Austenland: Leave the tea and biscuits at home

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Jane Hayes has a problem. She suffers from a severe case of Austenmania, and I mean mania. Her bedroom, littered with porcelain teacups, stuffed dolls, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Colin Firth in Darcy regalia, looks like a 5th-grader’s shrine to Pride and Prejudice. That this woman managed to go on dates boggles the mind. So it comes as no surprise that when Jane sees a commercial for Austenland, a themed British estate with period actors that promises romance with an Austen-type hero, she cashes in her life savings and flies her sad, sad self off to England.

Hayes gets a rude awakening on her arrival. The “bronze” package she bought — the cheapest available — seems reserved for Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. The management snubs her, gives her drab gowns, a tiny bedroom on the top floor, and excludes her from fun activities. To make matters worse, the Darcy-type period actor, Mr. Henry Nobley, is in the extreme pre-Elizabeth Bennet stage. still-of-jj-feild-in-austenland

Mr. Henry Nobley (J.J. Feild) looking haughty.

Luckily, Jane can vent her frustrations with Martin, the handsome stable hand. Their relationship develops quickly — a little too quickly. One minute he’s pitching hay in the barn and the next they’re making out to the strains of a cheesy 80’s pop song.

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Jane (Keri Russell) and Martin (Bret McKenzie)

None of the other relationships evolve smoothly, either. Character development in this film sacrificed itself on the altar of time in favor of farcical scenarios. I found myself thinking, “When did that happen? And why?” I assume Jerusha Hess’s book, on which the film is based, elaborates more on this and Jane’s troubled romantic past, which is mentioned but never explained.

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Austenland tries too hard, but isn’t completely lacking in charm. That’s largely due to the cast, who strove to make this a watchable film. In the end, the plot good-naturedly pokes fun at “Janeites,” only to fall short of its potential and succumb to Hollywood rom-com predictability. If you enjoyed the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries, though, you may find the film’s occasional nods amusing, as I did. Also if you’re a fan of Nelly. And that’s all I’m saying.

Beaver couldn’t make it to the showing, sadly, so I’m rating it by myself: 2 carrot sticks (out of five).

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On the Waterfront

After weeks of procrastination (and a few legitimate excuses), here is the Mafia-related movie post. Sorry, Liz!

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 I love this poster — it’s so over the top. 

Liz: Waterfront workers line up every morning to unload cargo on the docks, but only those favored by union controller and mob boss Johnny Friendly get work. Those who stand against the mob end up dead. After the murder of a teen, a priest and the boy’s sister seeking justice find help in an unlikely source: Terry Malloy, kid brother of Friendly’s right hand man.

So, did Karl Malden ever play anything other than a priest? On the Waterfront, Poseidon Adventure, Pollyanna…

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Seriously though, he did a great job. And he was no quiet spoken priest with a tender touch. I loved his tough, not-too-polite, cigarette smoking, hit-you-when-necessary character as much as Marlon Brando’s simple, but charming in a diamond-in-the-rough way, Terry Malloy.

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Brando’s reaction when realizing he’d set up a kid for his death seemed underplayed to me. There wasn’t much reaction at all at first. Otherwise, I thought he did a great job, as did the other actors.

On the Waterfront is not my typical movie choice, but I enjoyed it. People standing up for what’s right is always encouraging, though the thought that people were actually living in such poverty and fear is rather shocking.

Conclusion: Definitely deserves all the awards it got.

Jaz: I have a confession to make: I didn’t know that the quote “I coulda been a contender” originated from On the Waterfront.

Go ahead, judge me. All those years of hearing my father quote it (along with “I thought you was hungry so I brought you a stick of gum” – no idea where that’s from), and me a self-proclaimed classic film fan!

Another confession … You know those movies you enjoy watching, then forget about? On the Waterfront was one of those for me. It’s poignant, well done, based on true events, and Brando and Eva Marie Saint delivered superb performances, blended with perfect chemistry.

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In spite of all this, it didn’t resonate with me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this or different genres – I watch everything from martial arts films to sappy chic-flicks to mystery/suspense to Westerns to gangster films. Most everything except horror. If I want horror, I’ll just eat a MacBacon-CheeseLovinWhopper right before bed, no monthly Netflix fee required.

But back to the film. Beaver disagrees with me. He feels I’m not reading deeply enough into the film to appreciate its characters and nuances – it’s so much more than black and white. He’s right, I know. Later I’ll re-watch On the Waterfront … in addition to making that felt fedora hat the Beav’s been clamoring for since we watched it.

We give this 4 carrot sticks (out of five).

Summer Films: South Pacific

LIZ: First off, when I say South Pacific, I am referring to the 1958 movie, not the 2001 TV movie or the play, neither of which I’ve seen. Now that I’ve made that disclaimer, on to the movie.

I love the music (how could you not like a Rogers and Hammerstein collaboration?). “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” are a lot of fun and have catchy tunes.

I must admit to having sung the former with a good bit of feeling at times. “Some Enchanted Evening” is, of course, a romantic favorite.

I like the cast too. Bright, cheerful Mitzi Gaynor is perfect for the nurse in love. The sailors are a great comic relief, about a 101 pounds of fun worth actually.

Pretty much the only thing I didn’t like about the movie was the storyline … It just felt preachy. The lieutenant lost my sympathy leading Liat on when he had a girl back in the States, and I just didn’t see why Nellie had such a problem with Emile having had a Polynesian wife. Side note: The play actually won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 1950. I know Carousel, Singing in the Rain, and The Sound of Music are just a few of the musicals that aren’t all laughs and giggles, but I still have a hard time putting musical and drama together in a movie description.

LIZ GOES INTO SHOCK: I did a little snooping on IMDB and discovered that most the voices in the movie were dubbed! The lip-syncing was excellent, but WHY? The scene where Emile sings (you think anyway) “Some Enchanted Evening” to Nellie loses something knowing that it’s faked. Don’t get me wrong, I like the actors, but surely there were enough singer/actors to cast people who could actually perform the role in its entirety. Mitzi Gaynor actually does her own singing, by the way.

Conclusion: It’s not my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical, but it has great music.

JAZ: Nellie Forbush is terribly, passionately, ditzily, hopelessly in love with Emile De Becque.

But something’s keeping her from marrying the handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented man of her dreams.

Handsome, millionaire, golden-voiced, charming French-accented De Becque (The one on the left). Not crazy about the pleated khaki pants, though. 

Is it that they’ve known each other a mere two weeks? Or that he’s twenty-ish years older? Or that he killed a man in France? Or that he has two “mixed” children, which would bother most women in the WWII era?

No, it’s the fact that his long dead and gone wife was Polynesian (“I lived as I could,” he explains apologetically).

Why? Beats me.

In other racist news, Lt. Cable can’t seem to wrap his mind around marrying Liat, the beautiful Vietnamese woman he loves.

Basically South Pacific revolves around their getting over their prejudices. But for a film all about intercultural tolerance, there’s amazingly little of it going on.

Apparently De Becque’s true name is “Frenchman,” because that’s what he gets called 99% of the time. Forbush condescendingly asks the children several times if they understand her, despite the fact that they’re trilingual and she knows only one measly language. And (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) only the suitably lighter-skinned couple ends up together. Cable dies tragically in battle, thus dooming the one possible interethnic marriage. What does that say about the film’s true stance on racial prejudice?

Oh, and what’s up with all the color filters?

Yellow!

Orange!

Yellowy orange! Yeah!

Beaver liked the grass skirts. He said they made him hungry.

We give this film 3 carrot sticks out of five. For the awesome song and dance numbers.

Happy Birthday, Errol Flynn!

Liz, ever informed, told me that today is Errol Flynn’s 104th birthday. If this talented Aussie has never crossed your path before now, let me remedy that at once:

You’re welcome.

Who needs Russell Crowe when you’ve got Errol Flynn?

 In The Seahawk.

Anyway, Beaver and I couldn’t let this day pass without a post (and dessert) in his honor. He suggested cake. We settled for a cupcake instead.

beavererrol Happy Birthday, Errol Flynn!

Summer films: Some Like it Hot

Liz: It’s summer, so we’ve chosen two movies with beach settings—two very different movies.

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Speaking of settings, one of the interesting things about this week’s movie, Some Like It Hot, is the shift from prohibition era/gangster-filled Chicago to a peaceful Florida beach. It felt like a shift in time as well as place. But as Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon were being hunted by the mob, a shift in place was an absolute necessity for them, and since they couldn’t really shift in time as well, they disguised themselves as women—in a female band headed to Florida.

Trouble of a less violent nature, but worse than those high heels they had to wear, finds them in Florida as Tony Curtis falls for fellow band member Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon is pursued by a millionaire.

But, at least, no mobster would ever look for them in an all women band, right? No, they wouldn’t look, but gangsters take holidays too.

Jaz: For this post I would like to introduce you to my classic film companion: Beaver the guinea pig.

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He’s a little shy with strangers.

What with the general viewing public’s short attention span, it gets harder and harder to find willing victims. Beaver will watch anything, provided he has something to munch on.

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Beaver thinks Tony Curtis makes a convincing female.

Technically Some Like it Hot isn’t a summer film, since everything happens around Valentine’s Day. Most of it happens on a sunny Florida beach, though, so that works for me. The film is a comedic masterpiece, largely due to Jack Lemmon’s performance: tango dancing with Joe E. Brown, a flower between his teeth, Lemmon in the midst of the girl band’s midnight bunk party, Lemmon likening Monroe’s movement to “jello on springs.”

 Tony Curtis’ millionaire act made me laugh too, especially since his stuffy accent sounds almost exactly like Cary Grant’s.

This was my first introduction to Marilyn Monroe – or perhaps I should say her character role.  Ditzy, unbelievably naïve, with a weakness for tenor sax players and wearing a dress that reminds me of ancient Minoan fashion. You know, the ones that highlighted the women’s … er … curves.

No, this isn’t the dress.

If you cut through the comedy, you can glean some nice social commentary on society’s objectification of women (which is interesting, considering how Monroe’s image is Hollywood’s epitome of objectification). In one scene, Lemmon storms into the room after getting pinched in the elevator. “Look at that! I’m not even pretty!” he gripes to the mirror. Curtis: “They don’t care, just so long as you’re wearing a skirt.”

Beaver gives this movie 5 carrot sticks (out of 5). I concur.

Bibliomaniacs, Bollywood & Brits

“Too few people,” writes Eugene Fields in The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac, “seem to realize that books have feelings.”

If that’s true I have a few miffed – if not positively irate – books in my possession. Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain adorns the coffee table, neglected for weeks (given the topic, I’m sure it understands). I picked up Julie Powell’s “Cleaving” two weeks ago and now it’s hidden under Breakfast at Tiffany’s and School of Rock. But The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (nonfiction, Allison Hoover Bartlett) saw eager page turning and I’m proud to say I have reached page 112. Aha!

Anyway, that’s what I started reading in May. Bartlett describes the antique book culture, bookstores, libraries, so vividly I want to rush out and buy armloads of books. Smell the pages, feel the coarse paper on my fingertips … And then I remember the books I read as a young child, books like King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, Piggins, Wednesday is Spaghetti Day, and my very own copy of Madeline my mom bought at a Houston book fair.

Piggins the mystery sleuth/butler. 

That’s when I sympathize with bibliomaniacs. But book theft? No way.

I also read the Harry Potter series voraciously over the past two months. After that I saw several film adaptations, and have this to say: they are but poor shadows of the originals. I prefer my imagination.

After that I watched the French film Le Concert (breathtaking music, moving, humorous), British film The Scapegoat (promising beginning, dull ending), Indian film Barfi! (off-beat, thought-provoking, beautiful), and started on the Japanese anime series titled One Piece (funny and weird).

Note: The Scapegoat reminded me of a Mexican telenovela called La Usurpadora: Two women who look alike switch places with not-so-unforeseen consequences. If you’re choosing between the two, I suggest checking out the telenovela.

Silents: The Artist

Liz: The Artist: 2011 award winning silent film about silent film star George Valentin struggling to transition to talkies and rising star Peppy Miller who tries to help him.

It sounds strange to say, but I like George Valentin’s face. He has a great smile and looks like someone from time period of the movie—the late twenties to early thirties. The film felt as if it were shot during that time. The costumes, the movie studio, the bits of silent films on the silver screen, all reminiscent of Singing in the Rain, made the movie fun to watch regardless of the plot.

The Artist was well done with regards to acting and cinematography. I loved the music, and the occasional use of sound (in a dream and at the end) was brilliant (Jaz: agreed!) and worked great with George’s trouble moving from silent to talkie pictures.

I didn’t like that George was married when his attraction to Peppy became obvious. He didn’t cheat on his wife, but he did treat her poorly. “I’m unhappy,” his wife said. “So are millions of us,” he replied. She wasn’t perfect either, but I don’t blame her for leaving the arrogant fool. I really wanted to like the guy, but there were times when it was difficult. In fact, several times I wanted to shake him and remind him he was married or tell him to get over himself, quit moping and get back to work. Although I can’t approve of Peppy’s infatuation with the married George, I admire her devotion to him even after he loses his career, his wife, his money, and his self-respect.

I also thought George’s love of the spotlight and his depression were overplayed a bit. I got the idea well before the plot moved on.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again.

Jaz: I’m just going to say it: Jean DuJardin is no Gene Kelly. Okay … Dujardin had to learn tap for The Artist, whereas Kelly started dance lessons when he was eight. So I can’t really compare them. Dujardin’s performance was pretty impressive. Still, with all the obvious parallels to Singin’ in the Rain (falls in love with a cute extra, tap dancing scenes, similar appearance, silent-talkie shift) it’s hard to ignore.

Now that that’s out of the way, The Artist is a great film. Clever, tongue-in-cheek, and the cinematography is refreshing. Some scenes are heavy on the melodrama, as when Dujardin maniacally burns reels of film, but who doesn’t like the occasional bit of melodrama? Especially in black and white. I’ve always thought the latter allows for more creativity in the film medium.

Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo’s talent and chemistry work well, so much so that the supporting actors didn’t steal the show. And that’s saying something, because Clifton the chauffeur (played by James Cromwell) and Jack the dog were ridiculously likable.

The Artist got a lot of critic attention – less so from American audiences on its opening weekend. When I went to see it there were about four other couples in the theater. Sigh. Silent films just don’t make a lot of noise with U.S. audiences anymore…