Our Halloween issue this year focuses on villainesses, and long before I knew I would be hosting the Hamlet read-along on my other blog this October, I signed up to write about Gertrude and how she can be viewed or portrayed as a villainess. No surprises there, huh?
My article is titled "Femme Fatale or Feminine Fatality: Gertrude in Hamlet," and you can read the issue online here or download it as a pdf here.
Happy Halloween! I'll be getting supper ready early for my little mice, and then into our costumes and off to trick-or-treating we go! And yeah, I'm wearing a costume too this year. I'm going as Illya Kuryakin! Kind of melding that classic turtle-neck under a sport coat look from the TV show with the wonderful Armie Hammer version from the movie. So imagine a combo of these two looks:
I've got a new guest post up here on James' blog, this time for the soundtrack from Brigadoon (1954), one of my favorite Gene Kelly musicals. Brigadoon is one of my top ten favorite musicals, but I feel like it's not as well-known as other musicals from that era. So if you like classic musicals and haven't seen it yet, try out the music in my post and if you like it, try to find the movie!
Elisabeth Grace Foley tagged me for this here -- thanks, Elisabeth! It's been a while since I nattered on about my writing process, and like most of the writers I know, I would often rather write about writing than work on any of my WIPs, hee. Okay, here are the questions and my answers, and random pictures of people writing that I have collected over the years :-)
Angel (David Boreanaz), Angel
Is there a certain snack you like to eat while writing?
Hot beverages. Hot chocolate or mocha or tea, generally. I can't eat and type at the same time, so food-like snacks get saved for reading and editing. But I love to have something hot and friendly to drink while I write.
When do you normally write? Night, afternoon, or morning?
I write on Saturday mornings if I'm not going to a movie, and after 9 pm and my kids are in bed a few evenings a week. I infinitely prefer to write during the morning when my head isn't cluttered with things I need to be doing and other every-day stuff, but it only happens on Saturdays right now.
Jerry (Bobby Darin), State Fair
Where do you write?
On Saturdays, I write at a local Starbucks, unless it's full, in which case I go to the nearby Panera. I can get my hot beverage and spend an hour or two focused on nothing but writing, which is a treat. When I write in the evenings, I'm in the living room, either on the couch or in my rocking chair, which I inherited from my Grandma. I posted about this in more detail here back in January, if you want to see pictures.
How often do you write a new novel?
Too often. I need to staple my pants to the chair and get myself to finish revising my last novel, I really do. Let's see... since 2002, I have written 6 novels, so that's one every 2 years or so. None until this last one have felt like they were worth revising and trying to have them published. I've been working on revising #6 on and off for over a year now, and I just need to quit getting distracted by other stories. (But I'm probably going to start my new novel next month during NaNoWriMo anyway.)
Caje (Pierre Jalbert), Combat!
Do you listen to music while you write?
Yes! In fact, music helps me get into my writing "zone." I love to listen to movie soundtracks and Bobby Darin while I write. A lot of times, I'll experiment with different albums when I'm first writing a story or novel, and find one that suits it perfectly and stick with that for most of my writing. For instance, I listened to almost nothing besides the soundtrack for The Quick and the Dead (1995) while writing my last WIP, with a little Bandelero! (1968) and Hour of the Gun (1967) mixed in.
What do you write on? Laptop or paper?
My laptop or our desktop computer. But I take lots of notes on bits of paper that wind up taped to the big mirror in our master bathroom.
Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), Castle
Is there a special ritual you have before or after you write?
I read back over a scene or two that leads up to where I'm going to write, to remind myself where I was heading and get back into the story's flow. That's about it. I used to also light a candle, but I only do that rarely anymore.
What do you do to get into the mood to write?
Spend time during the day going over what happens next in my story so I have it fresh in my mind when I finally get to work on it.
Um... myself? Seriously, I don't have any talismans or charms or anything like that.
Do you have a reward system for your word count?
No, but I do often come up with rewards for finishing off a story. Like I told myself that if I finished off the major overhaul of my current WIP, I could start watching the TV show Leverage, because I have season one of it on DVD and haven't started it yet. I did finish the overhaul, but I haven't had time to start Leverage yet, isn't that awful? Soon!
Julio (Rudolph Valentino), Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (I think!)
Is there anything about your writing process that others might not know about?
When Dana Andrews perches on a desk in my brain and starts talking, I take notes. Lots of notes.
Mark MacPherson (Dana Andrews), Laura
Well, that was fun! I'm only going to tag three people:
I've got a new soundtrack post up here today on James' blog. It's for a recent favorite soundtrack of mine, Alan Silvestri's The Quick and the Dead (1995). I've been listening to it a lot lately while writing my western version of "Sleeping Beauty." I've dug the movie for years, but only got the soundtrack a few months ago, and it is delicious :-9 Enjoy!
Clearly, I like my comedies old-fashioned. Of the ten titles here, three were made in the '90s, and the rest were made in the '50s and '60s. These are all what I consider "non-romantic" comedies -- my list of favorite rom-coms is here. The first of these is also on my list of favorite Christmas movies.
1. 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). One of the two funniest movies I have ever seen, and also one of the most heart-warming. DO NOT get the 1989 remake by mistake.
2. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962)
Roger Hobbs (James Stewart) and his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara) vacation with their family in a decidedly eccentric house, encountering many gently comic adventures. This is one of those movies I quote all the time in my head.
A Russian submarine gets stuck on a sandbar outside a tiny New England village, and Lt. Rosanov (Alan Arkin) goes ashore to find a way to free it without starting World War Three. This is the other funniest movie I have ever seen, and I'm way overdue for a rewatch.
4. Oscar (1991)
A wealthy mobster (Sylvester Stallone) tries to go straight and become a banker, but is constantly hindered by everyone from his daughter and wife to the chauffeur, an elocutionist, and some supposedly vicious tailors. I am not a big fan of screwball comedies, which this resembles, but oh, this movie makes me laugh.
5. Father Goose (1964)
A misanthropic drunk (Cary Grant) reluctantly becomes an island spotter during WWII and winds up on a deserted island caring for a group of young girls and their oh-so-proper chaperon (Leslie Caron). This is both sweet and salty, and I love it dearly.
6. Monkey Business (1952)
A scientist (Cary Grant) tests an anti-aging formula on himself and his wife (Ginger Rogers), with unexpected results. Marilyn Monroe has a small role too. This is one of the few movies that Cowboy will willingly watch over and over.
7. Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
Two soldiers (Kenneth Branagh and Robert Sean Leonard) woo cousins (Emma Thompson and Kate Beckinsale) in Shakespeare's classic dramedy about how what we believe about someone might be more important to us than the truth.
8. The Odd Couple (1968)
Fussbudget Felix (Jack Lemmon) and slob Oscar (Walter Matthau), try to share an apartment while Felix tries to come to terms with his recent divorce. It's delicious.
9. Dave (1993)
A lowly temp agent (Kevin Kline) who impersonates the President for fun gets called on to impersonate him for real when the actual President has a stroke. It's kind of like The Prince and the Pauper, only happier.
10. Harvey (1950)
A gentle tippler (James Stewart) has a giant, invisible rabbit named Harvey for a best friend. His sister takes him to a psychiatric hospital to get rid of the rabbit, with surprising results. Oh, this movie warms my heart. It's less laugh-out-loud funny than the other titles here, but I do get some chuckles from it too.
Well, I've seen it. Prepare yourself for some wild and whirling words, my lovely blogging friends, because I am freshly home from seeing Benedict Cumberbatch play Hamlet, I am full of caffeine and chocolate, and I am bursting with things to say. This will likely not be the most coherent or well-organized review I've ever written, but by jingo, it will be an enthusiastic one!
By the way, don't eat a Snickers bar and drink a mocha Starbucks protein coffee drink thingie at the same time. It makes the mocha taste like cough syrup. Weirdest thing. I was positively forced to eat more Snickers to get the taste out of my mouth. You've been warned.
So, obviously, I didn't go to London to see this. Thanks to something called National Theatre Live, I got to see a live performance from the relative comfort of a relatively local movie theater. Here's their little trailer for it, so you can get the teensiest of tastes:
That at least gives you an idea of what the set is like, and you can see a few of the costumes. Not that you care about that very much, though. You mainly want to know... how was Cumberbatch? Was he Hamlet-y enough? Was he wonderful? Was he lovable? Was he wild and tame and sad and angry and determined and despairing in all the right places?
Yes, he was indeed. He was a very emotional Hamlet, but also energetic. He played most scenes on the verge of tears -- here is a prince who loved his dear father very much, who still loves his mother even though he's quite angry with her, and who may have even loved his uncle until Claudius started being so dreadful. He also loves Ophelia, and maybe even Horatio. This Hamlet is very loving, very lovable. He was also very energetic -- lots of leaping and whirling and activity. In a little interview before the play began, Benedict said he ends every performance quite hungry, and I can well believe it. He made me hungry just watching! Hence the Snickers bar on the way home.
Right, more cast notes, and then I'll get into overall production stuff like text and staging. While I was exceedingly excited to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role, being a fan of his from Sherlock and so on, I was also really eager to see Ciaran Hinds as Claudius because I quite enjoy him in many things as well. Here, I was also not disappointed.
Hinds was a bombastic Claudius, fond of shouting (is this a Hinds thing? Think how shouty his Mr. Rochester is too), but also fiercely intelligent. A dangerous Claudius, which is how I like them. And he was bitter, especially toward the end, as Gertrude turned away from him more and more. I was very moved by his prayer scene, where he confesses his guilt and tries to find some sense of repentance within himself. Well done.
I can't find any pictures of Horatio (Leo Bill) online, and that's probably because he's kind of a nonentity. I was disappointed by this Horatio. He spends more time hanging out with the soldiers than with Hamlet, he popped on and off the stage at convenient moments to deliver messages, and that was about it. I want my Horatio and Hamlet to be very dear friends, you see, and while Hamlet often reached out to Horatio, literally and figuratively, Horatio seemed almost aloof, like a spectator and not a part of the proceedings.
Laertes (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) was better, but not wonderful. I never got any sense that he had any real affection for Ophelia except in a couple really nice moments involving a piano -- at the beginning, when he leaves, the two of them sat together and played a little duet, which Polonius interrupted. Then during Ophelia's flower scene, she begged him to play that song for her, which was sweet and charming, and if they'd had that same level of connectedness in the rest of their time together, I would have been well pleased.
Now, Ophelia (Sian Brooke) was really good. At first I was a little indifferent toward her, because she seemed almost childlike and sort of random, but I think they were trying to show that not only was she naive, but she was also mentally fragile already at the beginning. Not mad yet, but certainly easy to push toward madness. And her mad scenes were wrenchingly good. Really, some of the best I've seen. I had tears in my eyes by the time she made her final exit. Oh, and they did a super cool thing there where she walked off into the misty distance, and Gertrude realized Ophelia was contemplating making an end of things and rushed off after her.
Gertrude (Anastasia Hille) was good, but I didn't love her. She was very sympathetic. Polonius (Jim Norton) was fine, and so was everyone else, really. Horatio was the only off-note for me. But this was such a strong Hamlet that the story didn't suffer too much from a mostly-absent and ineffectual Horatio -- it served to isolate Hamlet further in a way.
Okay, so the set you saw a bit in that trailer, and here's another photo of it:
They did some interesting things with it with lighting and so on, making it seem almost haunted a couple of times. And then when Hamlet left to go to England, in the scene this shot is taken from, they filled it full of... something. I suspect bits of ground up car tires -- something black and clumpy that blew in through the doors as the curtain went down for the intermission. When things began again, the whole set was filled with this stuff, great heaps of it like rubble, and all the chairs were turned over and everything was disordered like there had been an earthquake or a bombing. I'm kind of figuring this was to represent the corruption and moral decay going on within the characters, or the way that Hamlet's absence affected everything while he was gone, or... something. It was kind of odd, and I must admit I spent some time puzzling over it while waiting for Hamlet to return.
Return he did, that wonderfully determined and settled-down Hamlet who comes back from cheating death and getting kidnapped/rescued by pirates. The last act was riveting, as it ought to be.
Interesting thing about their use of the text: they mixed it all up. They grabbed lines from here and there and gave them to other characters, they changed the order of some scenes or bits of scenes... at first, I was annoyed. Yes, I was. I was all, "How can you mess around this much with this text? What do you think you're doing?" But I decided to just go with it and see how it worked, and for the most part, it worked fine. I think that audience members who didn't know the text well would not have been bugged at all, but I did spend a lot of time going, "Wait, no, you don't say that. And that's not from this scene at all." One reordering I liked really well, though, was that they had the "To be or not to be" soliloquy come right after Hamlet told Polonius, "You cannot, sir, take from me anything that I will more willingly part withal -- except my life. Except my life. Except my life." That worked super well.
Ahh, speaking of the soliloquies. For most of them, they did something nifty that I very much enjoyed. Rather than having everyone else leave the stage so Hamlet could unpack his heart with words to the audience, they would plunge everyone but Hamlet suddenly into a colored half-light, with him in a spotlight, and everyone else would do this slow-mo thing while he addressed the audience in real time, so it was like here are all the things he's thinking while things are still going on around him. And then when he was done, the lights would come up and he'd rejoin the action and everything would go on as normal. I totally dug it.
I have no idea what time period they were trying to go for with the costumes and sets. They had sort of this WWII-era thing going on with the sets and props, with phonographs and telephones and stuff like that. But then the costumes ranged all over the place, from '40s looking things to Hamlet wearing I think a David Bowie t-shirt for a while, and Horatio was totally modern with lots of tattoos and sort of a scrubby, grungy thing going on. Perhaps they wanted it to be like a dream, or like a production that's sort of thrown together by a local company with whatever props and costumes they already have on hand from other plays? I have no idea, to be honest.
Okay, I'm finally running out of words and caffeine, so here's how I rate this for my Hamlet Comparisons file:
Overall Production: B+
If you're really wishing now that you had found a way to go see this -- check Fandango or a similar site, because there are encore showings scheduled! None right near me, but next week there's supposed to be one on Saturday in some places. I'm also really hoping and praying that they decide to release this to DVD, because I definitely would buy it.
Today I've got another soundtrack post up here on James the Movie Reviewer's blog, this time about the score for Ben-Hur, one of my absolute favorite soundtracks (not to mention a movie I dearly love). Cowboy gave me the two-disc full score for our first Christmas together because I had once mentioned that I wished I could find the soundtrack (he was wise in the way of internet shopping long before I was). One of the best gifts I've ever gotten. Thank you again, Cowboy! Also, thanks to you, DKoren, for helping me decide which tracks to feature in my post.
This month, the Heidi's topic for Inkling Explorations is gypsies. Go here to read her post and other people's entries.
I am going to focus on my favorite film adaptation of my favorite novel: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I love the 1983 BBC version starring Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton, and the "gypsy scene" in it never fails to delight me -- it's got just the right mix of mystery and humor.
This post is going to be spoilage-laden, for anyone who doesn't know the story of Jane Eyre. Not just know the basics, but have actually read or seen it. Just so you know!
So Mr. Rochester is having a big house party, and by "house party" I mean he has like a dozen people staying with him, neighbors and acquaintances and so on. Including the beautiful Miss Blanche Ingram, whom he is rumored to be courting. One day, while Mr. Rochester is out on business and his guests are all terribly bored, a gypsy woman comes to call. She insists on seeing all the ladies in the house to tell them their fortunes. They're bored, so off they go, though many of the ladies don't seem very pleased with her uncannily accurate predictions. Miss Ingram in particular is quite annoyed when she returns to the group.
The gypsy insists on seeing all the ladies, including the young governess, Jane Eyre. Jane agrees to go because she thinks it could be interesting. Into the library she goes to confront the old woman.
Now, the book says the gypsy "had on a red cloak and a black bonnet: or rather, a broad-brimmed gipsy hat, tied down with a striped handkerchief under her chin." They kept to the color scheme in this version at least, showing a red kerchief under a black hood of some sort.
The book also says the gypsy "drew out a short black pipe, and lighting it began to smoke," which they adhere to in this version as well.
The gypsy starts to tell Jane Eyre things about herself and her habits that make Jane suspect she's been speaking with the servants to learn things about the household. The gypsy avers it's not so, then tries to draw out Jane's thoughts and feelings about her employer, Mr. Rochester.
Jane doesn't like this at all. She's growing pretty attached to Mr. Rochester, but she doesn't really want to admit it to herself, much less a weird old gypsy.
But hey, guess what? It's not actually an old gypsy lady at all! It's actually Rochester in disguise! Hahahaha! What a good joke!
Well, he thinks it's a good joke, anyway. Jane is not at all amused because he was trying to draw her out and get her to admit she likes him. But I love how gleeful Rochester is here -- Timothy Dalton exudes boyish delight in this scene, which is what makes me love it. He doesn't expect Jane to be so awfully angry with him, as you can see.
Then, of course, she tells him a certain Mr. Mason is waiting, and all the fun is over. And this is what makes this scene so pivotal. Having learned Jane does care for him at least a bit, a deeply distressed Rochester asks if she would stand by him if all the world were against him. She says she would do so for any friend, and here I think she begins to suspect that he might return her regard, for why else would he ask her such a thing? And why else was he trying to find out how she felt about him in the first place?
If you haven't seen this version, but like the story or just like BBC period dramas in general, do yourself a favor and find it! The characterizations are first-rate, and while the filming has that '80s BBC we're-using-videotape-because-it's-cheaper thing going on, it's still very enjoyable.
(I stole this from Ivy Miranda's blog because it cracks me up.)
Ivy Miranda tagged me with this. Thanks! This is a fun one, and such a nice length. Not too long, not to short, not too heavy, not too light.
1.) A movie that kept you up all night
Well, I stayed up until 12:30am last night watching the Derek Jacobi version of Hamlet (1980). That's as close to staying up all night as I get anymore. Now, back in college, my best friend and I would routinely stay up until 2 or 3am watching movies on Friday night, then sleep like logs until noon on Saturday. But I'm no longer so young, foolish, and child-free. Today is going to involve a lot of coffee.
(Derek Jacobi and Lalla Ward)
2.) A movie that made you scared to sleep
Pretty much any horror movie I've ever seen, which is not many, but still too many. I have this terrible problem with horror movies: my brain stores away the things in them that terrify me, and then pulls them up when I'm trying to go to sleep, especially when Cowboy is away on a business trip and I'm going up the stairs alone. Which is why, unless they involve only vampires, I no longer watch horror movies.
3.) A movie that made you go to sleep
I don't generally fall asleep during movies. However, I am ashamed to admit that earlier this week, I tried watching Jacobi's Hamlet and gave up because I was so sleepy I actually dozed off while Polonius was pontificating to his children.
(Eric Porter as Polonius)
4.) A movie that left you tossing and turning all night in anticipation of its release
The Avengers, when I went to see it earlier this year as part of a double feature with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I was way more keyed up about seeing The Avengers on the big screen for a sixth time than I was about seeing the sequel.
(I never get tired of this movie. Or this moment. Or this shot.)
5.) A movie that has your dream boyfriend/girlfriend ship of two separate movies
The first part of this question doesn't make sense, so I'm removing it. I like to do crossovers in my head, but they don't generally involve romance. Like, I've crossed Angel and Lost, and Angel and Combat!, and Combat! and The Man from UNCLE in my head. But none of those involved romances. Okay, how's this: I think Audra Barkley (Linda Evans) of The Big Valley and Little Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon) of Bonanza would be a really cute couple. And they both have a tendency to be very unlucky in love, so it would be nice for both of them if they finally had a successful romance. (Yeah, all of those are TV shows, and this is supposed to be about movies. Oops.)
(Audra and Little Joe)
6.) A movie that would be your worst nightmare to live in
Uh, well, discounting obvious answers like any horror movie ever, I would really not like to live in Les Miserables, any movie version of it, because that was a terrible time and place to be in.
(Not even for Hugh Jackman would I want to live in that world.)
7.) A movie that reminds you of nighttime
The Shadow (1994), probably because it mostly takes place during the night. Alec Baldwin, Ian McKellen, Tim Curry -- it's a fun ride! Also, it's based on one of my favorite classic radio dramas.
(Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!)
8.) A movie that has a nightmarish cliffhanger
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) was pretty awful, with Smaug swooping off to kill Bard and his family and lots of other people too.
9.) A movie you actually dreamed about
So very many. I dream about fictional characters all the time. Recently I dreamed that Colin Firth was Van Helsing and ridding my giant old manor house of vampires, but my imagination just put that together -- CF has never played VH, though he was remarkably good in the role in my dream. After I saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit a month or so ago, I dreamed about Chris Pine as Jack Ryan piloting a sail boat. Those are the two most recent that I remember.
10.) A movie monster you would not want to find under your bed
Um, any of them. Okay, I would be all right with vampires because I know how to kill them. If I had to pick one that's not an obvious choice, um, oh, er, how about Jim Moriarty from the BBC's Sherlock? (Yeah, it's another TV show, not a movie. I'm a rebel, and I'll never, ever be any good.) He's so annoying, and I just know he'd keep me awake all night long by talking nonsense and making weird faces.
(Um, yes, sorry... I find him annoying. Very much so.)
So yup, there are my answers. I now tag the following people:
I have decided that I don't like writing reviews of movies I have only seen once, because generally my first viewing of a movie involves me trying to wrap my head around the who and what it's about and how it's getting handled, and I can't generally "get" the movie until the second viewing. If I liked it enough to watch it again, that is. Some movies just don't merit a second viewing.
I don't have the time or money to see every movie I like in the theater twice. (And yes, sometimes I see the same movie in the theater 2 or 3 or even 5 or 6 times, but only Special movies warrant a second in-theater viewing, and only EXTRA Special movies get more than that.)
So if I want to review a movie while it's still in theaters, but can't/don't want to see it twice in the theater... I have to review them after one viewing. Which is what I'm doing here.
Because I thought The Martian was excellent. Intelligent writing, superb acting, spectacular effects. But I know I won't have time to see it in the theater again, though I want to see it on DVD. So I'm just going to give it a cursory review now, and when I see it on DVD, I may review it more thoroughly.
Let's start with the acting. This is Matt Damon's show, and he unabashedly owns it. He gets to run an emotional gamut here, from stressed to angry to fearful to sad to determined to hopeless to joyful to annoyed. He nails them all.
Everyone else ranged from fine to great, with Chiwetel Ejiofer and Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean on the great end, Jessica Chastain and Sebastian Stan and Kate Mara in the middle, and everyone else doing fine, but nothing hugely special. I was really excited to see Aksel Hennie (and hear his voice) because I liked him a lot in Hercules (2014).
I have read a lot of reviews of the book by Andy Weir, and many of them mentioned its wry humor, so I was looking forward to seeing how a story about a guy stranded on Mars could be funny. It did not disappoint. Though this had its scary and tense and sad parts, much of this movie actually had kind of a feel-good vibe, and it definitely had a lot of funny lines and moments.
One part that I found absolutely hilarious, that made me laugh aloud, involved a reference to the Council of Elrond from The Fellowship of the Ring, and what made me laugh was that Sean Bean was sitting right there, and of course as Boromir, he was at the Council of Elrond, and so I absolutely busted up over that moment. And no one else in the theater laughed there, though they all laughed a couple beats later over a related joke. Hmm.
Anyway, I totally dug this movie and I really want to read the book now. Is it family-friendly? Not perzackly. There's a fair bit of bad language, including taking God's name in vain and the F-word. There's also a rear-naked shot that establishes just how much of a physical toll the food privations are taking on the main character. And like I said, there are scary and intense moments. This will clean up really easily with a program like ClearPlay, I think, so if you're in doubt, wait for the DVD, I guess. But if you're willing to deal with those things, this is breathtaking on the big screen. I had to see it in 3D because that was the only showtime that worked, and the 3D was really well-done -- it made you feel like you were actually there on Mars, not just seeing pictures of it.