I bet you watch that movie every year...

This year, I'm doing something I've never done before. I'm keeping track of every movie I watch.

I've always saved my ticket stubs when I've gone to the theater, but I've never actually written down every movie I've seen in a year. But at the end of 2008 when everyone was blogging about what movies they had seen over the course of the year, I found myself trying to remember, and guessing, and wondering about my movie log. This year, I'll know for sure.

And as I've been keeping track, I've confirmed what I thought last year anyway: while I like to watch new and new-to-me movies, most of my film time is spent revisiting my favorites. Yep. I'm a Rewatcher.

I've started wondering if others fit this pattern as well. Do you find yourself returning to familiar favorites often? Introducing them to friends, or thinking of some quote and then feeling compelled to watch the whole thing? Does some event or circumstance go along with a certain movie for you?

For me, some favorites that get a lot of play include the movie from which I've taken (and modified) my post title. In You've Got Mail, which I tend to watch when autumn comes around (Don't you love New York in the fall?) or anytime it's replayed on TV, Tom Hanks says "I bet you read that book every year" about Pride and Prejudice. (The BBC film version of which I happen to turn to whenever I am really sick, along with Laura.) I also seem to go on a Civil War kick maybe once a year, which leads to reviewing the whole Ken Burns' documentary, often followed by Gone With the Wind, which occasionally leads to the excellent The Making of a Legend. Add to all that the frequent plays of other favorites. And somehow I'm never bored with them.

I know there must be people out there like me, but I'm sure there are other movie watching types as well. Here's a few profiles I've sketched out:

The Rewatcher:
This type is content to watch the same movies over and over again. If the film was great the first time, why wouldn't it be great to watch again? Perhaps this person is comforted by the familiar, viewing favorite movies as old friends. Maybe he or she is delighted to discover new insights or nuances in the films that got worn out in the VCR. (And yes, this person still has a VCR. And doesn't want to re-buy everything on Blu-ray.) Maybe in an unsure world, the Rewatcher is pleased to know that some things always remain the same. This doesn't mean you will never get a Rewatcher to sit through a previously unseen film, but you'll probably have the most success if the new movie features actors he or she already loves. And if the Rewatcher likes the movie, it will quickly be added to the replay queue.

The Explorer:
Polar opposite of the Rewatcher, this type thrives on always finding something new to watch. They have no trouble at all picking up a random rental, borrowing from friends, or trusting that anything on TCM is worth adding to the DVR. This type is found waiting in line on opening night, wanting to be the first to see and review anything new. While this doesn't mean that the Explorer has no standards, he or she is probably pretty open-minded, finding something to like in almost any film. This type has a never-ending, out of control Netflix queue, and would usually prefer seeing something fresh, or something not watched in a while, instead of viewing the same favorites month after month.

The Picky Viewer:
Here's someone who doesn't mind waiting to see what the consensus is about a film before watching it. This person doesn't want to waste time on junk. He or she may take a chance on the recommendations of friends, if they haven't been burned by being disappointed in their taste before. Perhaps they rely on Netflix Movies You'll <3, or a critic they tend to agree with, or perhaps they only rely on their own judgment, being able to tell from the previews if a movie is worth their time. And if they don't like a movie? Look out. This type is critical. But that just may be the only pleasure the Picky Viewer can derive from watching a sub-standard film.

The Movie Date:
This is the most passive of movie watchers, content to go along with more opinionated friends and family when choosing movies. This doesn't mean that Movie Dates always like everything, or that they don't have their favorites, but in general they are the quiet ones more easily entertained, happy watching whatever as long as everyone else is happy.

What do you think, do you fit into one of these categories? Or are you a hybrid of the above, or perhaps in a category I didn't come up with yet?


Happy Anniversary to me!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the start of moviewings. This blog came out of a combination of events: Paul Newman had just died, and I found myself saddened and thinking about what the star and old movies meant to me. A good friend of mine had recently begun blogging, and while I knew I didn't want to create an online diary of my personal life (who'd want to read that, anyway?) I began to think about what I would enjoy writing about. If I wrote about movies, I thought, I would have plenty of things to say. So my first post came out of a desire to express my feelings on Paul Newman's death while opening up a creative outlet for me to talk about my love of movies.

One year and almost 70 posts later, I pause to look back. Finding the LAMB helped me not to feel like I was alone and talking to myself. A major makeover changed the look (but not the spirit) of the blog. In this year, I've learned a lot, like the fact that I'm not the only person who loves classic movies. (It turns out that many people are even more obsessed than I am, although classic film bloggers still seem to be in the minority.) I've had a lot of fun, especially highlighting some of my favorite Overlooked Oldies, doing some silly lists and memes, participating in the Lit Flicks challenge, and declaring January to be a Month O' Musicals. One thing I haven't liked is feeling sometimes that watching movies has become homework instead of entertainment (I don't always want to take notes and think of criticism as I watch a film.) But the blog has also moved me to widen out in the movies I've seen, and I've found some great new-to-me movies that way that I might not have gotten to otherwise.

So where do we go from here? The blog doesn't have an expiration date, but it also is not the only or most important thing in my life. It's very safe to say that I will continue watching films. And whenever I am so inspired to share my thoughts about what I've viewed, especially on the movies that give me wings, this is where I'll do it. Thanks for reading.


The Women -- Movie Chain Review #1

Chain chain chain... chain of reviews...

I've had this idea in my head to start a Chain O' Movie Reviews. What does that mean, you ask? Well. Often for home film festivals I'll create my own movie marathon by chaining together films with a common link. It's kinda like TCM does with a day or month dedicated to one star, but instead of sticking to just one actor I'll chain together film after film with different links in between. Say I start with The Philadelphia Story, then I might move on to Notorious (Cary Grant is the Link) and then I might move on to Casablanca (Ingrid Bergman as the Link). It doesn't just have to be actors as links, either; you can chain directors or even themes back to back (ex: movies with a lot of rain, or perhaps a movie and then the remake). Anyway, I thought it would be fun to carry this habit of linking movies to the blog world. How will it work?

I'll kick things off here with a movie review, the first link in the chain. If you want to join in, after that you'll have to:

1. Call dibs on doing the next review in the comments. First one to speak up gets it, others will have to wait to join up to the next link in the chain! (Chains usually only link one at a time, after all. It's not a movie review tree.)

2. Write your own review of another movie (it should be one not yet used in the chain) and post it on your blog. Make sure the link to the previous review is made clear and that you link back to the original post where the chain began (so we can keep track of how the chain grows). The link can be an actor or actress, director, or something more creative (like a theme).

3. Include the rules of how to continue the chain, and let someone else continue it!

Simple enough, right? Let's get it started!

Movie Chain Review #1: The Women (1939)

Link: First link in the chain, not connected to any reviews (yet).

Review: I found the opening credits of this movie so helpful. As the actresses are introduced, each is paired with an animal that represents her character. So right away you know who's the deer, who's the fox, and who's the old cow. I think more movies should do this.

The word at the beauty parlor, where "Jungle Red" nail polish is all the rage, is that Mary Haines (Norma Shearer) has a husband who's stepping out on her. When Mary's friend (I use the term loosely here) Sylvia (Rosalind Russell) hears about this, she relishes the gossip and eventually sets things up so Mary will hear the rumor.

Mary has been blissfully happy in her marriage to Stephen and as mother to Little Mary (Virginia Weidler). Can she just pretend that nothing is going on and continue her life? Not once she has met the other woman, Crystal Allen (Joan Crawford). The two have a showdown and Mary, choosing pride over love, ends up on a train to Reno. Mary's sweet friend Peggy (Joan Fontaine) is surprisingly also along for the ride, as well as two other women getting divorces: Miriam (Paulette Goddard) and the often-married but still-romantic Countess Flora. The women bide their time at a dude ranch (!) while waiting for their divorces to become final. (Is it wrong to say I was a little happy when Sylvia showed up there as well?) Who will reconcile, who will move on, who will fall in love again? I'll leave the final twists for you to discover.

The joy of the movie for me was not so much in the plot as in the performances. Director George Cukor is completely in his element here with a dialogue-heavy, all female (even the dogs and horses?!?) production. (Interestingly, Cukor was only available for this movie because he was replaced as director of Gone With the Wind. Paulette Goddard too would have only been available here since the one-time frontrunner for the role of Scarlett O'Hara lost out to Vivien Leigh.)

While the actresses are all great in their roles, I was particularly taken with Norma Shearer. How could anyone leave her for Joan Crawford? Impossible.

One thing I didn't really like about the movie was the idea of giving up your pride for love. Maybe occasionally one has to choose, but then, that wouldn't be the case if people just behaved better. Which brings me to what I really didn't like about the movie: the way it portrays female relationships. Maybe it's true that women can be a bit catty, even toward their friends. This movie certainly highlighted that! We've got "friends" gossiping about each other, men-stealing, gold-digging, and dubious advice getting passed along (even from mother to daughter). While all of this does make for an interesting story, I found myself wishing more positive aspects of female friendships could have been included as well. Maybe the estrogen overload just started getting to me after a while. I missed the men.

Final analysis: see it for the great actresses/performances, but don't model your life/love/friendships after it.

Rating: (Although I'm kinda wishing I had made half wing ratings, because this feels more like 3.5 to me.)

Now, what movie will be the next review in the chain? There's plenty of links here to pick from!


Nothing Magnificent about it.

Although I'm a big classic movie fan, I'm not such a purist that I object to any attempt to redo an old film. I try to give remakes a fair shot. Sometimes I'll even find things I like better about the newer version of a movie, perhaps enjoying how things have been updated. But sometimes, as in the case of The Magnificent Ambersons, I just really hate remakes.

Perhaps my love for the 1942 The Magnificent Ambersons predisposed me to being biased against the 2002 made-for-TV movie. But it claimed to be based on the Orson Welles screenplay, and since his film was edited (some say butchered) without him, I hoped at least that the new movie could provide some insight into what got lost. Now, I'm not sure, but I seriously doubt that Orson Welles' grand vision included a weird birth scene filmed from an inside perspective. Nor do I think he intended to show a death scene including some inappropriate tango dancing, or an overly-dramatic car accident scene with a person flying through the air in slow motion.

The scenes in the remake that probably did get cut from the original version include a bit with George as a boy bullying his friends to make him president of their club. There's also more hints about the changing town and the family's changing fortunes, like in a scene where George objects to rental homes being built on the Amberson grounds (when Grandfather's just trying to make some much needed money). There's also some extended information about the trip George makes his mother take, and a scene where George looks through a book of the town's history and can't even find the Amberson name. It's also made clearer in the remake how the Morgans with their new money are becoming the next magnificent family in town.

What's strange is what got cut from the Welles script. For example, there's no beginning narration and setup for the times and family. Instead, the newer movie begins with the ball at the Amberson mansion and later backtracks, using flashbacks to show the history with Eugene and Isabel as well as Georgie as a wild kid. In the original, the town "prophetess" clearly, quickly, and amusingly explains how Isabel ended up with Wilbur instead of Eugene (a man any woman would like a thousand times better) and how this lack of feeling for her husband will lead to Isabel having the most spoiled children. In the remake, it is hinted that the unnaturally close bond with George and his mother comes from him being an only child, but it's not made satisfyingly clear why George is such a terror or why Isabel caves into him. The new version also shows some full mouth kisses between the two, which is just unnecessarily creepy.

Even the things that made it from the original screenplay, like a lot of the dialogue, are mangled in the remake. For example, there's a sweet scene in the original with Eugene getting teased for how things ended with Isabel, and he says there's one thing that makes him forgive how things turned out. At that moment his daughter happens to be walking by, and he says her name. In the remake, while the words remain the same, it's all delivered with everyone sitting around a piano, and everyone oohs and ahhs about how charming this sentiment is. But all the nice subtlety of the original is lost.

As far as the acting in the remake goes, for the most part it is adequate but not extraordinary. James Cromwell does a good job as Major Amberson. But Jonathan Rhys Meyers as George and Jennifer Tilly as Aunt Fanny are both pretty terrible. Yes, George is supposed to be a spoiled brat and not very likable, but Meyers plays him as a tantrum-throwing, foot stomping, growling man-child that it's pretty impossible to care about. (Tim Holt at least had a bit of innocence, humor, and idealism thrown in to temper the obnoxiousness of his character.) Tilly seems to be doing her best impression of Agnes Moorehead, but she lacks the talent to make crying and self-pity sympathetic, and when she's not being shrill and/or weepy she's pretty amazingly dull. The worst is when the two act together; the scenes are painfully long and even ridiculous, like when George is trying to calm his hysterical aunt and ends up crawling full on top of her while someone watches, crying, through the window. (What is up with the incestuous undertones in this movie?)

Also inferior in the newer movie: the music. And instead of the gorgeous deep focus photography? Extreme close-ups, and to-the-camera delivery of the contents of correspondence.

Needless to say, I don't recommend this remake. Unless of course you enjoy something so bad it's laughable at times. Or if you want to commiserate with me on how awful this was. In that case, go ahead and watch it. And hope it doesn't taint your viewing of the much superior original version of The Magnificent Ambersons.

Original: 5/5
5/5 wings
(Even edited, and especially in comparison to the remake, this is a great movie.)

Remake: 1/5
1/5 wings
(Although I seriously considered giving it 0 wings.)

If you want more on the original movie, here's some great links my father passed along to me:

Summary and analysis of The Magnificent Ambersons at filmsite.org
Information at Wellesnet.com, includes writing on the un-making of the movie
A site with lots of images, memorabilia, and information on Ambersons


Top 5 Classic Movies to Sleep to

In my family, it is not unusual to pair a nap with a good movie. Are we such multitaskers that we have to have something going even when we sleep? Are we so lost in the movies that we want to spend every possible moment (waking or sleeping) on good films? Are our favorite movies so familiar and comforting that they make it easy to drift right off to dreamland?

I'm not sure. But I do know that some movies are better to sleep to than others. Musicals and films with lots of explosions are (for obvious reasons) not the best choices. And while there are some good newer movies to put on when you want to sleep, as usual I tend to lean toward older films.

Here's my list of five great classics for sleepy-time:

5. Sabrina (1954) - Like most of the best bedtime stories, it begins "Once upon a time" and has a happily-ever-after ending. The fairy tale story in between features a charming Audrey Hepburn in some fantasy princess-like outfits. As a bonus, if you fall asleep to this one, you just might dream of Billy Wilder's first choice, Cary Grant, playing the Bogart role.

4. The Magnificent Ambersons - Even if you only catch the beginning of this one before nodding off, you'll get an idea for some of the themes. The lovely Orson Wells-narrated opening illustrates the changing times with Joseph Cotten trying on a variety of mens' fashions. You'll soon get introduced to the bratty Georgie and hopefully wake up in time to see his comeuppance at the end.

3. North by Northwest - The exception to the "no explosions" rule, as the loud bits of the movie (usually signaled by the stirring Bernard Herrman music) are thrilling and fun and worth waking up to see. If you have your eyes open before the gunfire in the scene where Eva Marie Saint does some shooting, check out the kid in the back who (eerily) seems to know what's coming.

2. The Third Man - Because zither music is so soothing.

And the number one classic movie to sleep to is....

1. The Big Sleep - It's not just the title that wins this one the top spot. Thanks to all the detectin' being done, there are plenty of quiet follow-the-guy and examine-the-evidence moments that are very conducive to napping. The rainy mood is also great for making those eyelids heavy. And the convoluted plot is not much more understandable even if you stay awake and alert through the whole thing. So just let the banter between Bogie and Bacall lull you right off to sleep.

*Please note, if there's any of these movies you haven't seen yet, I'd recommend staying awake through them at least one time first. Then, the next time you are dealing with insomnia, or when you just need a mid-day snooze, try one of these fabulous sleep-friendly classics.


Guest post on Ginger

If you haven't seen it yet, check out my guest post on Ginger Rogers over at Silents and Talkies. Kate has created a wonderful drawing of Ginger to go with my ramblings. Without wanting to take anything away from the genius of Fred Astaire and the amazing work the pair did together, I wanted to focus on Ginger and all her hard work and talent. Enjoy!


On love in Casablanca

Every time I see Casablanca I enjoy it. It's one of those great classics, rewarding to watch no matter how many times you've seen it before. After you've viewed it once and know the ending, you'd think the love triangle would get less interesting, but I find myself fascinated by it still. Of course I know who Ilsa will end up with. I don't even wish things would go differently -- Victor Laszlo is Ilsa's husband, after all, so it's only right for them to be together. Rick has to make the big sacrifice, being the sentimentalist that he is at heart. Besides, crossing Laszlo in any way would be akin to siding with the Nazis, and our hero can't do that.

So, while I don't question who Ilsa will be with, or even who she should be with, I find it quite interesting thinking about which of the two men she really loves more. On the surface it would seem to be Rick, right? In their scenes together in Paris, she obviously adores him. We never see her kiss Victor in the film, only Rick. And she also only speaks the words "I love you" to Rick. Her main emotion involving Laszlo seems to be fear: she tells him repeatedly to be careful and that she's afraid for him. And, while the guy is certainly admirable, courageous and fearless for his cause, there doesn't seem to be a lot of chemistry there. Ilsa basically admits as much to Rick, telling him the story of herself as a girl meeting this great man, looking up to him, worshiping him, with a feeling she supposed was love. Case closed, she doesn't, couldn't really love him, right? I am not so sure.

Let's look at the way the movie itself defines love. In the scene where the young Bulgarian girl comes to Rick about Captain Renault, to learn if he is a man of his word, she ends up asking him questions about love. "If someone loved you very much" she says, "so that your happiness was the only thing that she wanted in the world, but she did a bad thing to make certain of it, could you forgive her?" Rick's answer? "Nobody ever loved me that much." Really, Rick? Not even Ilsa in Paris?

I think he's right. Ilsa certainly loved him, but not that much, as Rick says. Otherwise she would have done the bad thing -- staying with him and forsaking Laszlo. Does she leave out of her love for Laszlo, or does she make the sacrifice for love of the cause, doing her duty? Either way, Rick loses out. She loves him enough to lie to him, making sure he will leave Paris safely, but not enough so that his happiness is all that matters.

Let's apply this same idea of love moving someone to do a bad thing to the relationship with Ilsa and Laszlo. When Ilsa comes to Rick for the letters of transit, she certainly seems ready to do a bad thing, pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot Rick. He makes it very clear what is at stake, telling her that if Laszlo and the cause mean so much to her, she won't stop at anything, taunting her to go ahead and shoot. He's really testing her love for Laszlo here: does she love him enough to do this bad thing? Apparently not, because she lowers the gun. Her love for Rick seems to have won out, as she tells him she couldn't stay away and can never leave him again. Should he believe her? Should we?

It is possible to interpret it that Ilsa really has given in to her love for Rick. But I think it is really a sign of her love for Laszlo. She is willing to do the bad thing, leaving him, being with Rick, so that she can make sure of Victor's safety and happiness. Also, when she left Victor earlier that night, he says he loves her, and while she doesn't say it back, she does begin to ask him "whatever I do will you believe that I..." he tells her she doesn't even have to say it. The implication is clear. She is off to do a bad thing, but she wants him to know she loves him.

Besides, at this point in the movie, I don't see how Ilsa can possibly still love Rick. There may have been some lingering feeling there when she first saw him again. But after she came to explain things to him and found him drunk, she has lost her respect for him. And respect and love go hand in hand for Ilsa, as she explains in her story about her first feelings for Laszlo, as we see when she looks at him admiringly as he stirs up the crowd in the cafe. In contrast, she looks at Rick with contempt and disgust at what he's become. And surely part of what she loved about him in Paris was the record hinted at throughout the film, the deeds which make him wanted by the Nazis, too. She's a sucker for an idealist.

Even after saying she can't leave Rick again, her concern for Laszlo is foremost. "You'll help him now, won't you?" she begs Rick. When they meet the next day, she remains agitated about Victor. The show of surrender to Rick has been just that, a show. So the story Rick spins at the end for Laszlo about Ilsa only pretending to still love him, that all that was over long ago (which Renault says is a lie, and which may have been a lie for Rick) really seems to be the truth about Ilsa. But what Rick says about Paris is also true, that they had lost it and had gotten it back, although I don't think it's exactly how he says it is. Maybe he got it back that night Ilsa came over, but she gets Paris back when Rick sends her off with Laszlo. Because now she has her respect back for Rick, she can look at him admiringly again and remember those days in Paris fondly. She leaves him with the same words she left him with in Paris: "God bless you."

You can also flip this idea of love in Casablanca to test the men's love for Ilsa. Rick is willing to do a bad thing for her, more than one actually. He ends up killing a man to make sure Ilsa gets away safely with Laszlo, making her happy at his own expense. Laszlo also is ready to do a bad thing, at least as bad as he gets, telling Rick to use the letters of transit to take his wife away. "Yes, I love her that much." he says.

Not to be overlooked is the love all three have for the cause. All have done bad/illegal things and/or made sacrifices for the cause. But I don't think the characters are motivated solely by their love for right. While the problems of three people may not amount to a hill of beans in a crazy world, they still amount to something, and of course impact the way each character acts. Rick loves Ilsa. Victor loves Ilsa. Ilsa loves them both, but in the end, she seems to love Victor more.

The balance of love and sacrifice, ideas of honor and duty verses selfishness, all these themes make Casablanca endlessly interesting, its finale wonderfully satisfying. These are just some of many things that make this movie great and keep me coming back for more.


What the well-dressed (classic) movie lover is wearing

Have you seen the 15th Anniversary TCM shirts ? The stuff that dreams are made of, for sure.

But I think I may be even more taken with this new Threadless release, "That Old Movie Magic". The film projector is pretty fabulous all on its own, but wait, there's more, in glow-in-the-dark ink! Makes perfect sense... the lights dim, the film rolls, and magical things happen.

Check out that Casablanca nod. Sweet!

If you're so inspired, you might want to pick up a t-shirt or two. Or three or four, and send the extras my way. :-)


That's "Mrs. William Holden" to you

This silliness began over at Asleep in New York with Mrs. Richard Conte, and pretty soon everyone was playing along. (Well, the girls anyway. Guess you guys didn't play this game growing up or something.) Anyway, here's my results:

(Don't know why there's all this space here. Must be spoiler space, since it is a glimpse into the future.)

Behold... My Future

I will marry William Holden.

After a wild honeymoon, We will settle down in New York in our fabulous House.

We will have 12 kid(s) together.

Our family will zoom around in a puce Studebaker.

I will spend my days as a detective, and live happily ever after.

whats your future

I was a bit relieved to have dodged Joel McCrea (wouldn't want my 12 kids having his nose) but I was rather sad not to have ended up in Casablanca.

Who else has a fun movie fantasy future? Mrs. Dana Andrews (yes, we're all jealous), Mrs. Tyrone Power , Mrs. Rudolph Valentino, Mrs. Robert Taylor, and Mrs. Gower Champion.

I'd like to see some of you men try it... doesn't someone out there want to be Mr. Marilyn Monroe?


Movie reviews in brief

Although I haven't been posting much lately, I have still (of course) been watching movies! Instead of doing individual posts for every movie I've seen recently, I thought it might be fun to share some brief thoughts on the films I've been watching.

Two classics are first:

Modern Times

Another one from my mostly seen movies list. Some familiar gags (Charlie getting fed by one machine and caught in the cogs of another) were still quite amusing on re-watching. But my favorite part was a bit I had never seen before, with Charlie as a dancing and singing waiter. Watching as he pulled himself around by the seat of his pants had me laughing so hard I was crying. Chaplin is great. And Paulette Goddard is just so cute!

5/5 wings

As a side point, watching this movie made me realize why it's so hard for me to get into silent movies. Since I love to multi-task, I often put a movie on in the background while I'm doing other things. This works great for revisiting favorite classics where I know what's going on, but silent movies demand more of my attention, so I watch them less frequently. Modern Times reminded me why I should spend more time on movies without dialogue.

Kitty Foyle

The film (particularly the dialogue) does feel a bit dated, but it's worth watching if only to see Ginger Rogers in her strong, Oscar-winning performance. Kitty Foyle is a white-collar girl (the costumes reflect a very literal interpretation of this) facing an important decision: to marry one man or run away with an old flame.

The conclusion to the central dilemma of the story, which man Kitty will end up with, is not really a shocker, but it's an emotional journey nonetheless. I only wish there were more options out there for the heroine. Wyn is fun, rich, romantic, and a coward. Mark is steady, stable, thrifty, and (let's be honest here) rather dull. Are there really no other men in Kitty's acquaintance? In the movies, there is no middle-ground. The choices are love, passion & heartbreak vs. friendship, stability, & boredom. I think Kitty should have held out for door three.

(I'm tempted to give it 3 wings, but I'm weighting it higher as a classic and for Ginger.)

4/5 wings

Now for two new-ish movies:

Chicken Little

Fun family movie that drags a bit toward the end. The very cute Chicken Little really needed a cuter voice. But the vocal stylings of Joan Cusack and Steve Zahn were quite delightful. And Fish Out of Water was just too cool.

3/5 wings

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

What I liked: The aging effects, the man with the backwards clock, the guy who got struck by lightning, and very little else.

The comparisons to Forrest Gump are justified. And while I'm no big fan of that movie, I think I did like it a bit better than Benjamin Button.

If you take away the gimmick of a man aging backwards and the few interesting things that arise from this, you are left with a very mundane tale. Whether you like it or not then may depend on the strength of the love story between Benjamin and Daisy. While I did sympathize with Benjamin, particularly at the beginning of the movie with his earnest innocence shining through the body of an old man, I personally did not care for Daisy at all (and didn't get why Benjamin did).

What is the message of this meandering movie? That even if your life seems disjointed, it's OK. Maybe you were just born to live a disjointed life. The idea that life is only about what is thrown at you and not what you make of it is not a theory I subscribe to, sorry.

(Would be 1 wing for story alone, but for Pitt's performance and for the effects I'll add on one more wing.)

2/5 wings

Now, a movie I actually saw in the theater! (It's been a while.)

Star Trek

Well, there's definitely things to nit-pick if you want to. Stuff I didn't like: the uninteresting bad dude, what they did to the Romulans (tattooed heads, now?) and a plot that was a bit weak if you thought about it too much (though all time-travel stories seem to unravel if you think hard about them).

But the movie was more about reintroducing the characters and giving their stories a spin, and I thought that was done well. (Although I've never been a huge fan of the original Star Trek, I prefer TNG & DS9, so they could have changed things really dramatically and I wouldn't have minded or maybe even noticed.) It was visually cool and super entertaining. And I think it found a good balance between pleasing Trekkies and finding a new audience (and setting up for some sequels).

A couple leaving the theater just ahead of my group did not agree. Old enough to have been fans of the show when it was first on TV, they did not seem to appreciate the changes at all. The wife was particularly distressed about what had been done to Spock's mother. The husband's complaints were more about movies in general, how the world is so bad that people just want flashier entertainment to distract them. You know, he's got a point there.

(The movie's not perfect, but for sheer entertainment value it gets 4 wings from me.)

4/5 wings

By the way, if you are wondering what happened to the Vulcan James Dean, I retired him so he wouldn't be in your face every time you loaded the page here. But if you want, you can Trek Yourself. It's fun to do with actors and famous movie lines!


Calling all classic movie bloggers... join the flock of LAMBs!

So, I was finally getting around to making my nominations for the 2009 LAMMY Awards when I discovered a somewhat disappointing thing: several of the blogs I was wanting to nominate are not LAMBs and are therefore ineligible!

You may be asking, what is this LAMB stuff all about, anyway? Well, the acronym stands for the Large Association of Movie Blogs. The LAMB is a place for film bloggers of all sorts to connect. Different blogs are spotlighted, there are a variety of events to participate in, and readers searching for movie blogs can make some great blog discoveries.

The purpose of my post is twofold. First, I want to highlight some movie blogs that I don't see on the LAMB list, but that I really enjoy reading. (Since I couldn't give them LAMMY nomination love I figure I can at least give them linky love.) Here some great blogs to check out:

Another Old Movie Blog
-- Excellent, insightful writing.
Asleep in New York -- Not just for Dana Andrews lovers.
Cinema Coquette -- Emphasizing the chic in chick flicks!
Cinema Splendor -- Natalie Wood fan with a perky perspective.
Classic Film Oasis -- Has me ready to petition for great films to be released on DVD.
Classic Forever -- Classic movie photos delivered daily.
Classic Hollywood Nerd -- Currently going on about favorite movie dancers.
Fire and Music -- Wonderfully written reviews that start with a quote and end with illumination.
Hollywood Dreamland -- We often seem to be on the same movie page.
Self-Styled Siren -- The siren is good enough to get away with writing about herself in the third person.
Silents and Talkies -- For the very cute classic movie-inspired art.
The Film Doctor -- Smart, savvy reviews and sensational links.
Wonders in the Dark -- Counting down movies decade by decade.

Second, I want to encourage more movie bloggers to join the LAMB. Especially you classic movie blogs -- the LAMB needs a better balance of classic film lovers on board. Come on, it's free. Think about it!


If I were a TCM guest (fan) programmer...

Jealous. That's how I feel every time I see a TCM guest programmer introducing his or her favorite movies. And while it's bad enough that TCM has guest programmers that aren't me, now they have fan programmers that aren't me either. How fun would that be, chatting about some lovely film with movie know-it-all (in a good way) Robert Osborne?

Stacia at She Blogged by Night has an interview with one of the chosen fan programmers explaining what the experience was like. She was asked to pick 10 films that meant something to her for TCM to narrow down.

What would my picks be?

The Maltese Falcon - A favorite. I especially love watching Sam's little laughs at Brigid's lies and his interactions with the fat man.

The Third Man - Another favorite. Besides the classic ferris wheel scene, there's also the great buildup to the reveal of Orson Welles' character. And you just have to sympathize with Holly Martins and his situation: "That sounds like a cheap novelette." "Well, I write cheap novelettes."

The Philadelphia Story - For the dialogue and characters.

The Muppet Movie - Because Kermit was too modest to mention it when he was a TCM guest programmer. This is also a movie I remember fondly from my childhood, when I used to watch it on our RCA SelectaVision VideoDisc Player (I can still hum the opening music it had before every movie, and I often remember from the movies we owned the scene when we had to flip to the other side of the disc). I also love seeing all the guest stars, particularly Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, and Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy. How can you not love a movie about friendship and dreams? "Life's like a movie, write your own ending, keep believing, keep pretending..."

Father of the Bride - Spencer Tracy reminds me of my dad, who got me into classic movies in the first place. When I got married, he quoted some lines from this movie that made me cry.

The Hustler - Incredible performances. (And I could also talk semi-intelligently about the novel.)

The Long Hot Summer - More Newman, which is always nice, and a great look at all different kinds of relationships. Particularly interesting is the pressure on Clara to find a husband to satisfy both her heart and head.

Holiday - One of my Overlooked Oldies, which fits right in with the idea of TCM introducing people to classics they should know.

It's Always Fair Weather - I grew up on musicals, and this is a unique one that I think deserves some more attention.

The Major and the Minor - If I could only pick one film to talk about on TCM, it might very well be this one. It's the first movie I brought up in my Overlooked Oldies for a reason. Not only do I find the whole thing charming, but I also think it's significant as Billy Wilder's debut as a Hollywood director. Imagine if it hadn't gone well, what other movies we might be missing out on -- The Apartment, Some Like it Hot, Sunset Blvd. I find it incredible that he was able to write so well in what was not his first language. He manages to satirize and make fun of people while still getting you to sympathize and care for them. Pretty amazing.

What film(s) would you pick if you had the chance to go on TCM? An all-time favorite, even if it was well-known? A lesser-known movie with a lot of personal meaning? A really obscure gem to show off your film knowledge and try and one-up Mr. O? Share your thoughts, maybe TCM is listening for next time...

(And by the way, happy 15th anniversary, TCM.)


More of what you want

It's fun browsing my blog statistics to see what crazy things people are searching for when they find me. Sometimes I'm not sure how I matched up, sometimes I've got amazingly exact matches to keyword searches. In an effort to give the people what they want, here's a few popular searches and some bonus material along the same lines.

One of my most popular hits is Tom Hardy. Tom as Ramount and/or in Marie Antoinette, Tom linked with Brando, and just plain Tom Hardy. Here's my original ramblings about the boy, and another picture as a bonus. (I know, right? Go watch The Virgin Queen.)

My Book vs. Movie posts also get a lot of love. In particular the searches seem to focus on Jane Eyre and The Grapes of Wrath. Students with book reports due, maybe? One thing that might be leading to disappointment is searching for The Grapes of Wrath ending, which I only hinted at in my post comparing the book and movie. But here it is as your bonus: *SPOILERS* After Rose of Sharon delivers a stillborn baby, she ends up breastfeeding a starving man. For real. *SPOILERS END* Can't imagine why that didn't make it into the movie.

I'm quite encouraged to see the number of people searching for witty women, including this very positive affirmation: witty WOMAN IS the best. I quite agree. Stage Door has an unusual number of witty women in it, but for other movies with witty women/dialogue I'd recommend the following: The Thin Man, The Philadelphia Story, The Big Sleep, and All About Eve.

Now's your chance to weigh in with what you haven't found searching here and what you've liked that's left you wanting more. I'll be happy to oblige.


100 films to see before you die

The staff at Yahoo! Movies has put together this list of the 100 films you must see before you die. How many have I seen? I'm going to make the ones I've seen bold, and italicize the ones I want to see. I will also star * those I definitely agree are must-sees.

(Before anyone asks, since I've said before I choose not to see R-rated films, the ones on the list I mark as seen will be the edited for TV versions. Thanks!)

*12 Angry Men
2001: A Space Odyssey
400 Blows
8 1/2

The African Queen
*All About Eve
Annie Hall
Apocalypse Now

The Battle of Algiers
The Bicycle Thief
Blade Runner
Blazing Saddles
Blow Up
Blue Velvet
Bonnie and Clyde
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Bringing Up Baby
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
*Citizen Kane
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Die Hard
Do the Right Thing
Double Indemnity
*Dr. Strangelove
Duck Soup

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Enter the Dragon
The Exorcist

Fast Times At Ridgemont High
The French Connection

The Godfather
The Godfather, Part II
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
The Graduate
Grand Illusion
Groundhog Day

A Hard Day’s Night

In the Mood For Love
It Happened One Night
*It’s a Wonderful Life


King Kong (1933)

The Lady Eve
Lawrence of Arabia
The Lord of the Rings

*The Maltese Falcon
The Matrix
*Modern Times
Monty Python and the Holy Grail

National Lampoon’s Animal House

On the Waterfront
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Paths of Glory
Princess Mononoke
Pulp Fiction

Raging Bull
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raise the Red Lantern
Rear Window
Rebel Without a Cause
Roman Holiday

Saving Private Ryan
Schindler’s List
The Searchers
Seven Samurai
The Shawshank Redemption
The Silence of the Lambs
*Singin’ in the Rain
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Some Like It Hot
The Sound of Music
*Star Wars
*Sunset Blvd.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
*The Third Man
This is Spinal Tap
*To Kill a Mockingbird
Toy Story

The Usual Suspects


When Harry Met Sally…
Wild Strawberries
Wings of Desire
*The Wizard of Oz
Women On the Verge of Nervous Breakdown
The World of Apu

There's several on here that are on my mostly-seen list (I've seen part or almost all of the film and know the story) but if I didn't sit through and watch from beginning to end I didn't mark it off.

I'm not sure about some of these choices. In particular I've always disliked Groundhog Day, but hey, that's just me. I know my foreign film knowledge is pitifully small, so I should probably try to remedy that.

If it were my list, I would add some more classics, like An American in Paris, The Apartment, The Magnificent Ambersons, West Side Story, Out of the Past, The Philadelphia Story and Gone With the Wind.

So, how many of these have you seen? Mark them off and link back to share your list. Don't forget to include what movies you would have added to the list and what you disagree with!


These are the movies that try men's friendships.

For my brother, it was Torn Curtain. There was a time when he showed this movie to everyone he could get to sit through it, claiming that he learned a lot about people in the process. I'm not sure if it was the crazy oven scene or the frustrating communication issues between the Paul Newman and Julie Andrews characters, but somehow the way his friends reacted to the movie told him everything he wanted to know about them.

While I don't personally have a movie I test people out on like this, there have been a few times when watching a movie with friends changed the way I viewed them. The friends, I mean, not the movies. (Although the reverse has also been true.)

For example, I saw The Fugitive in the theater with a girl who was convinced Harrison Ford's character was guilty. (Did she think the one-armed man was an apparition? I don't know.) Another time I watched The Miracle of Morgan's Creek with some girlfriends, one of whom somehow didn't pick up on the pregnancy until the very end. (I know they kept it subtle back then, but come on! It's a major plot point!)

This is not to say that I have ever ended a friendship with someone based on their reaction to a movie. But I have changed my mind about what type of movies (if any) I will share with them.

What about you? Is there a movie that tested your friendship with someone based on how they viewed it? Is there a movie you use to test people out, perhaps an obscure title you reference when someone claims to be a film buff? Or is there a movie you love to watch with people because it's so open to interpretation that you use it like a Rorschach inkblot test of film?


What's better than a witty woman?

A bunch of witty women, of course! And it seems that the only requirement for being able to stay in the Footlights Club boarding house in the movie Stage Door is this: You must be a wise-cracking female. (OK, you must be an aspiring actress, as well.)

Katharine Hepburn as Terry Randall passes on both counts. She waltzes into this world of theater hopefuls with a few minor differences: she has money and she takes her craft seriously. She quickly butts heads with the girls, particularly her down-to-earth roommate Jean (Ginger Rogers). The women in the movie date, dish, and dream of landing the perfect part, with mixed results.

Less important to the movie than the overall plot is the sheer star power and the sharp writing. In addition to Hepburn and Rogers, the women at the Footlights Club include Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, and Ann Miller. (I'm almost ready to believe they really did all live like this, waiting to get their big breaks.) And here's just a sampling of some of the endless snappy dialogue:

"Evidently you're a very amusing person."

"Unfortunately I learned to speak English correctly."
"That won't do you any good here, we all talk Pig Latin." (Ginger isn't bluffing.)

"If it's not food, it's men. Can't you talk about anything else?"
"What else is there?"

"May I come in?"
"Oh, sure, I guess you'll be safe. The exterminators won't be here until tomorrow."
"How did they miss you on their last visit?"

One other very minor thing I loved about the movie: Ginger's character sleeps with a little doll! Sure, she's a hard-talking, ambitious, independent woman making it in the big city. But when it comes right down to it, she's still just a little girl with dreams.

Stage Door is one of those movies that lived for a long time on my Mostly-Seen list; that is, I had seen bits and pieces of it here and there and had a vague idea what it was all about. The sad thing about the movies populating this list of mine is that when I finally take the time to watch them from start to finish, I am almost always pleasantly surprised by the bits I'd been missing and wonder why I didn't watch the whole movie sooner. Stage Door was no exception, and I've happily moved it from my list of Mostly-Seen Movies to the Finally Watched! list.

4/5 wings


How does an obsession begin?

This started as a Q&A on Classic Hollywood Nerd, and I couldn't resist joining in with my answers.

Who was the actor/actress that you were first interested in?
When I was maybe ten, I remember my best friend and I were filling out lists of our favorites, and for actor I put Clark Gable. (She had no idea who he was.) I'm not sure why I picked him at the time, although I always liked Gone With the Wind and I vaguely remember that It Happened One Night was one of the first movies my family recorded off TV with our new VCR.

How old were you when you really began watching old movies?
I don't remember a time when I didn't watch old movies. My love of them began in childhood, thanks to my classics-loving father, and never really stopped.

What was the first old movie that caught your interest?
As a kid I had all the dialogue (though a few lines were off) to The Wizard of Oz memorized. My parents had to ask me not to say every line along with the movie.

Who is currently your favorite actor?
I always like Bogart and Spencer. I like to look at Paul Newman, Dana Andrews, William Holden and Brando. I am strangely fascinated by George C. Scott and George Sanders. I think Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray are underrated. The more I see of Kirk Douglas and James Mason, the more impressed I am with them. And most recently I've been enjoying Edward G. Robinson.

Who is currently your favorite actress?
For a while now I've been identifying with Ginger Rogers.

What is your favorite old movie and why?
Only one? I really enjoy The Maltese Falcon for the unfolding mystery and Humphrey Bogart's great reactions to the assorted crazy characters. The Third Man is also high on my list. While it's artistic and moody it also has some great little moments of humor.

How many old movies do you own? How many old movies do you have recorded/on the dvr?
How should I know? What am I, an accountant? ;-)

Not as many as I'd like to own. I haven't counted, probably around 50, but I have a lot more recorded from television. And maybe 10-15 taking up space on the dvr. Putting my collection at what I would guess to be more than 100, but less than 200.

If you could go back in time and visit any actor/actress, who would it be?
I imagine that conversations with Orson Welles and/or Katharine Hepburn (if I could keep up with them) would be interesting. I think visits with Jimmy Stewart and/or Jack Lemmon would be pleasant.

Who is one actor/actress that you want to know more about?
It seems the more I learn about actors, the less I like them. Since learning about the real lives of actors is often disappointing to me, I usually prefer to know and appreciate them on-screen only. However, I did just watch an American Masters about Gene Kelly that was pretty interesting and not entirely depressing.

What film could you watch over and over again?
Among my go-to favorites for re-watching are The Big Sleep, Laura, and The Philadelphia Story.

What is your favorite Hitchcock film?
Probably North by Northwest.

Who is your favorite director?
Billy Wilder is genius.

Share your answers here or on your own blog. :-)


I didn't have a speech prepared...

All I can say is wow. Not one, not two, but three wonderful bloggers have passed along the Premio Dardos award to me!

My humble thanks go to R.D. Finch of the excellently written The Movie Projector, Anders from the highly entertaining Cut, Print, Review, and Vanessa at the fun and fabulous The Movie Ness. The feeling is mutual; I think you guys are great.

If you haven't seen this baby yet, here is what it means:

The Dardos Award is given for cultural, literary, and personal values in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing appreciation and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.

And so I must:
  1. Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.
  2. Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.
In choosing five blogs to pass the award along to, I decided to go with fellow movie bloggers who keep me coming back for more. (I'm choosing blogs I personally have not given a shout-out to before, although they may have already been chosen for this award by someone else. Because they are good. And you should check them out.) What do I like? Quality writing, a touch of personality coming through, and a passion for classic films, of course!

Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog

Fire and Music
Classic Film Oasis
Hollywood Dreamland
Cinema Splendor

This list certainly leaves out some excellent blogs. If you want more, check out my list of fellow movie lovers to the right.


Wrapping up Lit Flicks with The Hustler

For my final book/movie combo to complete the Lit Flicks Challenge, I decided to do a double revisit of The Hustler.

The story revolves around Fast Eddie Felson, a pool hustler who travels to Chicago to challenge the great Minnesota Fats. He loses spectacularly, picks up a girl, gains character, and comes back for a rematch.

Many things in the movie (characters, plot, dialogue, themes) are lifted straight from the book. One major difference is a much darker finish for one of the characters in the movie. While this doesn't change much about how things end up, it does change the way the characters get there.

This is a case where seeing the movie for the first time made me check out the book to try and get a better handle on the story. This time around I re-read the book first and then re-watched the movie. What I found is that the film and novel have become intertwined for me. I can't read the book without picturing the actors as the characters, and I can't watch the movie without phrases from the book coming to mind.

Some things I like better about the book: the attention given to the themes. For example, the idea of hustling happening in many areas of life is shown in more detail. Also explored a bit more in depth are ideas about winning and losing, not just in pool, but in life. Are some people just born losers? How far can talent take you? Can a loser turn into a winner by silencing his excuses for losing? While these are still major themes in the movie, I like the way they are examined (and concluded) in the book a bit better.

Some things I like better about the movie: watching the performances by four amazing actors. Paul Newman and George C. Scott are both so strong, I can't decide who to watch in their scenes together. Piper Laurie plays her part heartbreakingly well. And Jackie Gleason perfectly embodies Minnesota Fats. (I understand in real life he shot a pretty good game of pool, himself.)

Both book and movie are a bit gritty, although the language is coarser in the book. They both also portray pool in an almost reverential light, at least from the players' perspectives. While you might imagine it would be easier to follow the game on screen seeing it for yourself, the descriptions in the book make things clear and keep it interesting.

I'm back and forth on picking which version I like better, so I guess I'd have to say both are good, although the movie is more of a must-see classic than the book is a must-read classic. So I'd say try the movie first, and if you want more, check out the book.

Final thoughts on Lit Flicks:

In addition to The Hustler, for this challenge I read and watched The Grapes of Wrath, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden & The Black Stallion. Only in one case did I have a real preference for the book. For the most part I enjoyed both incarnations of the story (with an occasional edge given to the movie). This happens to fit my original idea that books and movies don't have to be at odds. Let's enjoy both for the unique strengths they offer in storytelling.

While this challenge is over, I'm sure I will continue to check out movie adaptations of the books I enjoy, and I'm sure that movie credits telling me a great film was based on a book will send me looking for it. Book vs. Movie? No! Book AND movie for me!

If you are interested in more book-to-movie reviews, check out the Bookworms Carnival on literature and film.


The Oscars: Did you watch?

I know, I know, I recently did a post questioning the value of awards. But I must admit to being sucked in anyway. And so yes, I did watch (most) of the 81st Annual Academy Awards last night. Here's a few scattered thoughts about the show.

Since I didn't see all (or many, actually) of the nominated films, I'm not in a real position to debate about the rightness of who won or lost. I did feel a little sad that WALL-E didn't do better (and didn't Will Smith sound funny saying the title? He has kids, didn't he see the movie?) but overall I didn't care much about the outcomes one way or another outside of how it would leave me in the LAMB Oscar pool. (One year I won a contest run through the local newspaper for Oscar picks. Well, I tied for first. But because I had a relative working at the paper, they gave the big prize to the other guy. I got a hat.)

As far as the entertainment value of the show itself, I thought it didn't seem to drag quite so much as past years. (Although I've long been in the habit of doing other things with the show on in the background, which definitely helps.)

I thought Hugh Jackman was not a bad host, although we didn't see much of him outside of his song and dance numbers. I liked him admitting (pretending?) he hadn't seen The Reader. I didn't especially like the bit with him and Anne Hathaway, but then, I find her strangely irritating most of the time. And while I agree with the sentiment of being happy to see more new musicals out, it was during that number that I decided I don't really like Hugh's singing style.

Some random cattiness: I thought I was in favor of Kate Winslet winning, but I liked her less during her incoherent speech than in any movie I've ever seen her in (although I did like her looking for her dad). Didn't Reese Witherspoon seem strangely asymmetrical? And sorry again, Anne Hathaway, but your thank you speech from your seat professing your love for Shirley MacLaine was rather embarrassing to watch. As was an outclassed Jennifer Aniston presenting on a night with Brad and Angelina both up for awards.

What I did like: Having past winners coming out to talk about the current nominees was a cool idea, and it was interesting to see who got paired up. I also liked the montages of movie genres (like Romance in 2008). Tina Fey and Steve Martin were great. Philippe Petit doing a magic trick and balancing the Oscar on his chin was rather amusing, and made me wish I had liked his movie more. There were other little moments of enjoyment (funny bits, real emotion from folks, etc.) but not much seemed really, really memorable. Maybe because there weren't a lot of surprises?

When Slumdog won and the whole entourage of people started filling the stage, I found myself thinking it would be a great chance for some random person to jump up there just for kicks. Who would notice? I also wanted to see them all break into a choreographed dance number to the film's Oscar-winning song. That would have been a great way to end the night.

That's all I've got. Did you watch? What did you think?


Books vs. Movies: The Secret Garden & The Black Stallion

Here's a little something you might not know about me: when in doubt about what to read, I turn to children's books. Even if I've never read them before, I find them somehow comforting, a return to a simpler time, a safe haven from novels determined to be shocking.

So when I was recently having trouble with the books on my original Lit Flicks list (due to fading interest and/or the failure of my usually good inter-library loan system) I turned to children's classics instead. Here are my thoughts on two books I read as well as their movie adaptations.

The Secret Garden

I think I read this when I was younger as it was all vaguely familiar... little Mary Lennox is orphaned, goes to live with her uncle, discovers a mystery in the house and the power of a secret garden.

For the most part I found the story delightful. It was great to see the change in Mary. Positive, unselfish thinking is good, being out amidst natural beauty is good. The only thing I didn't like was the mumbo-jumbo at the end about "Magic" to explain things. (Also, i
s it just me or do the three kids in the book seem to be a love-triangle in the making?) (Yes, I know one is Mary's cousin.)

The first adaptation I tried to watch was the 1993 movie, thinking that the subject would have to be better in an updated version instead of an older, black and white version. But I really (and perhaps slightly irrationally) didn't like it. I didn't like right away that they changed how Mary was orphaned. The whole movie seemed rather dark for such a sweet story. Yes, I know that the book deals with some heavy subjects, but it didn't feel weighed down like the movie did. I watched it half-heartedly and distractedly and got even more mad at it at the end when they took the magic bit I didn't like in the book and made a bigger deal about it with a chanting scene. Blech.

It almost made me not give The Secret Garden from 1949 a try, but I'm so happy I did! While this version also takes a few liberties, (like the robin becoming a raven) overall I was so much happier with it. Margaret O'Brien stars as Mary. Although I thought her a bit too old (and too pretty) for the role, she played it with her usual intensity and charm and won me over. Little Dean Stockwell is also in this version, and man, what a cute kid he was. (At one point he talks about how he will live forever, and I couldn't help but think, of course you will, you Cylon, you!)

What I think the 1949 version really gets right is the tone of the story. For example, Mary is still contrary, but somehow her seriousness is shown as being rather ridiculous, making her more endearing. The touches of humor in the story really work against the heavier themes, and that bit of light and dark feels very true to the book. And, appropriately enough in a story called The Secret Garden, there are a few secrets to the movie that had me ready to cheer! (I don't want to reveal anything here because I'd like everyone to have the same joyful surprise that I had.)

So, book or movie? Both, as long as you watch the 1949 version. (It doesn't seem to be available on DVD yet, but you may be able to find the video or catch it on TCM.)

The Black Stallion

Here's a case where I had seen the movie before reading the book. While the basic story is the same (boy and horse get shipwrecked, become friends on an island, get rescued and enter a major race) I was surprised by how many things were changed for the movie. (What! There was never a mini horse statue? Or talk about the horse with fire in his eyes and smoke coming out of his nose?)

Some bigger changes: in the book, Alec is alone on the ship as opposed to traveling with his father as in the movie. This makes for some more emotional moments in the film. Also, Alec is significantly older in the book. While I think a younger Alec works better for his helplessness in the island scenes, I did like an older Alec for being more in control over what to do about racing his horse when he got back home.

While the book is fine as a classic children's adventure novel, The Black Stallion is a great example of a story that translates really well into a movie. Seeing as opposed to imagining is much more powerful when it comes to the frightening scenes of the ship sinking, or the beautiful moments between the boy and his horse on the island, or the exciting moments of the race at the end. Re-watching the story after reading the book, I loved even more the visuals of the horse, particularly during the dialogue-free scenes on the island. The little exotic musical cues as reminders of the horse's origin were neat, and the main actors (Kelly Reno, Teri Garr, and Mickey Rooney) were all great, too.

If you only get into one version of this story, make it the movie.

Now, I have one more book and movie adaptation to go before the end of the month to complete the Lit Flicks challenge. Can I do it? I'm sure gonna try!
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