996 Hamlet, of course.

So.  If I could ditch Penry-Jones and pop Ciaran Hinds in instead, fire the composer, and rewrite the ending so it's more like the book, I would have my perfect movie version of Persuasion.  Instead, I have to say that this one is nice, but I'll stick with the book, thanks.  I wouldn't mind seeing it again sometime if a friend wanted to watch it or something, but I doubt I'll seek it out again on my own.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

"Little Women" (1978) -- Initial Thoughts

I have wanted to see this version of Little Women for twenty years.  Yes, I love the 1994 adaptation -- that's the one I kind of grew up with.  I've seen the 1949 too, years and years ago.  But since I was 14, I've wanted to see this version.  And until a year or so ago, I thought I never would.

You see, long ago I bought a paperback copy of the book that was published as a tie-in to the miniseries, with a cover that matches the one used in the opening credits.  I bought it at a yard sale when I was probably ten or twelve.  Inside are a few production pictures of key moments in the story, plus a cast list.

And when I was 14, I fell deeply in love with Captain Kirk and the original Star Trek series.  There was a time, believe it or not, when I loved Captain Kirk more than Sergeant Saunders, and Star Trek more than Combat!  By 14, I was also quite familiar with the book Little Women, though I much preferred Little Men (and still do).  My two favorite characters have always been Jo March and Professor Bhaer, and so when I opened my copy of the miniseries tie-in book one day and saw that William Shatner once played my dear Professor Bhaer -- he who played my beloved Jim Kirk!  How could I not long to see that version?

The years passed.  I always wished I could see this, but it was made two years before I was born -- how could I?  It was too obscure to ever show up at a library or video rental store.

But hello, brave new world of the internet!  Last year, when I participated in the Period Drama Challenge, I learned that this version was available to watch online!  It was on YouTube at that time, but I didn't have the three hours to devote to it.  So I waited.  And the other day, being down with strep throat again and holed up in my room to rest, I watched it.  It's on Hulu now -- you can watch it for free here (if you're in the US).  You can also buy it pretty cheaply from Amazon, which I did even though I'm kind of boycotting Amazon right now.  ("Kind of" meaning "I'm not buying stuff from there unless that's the only place I can find something.")

Did I love it?  I think I might have.  I certainly liked it a whole lot, and like I said, I bought a DVD copy because I really want to watch it again, and I think my kids will like it.  I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, as I've read some pretty scathing reviews of it online.

I'm not going to compare it to the 1994 movie, because they're very different, and both good in their own ways.  I liked how much of the story was in this -- with three hours, they could hit more than the highlights.  The characters felt very well developed, and if there wasn't quite as much Professor Bhaer in it as I'd hoped, well, he's not in the book as much as I'd like either.

Mostly here I'm going to talk about the cast.  The costumes were just fine, and I'm no great critic there anyway.  The scenery and sets were nice, and the writing was too.  But it's the acting I liked the most, so I'll just say a bit about each of the key characters.


First, Susan Dey as Jo March.  She's not traditionally pretty, which I appreciated, since after all, Jo's hair is supposed to be her "one beauty."  She pulls off the tomboy aspects of Jo very well, climbing trees and riding horses with great verve.  And she's great at crying.  I mean, really great -- very realistic, and not afraid to look not-pretty when she cries.  This Jo cries rather more than I'd expect, but since Dey was so good at it, I didn't mind much.


Next, William Shatner as Professor Friederic Bhaer.  His German accent was not as atrocious as I'd feared!  And few people can be as charming as Shatner when he feels like being charming.  He alternated Bhaer's impatience and gentleness quite nicely.  I liked that he was about twenty years older than Susan Dey, since Professor Bhaer is supposed to be older, though they looked more like they were maybe ten years apart.  And he had me almost in tears myself at the end.  All in all, he more than lived up to what I'd hope from him in this role all these years!

I don't have my copy of the DVD yet, so am relying on Google to find pictures, and there aren't very many.

Dorothy McGuire has long been one of my favorite "movie moms," so I was confident she would make a splendid Marmee.  I was not wrong.  Just like in classic movies like Friendly Persuasion (1956), Old Yeller (1957) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960), she imbued her role with quiet strength and dignity, with sparks hidden beneath her calm exterior that would flare up now and then.


And what a treat to have Greer Garson playing Aunt March!  She seemed to be having so much fun with her outspoken, flinty role.  I mostly have only seen her in 1940s movies like Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Miniver, and Random Harvest, but she was just as delightful here as she was in those.  And she had more of a character arc than I remember from the book, to tell the truth.  By the end she had softened and was not quite so sour.


Robert Young made a delightful Mr. Lawrence.  He had a loud bark, but was such a sweetheart inside, and Young gave him a twinkle even at the beginning that kept him from ever being gruff.


I felt like Meredith Baxter's Meg was too unlikable, to be honest.  She was whiny.  Yes, a whiny Meg!  Unthinkable, right?  But she was, or at least I thought so.  I never really warmed up to her, or felt that she had much kindness under her stiff exterior.  Also, her mouth was open most of the time, which annoyed me.


And Ann Dusenberry's Amy felt off too.  For one thing, they had the same actress play Amy through the whole thing, and while I finally liked her pretty well when she was older and went to Europe with Aunt March, when she was little she annoyed me dreadfully.  I wanted her to get in way more trouble for burning Jo's book than she did.


At first, I wasn't sure about Eve Plumb as Beth.  She didn't seem sweet or kind enough at first, but I think that they did that deliberately, so that after she got sick she became much gentler and nicer.  By the end, I really, really loved her.  The scenes between Beth and Jo were some of my absolute favorites, especially toward the end.  She had me in tears, to tell the truth.

Richard Gilliland was acceptable as Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence.  I didn't love him, but I was fond of him by the end.  Same goes for Cliff Potts as John Brooke.

And finally, William Schallert as Mr. March.  I don't have a lot to say about him, except that he kept cracking me up because he played Baris in the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles," which is one of my favorites.  So I kept thinking of him in that, fussing at Captain Kirk about all the tribbles, and through the whole movie I wondered if there would be any interaction between Mr. March and Prof. Bhaer.  And there really wasn't, I'm sorry to say, other than Jo introducing Prof. Bhaer to her family at the end, so they may have smiled and nodded at each other.  I wonder if Shatner and Schallert had any fun reminiscing about Star Trek while they filmed this, or if it was like, "Oh, hi, how're you?"  It's fun to think about, anyway.

Is this movie family-friendly?  You betcha!  Nothing remotely unsavory, and my six-year-old has been reading this while I type it and asking if we could watch this some time (he's read an abridged version of the story, so knows a little bit about the characters already), and I told him we definitely can as soon as my copy arrives.

I actually jotted down my favorite lines while I was watching it, so I'm going to quick share them here:

"Anything worth reading is worth reading twice." -- Aunt March

"I want to experience something besides the dumb old things I'm supposed to do."  -- Jo

"You can't fight growing up forever, Jo.  You'll change, just like everybody else."  -- Laurie

"Such a fine young woman, with such a good mind, even if you can't learn German."  -- Professor Bhaer

"Christmas isn't Christmas unless it's snowing." -- Jo

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Container Garden Update

Just a quick update to show off how my container garden is coming along.  Actually, these photos are from almost 2 weeks ago -- just didn't have a chance to take them off my camera until now.  Click here to see what it looked like in May, if you want to compare.

Everything came up except the pansies, although only a few straggly chives came up, but oh well.  I replaced the pansies with a flower I'd never seen before called purslane.  I picked the purslane up at Walmart on a whim, and it's a short-but-rangy plant with very bright flowers.

The leaves and stems are almost rubbery, so I'm guessing it comes from arid places and handles heat and drought well.  Considering the heat index here is supposed to be over 100 today and for the next 4 days, I'm glad to have something that will survive!

Here's how big my lavender is getting:

And look at my lemon basil!  I used some of it for the first time the other night, with some fish I baked for supper.

Here's that center pot with lantana and calibrachoas.  This is before it got hot last week -- I'm so glad I took pictures when I did, because this may well have been the most glorious the calibrachoas will get.  They've gotten pretty bedraggled the last few days, and I'm sure the continual heat will not improve them.  But the lantana is going strong still!

My dad unexpectedly gave me a really nice camera last month, and I tried out some of the fun features on it for the first time the other day.  Like this one, which lets you turn everything black-and-white except for one color:

Not sure how it happened, it being a new camera and all, but my picture size got switched to square for a while, until I noticed and switched it back.  That's why a bunch of these are square, not rectangular.  I named my new camera Diego because I was reading The Mark of Zorro when my dad gave the camera to me.  It's black, Zorro wears a lot of black, and I really love the name Diego, so it fit nicely.  But don't worry, I'm not abandoning Francis!  I still love my pocket-sized red camera too, and use it more still, to tell the truth.  Diego gets used when I have time to play and experiment a little, or want to take super-good photos.  But Francis is perfect to grab and take along to a museum or playground, or just snap a quick shot of the kids being cute.

Anyway, one more shot of the whole container garden from a different angle:

Some of the nasturtiums have started flowering since I took these, and I just saw my first marigold opening yesterday, all of which add more color and variety.

And, because I was playing with Diego's zoom lens (okay, that sounded wrong), here's a shot I took of one of our little bunny visitors:

We see these almost every day throughout the spring and summer.  This is one of the adults, but on Sunday we saw a teensy baby hop out from under our deck and nibble some clover oh-so-close to our house.  It was so small I could have held it in one hand -- just adorable!  I've read that bunnies like to roll in lavender, so if I can get mine going really well, I'll find somewhere in the yard to plant it so I can share it with them.  And then we'll have lavender-scented wild rabbits!  What's not to love?