Cecilee Linke

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

Cecilee: Singer/Songwriter or…. Something Else? That Is The Question

In my area, there’s an annual contest for up-and-coming local singer/songwriters. You sign up, submit some songs, and if you’re chosen, you get to perform your song for judges and you win prizes and all sorts of prestige and yay yay yay!

And every year, I can’t join.

One of the rules of the contest is that you can’t have a commercially available album. I interpret that as “you can’t already have an album available for purchase on Bandcamp/iTunes/some other digital outlet. Doesn’t matter if it’s self-released. If you have any of your music available for people to buy, you can’t join our little club nee ner nee ner.”

So that disqualifies me. I find that rule a little frustrating because it’s not like I’m making my living off my music and I’m not signed to a record label (you can’t walk into FYE and buy my stuff), but OK, whatever.

But even if I didn’t have a Bandcamp page where I sell my music, I still wouldn’t be able to sign up for this contest.

You see, another contest rule stipulates that you can’t use any kind of electronic enhancement. You have to play an acoustic instrument.

Well, you got me there. Because when I’m not being “girl and a piano,” I like to live-mix my songs on my iPad while singing live.

Sure, I could sign up and play piano. But…. well, as much as I love to play piano and sing, I enjoy doing my live-mixing even more. Because it’s different. You don’t see many other people doing what I do, especially singing live on top of it. And it takes a LOT of practice to get your singing and your mixing right. You have to make sure everything flows.

And that’s where we get to a big question.

Am I still a singer/songwriter even though I do electronic music?

Because here’s the thing: I consider myself a singer/songwriter. So does my husband. So do my friends. I do what a singer/songwriter does: I write and sing my own material.

However, listening to my recorded music, you might not think so. When people think “singer/songwriter,” they think of a lonely guy/girl singing and strumming a guitar. Or sometimes playing a piano. However, I can tell you from personal experience that the number of piano players at any given open mic night is far lower than the guitar players. It makes sense, if you think about it. Guitars are easier to carry around. Pianos? Not so much. I’m usually the only piano player at any given open mic night.

And at times, I’m also the only female performing that night. But I digress.

Getting back to that eternal question of whether I’m a singer/songwriter or not, I believe that I am. The only difference is the choice of instruments. I’m not a lonely girl playing guitar on stage. I’m taking that singer/songwriter format of lyric-writing (writing about personal experiences and feelings) and marrying it with electronic music and other influences.

French music.

Sometimes Italian music (but NOT opera; there’s more to Italian music than opera!).

80s synth pop.

New wave.

Even more than that, I like doing something different. Why would I do the exact same thing as someone else?

If a singer/songwriter can’t include people who perform non-acoustic music, then what would you consider someone like Imogen Heap? She writes and performs her own material. I consider her a singer/songwriter then.

What about Charlotte Martin? Her recorded music is electronic like mine. I too consider her a singer/songwriter.

Kate Bush? She writes and performs her own music. So she’s in the club too.

Just a few examples for you there.

And I think that’s probably the biggest beef I have with that contest. How else are we supposed to push the art forward if we aren’t allowing people to do something different with it? By not allowing something different, like me live-mixing and singing live with my iPad, which takes a LOT more talent to do than most people might think, the art of singer/songwriters becomes stagnant.

I wish people would realize that a singer/songwriter can be anyone who’s playing an instrument and singing their own song.

And it shouldn’t matter the instrument.

How I Discovered French Music, or: The Internet is Awesome

For some, their favorite school subjects are the core classes like science, math and English.

Mine were the elective classes. Band, then choir from my sophomore year on, and French class.

I began taking French in eighth grade (when I was about 14 years old) and I continued taking French through high school. Every day at school, I opened my mind to a new culture and language. Most of the time we spent our class time doing grammar drills.

However, my teachers would sometimes play French music in class and let us dissect the lyrics. One of the first songs they ever played was La vie en rose by Edith Piaf, a song that’s apparently just as well known in English as well as French (I prefer the French version of course!):

When we learned the passé composé, a.k.a. the basic past tense, my teacher played Et maintenant, a paean to lost love:

Another past-tense favorite song (if you recognize the melody, there’s a reason why; this was the original French-language version of My Way by Frank Sinatra):

Now, if you’ve clicked on the videos above to listen to these songs, you might notice something about the music my teachers would play for us in class. It was all older music. The other kids in my French classes always talked over the music, not paying the slightest attention to the lyrics on the overhead projector.

I was the weird kid who actually liked those songs. My parents played music from the 50s and 60s in the house when I was a kid, so I preferred music from that time anyway.

Also, I loved those little cultural learning moments. It made the language more than just grammar drills. I was learning what French people know and like. And I was listening to something that I had never heard before.

Before I took French, I had never heard a non-English song in its entirety. You don’t hear a foreign language song on American top 40 stations unless it’s a novelty hit like Gangnam Style or, if you go back a little bit to the mid-80s, 99 Luftballons. The French hear our music mixed with their local language hits. American radio sticks to English-language songs.

One afternoon in high school, I went on an Internet search for other French music. I wanted to know what else was out there that someone my age at that time (the early 2000s) would know. Every culture has their popular songs. What would a French person know?

As it would turn out, a lot!

That Internet search brought me to a young artist named Alizée and her song Moi… Lolita. I’d never heard a modern French pop song before. It was cool. It was in French. And it was DIFFERENT. I’d never heard anything like that song before in my life. I. WAS. HOOKED.

I then found the whole album that song came from and it kept me sane through the last few years of high school. I learned new words. I had a new favorite singer too. Alizée was only the beginning. After I played her first and second albums to death, I sought other French music too. My teachers loved that I was asking them about the various French artists I’d found online. They even gave me some cassettes and I’d dub my own copies.

Another world of music I’d never heard before had opened up to me. It amazed me that someone could be so popular in one country but be unknown in another. French artists like Alizée, her songwriter and fellow French artist Mylène Farmer, Daniel Balavoine, and Indochine were on regular rotation in my Walkman. It became the best learning tool for learning new French words. I also learned how real French people communicate and what those songs are that everyone seems to know.

The Internet helped me find even more French music when I discovered Internet radio. For a time, I listened to NRJ Radio to discover new French music. I stopped listening when I realized I was hearing more English-language than French-language songs, so I switched to Cherie FM. When I was in France for three months, I listened to that station on my portable CD/radio. Then I found MFM, which I sometimes play for my students while they’re working in class because they only ever play French music.

Over the years, I have amassed my own collection of French music. I have everything from Jean-Jacques Goldman, a pop-rock singer famous for writing songs for Celine Dion. If I’m in a thoughtful mood, Francis Cabrel is there with his gorgeous acoustic songs, of which my all-time favorite song is this number:

There’s also the raspy, passionate voice of Florent Pagny, who is one of the current judges on the French version of The Voice (I really need to get into more of his music):

One of my favorite French voices is Nolwenn Leroy, who possesses one of the most beautiful, rich voices I’ve ever heard in my life OMG…..:

And lastly, I can’t forget about Zazie (speaking of the French The Voice, she is also a judge on that show). Her wordplay has influenced a little of my own French writing:

That love of French music that began in a dusty high school classroom in 2002 has never left me. I have happily passed on to my students, who love hearing me play real French music for them in class. What I love about French music is not just the exotic quality of listening to a foreign language song you’d never hear on the radio in the US. It’s connecting with another culture and realizing that music is universal. Even if you don’t know any French beyond “bonjour” and “au revoir,” you can hear the song and like the beat and the emotions of the singer. The words become another instrument in the mix. That’s probably what our music sounds like to every non-English speaker!

Case in point, this Dominican radio show that featured a caller looking for a song called, in Spanish, Are those Reebok or those Nike (in reality, the song he wants is The Rhythm of the Night):

To close this out, I will leave you with another Alizée song, one which I played almost as much as Moi..LolitaL’alizé, a playfully written song about Alizée’s often overemotional state and how her moods change like the alizé, a Mediterranean trade wind:

Originals and Remakes – Adventures in Babysitting (1987) vs. Adventures in Babysitting (2016)

After putting together our list of originals and remakes, Andrew and I realized that it had turned into quite a long list! Some of them are going to be too hard, maybe even impossible, to find (the original French version of True Lies, called La Totale!) and others will be interesting to watch in general because without even watching the remake, I can tell things will have changed drastically for one reason or another.

In the case of the remake and original I’ll be talking about today, I actually had no idea the remake even existed! So these two movies were not on our list to start with. Andrew and I happened to be walking in to our favorite local video store earlier this week when I saw the poster for the remake in the window.

“They’re going to remake Adventures in Babysitting?” I remember asking, for some reason not registering that they probably already remade it, hence the poster.

“Umm, I think they already did,” Andrew replied.

Not only did they remake this classic 80s movie, but it was a Disney made-for-TV movie. I could tell by looking at the back of the DVD case. The cutesy images and the Disney logos gave it away.


Curious about the remake, I added it to our list and our pile of movies to rent that day. When I mentioned that I was looking forward to seeing this remake of an 80s movie, the video store clerk remarked that he hadn’t seen either one yet, but that he wasn’t holding out hope that the Disney version would be that great. Not because it’s a made-for-TV movie (there are some awesome made-for-TV movies out there!) but because Disney was involved. And this guy does NOT like Disney. Cue anti-Disney rant from him as we checked out our movies.

I wasn’t holding out much hope either that the remake would be that great. I love the original in all its zaniness and 80sness (the hair! the music! the “Family Truckster” style car that Chris, the main character drives!). It’s definitely a ridiculous movie, but it’s fun to watch. A bit dark in places (it’s PG-13 for a reason!), but hey, that stuff doesn’t bother me. Realizing that Disney had remade this hard PG-13 movie, I imagined something aimed way more at younger kids than the original, which was clearly aimed at older kids. And since the remake is aimed at younger kids, I expected this newer version to be so squeaky clean that it could shine (no subplot about Chris, the main character, resembling that month’s Playboy Playmate of the Month, no jokes about homeless people shooting up, no instances of the “f” word, or one of the kids getting a knife in the foot).

I was right.

You can probably tell already which version Andrew and I liked better. Nonetheless, here’s what we thought of the original and remake. Because it is interesting to note the differences, since one was a rated PG-13 theatrical movie and the other was TV-G made-for-TV.

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)


I saw this for the first time in late high school during my big 80s phase. It wasn’t an enduring favorite but I did enjoy it for the sheer ridiculous but at least logical (well, sort of; far more logical than the remake!) plot.

Elizabeth Shue (best known now for playing on the original CSI) plays Chris Parker, your typical 80s teenager. She’s got the teased hair, long tan coat with shoulder pads, and a boyfriend. Speaking of the boyfriend, Mike, he bails on their anniversary dinner, so she takes a last-minute babysitting job with the Andersons and their two kids Sara (a major Thor fangirl who wears a winged helmet throughout the movie) and Brad. Brad is supposed to stay at his friend Daryl’s house for the night, but when he finds out Chris is babysitting, he stays at home because he’s got a major thing for Chris. Chris expects this to be an average night of babysitting, until she gets a call from her friend Brenda, who has run away from home, and is freaking out because she has no more money and she’s stuck at a Greyhound station in a bad area of Chicago. Brenda begs Chris to pick her up, so she gets the kids and Daryl, who’s come by the house, in her mom’s car and drives to the city.

Except she gets a flat tire on the way.

The tow truck they stop after they get a flat tire, driven by a “Handsome” John Pruitt, offers to drive them to his garage to help them fix the car. Then, John makes a detour to his house when he gets a call from his boss that his wife is “with that guy again,” so he can confront the guy. Pruitt accidentally shoots the windshield of Chris’ mom’s car when he was aiming for his wife’s lover. Chris and the kids hide in a nearby Cadillac, which is being carjacked, so they get taken to a garage and they discover a national stolen car ring. They’re detained in an office, from which they end up escaping, but not before Daryl swipes an issue of Playboy from that office, and then finding themselves in a blues club and having to sing before leaving, and then….

They end up in an L train with a gang (where Chris utters the immortal line “don’t $^&#*^ with the babysitter!”) and Brad gets a knife to the foot.

There’s a young Vincent D’Onofrio reminding Sara of her idol Thor.

They also end up at a frat party.

Oh and then the very party that the Andersons are attending, yet they are somehow never seen.

Chris and her boyfriend break up.

And they still make it back in time after picking up Brenda for the parents to arrive home.

Sure, the plot is a little ridiculous with everything they get into, but it’s fun to watch! It’s fun to watch these people try and figure out how they’re going to get home, all without the modern technology of using PayPal to get money for their car repairs or calling AAA to get towed, etc. And it is definitely rated PG-13 for a reason. Not that it really bothers me, but it should be noted, especially when you compare this to the remake. Characters joke about how much Chris resembles that month’s Playboy of the Month. Brenda is stuck with the dredges of society at a downtown Chicago bus station, so we see her verbally spar with a homeless guy who tells her to “get out of [his] house” while she’s talking to Chris in a phone booth. She also loses her glasses and thinks that a sewer rat is a kitten until some custodians tell her otherwise. All of it is told in a very 80s style, complete with the hairstyles, big cars, and not taking itself too seriously. If I had to use one word to describe this, it would be goofy. But goofy in a non-childish way.

Not an absolute new favorite but in terms of 80s movies, it’s up there.

Which brings me to the remake…..

Whoooo boy…..

Adventures in Babysitting (2016)



What I find most interesting about this remake in comparison to the original is that the 1987 original was the eighth PG-13 movie to be released by a Disney film division (Touchstone Pictures). So Disney had a hand in putting out that movie to people. They even wanted Chris Columbus, the director, to remove a line from the movie to make it more family-friendly. Yet it still came out as PG-13 to movie theaters.

I find that interesting because this remake, done entirely by Disney, was made even more family-friendly, much to the detriment of the story.

This remake was clearly TV-G. And you could tell.

It was as I feared.

Not as bad as I thought, but still, it was bad.

Like the original, you still have a set of zany adventures in the big city involving a babysitter and her charges. The kids get everyone home just in time. That part hasn’t changed.

However, everything else is different.

This time, we get to know two babysitters, Jenny Parker and Lola Perez, who are both rivals for a photography internship. Yes, in this remake, we have two babysitters to take Chris Parker’s place. Somehow they switch phones (this is 2016 after all) and Helen Anderson calls Jenny’s phone, begging for a last-minute sitter. Lola answers and is about to explain the mistake but when she gets a parking ticket, she figures she could use the extra money. Meanwhile, Jenny goes to the Coopers’ house to babysit and when they realize they’ve switched phones, Jenny travels to Lola to get her phone back. By then, one of the kids, Trey, has gone missing. He’s snuck out to a Psychic Rockets concert despite being grounded. So the girls team up to find him and they journey to a sketchy pawn shop to track him down because that’s where he bought the scalped tickets. One of the kids, Bobby, accidentally lets loose a rare ferret, which the girls take a picture of, and which sets into motion these pawn shop owners who spend the movie chasing them down because they could expose their illegal animal smuggling ring.

Many of the things they get into from there are even more ridiculous versions of the original. In a nod to the original, the girls and their charges end up on stage at a club and can’t escape without doing something musical. But instead of singing the blues, they have to engage in a rap battle. A scene that would’ve made sense if they had walked into a rap battle along the lines of 8 Mile instead of what it was: a typical EDM club. Everyone was listening to bland EDM music, not rap music. So making them rap at an EDM club made no sense except that the writers were bound by squeaky-clean Disney rules so they couldn’t have them walk into a rap battle, since rap battles are not family-friendly.

Since we have two babysitters in this version, we also get two sets of kids. Which makes things even more confusing because there are so many kids that you can’t tell who’s who. At least I couldn’t. And you don’t get to know them very well either. I did like that one of the younger kids Bobby is an aspiring chef and therefore loves to cook. But the others, I couldn’t tell you one from the other. They all have one thing to define their personality and nothing more. One of them loves to wear her mother’s jewelry (she also looks creepily like Jon Benet Ramsey). Another is a typical Hot Topic goth. And all of them get involved in all sorts of slapsticky antics that feel childish rather than goofy.

Speaking of slapstick, perhaps if this remake had not been released by Disney, this might’ve been better. But as it was, the writers seemed bound by two things:

1) This is a Disney movie so we need to make this as family-friendly as possible;

2) This is made-for-TV

Since this was Disney, the villains were turned into bumbling, cartoonish idiots that you weren’t scared of for one second. They reminded me of Horace and Jasper from 101 Dalmatians. They also included tons of slapstick gags with people always slipping and falling and the parents being too stupid to understand what’s going on. The writers seemed so bound by making it squeaky clean and making it a TV movie that the movie felt way too restrictive and it lost the goofy charm of the original movie. Instead, it was made ridiculous with way too many elements (there’s a subplot about Jenny’s crush, another about a cute dog who has to be kept as stress-free as possible, and a police officer who takes a liking to Lola).

Not a total waste of time, but it left me groaning more than laughing.

Andrew and I will take the original any day over this.

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!