Friday, May 17, 2024

"Ophelia" (2018)

It's always fun to see a new take on a favorite old story.  I have read Ophelia by Lisa Klein (read my review here) twice, and I very much enjoy the way Klein reimagines Hamlet from Ophelia's perspective while also putting a few spins on the story that draw from other Shakespeare plays.

When Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) is still fairly young, Queen Gertrude (Naoimi Watts) takes her in and helps her learn to be a lady-in-waiting.  Ophelia's father Polonius (Dominic Mafham) is pleased by this because he hopes it will help advance his career, as he is a new advisor to King Hamlet (Nathaniel Parker).

Until he goes away to further his education in Paris, Ophelia's brother Laertes (Tom Felton) helps her learn to read and learn things from the books kept locked in the library, which girls aren't supposed to enter.  The other ladies-in-waiting are not kind to Ophelia because she is a commoner, but the fact that she can read endears her to Queen Gertrude, who has Ophelia read aloud to her when she is bored.

Eventually, Prince Hamlet (George MacKay) returns from his own studies abroad with his friend Horatio (Devon Terrell).  Ophelia and Hamlet flirt and hesitantly begin to fall in love, but Hamlet and Horatio must return to their studies in Wittenberg, and Ophelia must stay at Elsinore.

Queen Gertrude allows herself to become distracted by her husband's brother, Claudius (Clive Owen).  Distracted from what?  Loneliness, fear of aging, and worry that her husband is more interested in politics than in her, basically.  When King Hamlet dies mysteriously and suddenly, Prince Hamlet and Horatio return for his funeral, but arrive only in time to witness the queen's remarriage.  She weds Claudius, who is then declared King of Denmark, an elected role, but one that would probably have gone to the prince if his uncle had not stepped up to the throne before Hamlet could return.  

Hamlet tries to figure out the truth behind his father's death and Ophelia tries to help Gertrude, who may be in danger from her new husband.  Gertrude has sent Ophelia several times to visit a healer and potions maker (also Naomi Watts) who lives in the woods outside the castle.  Ophelia tries to bolster the queen with her own courage and optimism, but Gertrude relies more and more on tinctures and potions from the woman in the woods.

SPOILER ALERT for the next paragraph because this story DEVIATES from Shakespeare's version, so the following things may be surprises.

Ophelia and Hamlet get married in secret.  Ophelia tries to convince Hamlet to run off and start a new life with her, but he becomes increasingly determined to find out if his uncle killed his father.  In the end, Ophelia chooses to leave without him, with Horatio's help, and she is able to escape the madness in Elsinore.


This is a very, very pretty movie. The costumes are lavish and lovely, especially the dresses worn by Gertrude and her ladies-in-waiting.

I like that the ladies tend to wear the same clothing over and over, with different accessories or slight alterations.  That seems very realistic, much more so than everyone having a different outfit for every scene.

Elsinore is stately inside and out.

Some of the staging and cinematography is particularly striking.  Here is King Hamlet, being prepared for burial.  If you click on the image, you can see it larger, and you'll notice how many skulls are in this shot.  It's a small detail, but really cool.  

All the candles remind me so much of the underground, candlelit graveyard from another Hamlet retelling, The Wild and the Dirty (Johnny Hamlet) (1968).

The opening shot of the film is particularly cool because it deliberately recreates the famous painting Ophelia by Sir John Everett Millais.

Anyway, time to talk a bit about the characters and how they are portrayed!

Daisy Ridley's Ophelia refers to herself as being headstrong and willful, but I mostly get the sense that she simply cares very deeply about the people around her.  She doesn't let other people make up her mind for her, but she does take their opinions into consideration.  She's a sweet and loving daughter and sister, and tries to be a loyal servant to the queen, but she is mostly very lonely.  The other ladies-in-waiting pick on her and tease her and shun her, and so of course she is warmed and charmed by Hamlet paying attention to her.

George MacKay's Hamlet is at times stubborn, at times clueless, and at times very tender and affectionate.  Which is how I like my Hamlets.  He's the kind of mess we all have been in our late teens and early twenties, only he's been plopped into a horrific situation and has no good guidance for how to react to it.  I like how playful this Hamlet can be, and how much he does appear to care about Ophelia.

However, the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia leaves me feeling something is lacking.  In the book, there is a lot of time spent developing their friendship, affection, and love.  In the movie, they dance once and have a couple of conversations and arguments, and then they're pledging eternal love all of a sudden.  I wish the filmmakers had spent another ten minutes on showing their relationship deepening, or even given us a five-minute montage of them enjoying hanging out together and getting to know each other.  That's my one real quibble about this film -- the book is much better in that regard.

Tom Felton's Laertes is studious and earnest.  I love that he teaches Ophelia to read and sneaks her into the library.  He definitely has some hotheaded tendencies, which works well for the ending.  He's not a favorite Laertes for me, but I like him.

Devon Terrell's Horatio deserves more screen time.  He's much more important in the book, and becomes an ally for Ophelia.  Here, he mostly hangs out on the sidelines.  What time he gets is very nice, though -- he's a bit playful, has big dreams for the future, and is a good friend to Hamlet.

Naomi Watts's Gertrude is a mess, but she's meant to be -- she's like a cautionary tale of what can happen to a woman if she believes her value as a person is tied to her looks and how much other people like her.  

Clive Owens's Claudius is scary.  I usually find Owens quite handsome, but he's harsh and unpleasant for most of this film.  He's definitely doing the hulking villain thing to the utmost.

Dominic Mafham's Polonius is the nicest Polonius I have ever seen.  He has a kindly relationship with both Ophelia and Laertes, though he's a bit distant -- but they have a lovely family dynamic, obviously caring about one another even if they don't always know how to show it.  Ophelia gives him a sweet little kiss on the cheek at one point, and he smiles so sweetly.  Though he does think that Ophelia's being a lady-in-waiting and then attracting the prince's attention are both things that can advance his career, this Polonius does not use his daughter as a pawn the way some do.

One random tiny thing I love about this movie: Nathaniel Parker playing King Hamlet.  He played Laertes in the 1990 movie starring Mel Gibson.  He was my first Laertes, and a big part of why I love that character so much.  That makes it extra 'specially awesome to see him here in a different role!  He's an interesting Hamlet too -- warm one moment and distrustful the next.  I'd love to have seen more of him, as I think they could have fleshed him out a bit more.

Also a random side note:  Naomi Watts is married to Liev Schreiber in real life, and Liev Schreiber plays my favorite Laertes ever, in the version of Hamlet (2000) starring Ethan Hawke.  This also makes me happy.

Is this movie family friendly?  Um, it's not really appropriate for kids, as there is a short love scene (no nudity, and the couple is married), there's a witch character with some mildly creepy stuff in her home, and there's some poisoning and stabbing and so on.  Fine for older teens, depending on the teen?

I have an ongoing series called Hamlet Comparisons where I like to rate the various characters as portrayed in different adaptations and productions of Hamlet.  Here's how I'd rate these:

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

This has been my contribution to the It's in the Name of the Title Blogathon hosted this week by Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews and Rebecca from Taking Up Room.

Monday, May 06, 2024

"The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare" (2024) -- Initial Thoughts

You know what this felt like?  A 1960s-style WWII movie, but with 1970s-style levels of violence and language.

I really love movies where the director and actors are all having a really great time, and you feel like they're inviting you to just have fun and enjoy yourself alongside them.  That is absolutely the vibe this movie had.  Was it one of the most violent movies I have seen?  Yes.  But it wasn't dark and it wasn't eerie and it wasn't depressing.  And it contained that sense of camaraderie and the brothers-in-arms-who-will-die-for-each-other attitude that I absolutely love in true stories about WWII and the classic films about it. 

Also, there was really no shoehorning of modern sensibilities into this movie about real people and real events.  That's so delicious.  It was like Midway (2019) in that way.  These people FELT like they were 1940s folks.  Fantastic. 

Also, the film did not sidestep the issue of "Nazis hated the Jews."  In fact, it made it explicitly clear that the main bad guy decides to torture and kill someone not because he discovers they are a spy, but because he figures out they are Jewish.  And he is a completely evil character that the audience is never asked to sympathize with.  In our particular moment in time, that seems like a bold statement, and I appreciated it.

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare (2024) is about a ragtag group of five Allied men and one women, each with their own very specific set of often unsavory skills, who get sent on a daring black-ops raid against the Nazis.  It's kind of like The Dirty Dozen (1967) or The Devil's Brigade (1968), but make it British.  And a true story.  Like The Monuments Men (2014), but with a higher body count and more gallows humor.

Did I mention it's a true story?  It is.  I've been doing some digging around, and I need to read some books on this whole heist raid thing, because it is amazing.  My library only has the audiobook edition of Damien Lewis's book that this movie is based on (so rude!), so I simply have to buy my own copy.  Also, I need the movie soundtrack, but it looks like that's only on mp3 and not CD (also rude), at least so far.  May have to get the mp3 version, I guess.

This really isn't a review so much as a rambling assortment of my thoughts about the film.  Sorry.  I've only seen it once, and I have a lot of things I want to say, but it's not really an easy film to straight-up review.  I'm simply going to have to go see this movie again.  

The cast is delightful, especially Henry Cavill and Eiza Gonz├ílez and Cary Elwes.  It's always weird seeing Cary Elwes in anything besides The Princess Bride (1987), but I got kinda used to him by the end of this.  Honestly, I went to see this because WWII + Henry Cavill + Guy Ritchie sounded like it might be a good mix, and I was not disappointed!

This is not a family friendly movie, though.  There is some serious cussing, some innuendo, and a LOT of violence.  Not quite the level of a Quentin Tarantino movie (which I have just kind of quit watching because they started turning my stomach), but blood spatter happens, and a lot of death happens.  Also, the bad guy is a sadistic creep who tortures people for his own pleasure.  We do not see that torture, but we see a victim of it (not in detail), and we fear very much for another character when it becomes obvious he has Very Bad Plans for them.  There were several places where the film started tilting toward the dark and disturbing, then very nicely sidestepped that and forged merrily ahead instead, much to my relief.  It had the attitude of, "There are really bad things happening in this world because there are very bad people in this world -- but let's blow something up instead of talking about that too much."  If that makes any sense.

Do I recommend this to people who are adults and won't be bothered by the violence?  Absolutely.  It's a remarkably good time.

Oh!  And they had little things at the end before the credits, telling us what happened to the actual people involved in the story, later during the war.  I love it when movies do that.

But it's kind of unfair that Henry Cavill can be completely covered with a shaggy beard and twirly mustache and still be that attractive.  The repeated gag about his character stealing progressively cooler coats was one of my favorite random little things in the movie.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Five Books? Surreal.

It's a little hard to believe I have five books out now.  Five!  One was amazing.  Two was terrific.  Three and four felt like really good progress.  But five books, out in the world, on people's shelves.  On my own shelves.  Somehow, five seems like a significant number.  Like I'm not just dabbling in publishing my books.  Like this is a real series now, not just a few books that I keep saying is a series.

(from my Instagram)

My launch tour for The Man on the Buckskin Horse is over.  I've updated the links in the tour post if you want to check out any you've missed.  It feels really fitting that this novella would be the number five book, the book that makes me really sit back and say, "Yup, this is a real series.  I'm an author with staying power."  Because this is the novella that launched my publishing career, when it was published in the Five Magic Spindles anthology in 2016.  It's like a homecoming of sorts, that I'm able to bring it into my series officially at last.  And in such a pretty illustrated edition!  I love it a lot.

That's probably enough rambling about this book.  I'll leave you with this cool book video that Deborah Koren made for me :-D

Monday, April 29, 2024

Book Tour for "The Man on the Buckskin Horse"

It's book tour time!  The illustrated edition of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Man on the Buckskin Horse, releases Tuesday!  Here is a link to it on Amazon, where you can get the paperback and Kindle editions.  (Well, the paperback drops on Tuesday, and you can pre-order the Kindle until then.)

I have put together a short online tour for this release, including several interviews, lots of book reviews, and some other types of stops as well.  For website and blog stops, I will update links as things go live.  

Note that the interviews on Monday and Friday are live events that you can join on Instagram and watch as they happen, and even ask questions during!  Those will be archived on Instagram as well, to watch any other time that works for you.

Here is the book tour itinerary:

Monday, April 29

Live interview with @books_with_cordy at 8pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @jillions_of_stories on Instagram

Tuesday, April 30 -- Release Day

Post by the book's illustrator, Skye Hoffert, on her blog Ink Castles
Book review by @thefilmdirectorswife on Instagram
Book review by @ive_seen_a_new_world on Instagram

Wednesday, May 1

Book review by Kilmeny on her blog VT Dorchester
Book review by @giltedgedpages on Instagram
Book review by @thepurplegiraffereads on Instagram

Thursday, May 2

Interview with Suey Nordberg on YouTube
Book review by @elisabethaimeebrown on Instagram

Friday, May 3

Live interview with @eldmountain at 7pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @aliciaandherbooks on Instagram

Don't forget that if you buy a copy of The Man on the Buckskin Horse by May 31, you are eligible to receive a pack of related goodies!  There's more info about that in this post.  

As always, you can order signed paperback copies of my books via this form.  I don't have paperbacks for Buckskin on hand yet, but I should have them soon, and will ship them out as soon as I have them.  All paperbacks ordered directly from me before May 31 will automatically receive the packet of goodies.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Goodies for "The Man on the Buckskin Horse"

When you buy the new illustrated edition of my Sleeping Beauty retelling The Man on the Buckskin Horse between now and May 31, you can receive a packet of related goodies!

All you have to do is buy a copy (paperback or ebook) before the end of May, and then fill out this form.  I will send you one bookmark, two stickers, and one art card of your choice!  All of those feature artwork by Skye Hoffert that are also in the book.

If you haven't read this novella yet, here's what it's about::
As the local midwife and sole medical professional in her Nebraska community, Miss Emma always wants to help. When she learns the Owens family's bitter enemy has hired a gunman to force them from their home, she rushes to the Owens homestead to warn them. But the gunman has arrived sooner than expected. Despite Miss Emma's efforts to protect her friends, her actions only worsen their plight. Now, Rosalind Owens battles a severe infection, and Miss Emma's medical skills aren’t enough to save her. 

Professional gunman Luke Palmer was hired to remove the Owenses from their land, but he now suspects the family has a legal right to stay. As fear and uncertainty grip the Owens family, Palmer offers his aid. Can they trust him, or is his offer a ploy to remove them from their land for good? Amidst these conflicts, Palmer faces his own internal struggle, torn between his wish to forget the past and the urgent need to save an innocent life.

You can pre-order the Kindle edition here right now, and the paperback will be released April 30!

As always, you can order signed paperback copies of my books via this form.  I don't have paperbacks for Buckskin on hand yet, but I should have them right around the release date.

Friday, April 12, 2024

"Paper Bullets" (1941)

This movie is a mess.

It's like they took all the things that would connect up the different parts of the story and chopped them out, assuming the audience would just jump merrily from conclusion to conclusion.  Or something.  

The message of the movie is clear: don't shun the children of criminals for what their parents did, or else they might become criminals themselves.  And I can get behind that message.  In fact, it's a good message, and deserves a coherent story to present it.  Alas, that's exactly what it doesn't get in Paper Bullets (1941), which is also known as Gangs, Inc. because why not give it two titles?  People are already confused.  It's fine.

Also, I suspect that the title cards at the beginning got redone when it was shown on TV in the late 1940s, after Alan Ladd became a big star, because he really just has a small (yet pivotal!) part, but his name is listed at the top in big, bold letters.  Maybe that's when it was retitled too?  The poster to the left is completely and utterly misleading, by the way.  Alan Ladd's character is not a hardened criminal who can kill you by glaring at you.  Though I guess we do see a mugshot of him at one point -- actually, of one of his characters.  He sort-of is playing two characters, though we really only ever see one of them.

Like I said, it's a mess.  Let's dig in and get our hands dirty exploring it, shall we?

The whole thing opens when a little girl named Rita Adams is reunited with her dad, who just got out of prison.  They get to live happily together again for two minutes and forty-two seconds, and then her dad is gunned down at her playground while shielding little Rita behind him.

Rita grows up in an orphanage, where she makes friends with Bob and Mickey.  Bob is a smart guy and Mickey is a tough guy, and Rita is pals with both, though she likes Bob more.  We get one whole scene in the orphanage, which is only there to introduce the guys and show us that Rita has a birthmark behind her left ear because that will be important for exactly two seconds when our story lurches into Rita's adult life -- we know the next person we see is Rita because of that birthmark.

Adult Rita (Joan Woodbury) shares an apartment with her sweet pal Donna (Linda Ware), works at a munitions plant or something, and is dating a rich drunk named Harold DeWitt (Phillip Trent).  Her life is peachy keen for about four minutes, until she gets fired because her employers found out her dad spent time in prison.  Donna says it's fine because the rent is paid, but Rita is NOT fine with this.

While out cruising around with Rita, her drunken boyfriend Harold kills someone in a hit-and-run accident.  Harold's rich daddy's lawyer tells Harold to convince Rita to take the rap for him, even if it means promising to marry Rita.  The lawyer tells Rita that she will get off lightly and not have to do prison time, but hahahaha, not true at all.  She goes to prison.

When Rita gets out of prison twelve seconds after we saw her sentenced, her old friends Bob (John Archer) and Mickey (Jack LaRue) are waiting to pick her up, along with her bestie Donna.  Good old Harold is nowhere to be seen.

Mickey has a bit of juicy news for Rita: Harold's dad, Clarence DeWitt (George Pembroke) paid the lawyer to make sure Rita went to jail so Harold wouldn't have to marry her.  Naturally, this news prompts Rita to embark on a crime spree.  Like every sensible girl who's discovered she was double-crossed by the man who said he'd marry her, she dons a blond wig and starts robbing rich guys, poker games, nightclubs, and brokerage firms.  What else would she do with her time?

Donna never seems to glom onto the fact that Rita is a one-woman crime wave.  The blond bandit in the papers can't be Rita because Rita has dark hair, obviously.  Meanwhile, Rita's orphanage pal Mickey has become kind of a big deal with the New York mob, and he invites Rita and Donna to move to New York.  Donna is a singer, and he promises to find her a place singing in a nightclub.

Everything goes super well in New York.  We're only twenty-six minutes into the film, and Donna is a singing sensation!  Rita has plans to keep busy in the big city too, of course.  Heh heh heh.

Meanwhile, good old Harold's dad, Clarence DeWitt, has started stirring pots and claiming that the New York police are in league with the mob.  The police chief cooks up a great plan to prove this is not true and that it's DeWitt who is in with the mob.  His plan?  Have a sweet policeman wannabe named Jimmy Kelly (Alan Ladd) pretend to be mobster Bill Dugan (also Alan Ladd, but with messy hair) and infiltrate the mob to gather evidence.

This is a fool-proof plan.  Jimmy Kelly has never been trained in how to be a policeman, much less how to pass himself off as a mobster, but since he's identical to Bill Dugan, it'll be fine.  Never mind that Dugan isn't even in prison or some other city -- he's here in New York too, but obviously that won't complicate anything.

(I was really hoping for some split-screen action where Alan Ladd confronts Alan Ladd for impersonating himself, but that clearly was too fancy for this B picture, so all we get is two photographs to compare.  Sigh.)

Because there are only four or five mobsters in all of NYC, Bill/Jimmy works with Mickey to collect bribes.  This gives Alan Ladd some chances to work on his Tough Guy act, as well as practice delivering barbed banter, which is the most fun this movie provides.  I never said the movie had nothing going for it.

We get treated to Leaning Alan Ladd...

...Hat-Tipping Alan Ladd...

...Smiling Alan Ladd...

...and Desk-Perching Alan Ladd!  You can collect them all!

Anyway, old man DeWitt gets a grand jury rolling to investigate a bunch of mobsters.  Rita decides this is her chance to get back at him for sending her to prison.  She takes to the radio, spouting allegations about DeWitt being in league with the mobsters himself.  Then she meets up with the mob bosses and says she can help them take DeWitt down or something, if only they'll let her be a mob boss too.

What mob boss in his right mind is going to turn down an offer like that?  Clearly, this chick is capable of running a big crime organization.  She knows how to talk on the radio, after all.  And she has a Plan for a way to blackmail DeWitt into doing what she wants, which involves some incriminating letters that Mickey stole fifteen minutes earlier in the film.

Rita wants to become a mob boss so she can make lots of money and build a nice playground for underprivileged kids.  I am not even joking.

Meanwhile, Bill/Jimmy and Donna have met up and gotten friendly.  They engage in some cute flirtation in Donna's dressing room, where Donna begs Bill/Jimmy to give up racketeering and get an honest job.  

Bill/Jimmy alllllmost tells Donna he's actually a good guy.

But he doesn't.  Which is probably wise.

This is the best scene of the whole movie, so pardon me if we lingered there a bit.

Bill/Jimmy gets to give the movie its original title: "Paper bullets" are votes.  Now you know.

Some plot happens.  The bad guys discover, accidentally, that Bill/Jimmy is really Jimmy, not Bill at all, through no fault of his own.  Three bad guys take Jimmy on a little ride, resulting in the absolute worst car chase scene in the history of cinema.

The police chief and a pal chase that car around, trying to rescue Bill/Jimmy.  The entire chase scene consists of shots of bored people inside the cars alternated with shots of black cars zooming around at night.

You can't tell which car is which or what is going on.  At all.  And this goes on for a little over two minutes.  Then, one car... goes over a cliff or something?  The only way we know it was the mobster car is that the police chief and his friend jump out of their car and look over the edge.

Since Bill/Jimmy was in that car, we can assume he has died.  That's certainly what Rita and Donna assume.

We, the viewers, are left to assume exactly that for nearly nineteen whole seconds before the police chief reveals, with a chuckle, that it's not true at all, we're just faking Bill/Jimmy's death.  Because of reasons.

Then Rita and Bob (remember Bob from the orphanage?) get married!  Bob is an airplane designer or something?  Totally decent guy.  No idea that his new wife and her best friend Mickey are mobsters.  That is, not until they've been married for a minute and a half, when a guy shows up with an arrest warrant and subpoena for Rita as they leave the Justice of the Peace's office.

There go her plans to build a big playground for underprivileged kids!

Mickey kills somebody for something, we have a bunch of courtroom stuff that drags on for at least three minutes, and then the police spring a surprise witness: Bill/Jimmy!  He's alive!

Donna is super happy to see him!  Mickey is not, and tries to shoot him (because he totally just waltzed into the courtroom packing a gun in a shoulder holster and nobody cared).  But that was just the evidence the police wanted to arrest Mickey too.  The mob bosses, including Rita, are all found guilty and sentenced to prison.  Poor Bob vows he'll wait for her and be faithful to her for as long as it takes for her to get released.  (At the clip this movie travels, that should take about forty seconds, but who's counting?)

I guess Donna got her playground built after all, even though she went to prison, because this is the movie's final shot.  I would totally play in a playground with a creepy sign like this on its gate, wouldn't you?

I spent way too much time taking screencaps of this mess.  I hope you enjoyed them.  At least Alan Ladd is super cute in it, and he gets a fair bit to do, too!

Either this movie is in the public domain, or it's so nonsensical that no one cares to protect it, because you can watch it on YouTube with no problem.  Just in case you like movies that make no sense!  Or you want to see a prototype of Alan Ladd's tough-but-actually-nice-inside characters.

This has been my contribution to the Second Annual Favorite Stars in B Movies Blogathon hosted by Films from Beyond the Time Barrier.