Cecilee Linke

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

Originals and Remakes – The Reluctant Debutante (1958) vs. What A Girl Wants (2003)

Some movie remakes are very similar to the original movie but different enough to warrant a viewing. How many versions of King Solomon’s Mines did I see at the Naro earlier this week (Three, if you’re wondering)? And from what I remember, Miracle on 34th Street 1947 and 1994 were pretty similar too, just in a different time period. I’ve yet to see The Preacher’s Wife to be able to compare that with the Cary Grant-starring The Bishop’s Wife, but that’s a Christmas-themed movie, so we’ll be watching and comparing those later this year!

Other movie remakes have loose connections to the original source material. The basic story of Freaky Friday 1976 and 2003 remain the same (a bickering mother and daughter switch bodies for a day to literally live in the other person’s shoes), but how they switch places, among other changes in the newer version such as a larger subplot with the mom getting remarried and the tribulations of high school are a little different. Jamie Lee Curtis as the mom doesn’t have to take a typing class in school, like in the original, for example.

I bring this up because the next two movies that we watched for this originals and remakes project are definition loose adaptations, such as Freaky Friday ’03. However, at least Freaky Friday ’03 has some similarities to the original. The Reluctant Debutante and What A Girl Wants, the loose adaptations in question? Not so much. In fact, so many changes were made between the original and the remake that it’s almost not worth it to call the newer version a remake.

More like an “inspired by.”

I had no idea going into this other movie project that What A Girl Wants was a remake of anything. When I saw it on the Wikipedia list of movies and their respective remakes, I gave it a double take. What a Girl Wants a remake of a Sandra Dee movie from 1958? Hmmmm, interesting. Certainly the plots sounded sort of similar on Wikipedia when I clicked through. Both involve a young American girl in Britain and debutante balls. Hmmmm….

So what did I think of a teen movie from the early 00s and its original “incarnation,” a Sandra Dee movie from the 50s? And which version did we like better?

Let’s find out!

The Reluctante Debutante (1958)


The big question after watching this movie:

Why is this movie not considered an absolute classic???

First and foremost, you have Rex Harrison doing a “why are people acting silly about a stupid ball” kind of character (man does he play those kind of world-weary characters so well!). His character steals the show for me. His “I couldn’t care less about these stupid social conventions” attitude had both Andrew and I laughing throughout the movie.

There’s also beautiful cinematography (set in London but shot in Paris due to Rex Harrison’s tax issues that prevented him from being in England) and equally beautiful dresses.

A dry sense of humor running throughout the whole thing that pokes fun at social conventions.

Sandra Dee playing a teenager as a teenager (though she does look to be about twelve years old in this; a bit weird for a character who’s supposed to be seventeen).

A young Angela Lansbury starting to look more like the Angela Lansbury I remember from Murder, She Wrote reruns.

Oh and did I mention Rex Harrison?

The movie opens with Jimmy Broadbent (Rex Harrison) and his new wife Sheila (Kay Kendall, who became Rex’s real-life wife just prior to filming) going to the airport to pick up his daughter, Jane Broadbent (our lovely Sandra Dee) who’s been living in America. Jane is going to be living with her father, who is exceedingly wealthy. And since she’s now living with them, Sheila takes it upon herself to introduce her stepdaughter to society. Cue the endless array of fancy balls and equally fancy dresses while Jimmy hangs out at the bar and gets as drunk as possible, to our amusement.

Jane isn’t interested in her stepmother’s social activities. She attends the balls, but is bored by all the guys she meets. That is, until she meets a drummer, David Parkson, who has a reputation of “leading girls astray,” a reputation that turns out to be unwarranted. Despite David P’s reputation, Jane falls in love with him, much to her stepmother’s chagrin. Sheila tries to keep the two apart, but it doesn’t work. Meanwhile, another David (last name Fenner) has fallen for Jane, but she openly dislikes him.

I found this to be an absolutely delightful movie. Not only was the dialogue witty and interesting, but also the cinematography, as mentioned before, was gorgeous (I LOVED the Broadbents’ apartment!) and the characters were all interesting people who I actually cared about. I would be very interested to see this on stage in its original stage-play form. The lack of frequent cut scenes and the abundance of dialogue led me to wonder, within the first few minutes of the movie, if this was an adaptation of a play. And I was right (thank you, Internet!). Some people might be bored by the incessant talking, but I was not. I did find it hard to hear in places, but that also was the quality of the DVD. Which I will get to in a moment.

If you enjoy movies with elements of farce, older movies, and/or interesting characters, definitely give this one a look!

However, be aware that this movie is harder to find.

To find this movie, you will have to either visit your local video store, if you still have one in your area, go on Amazon, or get it straight from Warner Brothers’ website, which is probably where the Amazon listing gets this movie anyway. This movie is only available on a manufacture-on-demand basis. Meaning what you’ll get is a burned DVD-R that’s purple on the bottom rather than a clear DVD like what you can buy at Wal-Mart. Not saying that burned DVDs are bad, but it just means that the menu will be pretty sparse (no captions were available, sad for me, because I definitely had trouble hearing some of the dialogue) and it may or may not work in certain players, as was the case with me. I had to play the DVD on my laptop because it wouldn’t play in my regular DVD player.

But at least I got it to work!

And at least burn-on-demand is even available for more obscure movies like this. Better to keep it alive in some way so that other people can see it!

So what about the remake, What A Girl Wants, which is decidedly easier to find than The Reluctant Debutante?

Well….. Ummmmm…..

What A Girl Wants (2003)


It’s been ages since I last saw this movie. I watched it as a teenager some time after it had been released and while it wasn’t a new favorite, I didn’t hate it. I preferred John Hughes movies back then, since I was super into 80s music and culture (and still am!). Not to mention I thought they were better made than the teen movies that were being made when I was a teenager (I still think that!). But I digress.

What you have here is your basic fish-out-of-water story. Daphne Reynolds (Amanda Bynes), an American who grew up with only her mom, flies on a whim to see her father, Lord Henry Dashwood (Colin Firth), whom she has never met. Since she’s a young American, all sorts of plot points happen when she tries to get used to British life. Her father’s soon-to-be mother-in-law tells her no hugs because “I’m British.” Daphne doesn’t understand why everyone is so uptight, especially when she has to go to several coming-out parties for the teenagers in her father’s social circles. Also, her father is trying to get ahead as a politician, and the existence of this previously unknown daughter on his doorstep is more than a little surprising for him and the press. All the while, Daphne has fallen in love with Ian Wallace, an aspiring singer/songwriter that she met on her first day in London, and her dad’s fiancée is anything but pleased about having Daphne, a loud American teenager, running around the house.

This version sort of begins like The Reluctant Debutante. A young girl of about seventeen comes to Britain to live with her rich dad. Sure, we get a backstory on her and why Daphne doesn’t live with her dad, a backstory that doesn’t exist in The Reluctant Debutante (Daphne’s mom and dad married on a whim when they met in Morocco, then Daphne’s mom left him because she didn’t fit into his world and his secretary, unknown to Henry, makes her leave, then after she left him, she realized she was pregnant, so she raised Daphne by herself and never contacted the baby daddy again). But in those first fifteen minutes, we get some similarity to the original. Also, Daphne meets a musician, though this time he’s a guitarist, and they start to fall in love. She also comes out to society and has a debutante ball held in her honor.

So far, similar, right?

Well…. that’s about all this movie has to do with The Reluctant Debutante.

Everything else about this movie is on a different planet than its original source material.

The dad who thinks all these social conventions are silly? Nope. The dad is very much into the social conventions of his rich position as a politician running for a position in the House of Commons so that he can become Prime Minister one day.

The American girl? She’s still seventeen, but she’s a 2003 teenager, so she’s into the teen pop music of the day, dresses in jeans and spaghetti strap tops, is loud, and, for some reason, the writers decided to make her super klutzy. Seriously. What is it with teen stories making their female characters klutzy?

The musician she falls in love with is still a musician, but he plays guitar and there is no indication that her mom and dad don’t want her to hang out with him.

I still don’t consider this a favorite. Some might say I disliked this movie because I’m out of the target demographic. No, I don’t think that’s the case. Come on, I write Young Adult fiction, so I’m in the heads of teenagers all the time. It has its sweet moments, like the bonding scenes between Daphne and her dad, but for the most part, I found this to be only OK. The writing wasn’t very good in parts, which is what really did it for me. I felt like the writers relied too much on the stereotype of the “loud American” and the “cold Brit” to really make it a good movie. There wasn’t much to these characters to make them truly interesting. And the plot holes. Why did Daphne’s mom spend so much time pining away when she could’ve just called Henry? Daphne and her mom live in a tiny apartment in New York City and don’t have much money, but somehow, Daphne can afford to do a spur-of-the-moment trip to Britain?

Compared with The Reluctant Debutante, this movie is very teen-oriented, much more than the original play/movie that this was based on. Faster editing. Modern pop music. More informal conversation. I only saw vague connections with this movie to the original source material. I would call it a stretch to consider this a remake.

And of these two movies, our favorite was The Reluctant Debutante by far!

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.