Jumping on the bandwagon (and NOT) with my 2008 movie list

So, like a lot of people at the end of the year, I'm making up a list of movies for 2008. I looked through this list of 2008 releases to see how many I've watched. Any guesses? It's a whopping three! I saw:

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father
Iron Man (unfortunately)
WALL-E (a couple times)

(I do still want to see some more on this list, like Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.)

Yes, three movies in a year would be rather pathetic for a movie blogger, but I did watch tons of other, older movies. This just goes to show a few things about me. Firstly, I am out of the habit of seeing movies in the theater. It used to be an almost weekly event for me, but living in NY for a while (with low funds and high ticket prices) cured me of that. I had to get more selective about what I watched, and became more content to wait to see things when they came out on video.

Also, I think it's possible that I'm just not a movie critic at heart. Sure, I enjoy ripping a bad movie to shreds and analyzing all the details of a good movie, but I'm not trying to be the next Roger Ebert or anything. Nobody pays me to sit through a crappy movie, and if they offered to I would probably tell them no anyway! I don't watch movies that I think from the start will stink. I also don't usually like being shocked, scared, or offended, which for me rules out (even popular) films with lots of language, sex, and violence.

Finally, this just reinforces my stand as a classic movie lover. While I only managed to see three new releases this year, I did see many new-to-me classic movies. Although I wasn't keeping track and therefore may be leaving some out, here's a list of old movies I sought out or discovered in 2008 (links are to my reviews):

Boomerang! (1947)
The Doll
The Grapes of Wrath
Jane Eyre (1944)
Rachel and the Stranger
The Thief
The Thin Man
The War of the Worlds (1953)
Witness for the Prosecution

Not that I didn't watch any newer movies, here's a few more recent movies that I watched in 2008:

Across the Universe
Eat Drink Man Woman
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
P.S. I Love You

I watched these newer ones with more mixed results than the older movies. I also re-watched tons of favorites, as I do every year, but I won't even try to include them here. So, that's my list. Where else could you find WALL-E and The Grapes of Wrath together for 2008?


How did you get into classic movies?

The poll is closed and the results are in. In answer to the above question, 8% of respondents got into classic movies thanks to school or a film class, 33% got started with recommendations from friends or family, and the majority (50%) found old movies on TV. That leaves another 8% that fell in love with classic movies some other way. (Yeah, that only adds up to 99%, but that's the numbers my poll gave me.)

This brings up other questions that can't be so easily gotten in a click-to-answer poll:

For those that found old movies on TV, what channel were you watching? TCM, AMC, or just a late-night showing of something classic?

For those who didn't find their answer on the poll, how did you discover classic movies? Video rental? Something else I haven't thought of?

For everyone: Was there one movie you can point to as being the first old movie you really got into? A movie that made you take notice and think, what other wonderful classics have I been missing?

As for me, I grew up watching old movies, so my answer would be family recommendations. But I've also benefited from video rentals and old movies on TV (especially TCM) for rounding out my classic movie knowledge. There are so many movies I have seen so many times since I was young that I can't remember my first reactions to them (Citizen Kane, Some Like it Hot, The Maltese Falcon) but there are a few that I remember discovering later, sometimes on my own, and loving the fact that I found them (The Hustler, Out of the Past, The Major and the Minor).

Whether you answered in the original poll or not, feel free to weigh in with your answers here.


My answer to the 20 Actresses Meme: I like Actors better

There's a 20 favorite actresses meme going around. It started at The Film Experience blog. I've had a terrible time trying to come up with a list of my own. Not because there are so many actresses out there, but because I've realized that there aren't a lot of actresses I think are really great. How can this be? I don't know. Maybe I am jealous watching someone else get the leading man of my dreams. Maybe I am jealous of really beautiful women. Maybe as a girl, I've just learned to be catty to other girls. Isn't that sad? Whatever the case, I have come up with a list of 20 actresses that don't (usually) annoy me:

That's Leslie, Lee, Marilyn, Cate, Grace; Katharine, pre-botox Meg, Ingrid, Tina, Judy; Meryl, Natalie, Ginger, Mary, Amy; Hayley, Gwyneth, Judy, Agnes & Lauren.

Cate Blanchett has the distinction of being the only one on this list whose movies I don't own. I just think she is a good actress (and she doesn't irritate me).

My favorites on here are Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman & Ginger Rogers.

As I was making this list, I decided it would be much more fun to make a list of favorite actors. I thought, surely someone is bound to answer back the top 20 actresses list with their top 20 actors, right? It might as well be me. And so I made this list, and it was such a breeze! Here come the men:

That's Clark, Henry, Gene, Joseph, George C., Spencer, Humphrey, Dana, William, Jack; Cary, Paul, Jimmy, Ray, Orson; Marlon, Kirk, Sidney, George & Alec.

You'll see this list was made with only classic movie actors. So as a bonus, here's another five new(er) actors I happen to like:

Jude, Harrison, Ewan, Leo & Tom.

If I tried to narrow this list down to top favorites, it would probably be Spencer Tracy, Jack Lemmon, Humphrey Bogart, Dana Andrews, Cary Grant, Ray Milland, Orson Welles, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman & Tom Hanks. See how much more generous I am to the males?

If you want to make your own list, feel free to choose actresses or actors or both. If you do actors, please link or comment here with your lists. I'd like to see some more testosterone about. Let the 20 Actors meme begin!


Overlooked Oldies: Holiday

Giving the label "overlooked" to some movies seems to me a risky thing to do. It begs for people to pounce on the choice, saying "That's not an overlooked movie! Everyone has seen that! What are you talking about?" My purpose in making a list of Overlooked Oldies is to highlight some movies that are worthy of watching even though they haven't gotten as much attention as some other classics. They might not be the most obscure films ever, but they're not the movies on the top of everyone's classic must-see lists, either. If you haven't seen the movies that always seem to make these lists (like Citizen Kane and Casablanca) by all means do so. My selections are meant to supplement and round out such lists.

Now I'll stop being defensive and share my next Overlooked Oldies pick: Holiday. Not The Holiday or Roman Holiday, just Holiday.

This 1938 George Cukor movie stars Cary Grant as Johnny Case, a self-made man recently engaged to the beautiful Julia Seton (Doris Nolan). Since their courtship has been brief, he knows very little about her, and is thus shocked when he goes to meet her family and finds out how rich they are.

The other Seton children are Linda (Katharine Hepburn) and Ned (Lew Ayres). The sibling relationships can be summed up in this bit of dialogue:

Linda: "Well, I know you wouldn't expect it of a man in father's position, but the fact is, money is our god here."

Julia: "Johnny, it isn't true at all."

Ned: "No? What is then?"

Julia is the most like her father and shares his reverence for riches while Linda is fed up and looking for something else to do with her life. She is thus known as the black sheep of the family. Ned tends to agree with Linda although he appears to have given up on his dreams, spending his time drinking instead of fighting his father. It's quite heartbreaking to watch him, actually.

The movie is not named for any holiday celebrations (although there are two very different New Year's Eve parties in the film). The title instead refers to Johnny's goal of taking some time off to enjoy life. He's been working since he was ten and is now ready for a break to find out why he's doing it. His plan is this: "Retire young, work old. Come back and work when I know what I'm working for."

Julia and her father have other ideas for Johnny and try to pressure him into a new job and way of thinking. More understanding of Johnny's plan is sister Linda. You can probably guess how things will turn out, but it is still fun to go along with these characters for the ride.

Other things that make the movie enjoyable: the moments that showcase Cary Grant's acrobatic skills ("Can you do a back-flip-flop, can you really?") and Johnny's down to earth friends Nick and Susan Potter, played by Jean Dixon and wonderful character actor Edward Everett Horton.

If you've seen and enjoyed The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby, don't miss Holiday, another great pairing of Grant and Hepburn.


What's Tom Hardy doing in Marie Antoinette?

The first time I saw him was as Shinzon, the evil Picard clone in Star Trek: Nemesis. With the veins popping out on his bald head, the crazy costume and his creepy agenda, he is a loathsome offensive brute, yet I couldn't look away. There was something about his quiet power, the smoldering intensity reminiscent of early Brando. "Who is this guy," I thought, "and what does he look like with hair?"

The answer to both questions came when I watched The Virgin Queen. As Robert Dudley, the childhood friend and love interest of Queen Elizabeth I, Tom Hardy is alternately charming and manipulative. Even though I knew Elizabeth never married, I found myself wondering how she could resist such a man. His portrayal leaves open for interpretation whether Dudley was more interested in Elizabeth for herself or for her power as queen. ("Cannot a man love both?" is his answer, which probably amounts to the truth.)

Now for my third Tom Hardy spotting and the reason for the title question of this post. Confession: I was much more interested in Marie Antoinette when I heard that Tom Hardy had a role in it. Though small, his few moments on screen as Raumont are charged with the strength of his presence. He appears in one short scene at a party where, after being thanked for providing the oysters, he plays along with a silly guessing game while the queen and Count Fersen make eyes at each other. In the following scene, Raumont expresses to the queen's friend his disapproval (and jealousy?) of Marie Antoinette's interest in the count. It goes a little something like this:

Raumont: "Our queen seems rather fond of looking at Count Fersen."

Queen's Friend: "Well, he's easy on the eyes."

R, after a piercing look in the count's direction: "Don't you think she favors him too clearly?"

QF: "Just because it is not you."

R: "Don't you think it unbecoming to our queen, I mean, he has quite the reputation."

QF: "He amuses her and she likes to be amused. There's nothing unregal in that, Monsieur."

The funny thing is, this exchange wouldn't have been entirely out of place in The Virgin Queen, as just these sorts of things could have been said about Elizabeth and Dudley. The lines feel a bit hypocritical, coming as they do from the man who played another queen's favorite. It is almost as if Robert Dudley has appeared in a new century with a new costume, still wanting to be as close as possible to whatever queen is at hand.

Given that this scene amounts to the meat of Tom Hardy's role in Marie Antoinette, it seems that he is in the movie specifically for a little inside joke. I don't know how many people saw both Marie Antoinette and The Virgin Queen and made the Tom Hardy connection, but I for one found this moment rather amusing due to the casting choice.


Movies + LEGO = Fun

The Toy Zone has posted 20 Classic Films Recreated in LEGO. Although I must question the label "classic" given some of the movies, it's still a pretty cool list and makes me want to recreate a movie scene with LEGOs. (Can I say LEGOs, or is the plural still LEGO, like deer or something?)


One Hybrid Movie Meme

Don't know where they started, but I found two movie memes here and here. I am merging the best bits (that is, the questions I want to answer) from each into one hybrid movie meme.

1. One movie that made you laugh: The Palm Beach Story

2. One movie that made you cry: A River Runs Through It

3. One movie you loved when you were a child: The Wizard of Oz

4. One movie that you have seen more than 10 times: Citizen Kane

5. One movie you've seen multiple times in the theater: Apollo 13

6. One movie you walked out on: Cabin Boy

7. One movie that you can and do quote from: Joe Vs. the Volcano ("I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?", "I'm not arguing that with you!", "I have no response to that.", "Brain cloud," with the accompanying hand gesture over the top of the head.)

8. One movie you loved, but were embarrassed to admit it: 13 Going on 30

9. One movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't gotten around to watching yet: Ninotchka

10. One movie you hated: Signs

11. One movie that scared you: Touch of Evil

12. One movie that made you happy: Stranger Than Fiction

13. One movie that made you miserable: The Conversation

14. One movie musical for which you know all the lyrics to all the songs: Oklahoma! (yes, even "Pore Jud is Daid")

15. One movie that you have been known to sing along with:

16. One movie you would recommend that everyone see:
12 Angry Men

17. One movie character you’ve fallen in love with: William Holden as Paul Verrall in Born Yesterday. (I think it's the glasses.)

18. One actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie: Dana Andrews

19. One actor that would make you less likely to see a movie: Can I choose a writer instead? Anything adapted from a Nicholas Sparks novel. (Sorry, Nicholas Sparks.)

20. One of the last movies you saw: Across the Universe

21. One of the next movies you hope to see: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

If you want to play along, consider yourself tagged!


Ten Great Things About Old Movies

I had been thinking about doing a list of reasons why I love old movies. Then I found two cool lists of love for classic movies on Another Old Movie Blog and Self-Styled Siren. These lists don't bother to mention the obvious (good writing, acting, etc.) but instead focus on the little things that make watching the classics so enjoyable. I decided to follow suit with my own list of things I love to see in old movies.

1. Hats
From the classic top hat or fedora to the ridiculously tall, pointy, floppy, or drape-y numbers, I am fascinated by hats. Sometimes a poor hat is sat upon, and this always makes for some funny moments. I love that no matter what other craziness is going on, people remember to put on their hats. Why did we ever stop wearing them?

2. Real-looking people
Sure, old movies have their share of unusually pretty people. But I rejoice every time I see an actor (character or star) with some odd little quirks and imperfections. I'm not saying that nobody ever had work done in the old days, but at least the actors in classic movies don't seem totally propped up by silicone and botox.

3. Glorious black & white!
Ok, maybe this is a bigger point than some others, but in our world of sensory overload I appreciate the simple contrast of light and dark and the soothing shades of gray. Some things just look better in black and white.

4. Special effects (or the lack thereof)
Sometimes old movie special effects are so bad they're good, sometimes they are so slight that they still require plentiful use of the imagination, and sometimes they are nonexistent, allowing the focus instead to be on character building, witty dialogue, and actual plots and stories!

5. Train travel
Self-Styled Siren mentioned trains on her list and I have to concur and expand on that because there is just so much to love about trains in old movies. Shots of the wheels on the tracks and going through tunnels, hiding from the porter, sneaking into a sleeping car or someone else's berth, eating with a stranger in the dining car, those awkward moments of passing someone in the tiny hallways... ah, movie train travel!

6. Obsolete jobs
Seeing elevator operators, gas station attendants, soda jerks, milkmen and switchboard operators is always bittersweet; they remind me of simpler times past and the illusion of job security all at the same time.

7. The corner drugstore
The corner drugstore is the place to be for sharing a soda, making a phone call, or getting a full meal. Pot roast, pie, milk, and some snappy advice from the guy or gal behind the counter -- all this for less than a quarter.

8. Comeuppance
Some people probably don't like the censorship involved with the old movie Production Code, but I happen to like the subtlety and lack of explicit sex, violence and bad language that it enforced. I especially like when the bad guys get what's coming to them, although this doesn't always mean that the law has to be involved. There are lots of creative and artistic ways old movies use to show that crime doesn't pay. (I guess this just appeals to my sense of justice.)

9. Old cars and driving scenes
Cars don't have to be aerodynamic to be cool! I love the way old cars look and always enjoy driving scenes in classic movies. Conversations in cars are great, too, either when characters pull over to really talk or when they chat away while driving. Who needs to look at the road when the car is stationary anyway, with the scenery projected in the background and a machine providing the wind in your hair?

10. Use of the phrase "Take it easy."
Hearing someone get told to chill out in this way gets me every time.

Go ahead, tell me what I missed.


Book vs. Movie: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was already next on my Lit Flicks Challenge list, but when I happened to be the October giveaway winner and The Bluestocking Society kindly sent me the book (thanks, Jessica!) I wanted to get to it right away.

Before reading or seeing Jane Eyre, I did have some idea of the general plot: Jane is a governess who comes to work in a creepy house for a brooding man with a big secret. (It's a good thing I knew the secret, too, since my copy of the book included an introduction by Joyce Carol Oates that revealed all the major plot details and many of the twisty bits. Seriously, there should have been a spoiler warning with it -- surely there are some people reading the book for the first time with no idea what it's about who would like to enjoy a few surprises.)

Since I did know how the story would go, I was afraid that reading through the book would be tedious, but I actually enjoyed it very much. The way it's written (as a first-person account of Jane telling the reader her story) felt very intimate and interesting. The only time it didn't work for me was when the big secret is revealed; during this time things seemed a bit rushed and Jane's reactions didn't come until later. All I can assume is that she was struck and in shock, but coming to know the characters I think more would have been said and thought during this critical time.

If you don't like Jane, you will probably not enjoy the novel, but I really liked Jane. I liked her strong will and character. I also liked Mr. Rochester, despite his dubious past and the way he deceived Jane. Maybe I like him because Jane does, or because they do seem like a well-matched pair of intellectual equals. You can analyze a lot more about the various themes of the novel, like what it says about religion, morality, duty, forgiveness, and marriage, but I was happy enough to read through the rest because I really liked Jane and Rochester, and I wanted to see their love story play out.

The movie version I chose to watch was the 1944 adaptation, mostly because it stars Orson Welles, and I really like him. He is great as Rochester; he can carry off the speeches and he has the right amount of darkness and intensity to him. I was also delighted to see Agnes Moorehead, a young Elizabeth Taylor, the little girl from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Peggy Ann Garner) and child actress Margaret O'Brien, adorable as Adele. I wasn't particularly impressed with Joan Fontaine as Jane, though. (She also starred in Rebecca, based on the Daphne du Maurier novel which seems at least partially inspired by Jane Eyre.) Fontaine's Jane is much too meek and is really overpowered by Welles' Rochester. This removes what I enjoyed most about the novel, the match of equal minds that defines the relationship. In the novel, Jane is independent and holds her own against Rochester; in the movie I couldn't imagine what he saw in her, really.

I know it's always hard to show inner thoughts and feelings of characters in a movie, but I really missed how the book explains what's going on in Jane's head. Another thing that annoyed me about the movie: at the beginning, a book is shown onscreen and a voice-over reads what is written on the page. But the passage is way different from the book's opening. At other times during the movie, this same technique is used again. The voice-over alone would have been fine, but the suggestion that what is read is from the novel was really irritating. While I do understand the need to change and condense things when making a book into a movie, if you aren't remaining faithful to the book, don't show me text in a book as though you are staying completely true to the story. (Rant over.)

So, when it comes right down to it, does the book or the movie prevail? While the 1944 movie is beautifully shot and appropriately dark and atmospheric, it is also perhaps more melodramatic than even the crazy twists of novel would allow. The acting is mostly good, and it is fine as a movie, but overall I preferred the story in novel form. However, there are a lot of other Jane Eyre adaptations, and perhaps some do more justice to book. (I am intrigued by the version with George C. Scott because to me he really fits the description of Rochester: not exactly handsome, yet intense and strangely magnetic. If anyone's seen this version, or another adaptation, let me know what you thought.)

Oh, and while we're on the subject of Jane Eyre, I'd like to recommend Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. It's the first of his funny Thursday Next series, which features a literary detective in an alternate reality where characters from books are quite real and traveling into the world of a book is physically possible. This story deals with Jane Eyre's kidnapping and the changing of the famous novel's plot. I want to re-read this now that I've finally read Jane Eyre.

So, that's two down for Lit Flicks, three more to go. I think I might deviate from my original list and choose something different for my next pick... stay tuned!


Leading Couples

Tomorrow night kicks off TCM's Leading Couples Film Festival -- two Tuesday nights of movies featuring some of Hollywood's most famous couples. This is timed to go along with the release of TCM's book, Leading Couples, which I first heard about through Raquelle's review of it on her blog, Out of the Past.

The book has many of the classic movie couples you'd expect (like Bogart/Bacall and Tracy/Hepburn) as well as some more obscure pairings and one really bizarre one. (Fay Wray and King King? Really?) Two types of couples are featured: those that made several films together and those that made a big impression together just one time on film. While I understand that they were trying to make things fair and not feature one person too many times, the rules of the book do mean that some great pairings (like Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn) are missing.

It's a great book for flipping through and reading a little at a time. I've enjoyed learning some useless but fun trivia, like how during filming on Gone With the Wind, Clark Gable taught Vivian Leigh to play backgammon and she in turn introduced him to battleship. I'm also getting some ideas for more movies to add to my watch list. One thing that does make me a little sad about the book: in the facts about each person, spouses are listed, and so many of these stars had several (often brief) marriages. I just think it's a shame that the people who made up some of the most romantic pairs on screen often had troubles in their personal romantic lives. Although I guess their movie love stories didn't always end happily, either.

Anyway, it's a good book for a classic movie fan. For a limited time, you can enter to win your own copy here.

What's your favorite film couple, classic or otherwise?


I've got a scene to share with you

Some years ago, a friend and I talked about having a Movie Moments party, the plan being to invite people to come with a movie clip to share. There were several variations on the idea: we could choose a theme or just ask for favorites, we could sit and discuss the clips or take a vote and pick a movie to watch based on the scenes. While we never quite got around to making this happen, I still think it's a good idea.

So I've decided to start sharing some interesting movie scenes here, beginning with the one I had in mind for the party that never happened.

From Out of Africa:

After her wedding, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) is on her way to change clothes for the two-hour journey to her new home. She passes a room, door ajar, and sees an ivory tusk that Denys Finch Hatten (Robert Redford) had earlier loaded onto her stopped train. Curious, she steps into the room and looks around.

When Berkeley Cole (Michael Kitchen) arrives with the second tusk, an embarrassed Karen tries to come up with some excuse for her presence, but ends up admitting that he caught her snooping. Berkeley assures her that this is quite all right, since it is Denys's room, and the thing about Denys is that he doesn't mind.

Karen comments on the lovely books and asks if Denys lends them. Berkeley says: "We had a friend... Hopworth, and he'd got a book from Denys and he didn't return it. Denys was furious. I said to Denys, 'You wouldn't lose a friend for the sake of a silly book, would you?' And he said 'No... but he has, hasn't he?' "

After some small talk, Berkeley goes into another story: "I had a friend who I used to take to the dances at Oxford. They were in June by the river. She always wore a new silk dress... I think you're wearing her perfume." Karen obligingly holds out her wrist to him and he concludes: "No. It's very nice. But it's not the same."

I love this scene, and not just because it tends to come to mind when a friend takes a long time returning something they've borrowed from me.

This is a wonderful character introduction, giving us a real feel for Berkeley's British-ness as well as hints of his past and his view of Denys. The actors are great here; even writing out the dialogue can't do justice to the nuances of spoken inflections and body language. The mood created fits the whole tone of the movie quite well.

I especially love how the scene progresses from an awkward first meeting to two people finding a comfort level with each other as an understanding and intimacy develops; what you are witnessing is the beginning of a lovely friendship.

What clip would you pick for a Movie Moments party? Post or link your own scene to share here.


It's the little things...

I've gotten a few rentals so far from ClassicFlix.com. The movies have arrived with some cool stamps: first Frank Sinatra, then Bette Davis. I really like that the company's commitment to the classics extends to their choice of postage.


Book Review: Love Walked In

What's a book review doing on a movie blog? Well, while it's not a movie yet, Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos has been optioned by Paramount, with Sarah Jessica Parker apparently interested in starring. Also, there are a lot of classic movie references in this book, which is the reason I picked it up in the first place.

Love Walked In tells the interwoven stories of Cornelia, a diminutive 31-year-old coffee shop manager obsessed with old movies, and Clare, an 11-year old girl dealing with her mother's mental breakdown. The book is written in alternating chapters that switch between first and third person perspectives. While this does work for making the two characters distinct, it is also occasionally jarring going back and forth.

The good:
  • The writing is intelligent and interesting and occasionally insightful.
  • I personally enjoyed the nod to old movies, but then, I do tend to think in movie moments myself. Someone who doesn't like or know many classic movies might get tired of this after a while. Also referred to: various books, fictional characters, and poetry. In general these references were explained enough to make the point or left light enough so that it wouldn't matter if you didn't know what the author was talking about. I didn't get every one, but when I did know the source I thought it illuminated and enhanced the story.
The nit-picks:
  • Whatever happened to the "i" in Claire? I blame The Time Traveler's Wife for this Clare business. (And while we're at it, the covers of these two books are very similar. Hmm.)
  • The quirky best friend thing. So many modern heroines (in books and movies) have a quirky best friend who dresses strangely, speaks outspokenly, is always there when needed and easily picks up on her friend's every mood and thought. (Maybe I'm just jealous because I want a quirky best friend.)
The unbelievable:
  • No 11-year-old I know is as wise as Clare. While I feel for this character's plight, she is way too precocious to be believed.
  • Practically everyone in the book is gorgeous and/or resembles a movie star. Characters are described as looking like Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Myrna Loy... One character is so beautiful that he makes people stupid at the sight of him. I accept unusual beauty in the movies, but life is not a casting call and most people are pretty ordinary-looking.
  • When Clare's mother disappears, no one wants to make an issue of it. I can understand Clare wanting to keep her mother's problems a secret, but all the other adults seem to want to keep things under wraps. Why is this a good idea?
  • The last third of the book is really contrived. Everything is wrapped up tidily thanks to two convenient deaths (if death can be called convenient), an unexpected inheritance, some well timed departures and arrivals and people being way too willing to turn their whole lives upside down.
The book is occasionally touching and does have some nice ideas about finding love in unexpected places, but overall the unrealistic twists kept me from really loving it.

One thing the book and I agree on: The Philadelphia Story is a great movie and you should see it. The book holds as a universal truth that "Jimmy Stewart is always and indisputably the best man in the world, unless Cary Grant should happen to show up." This may be true, although the idea is not really followed through in the book, and it is not really the point of the movie. While the book hits on the fabulousness of Katharine Hepburn and the rightness of a satisfying love story, there is so much more to The Philadelphia Story. The main theme of the movie could be better summed up in this quote from it: "The time to make up your mind about people is never." The ideas about human frailty and class prejudices and privacy and people being able to change are much richer than the themes of Love Walked In, and the characters have more depth and appeal, too. Also, the dialogue is light-years better. So when and if the movie adaptation of this book does come out, I am much more likely to just re-watch The Philadelphia Story instead.


Preview Pixar's latest

Just wanted to share the trailer for the upcoming Disney-Pixar movie Up. The trailer opens with a brief look at previous Pixar movies, just to show why you can expect this one to be good as well. I think the only Pixar movie I didn't see was Cars (because it just didn't appeal to me). My favorites are probably Toy Story 2 and WALL-E. What's your favorite Pixar movie?


Thanks for the Melodies

The L.A.M.Blog_A_Thon kicks off this month with the theme "Who are you thankful for?", the idea being to show some appreciation for film professionals other than actors and directors. I've decided to focus on the people behind the music in movies.

It seems impossible to talk about movie music without mentioning John Williams. He's well-known, well-respected, and has written some very beautiful film scores. The musical themes Williams creates are memorable and always seem to strike the right emotional chord. Can you think of an Indiana Jones movie without having the music come to mind? I know I can't. Superman and Jurassic Park also have instantly recognizable themes. And can you imagine the Star Wars universe without the John Williams score? Funky 70s music could have easily sent the first film into camp instead of classic, but the music John Williams composed elevates the whole thing. Williams can also do a lot with only a few notes, as proved by Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I also love the music from Catch Me if You Can. Sample it in the wonderfully stylized opening title sequence.

Another film composer I like is Henry Mancini. He's probably best known for The Pink Panther's jazzy theme and Breakfast at Tiffany's "Moon River". For the latter he had the lyrical help of Johnny Mercer, who also penned the words to Mancini's "Charade" and "Days of Wine and Roses".

Johnny Mercer is probably my favorite lyricist ever. His songs show he really loved language, playing with words for some very clever lines. In addition to the songs mentioned above that he did with Mancini, he also wrote the words for many other great songs used in movies. Credit him for the lyrics to: "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening", "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive", "Blues in the Night", "Hooray for Hollywood", "Too Marvelous for Words", "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby", "Come Rain or Come Shine", "Jeepers Creepers", "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)", "Laura", and all the songs in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He wrote both words and music for "Something's Gotta Give", "Dream (When You're Feeling Blue)", and "I'm an Old Cowhand". Although many of these songs were written for old movies, a quick look at Mercer's imdb page shows that his work has withstood the test of time, as his songs are still showing up in movies today. Way to go, Johnny.

While great movies need great writers, actors and directors, great music can really become an essential part of a film and enhance the movie-watching experience. So I'm grateful for movie music and the talented people that make it happen.


The Alphabet Meme

The idea here is simple: Pick your favorite film for each letter of the alphabet. Thanks go to Blog Cabins for getting this started. Check there for more detailed rules, or read my summary below.
  • Choose one film for each letter of the alphabet.
  • Using a film that starts with "A" for A or "The" for T is not allowed.
  • Films from a series must use the first letter of the actual title they were released under (ex: Return of the Jedi would go under R and not S for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi).
  • Films that begin with a number belong filed under the first letter of that number spelled out (ex: 12 Angry Men would go under T).
  • Link back to Blog Cabins in your post to give credit where it's due.
  • If you're selected, tag 5 more people. (If you're not tagged, it's fine to make your own list anyway!)
I just did my top 50 movies, which should have given me a major head start here. But I thought it would be more fun (and challenging) to come up with movies I like that didn't quite make that list. So here they are:

Aladdin (my last list was sadly lacking in animated films)

Big Sleep, The

Corrina, Corrina (because Tina Majorino is super cute and reminds me of my niece)

Days of Wine and Roses, The

Ever After

Fugitive, The


How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

It Happened One Night

Jurassic Park

King and I, The

Long Hot Summer, The


Natural, The (not my favorite baseball movie, that would be A League of Their Own)

Ocean's Eleven

Parent Trap, The (1961)

Queen, The (although I prefer The African Queen)

Regarding Henry

Stranger Than Fiction

Thirty-Nine (39) Steps, The

Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The

V irgin Queen, The (2005)


X-Men (what else is there?)

You Can't Take It With You

Ziegfeld Follies (well, at least the bit with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly)

Whew, that was not easy! Because of the constraints, I can't say that I love all the movies on here. And I still feel like I'm missing some of my favorites. Oh, well, I still had fun with this.

Next, I tag Cesia and David Bishop. (Since you've both just made your top movie lists, it should be easy, unless you opt for new titles too.)

If you want to play along but get stumped along the way, try Yahoo! Movies to browse titles by letter.


Review: Rachel and the Stranger

I'm not usually a big fan of Westerns, but since I do like both William Holden and Robert Mitchum, I decided to give Rachel and the Stranger a chance.

Holden plays David Harvey, a widower so worried about his young son growing up wild and woodsy without a woman around that he heads into town one day determined to return with one. What he gets (for a price) is the bondswoman Rachel (Loretta Young). Since it wouldn't be decent for them to live together unmarried, he weds her, although it soon becomes clear that she will be treated more as a servant than a wife.

Rachel is eager to please, anxious to find out and fulfill what is expected of her. She becomes determined to learn how to shoot, hoping that by doing so she will win over her stepson, and, through him, her husband. Despite her efforts, she is pretty much ignored.

That all changes when Mitchum's character, Jim Fairways, shows up for a visit. He's a wandering hunter and an old friend of the family. In fact, he was a rival for the affections of Big Davey's first wife, and history soon repeats itself as Fairways takes a liking to Rachel. Fairways expresses his intention to get a wife of his own and heads off to town for this purpose. During a strangely sunny evening scene, the now jealous Big Davey begins to show more interest in Rachel, although he tells her that he is not ready to fall in love again.

Fairways soon returns, sans wife, and during an extended stay with the family he shows himself very attentive to Rachel. He soon offers to buy her from Davey so he can marry her himself. Although Rachel had seemed to enjoy the attention from Fairways (he kindly treated her like a person by talking with her, playing music with her, and teaching her how to shoot properly) she now turns on Fairways and calls him lazy.

While the two men fight over her, a disgusted Rachel runs off, and soon the men are on her trail. Even though the trip to town and back was made easily in a day before, everyone ends up camping out that night and the two men have a chance to express how they feel. Fairways professes his love while Big Davey is only able to appeal for Rachel to return to keep Little Davey and the dogs from missing her.

Soon all this nonsense is forgotten as a fire is spotted and the men head back to the cabin to protect it from an Indian attack. While Little Davey heads off to get the help of the townsfolk, Rachel bravely (and rather foolishly) returns to help fight off the Indians. Although unable to save the cabin from being set on fire, the three members of the love triangle live through the night unharmed. In the morning, Fairways the lonely wanderer heads off again, but not before delivering a creepy line about how he's a hunter putting the meat on other men's tables. Rachel remains with her husband and stepson, and Big Davey refers to her as Little Davey's Ma, providing hope for her being treated as a real wife now.

The movie was fairly enjoyable overall, with good acting and nice singing by Robert Mitchum. I didn't like some of the underlying ideas of men being driven to love by jealousy and women having to choose between romance and security. Fans of the actors would probably enjoy watching Rachel and the Stranger, but as the story is somewhat lacking in depth and emotional payoff, I would definitely categorize this film as a lesser classic as opposed to a must-see movie.


Book vs. Movie: The Grapes of Wrath

First up on my Lit Flicks Challenge list (and my first rental from Classicflix) is The Grapes of Wrath.

This is one of those classics I can't believe I missed for so long, both in book and movie form. I had seen clips from the movie somewhere, and what I had stuck in my head was the close-up of Henry Fonda's earnest face making his "I'll be there" speech. My impression going in: this story has a Message. And so it does.

The focus is on the Joads, a family forced away from their farmland home, journeying to California to become migrant workers. While the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression are pretty heavy subjects, I was still surprised by just how raw the novel is. It's an unsanitized look at these people with all their flaws and problems. And as gritty as it is, I believe that it could have been worse, given the hardships that are hinted at which the Joads manage to avoid.

In the book, in addition to the chapters that follow the Joad family's journey, there are also shorter chapters that take a less personal, larger view of the problems of the times. Some of these were very powerful and worked quite well. I especially liked the chapters on the used car dealership and the roadside diner. As I progressed through the book, however, I began to feel that this device was wearing thin, and that Steinbeck had run out of things to talk about in these bigger-picture chapters.

Overall, it's a well-written novel about a serious subject. And it did get me wrapped up in it so that I was really feeling for these characters. I particularly liked Ma, even from her first appearance in the book. In her introduction, we are told that "her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a superhuman understanding." The story gives her a lot more steps to climb. I preferred book Ma to movie Ma, but I liked Tom Joad in both versions very much.

Before seeing the movie, I was worried about Henry Fonda's performance, especially his ability to speak in the country dialect of the book. Maybe it's because the clearest picture I have of Fonda is as the very intelligent, articulate character in 12 Angry Men. But he handles the role of Tom Joad brilliantly, never seeming above it while still bringing out a certain sincerity with dignity that is important to the character. Fonda's performance is wonderfully restrained yet powerful, beautiful against the often over-the-top, make-your-eyes-as-wide-as-possible-for-effect acting going on in this movie. With the exception of the bit where he sings, I found Henry Fonda's performance riveting, and for that alone I would recommend watching the movie.

Would I recommend the book? Yes, although with some hesitation. The novel is really depressing. As I progressed through the book, I found myself anticipating with dread the next tragedy that would befall the family. The book has an interesting theme about sin versus holiness that is nowhere near as prominent in the movie. Both stories show that people do better helping each other, although the book drives the point home harder. Sure, we've all got to eat, but only looking out for your own is selfish and doesn't work for the greater good, we get it. The movie, while still serious, has some lighter moments to it, like Grandpa explaining what he'd like to do in California and the family's reaction to Tom's homecoming. The movie also has a much different ending.

The book's ending is a bit of a shocker; I won't spoil it here in case you haven't read it yet, although I will say that it made me feel that a certain thing was set up in the book only for the ending, which felt somewhat cheap to me. The ending does fit in with the rest of the novel and provides some hope for the future, but the whole thing is still pretty bleak. Which I suppose is the point -- the issues faced by these people could not be easily fixed. The movie's ending is more hopeful and uplifting, although it didn't ring as true to me. Also, in both versions of the story, I was disappointed that Tom's part is finished up before the end.

So, what's the final verdict, book or movie? Both. The story in either form is an interesting look at a difficult time in history. The book definitely has more meat to it and a bigger agenda; the movie is a bit more entertaining while still illuminating the subject. While I don't think I'll be coming back to either book or movie soon, I'm still glad I checked out both versions of this classic American story.


Favorite Movie Decade

If you would have asked me yesterday which decade produced most of my favorite movies, I would probably have said the 1960s. But after seeing the decade graph based on David Bishop's top movie list, I decided to put my top 50 list to the test. This is what I came up with:

It turns out that the 1950s and 90s tied as my favorite movie decades! What happened to the 60s? Well, in making my chart, I discovered that a couple of movies I would have thought of as 60s movies were actually from 1959. Oh, so close. Can I make up my own decade? If I could, 1954-1964 would have the top number of my favorites. (Although, that would be 11 years instead of 10, wouldn't it? Hmm.)

By the way, I also tried my results as a bar graph, which was slightly easier to read, but I went with the line graph because it makes a big "M" for movies!

What's your favorite decade for movies? I know I need to watch more films from the 30s. Am I missing out on a lot of good stuff from the 70s?


My Top 50 Favorite Films

Probably every movie lover makes a favorite film list at one time or another. Fletch over at Blog Cabins just posted a list of his top 50 films, encouraging others to do the same. That was all it took to get me going. (Yeah, I'm also one of those people that feels the need to respond to every email survey I receive from friends. Sharing opinions is fun!)

Top 10 is one thing, top 50 might be even trickier. I've grouped my choices into a few different categories, leaving my favorites for last on each list. It should be noted that these are my personal favorites, which is pretty subjective and basically comes down to the movies I have watched and enjoyed repeatedly, films which get quoted the most in my little world. These are not all necessarily the same movies I would put on a list of the best films ever made. But what good is a movie best list if it's not films you actually enjoy watching, anyway? And so, without further ado, my favorites:

Alfred Hitchcock movies:
Rear Window
Dial M for Murder
North by Northwest

Billy Wilder:
The Major and the Minor
Some Like it Hot
The Apartment

Orson Welles:
Citizen Kane
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Third Man

That Thing You Do!
Singin' in the Rain
A Hard Day's Night
The Wizard of Oz
Guys and Dolls
West Side Story
An American in Paris

Out of the Past
The Maltese Falcon

Chick Flicks:
Sense and Sensibility
Out of Africa
You've Got Mail

Back to the Future
The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars IV: A New Hope

Newer Favorites:
The Princess Bride
Catch Me If You Can
A River Runs Through It
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Much Ado About Nothing
Joe Versus the Volcano
Quiz Show
The Hunt for Red October

Older Favorites:
Dr. Strangelove
Born Yesterday (the William Holden version, of course)
Father of the Bride (the Spencer Tracy version, of course)
Seven Days in May
12 Angry Men
Gone With the Wind
The Hustler
The Philadelphia Story

If I could only choose one out of all of my favorites as my top pick ever, it would probably be The Maltese Falcon.

By the way, I know there are only actually 49 here. I didn't count wrong, I was just afraid of missing some great movie and feeling bad about it later. So I'm leaving a spot open for floating favorites -- when I think of one that didn't make the list, it will become my current 50th.

Now it's your turn. What's on your list?


All I am saying is give classic movies a chance

In case I haven't made it clear here yet: I like movies. I especially like old movies. And while I'm sure the argument can be made that what is old is not always classic and what is classic doesn't always have to be so old, I tend to use old and classic interchangeably when it comes to certain movies. Please bear with me on that.

I think more people should watch classic movies. I like to introduce people to my old favorites. And so I've decided to start a series of posts on what I'm calling Overlooked Oldies. Here I'll highlight some lesser-known titles which, despite having been skipped on AFI's top movie lists, still deserve some attention.

(By the way, I don't claim that my classic movie knowledge is exhaustive. If you have an old favorite worthy of some more movie love, let me know; I'm always happy to see an old classic I've missed. Along those lines, I am making ClassicFlix my new best (movie) friend. It's a rental site devoted to classic (pre-1970) films and tv shows, including many hard to find titles. What a great idea!)

First Up: The Major and the Minor

This 1942 movie marks the Hollywood directorial debut of the great writer/director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard).

The premise: Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) has decided, after one year and 25 jobs in New York, that she's ready to return to her sleepy Iowa hometown. Unable to afford the train ticket home, she poses as a 12-year-old so she only has to pay half-fare. On the train she meets Philip Kirby, (Ray Milland) a Major returning from a trip to Washington where he was attempting to get into more active service.

Because of bad weather and a misunderstanding, little "Su-Su" agrees to go with her "Uncle" Philip to the military academy where he is currently teaching. There she will have to continue her masquerade while dealing with 300 eager cadets and her growing attraction to the engaged Major Kirby.

There's some great moments in the movie, like Su-Su being invited to stay for the school dance. When Fred Astaire's most famous dancing partner is asked if she can dance, what is her modest reply? "A little."

Ray Milland is at his most charming here as Philip Kirby. Watch him squirm during his talk with Su-Su as he tries to protect his "niece" from the cadets who have been applying their lessons on military tactics to putting the moves on Susan. Philip's concern is touching and funny: "You don't want to be a light bulb, do you?" "It's never been a particular ambition of mine." Ray Milland manages to portray Philip's growing affection for Susan without it ever feeling creepy.

It also helps that the 31-year-old Ginger Rogers is not really believable as a 12-year-old. While she does a nice job softening her voice and expressions when she is being Su-Su as opposed to Susan, it's still pretty ridiculous that anyone would buy it. This is not a fault of the movie, instead it makes for some interesting twists on ideas of innocence. Who's the first to see through Susan's act at the academy? The 12-year-old sister of Kirby's fiancee. "You may bluff the grown-ups; you can't bluff me." The cadets ("junior wolves") are just as predatory as the crumbs Susan was always fighting off in the city. Those who should be innocent aren't, and those who should know better don't, or pretend not to. It all works in the framework of the story, making for some delightfully funny situations.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out this cute comedy, just one of many Billy Wilder gems.


Book vs. Movie: Is the book always better?

Movies: Ruining The Book Since 1920 - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

This cool Threadless t-shirt (Movies: Ruining the Book since 1920) displays a definite point of view on the issue. But can it really be said that the book is always better than the movie adaptation?

In trying to understand why people generally seem to prefer the book to the movie version of a story, I came up with this theory: Perhaps we just like best what we knew first. Which, in most cases, is the book. Here's how it goes: you read a book, love it, find out it's been made into a movie, see the movie, and end up disappointed. Of course in reading the book first, you couldn't help but form ideas about how the characters looked. You loved all the little details that didn't make it into the limited time of the movie. And so you come out of the theater or close the dvd box feeling strongly that the book was so much better than the movie.

The problem with my theory is that it should work in reverse; if you saw the movie first, you should prefer it over the book. But this just doesn't happen nearly so often. Sure, seeing the movie first leaves a lasting impression of how the characters look. But it's usually fine to imagine them that way when you go ahead and read the book. Also, the details in the book usually end up enriching the story you already know, so you can still come away saying that the book is better than the movie.

Can the movie ever be better than the book? One thing against this is that books that are popular get made into movies, which creates high expectations. (Let's face it, if the book is terrible to start with, it probably won't get made into a movie.)

But in some cases, I actually do like the movie better than the book. One examples of this for me is Gone With the Wind. The book and movie are both long, but I am much more likely to re-watch the movie than to re-read the book. Some of the things that got left out from the book (like things involving the KKK and Scarlet's additional children) are not really missed in the movie. The costumes and sets actually enhance the story to me, showing the grandeur of the old South and the devastation caused by the war.

Another example of a movie that I would pick over the book is The Hunt for Red October. I could watch that movie endlessly and probably recite most of the dialogue off the top of my head if you asked me to. I have tried to read the book several times and have just never gotten through it. The extra detail in the book feels tedious as opposed to interesting. Plus, reading the book doesn't give me the pleasure of seeing Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.

Another case in which I always seem to prefer the movie is when the story is based on actual events. Almost every time I see a movie about someone's life or some spectacular event and it moves me to read more about it, I wind up disappointed. The events, people, drama, excitement, etc. have all been changed for the big screen. Let's face it, life isn't like the movies. Things are left unresolved, things happen that don't make sense in some grander scheme or plot. Real life is better to live; enhanced life is better in the movies.

But I'd like to present a middle ground. Sure, the book is often better than the movie in certain ways. But movies are unique, and can do things that books can never do, which can make them better. Why can't books and movies be friends? Instead of always having to pick a side, let's make it ok to like both the book AND the movie.

On the same subject of books and movies, I found this cool Lit Flicks Challenge from The Bluestocking Society. The idea is simple: read 5 books that have been made into movies and watch at least 2 of the movie adaptations. I wish I would have found this sooner, since I just read and watched The Thin Man (the first time for each) in an attempt to catch up on classics I somehow missed. Fortunately, I've just started another book along those same lines, so I'll make it my first pick.

1. The Grapes of Wrath

There are so many other book/movie combos I've already enjoyed, but I wanted to try some that I hadn't seen or read yet. I came up with:

2. Jane Eyre
3. Matchstick Men

Two more to go, and I think I will go for books where I have already seen the movie and enjoyed it:

4. Awakenings
5. Build My Gallows High (the basis for the great noir film Out of the Past)

So, that's my list for now, since for this challenge I can change my mind and my books if I need to. If anyone is looking for help on a list of their own for the challenge, let me recommend the following, where both book and movie versions are good: The Princess Bride, Much Ado About Nothing, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.


Every old movie is new again

Sometimes it seems like there are no new ideas in Hollywood, that every story has already been told, retold, and revisited. Some examples of movie remakes include Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, King Kong, Ocean's Eleven, Sabrina, and War of the Worlds, to name just a few. This doesn't even begin to touch on movies that were popular enough to produce sequels, prequels, reboots, re-imaginings, or a series, like Star Wars or the growing collection of Batman movies.

I'm not anti-remake as a rule, in fact I think sometimes a movie remake can be better than the original. Being inspired from the old does present certain challenges, however, especially if the source movie is well-known and well-loved. Then the new movie is bound to be closely scrutinized to see how it measures up to the original. For this reason, classic movies are often a great source for remake material, since oftentimes the older version has been all but forgotten or can easily be changed to be made more current.

There's been some buzz about a few movies lately that I'm definitely interested in based on the source material. So here's my thoughts on some upcoming sci-fi movies borrowing from some old ideas:

Star Trek XI (or Star Trek Zero)
Cons: It's a prequel. I don't get the fascination with prequels. (I'm talking to you, George Lucas.) Fans can be cruel when characters/plots set in an earlier time don't match up with what has already been established. Plus, it's pretty impossible to make things look truly older, given the quality of newer special effects. Didn't we see that in Enterprise?
Also against it: this is an odd-numbered Trek film, for those of you that believe in that curse.
Pros: It's Star Trek! Leonard Nimoy is playing Old Spock.
Verdict: I'm a Star Trek fan, but I've never been really attached to the original series, so I probably wouldn't even notice small deviations. It might be predictable and a desperate attempt to keep the Star Trek franchise going, but I'm willing to give it a shot.

Cons: First of all, let's talk about numbers being used as letters. This is no longer clever (and perhaps never was). It's just strange, and in this case, confusing. Are we supposed to read it as Trzn? That looks like it should be the title for an updated Tarzan movie. Why not say Tron 2, or Tron 2.0 or even The Second Coming of Tron? This choice alone scares me a great deal.
Pros: Jeff Bridges is all gung-ho about it, and is returning to play Flynn.
Verdict: The original Tron was great because it was so different. The style and idea of it -- there's nothing quite like it. Will the new special effects capture the old feeling of wonder? Is it a retelling of the old, a new updated story, or a sequel? Will Brue Boxleitner return as well? I'm curious, but feeling afraid for this one.

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Cons: Keanu Reeves. I'm sorry, Keanu fans, but his inherent dopey-ness makes it hard for me to take him seriously.
Pros: Mad Men's Jon Hamm and Jennifer Connelly are in it. The original is great.
Verdict: Updated special effects might actually enhance the story, if they don't take over. And a message of peace is always welcome. I'm excited about this one.

Will these films fail spectacularly, or join the list of successful remakes? Only time will tell. But now's your chance to weigh in with your opinions, if only so you can say "I told you so!" later.
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