Cecilee Linke

I can write you a story, teach you French, sing you a song.

Originals and Remakes – Sparkle (1976) vs. Sparkle (2012)

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I came up with another movie project idea. Why not put together a list of movies that have been remade and their originals, and compare the two?

At the top of the list was a movie from the 70s that was redone earlier this decade and is known for many things, namely that it was the last movie Whitney Houston did before she passed away. I didn’t know that Sparkle was a remake until I looked more into it, and, curious, I added the original and remake to our list.

So how do both movies compare? And which one did we like better?

Let’s find out!

Sparkle (1976)

First, we watched the original Sparkle, which came out in 1976, starring Irene Cara, who would go on to sing the title songs for both Flashdance and Fame in the early 80s, and Philip Michael Thomas, better known as Tubbs from Miami Vice. She plays the title character, the youngest, as mentioned above, in a family of three sisters. She’s not the most gregarious character. That honor goes to the lead singer of the family band, Sparkle’s older sister Sister (seriously? You guys couldn’t have come up with a better name?). The girls live in Harlem in the 50s and it is suggested to them, by Stix, a.k.a. Philip Michael Thomas, Sparkle’s boyfriend, that they should form a girl group. He offers to be the manager.

OK, sounds like your typical music movie so far. And that’s what it turns into. The rest of the movie shows the girls gigging around town, working their way up, but then breaking up with Sister gets involved with a guy named Satin, who gets her hooked on drugs and beats her. She dies, so the group breaks up, and Sparkle attempts to, well, sparkle on her own as a solo artist. And we end the movie with Sparkle’s first performance as a solo artist.

While the movie was well-shot and had that gritty look it was obviously going for, I didn’t care one iota for any of the characters. They were all so one-dimensional that it was hard for me to be drawn into the story. I didn’t care what happened to any of them. The girls were all led around by the men, never making decisions on their own and actually growing as people. And the men were all bad, sleazy characters with nothing else to them other than “drug dealer” or “shady guy trying to exploit the young girls’ sexuality.”

That and I could see where the plot was going from a mile away.

Perhaps the most uninteresting character of all was Sparkle herself, which I found rather disappointing.

Sparkle’s name is the title of this movie. So you’d think she’d be the most interesting character. Far from it. Sparkle in the original movie is a very flat and not interesting character. She’s led around by everyone else. Everything that happens (there are other subplots involving Stix’s drug shenanigans) is because of someone else doing things for Sparkle. She doesn’t seem to do much for the movie itself except stand around.

“Oh my boyfriend wants my sisters and me to form a band and get famous. Guess I”ll join them, sure, I have nothing else to do.”

“My sisters want to sing this song but I don’t really want to. But I’m going with it because I have nothing else to do.”

“My sister is obviously being beaten up. Oh well. I won’t do anything about it.”

“My boyfriend wants me to sing this song. I don’t really want to. But I’ll do it.”

While I appreciated its cautionary tone (here’s what happens when you try and get famous: you’ll get hooked on drugs and be involved in all sorts of bad things), I just didn’t like the movie as a whole. Meh, whatever.

On to the remake:

Sparkle (2012)


We come to the remake, done almost forty years after the original version. And the basic plot is still the same. A rags-to-riches tale of an aspiring girl group who runs into trouble on their way to the top, they break up, and the title character breaks out on her own. Woo. There are still drugs and abuse, but…. somehow it feels different.

There’s something lighter in the tone. Maybe it’s the music in all its catchy late-60s glory. Or all the camera angles that don’t feel so dark and sinister, like in the original. You get more of a sense of “wow, wouldn’t it be great to be famous” rather than “No, you don’t want to be famous because look what can happen to you.” Also, it should be noted that instead of Harlem in the 50s, we get 60s Detroit. OK, I get it. Motown. You guys are playing off of that. Fair enough.

More than that, the sisters are very different. As in, way more modern. They know what they want and they go for it. They aren’t letting people just make decisions for them. Yes, Sister still takes abuse, but in this version, the abuser is stood up to.

Sparkle is also a far more interesting character in this version. In a major difference from the original, this movie makes her into a singer/songwriter. The movie opens on a night when Sparkle and her sisters, including Sister (they STILL couldn’t have given the older sister an actual name?) are performing a self-penned song at a local open mic-type event. It later comes out that she wants to be famous and write songs for people, which is why she writes all the songs that they perform. Way to go! Seriously! You’ve actually, you know, given her something to do. She has a much more take-charge attitude, as does Sister, and the girls all go for what they want.

Unfortunately, their mother, played by Whitney Houston, does NOT approve of her daughters seeking fame and fortune as performers. A big difference from the original, where the mother did approve of her daughters’ budding music careers. In this version, their mother Emma was once a famous singer (one has to wonder if this was put in the script on purpose as a nod to Whitney’s own career as a famous pop star) and she has cautioned the girls from a young age to not go into show business. As she says at one point, “Wasn’t my life enough of a cautionary tale for you?” Truer words were never spoken.

Since the mom doesn’t approve of the girls singing, the three of them sneak out and sing their songs at various events around town. And they become famous, getting involved in all sorts of scandals and even Sister marries Satin, who this time around is still a druggie and abuser, but he is killed by one of the other sisters in self-defense when the sisters come to Sister and Satin’s house to help her pack her things so Sister can leave him. Sister takes the fall and goes to jail, so the group breaks up. Another big difference from the original. Sister doesn’t die in this version.

We still get Sparkle trying to make it on her own, but it’s more on her terms. She is desperate to be signed, so she stands around everyday waiting for the head of the record label to see her, and when he does see her, she lays out exactly what she wants. You go! Also, she is writing the songs, which suspiciously don’t sound very much like late 60s music at all, but I digress. At least Sparkle actually does things in this version. Also we get to know the mom more in this version too, since she’s played by Whitney Houston. And we also get to see Whitney Houston sing, since, well, Whitney is in a movie and she’s known for her voice, so let’s have her show that off. She serenades us with a rousing if raspy (she was known in her later years for chain-smoking…..*sigh*) rendition of “His Eye is On The Sparrow.” I was never a big fan of Whitney’s music, because it’s just not my thing musically, but man, watching that scene of her singing just made me sad. Cautionary tale indeed.

While the basic story was the same, enough was changed in this version that it stands on its own. In fact, between the two, I much preferred the remake. I know Andrew did too. We both liked how they developed Sparkle’s character, though the music was not quite our thing musically. The characters were better developed, the editing and overall movie work was much better, and the story was just far more enjoyable than the original.

Still not a new favorite of either of us, but certainly worth a look.

And the remake all the way!

Best Picture Winners #18 – The Lost Weekend (1945)

Almost two hours of watching an alcoholic going through a major bender. Hence the title. 

You can probably tell from the way I started this review that I was not the most enthusiastic viewer of this movie. 

In fact, I’m going to be keeping this review short. 

I know this movie was probably harrowing at the time, when alcoholism wasn’t discussed or understood. But did they really have to put in such overly dramatic music? Or have everyone overacting to the point of parody? I felt like I was watching a Kirk Cameron movie. All we needed was dialogue that dropped Jesus and God every few lines. 

Big meh in this one. 

As my husband put it, after this movie, I need a drink.

Two stars out of five

Next time: a post-World War Two drama from 1946 called The Best Years Of Our Lives

Best Picture Winners #17a – Gaslight (1944)

There are some years when it seems the Academy should’ve chosen a different Best Picture. I know some people like How Green Was My Valley but really, The Maltese Falcon was the better movie in 1941. Same with The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938. I know some people like You Can’t Take It With You, but I’m not one of them.

I get that it was the middle of World War Two. So people probably wanted something happy to forget about the world for a while. But between Going My Way, an overlong drama not-musical-but-claims-it-is, and something mysterious, dark and extremely well-done like Gaslight, Gaslight should’ve won.

Not only is it the better movie, but also it kept me riveted to the edge of my seat the entire time. Can’t say that about Going My Way. Even when I could see what was going on and how it was going to end, I was drawn in and had to know what was happening next.

Plus, we got a cool expression from this movie’s title.

For those who may not know, gaslighting refers to someone being manipulated into thinking they are losing their sanity. Moving objects around to disorient the victim. Denying that previous events ever happened. The name comes from this movie, where the main villain, Gregory Anton, dims the gas lights in the house while he’s using the lights in the attic in search of missing jewels. When his wife, Paula, accurately notes the lights dimming, he tells her it’s just her imagination.

Paula (played by Ingrid Bergman; hey, wait, we know you from last year’s BP winner!) is an orphan. Before the movie began, Paula’s mom died in childbirth, so she went to live with her aunt, a world-famous opera singer. When Paula was a child, she walked in on her aunt being strangled, then the perpetrator ran away and the case went cold. So she’s in Rome learning to sing, following in her aunt’s footsteps. And when it comes to her aunt, she seems to have a mild case of PTSD. She becomes very uncomfortable and upset when her aunt is mentioned.

While in Rome, after spending many years there developing her voice, Paula falls in love with a man named Gregory Anton. They have a whirlwind courtship. After they get married, Paula and Gregory return to her aunt’s home, which was left to Paula, in London. This is where Gregory’s manipulation of Paula begins. See, Gregory is not all that he seems. He has a secret to hide from her and he will keep it from her any way he can. Even if it means making Paula feel like she’s going mad.

It’s harrowing to watch as Gregory undermines his wife. At a public music concert, he makes her think she’s taken his watch and she’s humiliated in public when she cries. He tells the servants that she’s not all there. He forbids other people from seeing her. I wanted to do to Gregory what I wanted to do to Rob Titchener, a character from the British radio soap The Archers, who has been using the same techniques on his wife in the last two years of the show: reach through the screen and strangle him.

A movie should make you feel for the characters. And that’s exactly what this movie did for me. It was intense even over seventy years later and, definitely, a new favorite.

Four stars out of five

Next time: The 1945 Best Picture winner, The Lost Weekend, an alcohol cautionary tale. Hoooo boy…. 

Best Picture Winners #17 – Going My Way (1944)

I wondered how the awesomeness of Casablanca could ever be topped. Except for some awkward cuts (oops, forgot to mention that in my review….. eh, oh well!), that movie was great and I totally understand its classic status. You had engaging characters, an intriguing story and perfect chemistry between Bogart and Bergman (who, incidentally, never acted together in another movie, despite how great they were on screen).

Musicals don’t often win Best Picture prizes. And that next year’s winner, a Bing Crosby flick called Going My Way, was classified as one when I researched the plot summary. I figured that it would be a musical when I saw Bing Crosby in the cast list. To me, he’s the voice of Christmas. Oh, the number of times I’ve heard his renditions of Silver Bells and White Christmas on WASH-FM during the holiday season as a child!

I wish I liked Going My Way. I really wanted to like it. It had a sweet story. Bing Crosby plays a young priest who has been hired to help a struggling church. His interactions with the rough neighborhood kids in particular make him stand out. He turns them into choirboys (cue the obligatory musical sequence where we get to hear Bing Crosby singing). He also helps a teenaged runaway whose parents just don’t understand her (ah teen angst, it knows no time period).

And other things happen. But I had already tuned out by the hour mark.

For a movie with Bing Crosby as the main star, you’d think there would be a musical sequence every five minutes. Not so. We didn’t get to hear him sing a whole song until almost an hour in the movie. Sad face.

I honestly tuned out by then anyway.

I’m gonna keep this short and sweet:

The plot may have been sweet, but good Lord, it was too long. WAYYYY TOOOOOOO LOOOOOONG.

I will say another good thing about this movie. I had no idea that old song Swingin’ On A Star was from this movie. A baritone in my high school choir sang that tune for our annual Cabaret Show when I was in high school. I knew it was an old song but had no idea it was from a movie. My ears perked up when I heard those familiar first lines.

Other than that…… Meh. Too long and a real disappointment after such a classic movie like Casablanca. When I am looking for anything else to keep me occupied during a movie, I know I’m in trouble……

Two stars out of five

Next time: An “aside” movie, that is, a Best Picture nominee, called Gaslight!

Best Picture Winners #16 – Casablanca (1943)

“Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.”

“Play it again, Sam.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

More like, of all the “classic” movies we’ve seen so far, this has been the first one to truly deserve that status.

OK so maybe I inserted my own quote there!

But it’s totally true.

If I had to sum up the movie with one sentence, it would be that.

Now, this was the second time I’d seen this movie, and Andrew’s first. Before I had even seen this movie for the first time as a teenager in the early 2000s, I had heard those famous lines quoted elsewhere in pop culture. I knew they were from some famous older movie, but I didn’t see it for the first time until I took a Film History class in high school. (Now that I’ve seen the movie for a second time and have paid more attention than I did as a pimply teenager, I also know that second quote is actually “play it once, Sam,” but I digress!) I remembered it being really good, but didn’t remember much else. Again, pimply teenager with limited attention span.

Seeing it again in my early thirties….


I can see why this is a total classic.

You get an American expatriate, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who owns a place called Rick’s Café Américain in what was then French-occupied Morocco (I’d forgotten about France’s involvement in Morocco; I usually remember Algeria and Senegal before I think of Morocco). In these early days of World War II, Rick’s place attracts a variety of folks: Vichy French and German officials, refugees who are desperate to make it to the US, and people who prey on them.

Rick is more than just the nightclub owner. He’s a cynical, bitter guy who claims to “never stick his neck out for no one,” yet despite his claims of being neutral, you find out later that he ran guns to Ethiopia during their war with Italy (a little known part of history for me) and he sided with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War.  He’s also not allowed back to the US, but that part is never explained (apparently it was left ambiguous on purpose by the filmmakers). Hmmmm….. So already, you get an intriguing character who doesn’t seem to be completely good but not bad either.

In the beginning of the movie, Rick comes into possession of some “letters of transit” from a petty crook who plans to sell them at Rick’s place that night. Unfortunately, the crook is killed before he can meet with his contact. These letters are important because it would allow refugees who are currently stranded in Casablanca to travel around German-controlled Europe and neutral Portugal.

That same night, we find out why Rick is so bitter. In walks his old flame Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), who happens to be there with her husband Victor Lazlo, a well-known Czech Resistance leader. They want those papers so that Victor and Ilsa can escape to America and he can continue his resistance work. Meanwhile, a German general named Strasser has come to Casablanca to make sure he doesn’t succeed.

Seeing Ilsa again, Rick recounts to Sam, his piano player, how he and Ilsa were once lovers when he was in Paris. They were supposed to run away together but on the day they were supposed to leave, she left a note that she couldn’t come with him, leaving him heartbroken. Meanwhile, Lazlo makes inquiries as to who has those letters of transit, and is told that Rick might have them…..

I could go on from there but I won’t spoil the rest! You’ll just have to watch it yourself!

Not only is the story well-told, but it’s well-paced, has interesting characters, and never once was I bored. It’s hard not to be bored with such interesting plot threads that all fit together in the end without being forced. Not to mention it’s one of the shorter Oscar winners. At the end, I went, whoa, it’s over? Wha??

What I liked the most about Casablanca was that it told an interesting story that had several different genres melded together without going too far into one. It’s a war movie, but you don’t see any combat. It’s a romance movie, but it’s not the main focus of the story (at least, to my eyes). It’s a drama but it doesn’t lean on melodrama like some of the other movies we’ve seen in this project. Oh and the ending…. OK I will say it ends with a plane taking off, and at the time, the filmmakers weren’t allowed to film on an actual airfield. So they used props and other tricks to make it look like they were all in an actual plane. I couldn’t even believe that when I first read it in the IMDB trivia board, but there you go!

All in all, a well-deserved classic movie that I will definitely be watching again!

Five stars out of five

Next time: The 1944 Best Picture winner Going My Way. Going (no pun intended) from a war drama to a musical…. We’ll see how this goes…..

Best Picture Winners #15 – Mrs. Miniver (1942)

They say that dramas are the most common genre of Oscar Best Picture winners. I can believe it. For this project so far, we have seen far more dramas than comedies, and more dramas than other genre movies such as film noir (The Maltese Falcon, a BP nominee). We haven’t seen any horror yet (the only BP horror winner wasn’t until the early 90s when Silence of the Lambs won, though I don’t personally count that as a horror movie), no crime thrillers, and certainly no fantasy movies either (that won’t come until 2003 with Return of the King, a movie my husband absolutely HATES and will NEVER want to watch again. He hates that Tolkien guy…… 😀 )

Like other titles in our project, Mrs. Miniver wasn’t a title that registered with me when we compiled our list of movies. I had the same impression when I heard that title as I did when I heard the titles CimarronCavalcadeWings, and Grand Hotel.

Curious about what we’d be getting into, I read the plot summary for Mrs. Miniver.

And I was less than thrilled on first impression.

My first thought was, oh god another Cavalcade. Every major historical event happens to this one family, it’s too long, it’s boring, blah blah blah.

I settled into my latest crochet project, thinking I would be more engaged with that than the movie.

However, I was pleasantly surprised then that I was drawn in to the characters and the story early on! I actually found myself wondering what was going to happen next. See, if I’m engaged within the first thirty minutes, I consider that a good sign! The story itself is not complicated, which helped. The titular character and her family living though the early days of World War Two in their little English village. Dealing with German planes always flying overhead. Having to hide in a bomb shelter. Her son going off to war.

Bam. The plot in a nutshell.

There’s also romance, but it’s in no way a romance movie. A side story involves Mrs Miniver’s son Vincent aka Vin falling for his longtime neighbor and friend Carol, who he remembers as being sweet and having thighs as big as sausages (a comment that I wouldn’t have found funny but that might just be too much of my 2016 mindset!). They marry at the end of the movie. Woo.

I could tell this movie wanted to be a depiction of regular life during a harrowing time in history and in that sense, the movie accomplished that! Rather than piling on every major event of that time, the characters were simply living their lives and going through anything that did naturally come their way. Hiding in a bomb shelter during an air raid. Her idealistic son joining the military. Planning a flower show (keep calm and carry on indeed), a scene that played like something right out of a British radio drama I’ve been listening to since 2011, The Archers! Buying a new hat and feeling guilty for paying so much. (Oh the days when women wore hats on a regular basis…..)

All in all, this was one of the better wartime movies we’ve seen for this project. Not a new favorite because it still dragged a bit but it was a lot more enjoyable than expected! It was what it wanted to be, as Andrew put it!

Three out of five stars

Next time: We’ll be lookin’ at you, kid. The 1943 Oscar BP winner, a classic I haven’t seen since high school film class: Casablanca!

If only it were that easy

When a new season of The Voice begins in the early part of the year, I’m glued to the TV set. Well, sort of. In the sense that I set my DVR to record every episode so that I can watch it an hour into the show (avoiding commercials, hehe!) or the next day, commercial-free. Before The Voice, I watched American Idol, but I gave up on that show after about six seasons. It just wasn’t interesting me anymore. I didn’t even care when they stopped. So The Voice is the only music competition show I regularly watch. I may not be a professional musician but I do love to sing and make music, so I love watching people singing and following their dreams.

I myself tried out for The Voice a few years ago for fun. They were holding auditions in DC so I decided to make a weekend of it. My parents still live up there, so I visited them, then sang for producers, and went back home. None of us in our little group got through, but hey, it was a fun day and makes for an interesting story. I can say, “I’ve tried out for a TV show!”

Not being chosen for the show might’ve made anyone upset. And a few of the others I tried out with came out in tears because they weren’t picked. However, I was not fazed. That audition was the culmination of years and years of hard work. The fact that I even went through with it in the first place was enough for me!

You see, I couldn’t have done that audition even a year before.

It’s hard to believe it now, but there was a time when I would mouth along instead of sing Happy Birthday. Same thing when I attended Christmas Eve services and everyone got up to sing Silent Night or Hark the Herald Angels Sing. In high school, I took voice lessons and sang in the choir and even did the occasional solo piece, but I had such confidence issues that singing in front of others by myself made my mouth go dry and my knees knock. Those fears followed me into college and beyond. Singing became something I did when I was sure no one else was listening. Simply put, I was too afraid to let other people hear me sing because I disliked my own voice. Seriously.

And it took me years to surmount that obstacle. As in, most of my life.

That time in my life is something I’ve moved past. However, I bring up that subject because I wish people could know how much work goes on behind the scenes when it comes to being artistic. I want people to know that it doesn’t just come out of a vacuum. Developing yourself as an artist takes lots of confidence, making tons of mistakes, figuring out what you’re good at, figuring out what your own voice is, etc. And that applies to not just singing, but also writing, painting, anything creative. Most of all, it takes time.

Those confidence issues with singing emerged when I was fourteen years old. Only now, in my early thirties, almost twenty years later, can I say that I’ve found my joy in singing again and that I truly enjoy my own voice. I have no problem doing karaoke now or getting up at a local open mic night.

I began writing stories when I was a child. And do you know how many stories I’ve written to get to the good stuff that I’ve published on Amazon? HUNDREDS. For over twenty years, I’ve written stories, just writing and writing until I get to the stuff that’s worth reading.

Don’t get me started on the number of songs I’ve written. There’s a reason I’m a prolific songwriter. I believe in writing as much as possible before the good stuff emerges.

So it really boggles my mind when contestants come on to The Voice as true amateurs. People who seem to have woken up one morning and decided, “Hey, that musical thing I’m always doing with my throat? I want to do something with that instead of this stupid plumbing job. I’ve never performed before but I just feel like I’m meant to do this.” In other words, people who haven’t worked to surmount the issues that I had. And those people? They get up there and are completely natural, never having to have worked the way I did. And if they have, they don’t show it on TV.

Exhibit A. This season, there was Hannah Huston, who didn’t start out being a favorite for me (that honor went to Moushumi; the quirky voices never go far in the competition *sigh*), but as time has gone on, I’ve really liked her. She’s got something unique in her that I’m curious to see what will grow in to. And she is one of those amateurs I mentioned. In reading about her, she’s only done a few performances at open mic nights, she’s a teacher by day, and she has no prior background in making music.

But there she is on a major network TV show, in the finals, close to being a winner (she’s my pick for this season, but that’s just me). And each time she gets up there to sing, she makes it look so easy.

Unless an artist is transparent about it, readers, viewers, listeners, etc, never know what really goes on with an artist behind the scenes. How many stories so-and-so has started and finished but hasn’t gone back to because the story just isn’t that compelling. How many songs so-and-so has written and tossed away because the melody isn’t working out, etc. If you’re not a creative type, you don’t realize that art, whether it’s singing, playing guitar, writing a poem, drawing a picture, or writing a book, doesn’t just appear. There’s always work behind it. Editing, changing words, finding your own voice instead of imitating your favorite author or singer, erasing and redrawing lines, etc.

While I enjoy being an artistic type, I do realize that it’s a lot of work. Is it rewarding for me? Absolutely! Being at the Tidewater Comicon this weekend, I LOVED engaging with people about my writing. Telling them about my weird love of abandoned places which inspired my Wash Woods book series, the stories I imagined for my characters in The Sims 3 which inspired Elodie and Heloise. Because I want people to know what really goes on. Can anyone do it? Well, sure, but realize that it will take time and patience.

And all those people who get up there on TV and you never see what goes on before the show? Well, they must be really lucky then.

If only it really were that easy.

Best Picture Winners #14 – How Green Was My Valley (1941)

So far in the 40s, our Best Picture winners have been adaptations of novels. Of the two of them, I’ve only read Rebecca. I had no idea that the 1941 winner, How Green Was My Valley, began as a novel until I watched the opening credits. Of course, I know this won’t be the last BP winner whose story was originally a book (Around the World in 80 Days and Oliver! are some of the future ones on our list that immediately came to mind).

This was one of those winners that I had never heard of, unlike the others on our list, such as Midnight Cowboy and From Here To Eternity. Part of what’s been fun about this project is watching all these classic movies. Honestly, that’s why Andrew and I went for this project in the first place! I had a vague idea of what this was about. Here’s all you need to know: life in a Welsh mining town (imagine the 80s song Life in a Northern Town recast as those words instead……”life in a Welshmining town…..” 😀 ) and behind it all, is a sweeping and touching drama about a family and their lives in this town.

That’s it.

Considering that I love to write about family drama in my own books, you would think that I would riveted on the edge of my seat for this one. I feel bad saying this because I know some people love this movie, even with all its sentimental plot points that verge on sappy (especially the ending montage), but I have to say that Andrew and I were both less than engaged for this one. If I find myself randomly checking stuff on my phone, I know that’s not a good sign…..

The problem for me wasn’t the sentimentality. I can deal with that. Plus, this wasn’t nearly as sappy as You Can’t Take It With You. It was more that the pacing was so…. slow…… I don’t know it it’s because they excised material from the book (which is over 600 pages!), so parts that might’ve made it more engaging were gone, but I just didn’t feel lost in the story like I wanted to be. I kept wondering how much time was left instead. I also felt like there was too much external narration going on. I would’ve preferred to have less of that in this movie and just focused on what was going on screen and figure it out myself. And the ending was unsatisfying too…..

Now don’t think for a moment that I hated this one. This wasn’t a terrible movie by any means. This was no Cimarron, that’s for sure! That they managed to make California look like southern Wales is a testament to the filmmakers. And I did love the different Welsh names. Angharad (I just might use that name in my latest book, which includes Welsh characters). Huw. Gwilyn. Oh and the miners always singing Welsh hymns. The language nerd in me loved hearing Welsh, a language you don’t hear much, especially here in the US.

I just wished that the story had moved along a little quicker….. *sigh* Not a favorite, but by no means a bad movie.

Three out of five stars

Next time: Our “aside” movies, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon. Both are movies I’ve heard great things about. Let’s hope they’ve held up well over the years, especially Citizen Kane. We shall see! 🙂 

Best Picture Winners #13a – The Great Dictator (1940)

You couldn’t have two more different movies if you tried.

Even though ten (!) movies were nominated for Best Picture in 1940, Andrew and I chose only one “aside” movie for that year. That was the year that the excellent Rebecca won Best Picture. No one knew at the time, but that film would be the only Hitchcock movie to ever win that award.

Within the long list of Best Picture nominees was the first Charlie Chaplin “talkie,” our only “aside” movie for 1940. Andrew had always heard good things about it, so he suggested we add that one to the list.

Rebecca, as we all know, is a drama.

The Great Dictator?

Ummmmmm, not so much.

Andrew put it this way: if you’ve ever seen The Producers, and you remember that scene with the song “It’s springtime for Hitler and Germany,” then imagine that scene and sense of humor extended into almost two hours. And you’ll get a sense of this movie.

You get Charlie Chaplin playing a nameless Jewish barber who is injured during battle in Tomania (Germany) trying to save the life of his friend Schultz. He loses his memory through a bad concussion and has to spend time in a care-home for about twenty years recovering. When he comes out, a ruthless dictator has taken over with his Double Cross party and forced Chaplin’s fellow Jews to live in ghettos, which are run by his former friend Schultz. And who is Schultz’s boss? The great dictator Adenoid Hynkler, who looks just like our Jewish barber hero.

Chaplin as the Jewish barber in the movie..... and now.....

Chaplin as the Jewish barber in the movie….. and now…..

No, that's totally not Hitler...... *shifty eyes* (From Wikipedia)

No, that’s totally not Hitler…… *shifty eyes* (From Wikipedia)

Schultz protests Hynkel’s new policy of eradicating the Jews, so he is jailed, but then escapes and hides out with his old friend and Chaplin’s girlfriend Hannah in the ghetto. Stormtroopers come in and find Schultz and the barber and take them away to a camp, but Hannah and her family escape to the nearby Osterlich (Austria; the German word for Austria is Österreich), which hasn’t been invaded yet. However, Hynkel has plans for that country, and after failing to ally with Napaloni, he invades Osterlich. Schultz and the barber are trapped at the camp, but manage to escape, and given that the barber looks just like Hynkel, he uses that to his advantage when Hynkel is planning his invasion of Osterlich…..

When we went into this movie, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never seen a Charlie Chaplin movie, and I came to find out that he was the only Hollywood filmmaker to continue making silent movies even well into the sound era. And it wasn’t until The Great Dictator that he made his first “talkie.” I had only vaguely heard of this movie, and I didn’t read much about it beforehand. I wanted to judge it on its own merits.

What I came away with was the first truly hilarious comedy of this entire list so far. More than that, this was the first satire that made the list of nominees too. And what a hilarious one this was! I have never laughed more than during the first scene of Charlie Chaplin making his speech as Adenoid Hynkler. Oh and the globe scene, and the meetings between Hynkler and Napaloni, the leader of Bacteria, all capped off with a touching ending with a wonderful speech about hope and humanity, I absolutely loved this movie. Watching this seventy-six years later, with generations of hindsight behind us, this movie still holds up, in my opinion. It’s such a great send-up of Adolf Hitler and just how ridiculous he came across, and while it did drag in some parts, I was engaged for the movie.

Chaplin did everything to make Hitler/Hynkel as ridiculous as possible, and that is where the humor in this movie comes from. The random babble that sounds like German, inserting random words that sound like German (“cheese and crackern!”) as well as actual German words like sauerkraut and wienerschnitzel, how he would raise his hand to stop the clapping and all applause would stop…… Well, you can see it for yourself in this scene, the first time that Hynkel makes his appearance in the movie:

And who can forget the closing speech, with our barber hero dressed as Hynkel, at the invasion of Osterlich:

Hands down one of my favorites of the project so far! If you enjoy satire, political humor, and/or just want to see a classic comedy that can still make you laugh in 2016, I recommend this movie! 😀

Five stars out of five

Next time: We move forward to 1941’s Best Picture winner, How Green Was My Valley, and two other asides for that year, Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon, which Andrew and I have never seen.

Best Picture Winners #13 – Rebecca (1940)

I can’t remember when I first heard of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous book Rebecca. However I heard of it, I ended up reading the novel for a book report in my senior year of high school. And I blew right through that story. It was right up my alley: dark, gothic and the story was set in a mysterious house (at that time, my favorite books were Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, novels that are set in large houses that were full of mysterious secrets).

Back then, I had a tradition of reading a book and then watching the movie adaptation. I liked comparing the book and movie to see what was changed and what was retained. After reading a biography of Joseph Merrick for a sophomore year book report, I watched The Elephant Man. After reading Wuthering Heights, I taped (yes, literally taped) the Juliette Binoche/Falph Fiennes version of Wuthering Heights off one of the movie channels on DirecTV.

No exception was made for Rebecca. After reading Rebecca and getting a good grade on my report (yay!), Mom and I went to our local Blockbuster (ah the days before Netflix…..) so I could see the 1940 movie version and compare it to the book.

After the all-color Gone With The Wind, we return to black and white for this movie, and while it would’ve been interesting to have it all in color, I think the black and white works well for a movie like this. Right from the beginning, we are taken to the remains of a burned mansion, with a voiceover that begins “Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” It’s the voice of the unnamed narrator, who is remembering what this house used to look like, and from there, we go into her story.



We never know that woman’s name. What we do find out is how she came to live in that large mansion. After lingering on the remains of that large house, we return back in time several years. While employed as the traveling companion for an older, rich woman in the early part of the 20th century, our heroine meets the rich, older (he appears to be in his late thirties/early forties; she’s in her twenties) and brooding Max de Winter in Monaco. They spend time together, they fall in love, and they marry in a hurry, at which point, he takes her home to his Cornish mansion called Manderley.

She knows that this isn’t Max de Winter’s first marriage. She’s heard of his first wife, the titular character. (And to make it easier for you guys reading, I’m going to call our narrator Mrs. DW #2) And almost right away, Mrs. DW #2 feels jealous. Everyone talks at Manderley about how Rebecca used to do things, so that’s how she should do them too. This is where Rebecca did her correspondence, these are the people she wrote to, etc. The handkerchiefs are all embroidered with her monogram. So is the stationery and all the bed linens. And everyone talks about how great Rebecca was. That she was gorgeous, kind, etc etc blah blah blah. The woman could do no wrong, it seems. And oh wasn’t her death such a tragedy? She went out one night on the sea and drowned. Sad sad sad.

And hounding Mrs. DW #2 about anything to do with Rebecca is the main housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.

Oh boy, where to start with her.

Creepy housekeeper time.....

Creepy housekeeper time…..

Mrs. Danvers loved Rebecca. (And whether that love is something of the “love that dare not speak its name” kind, or just pure devotion is up to interpretation.) Mrs. Danvers takes it upon herself to remind Mrs. DW #2 of Rebecca ALL the time. Mrs. Danvers has even preserved Rebecca’s former bedroom as a shrine. She shows Mrs. DW #2 around said bedroom when Mrs. DW #2 goes there one day out of curiosity. Mrs. Danvers shows her Rebecca’s bed, her dressing table, and her linens, reminding her of the untouched underwear that Rebecca never wore.

Ummmmmm…… did I mention that she’s creepy?

So it’s bad enough that Mrs. DW #2 feels out of her depth in having to take care of this large house and filling the shoes of this seemingly perfect woman. But with Mrs. Danvers around practically every corner and Max not doing much to make her feel welcome, and making her doubt her relationship with Max, Mrs. DW #2 is having a rough time of it. Who hasn’t felt out of their depth in a new situation? Perhaps that’s what touched me most about Mrs. DW #2. You could feel her pain in trying to measure up and be good enough for everyone. And the way that Max seems to ignore how his new wife is feeling, like ignoring a new dress she bought to impress him, just makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Of course, we find out later that Rebecca isn’t as perfect as she seemed to be and that Max isn’t still in love with her in any way, when her sunken boat is found after another boat hits the rocks and it all comes to light. I suppose I could give away more of what happens after that, but I would rather leave it for you to find out. 😀

I enjoyed this movie when I saw it as a teenager. Watching it again years later, I still do. I’ve watched some longer movies for this project (this one runs a little over two hours) that felt like they lasted way longer. Gone With The Wind was one of them. And You Can’t Take It With You ran for less but felt longer. But the pace of this one felt just right. I was engaged the entire time, and certainly Andrew was. He’s even said he’d like to read the book! Definitely one of the better movies we’ve watched so far in this movie project, and to hear there’s going to be a remake…… Well, I’m not so sure about that! This movie was perfect in terms of the atmosphere, pacing, and the acting. You could really feel for these characters, especially Mrs. DW #2, though I did wish Max could’ve been a little more sympathetic to his new wife, but that’s probably my more modern sensibilities coming through. 🙂

And Mrs. Danvers is still as creepy as ever.

Four stars out of five

Next time: An aside movie, a Charlie Chaplin movie called The Great Dictator.