Friday, May 24, 2024

"Come September" (1961)

This is basically your standard cute '60s romcom.  But it has Bobby Darin in it, which adds a little extra flair :-)

Wealthy American playboy-businessman Robert Talbot (Rock Hudson) is having an unexpectedly bad time of it.  He decided to return to his vacation home, an Italian villa, in the summertime instead of in September, as is his habit.  Once there, he discovers that his trusted majordomo Maurice (Walter Slezak) does not keep the villa in impeccable condition during the rest of the year when Robert is in America -- he turns it into a hotel!  

In fact, Robert's home is currently inhabited by a group of American teenage girls, chaperoned by a formidable matron named Margaret (Brenda de Banzie).  Margaret is determined to keep her charges untouched by man or beast while she shepherds them about Italy.  But camped outside the hotel is a group of the most terrible beasts of all: teenage boys.

To make matters worse, Robert's Italian girlfriend Lisa Fellini (Gina Lollobrigida) has gotten tired of being his main squeeze for only part of the year.  Since Robert has shown no intention of marrying her, she's gotten herself engaged to another man.  Of course, Robert is sure he can win her back, if he can just get her alone at his villa for a while.

Robert finds himself feeling protective of these seemingly innocent American girls, and does his best to keep those beastly boys away from them.  But all his pseudo-fatherly advice does little to convince the girls to keep a clear head around the boys -- and it does far less than one drunken pass at Sandy (Sandra Dee) made by Tony (Bobby Darin).  The girls realize the guys might not have the most honorable intentions, right about the same time that the boys realize they're going to have to learn to be deserving of those nice girls.

Everything turns out fine in the end, of course.  You can rely on '60s romcoms to deliver oddball misunderstandings and kooky situations galore, but always always always with a happy ending.  

Come September tends to be considered Bobby Darin's screen debut.  Although he had appeared in a couple of small television roles and played himself in Pepe (1960), this was the first time he played an actual role on the big screen.  His character, Tony, is kind of a stinker for most of the film, pestering Robert, always trying to get Sandy alone, and acting as ringleader for the pack of boys.  But he plays Tony as having a lot of intelligence that he's hiding under his mischievous grin, and you get the feeling that, once he decides being serious is worth it, he's going to be just as dedicated to that as he has been to hijinks.

Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee fell in love while shooting this movie and were married soon after.  Their off-screen romance boosted the film's popularity when it was released.  

Of course, this is Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida's movie, not Bobby and Sandy's -- and they make a fantastic pair!  I always think Rock Hudson is at his best when he is playing "exasperated but trying really hard to be gentlemanly about something," and that's basically his character's mood for this entire film, so I get a big kick out of it.

Come September was actually shot in Italy; most of the location shots were done in Portofino.  I think that really helps to lend the film an idyllic, Old World grace that studio shots and matte paintings wouldn't have provided so well.

Is this movie family friendly?  If your kids aren't old enough to pick up on the string of double-entendres in Bobby Darin's song "Multiplication," and aren't worldly wise enough to understand why Lisa is trying to sneak into Robert's room at night, sure.  No cussing, and no actual smut, though Lollobrigida does wear some low-cut dresses and we see her in lingerie.

This review is my contribution to the Screen Debuts and Last Hurrahs blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association.  My first time participating in an event as an official CMBA member!  

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