Friday, August 24, 2007

C Ya Real Soon!

Things will be a bit quieter than usual for a few days, as I'm flying to the Left Coast to spend a few days in HELL.A. On the up side, I get to spend three days at the DisneyLand resort and have at least one fabulous meal. On the down side, I have to spend it with side of my family that causes me the most stress -- my own. After that I get to spend another couple of days in the middle of nowhere (seriously, the nearest movie theater is an hour away!) with my poor dear Grams, who just hasn't been the same since her stroke more than a year ago. Also, T gets to stay here to take care of the kitties, and I'll miss him awfully. I trust he'll watch plenty of Ninja Warrior.

So, I will be back soon with Tales from the Flip Side.

If you have any spare karma, send it westward. I could use just a wee bit less stress. At this point, I just want to get there with no trauma.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Squee!, Part 2

Look! Wee baby fuzzies!


It's here! It's here! Finally, at long last, it's here.

Branagh's Hamlet has been finally been released on DVD!

I know this movie has its detractors, but I love it. A word-for-word adaptation of what is arguably Shakespeare's greatest play on screen. I saw it during my final undergrad semester at UF, when I was, conveniently, taking a course in Shakespeare. (Oddly, Hamlet wasn't on the syllabus that semester.) Anyway, it played at the Hippodrome for a week or two, then it went away, then it came back in the summer due to popular demand. I actually paid real money to sit my considerable bottom in a movie theater seat for 4+ hours at least two, and I think three, times. I was fortunate that, at that time, I had no issues whatsoever understanding the language because I had been immersed in Chaucerian Middle English and Shakespearean "modern" English for two semesters. I probably could have spoken in iambic pentameter if I had been asked.

I love this movie!

First, the movie is absolutely gorgeous. The cinematography, the sets, the costumes, the actors: It's all just so pretty! Turn the sound off and just let the scenery be your wallpaper for a while.

Second, the acting is really quite good. Yes, Branagh-the-Director allows Branagh-the-star to be a little over-indulgent, but come on, it's Hamlet. One should be allowed to chew a little scenery. My Darling Boy is a big fan of Kate Winslet (as should all straight males), and I love her Ophelia; she's just heartbreaking in her mad scene. Charleton (Chuck!) Heston as the Player King recites the Fall of Troy with the Voice of God, and I'm spellbound. Derek Jacobi's choices as the murderous uncle are intriguing: neither ruthless nor terrified, he walks the tightrope between them with grace and skill. The biggest revelation to me is Billy Crystal. You know, that City Slickers/Fernando guy. In playing the Grave Digger, Crystal speaks the words of the Bard effortlessly. You would think he's a genuine Shakespearean actor, all trained up with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's one of those rare moments of stunt casting that just works. Oh, and Rufus Sewell as Fortinbras? Smokin'. Hot.

Last, and in no way least, it's freakin' all of freakin' Hamlet! By William Shakespeare! Unedited! I could just close my eyes and listen to the language.

There are some failures. Ok, in my opinion, really just two.

Jack Lemmon is/was a great actor that perfectly embodies the late-mid-20th-century American male. His performance in Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross as the latter-day Willy-Lomanish Shelley Levene is heartbreaking and riveting. He's utterly relatable as Ensign Pulver in Mr. Roberts and as Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. He should never have been allowed near Hamlet; he's clearly out of his comfort zone, and he's jarring and unconvincing.

Robin Williams is a great-ish actor, depending upon his facial hair. Unfortunately, in Hamlet, he looks like a refugee from the Emerald City. I'm usually too distracted by his appearance to pay attention to his performance. My overall impression is that he's too uncomfortable in his over-the-top costume to give a good performance. Also, I think his part would be better played by a 14-year-old page boy.

Now, all these opinions are based on opinions I formed upon seeing the movie 11 years ago. I can't wait to watch it again to see if I've changed my mind. We'll see.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stardust: A Review

Now that life has settled back into a normal routine, at least temporarily, my Darling Boy took me to the movies yesterday to see Stardust. I have wanted to see this movie more than any other this summer, except for Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End. As a member of the generation that grew up on The Princess Bride, I have wanted another good, quirky, romantic fantasy for many years. No, Shrek doesn’t count.

As I have rambled on at length on bill’s blog today (so sorry, bill), I love Neil Gaiman’s work. I first heard about him sometime in the early ’90s, then I found out he was a good friend of Tori Amos’, and was, in fact, the “Neil” she often mentions in her songs. (I loved early Tori in my younger “college girl” days.) I never had time to read anything he had written because I was too busy becoming too over-educated for my own good. When I finally recovered my senses and started reading for fun, I saw Gaiman’s Neverwhere at a bookstore, remembered all the good things I had heard, and picked it up. I’ve been a devoted little fan girl ever since, even going so far as to purchase all ten volumes of his Sandman series of graphic novels (at $20 a pop) and the associated spin-offs and add-ons. I have not gone so far as to buy the new Absolute Sandman, but only because I haven’t entirely lost my mind.

Anyway, Stardust is the first of Gaiman’s novels to make it to the big screen, and I have been aquiver with anticipation since they started filming. This might be the most successful book-to-film adaptations I’ve ever seen, and it way out-classes the Harry Potter movies. To be clear, many of my favorite moments from the book didn’t make it into the movie, and the movie added some action sequences not found in the book. That’s ok. They are entirely separate media, and the movie remains true to the heart and soul of the book, which is the most important thing.

Some thumbnail impressions:

First, Claire Danes is absolutely luminous as Yvaine. When I first heard she had been cast in the role, I wasn’t sure if she was pretty enough for the part. She is definitely pretty enough and just marvelous in the role.

The producers of the The Pirates of the Carribean movies need to hurry up and cast Charlie Cox as Will Turner III right exactly now; he is the heir apparent to Orlando Bloom, only not quite as girly-pretty. I just figured it out: He looks like the secret love child of Robert Sean Leonard and Orlando Bloom.

Michelle Pfeiffer is perfect as Lamia. Given how great she was in The Witches of Eastwick so long ago, it’s clear she should always play witches.

The roles of Princes in the movie are worth at least half the price of admission; you'll just have to trust on on this and see for yourself.

Critics seem to be raving about Robert DeNiro’s performance, and, to be sure, he’s quite the charmer in the role of Captain Shakespeare. I, personally, would give up his scenes in exchange for more exposition about the town of Wall, the mysterious market, and the exotic visitors who come for the market. I also would have liked Una to have been released from her captivity as described in the book. You’ll just have to read the book yourself to see what I mean.

In contrast to Stardust, the first four Harry Potter movies (I’ve not seen the fifth yet) try too hard to literally translate entire sequences from the books, and, in doing so, end up without the time to really explore the heart and soul of the story. As a result, the Harry Potter movies seem more like visual Cliff’s Notes of the books; they look great, but the deeper points of the stories are somehow lost.

So, anyway, if you want to see a good old fashioned romantic adventure with a heart, go see Stardust. Preferably with someone who makes you glow inside.

When you've done that, go buy the graphc novel for another tasty treat. If the movie is like a really good chocolate chip cookie, then the graphic novel is like a great chocolate chip cookie with butterscotch chips and vanilla ice cream. (The non-illustrated novel is a really good chocolate chip cookie with fewer chocolate and butterscotch chips and no ice cream.)