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Interests: Marriage & Family + foster & adopted children issues; also comparative psychology & ethology.
Other interests: sailing (11 boats in 55+ yrs); dancing; music (classical; jazz; folk; almost all); physical fitness; dogs (esp'lly Labrador Retrievers); ALL of the fine arts; sciences, esp. evolution, human & animal behavior.
In Topeka, KS, 1962-2012; in Lawrence, KS 2012-present
Umberto D. (1952)
Great plot but execution is so-so, IMO
I'm glad others like this so much -- many say it's the best film they've ever seen -- but it falls short of that for me. It's in the "neo-realistic Italian style" using "ordinary people" rather than trained actors which sometimes leads to more realistic films.
Not for me in this case. To me, it seemed needlessly "jumpy" -- almost like its sequencing and development followed sort of a "comic strip" model in which actions are briefly portrayed followed by some later ones (or preceded by others), and it's up to the viewer/reader to fill in the gaps in the sequences and development. Also, I've had dogs for over half my long life and they've been very loving companions. While "Flike" (Umberto's dog) was a trained 'actor,' I NEVER saw the emotional reaction of genuine mutual love and affection that usually intermittently, spontaneously takes place between a man (or woman) and his/her dog.
Trained obedience? Yes.
Bosom buddies? No. No sign.
Execution? -- so-so.
Strictly Ballroom (1992)
Many others LOVED it -- to me it was so-so
This is Baz Luhrmann's first film of his famed trilogy. I saw this in a group of retired college faculty and the spontaneous comments I heard from many people indicated they'd rate it a 10 (or higher). But "different strokes for different folks." IMO, in style it reminded me of a farce, somewhat of a comic strip in which many cartoon characters come in without any/much preceding development, often as caricatures. That obviously didn't bother most others as it did me. I used to dance a LOT in my 1950s college years (fox trot, waltz, jitterbug, rhumba, tango) and, at some formals, my partner and I were good enough that sometimes we were the only couple left dancing the tango or rhumba while others formed a large admiring circle around us. So I DID enjoy the dancing scenes and could also appreciate that some couples would compete for titles (although we never did). From my later professional life (PhD therapist, lot of marriage & family work) I DID appreciate that Scott would unknowingly follow very much in his father's path while his mother was strongly opposed to it! THAT was very realistic.
Most will LOVE it -- some will find it so-so or less.
A subtle look at ageing + the pre-Independence Indian caste system
This was seen in the monthly Foreign Film Series in a society for retired university (KU) peeps. This 1958 story is remarkably subtle, about the advancing age and declining wealth of a higher caste Indian man, a Zamindar (landlord), whose income from his inherited lands is dropping from the previous levels of his wealthy ancestors because increasing river floods have lessened his rentable property and income. He's unable to adjust his manner of living to either that change or simultaneous changes in the Indian economy that lead to new economic benefits and social mobility for many in lower castes. He's especially irritated at his nouveau riche lower caste new next door neighbor whose income comes from money lending rather than through inherited property and wealth; he engages in expensive rival concerts which he cannot truly afford and these leave him even poorer. Through two extended flashbacks we learn he had been married and had a son (16? 18?); both wife and son died together on a trip. So he's alone for many years. While Indian music is his primary comfort (played in "the music room" of his palatial home), he also begins to use it as his primary club against his "upstart" neighbor. As he ages we see his memory decline, e.g., asking one of his two remaining servants, "What month is this?" before he presents one last concert for invited guests (and to belittle his rival, his lower caste neighbor, an included guest) before he then embarks on an activity which leads to his death. Great examples of Indian music (but the closed captions on the DVD we saw had white type/lettering which sometimes was not very legible against its background). The movie also very subtly raises the question -- to what extent is this person (one's self or relative or friend) going through parallel sequences in the getting old process?
La nuit de Varennes (1982)
Brilliant film, but....
This French film is much more meaningful to French citizens (who undoubtedly are far more familiar with the history of their country's transition from monarchy to democratic republic than most non-French citizens). I rushed to Wikipedia to read about Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, and this era as soon as I got home from seeing this film. And for those also unfamiliar with it, I recommend potential viewers also read about them and the French transition from monarchy to citizen democracy before seeing this film; I think that'll make it far more meaningful.
The scenes were great -- they captured the time and life/era exceedingly well; the actors were interesting and very appropriate. But, in my lacking an extensive enough appreciation of this era and its events, I agree totally with Roger Ebert's review (he gave it 2.5 stars of 4): http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/la-nuit-de-varennes-1983 (2.5 of 4)
Stage 2: Mrs. Warren's Profession (1972)
Worthwhile but somewhat disappointing
Recently our play reading group finished "Mrs. Warren's Profession" and, as we often do, we obtained a copy of a film of the play we've read to show both to our group's participants (about 10+) as well as to any others who care to see it from the larger membership of our society (retired university peeps) -- those visitors added another 12. We viewed it this afternoon. The cast seemed excellent as did all the "sets" and costumes. However, IMO considerable liberties were taken with the play -- probably to make it less appropriate to a stage production and rather more flexible as in films -- which apparently involved also adding considerably more dialog. The DVD specifically said it had closed captioning but several experts in the Alumni Center (where we meet) could not get those to display. The actors were all English (with that accent) and spoke rather rapidly which made a good understanding of what was being said beyond reach for all but 3 of our viewers (of 22 total) who were native to Great Britain. I think the movie ran longer than the performance of the actual play. I no longer have my copy of the play available to check but it's my strong impression that a number of scenes wereRecently our play reading group finished "Mrs. Warren's Profession" and, as we often do, we obtained a copy of a film of the play we've read to show both to our group's participants (about 10+) as well as to any others who care to see it from the larger membership of our society (retired university peeps) -- those visitors added another 12. We showed it this afternoon. The cast seemed excellent as did all the "sets" and costumes. However, IMO considerable liberties were taken with the play -- probably to make it less appropriate to a stage production and rather more flexible as in films -- which apparently involved also adding considerably more dialog. The DVD specifically said it had closed captioning but several experts in the Alumni Center (where we meet) could not get those to display. The actors were all English (with that accent) and spoke rather rapidly which made a good understanding of what was being said beyond reach for all but 3 of our viewers (of 21 total) who were native to Great Britain. I think the movie ran longer than the performance of the actual play. I no longer have my copy of the play available to check but it's my strong impression that a number of scenes were greatly expanded, for instance the final scene between Vivie and her mother as well as a number of earlier scenes. While these were all completely in keeping with the overall plot they aren't with either Shaw's language or intent. Worthwhile to see but somewhat disappointing and less than 95% Bernard Shaw.
She Stoops to Conquer (2003)
EXCELLENT rendition of a great play with some minor deficiencies
The characters, setting, costumes, photography, direction are ALL EXCELLENT in this version. What isn't?
The playback version doesn't work with all US players (we found one that worked). I thought the 5 acts were specified but they aren't delineated in the playback. (See my Message Board post on this subject for more info.) AND I thought that subtitles were an available option (which in set-up they seemed to be) BUT we couldn't get them to work.
We were showing this film for our group of play readers in a university group for retired faculty (the KU Endacott Society)-- our group had just finished reading the play and were viewing this PLUS sharing it with members of the far larger Society who'd like to see it.
Deciphering England's native "English speech" is not easy for everyone. It WOULD have been a little easier for those of us who'd previously spent 4-6 hours reading various parts in the play.
IF you previously have some acquaintance with this play (having read it, acted in it, etc.) or familiarity with native English speech, this could be a delightful experience. But for many?some? people lacking that, it could be frustrating.
The settings, costumes, actors, direction were ALL excellent.
Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Interesting biopic of an interesting character
This movie is about "P.L. Travers," the pen name of the woman who wrote the Mary Poppins books and the negotiations and huge struggles involved between Travers and Walt Disney over Disney gaining the rights to make the one "Mary Poppins" film. It gives much of the author's early background which influenced both her writing, those struggles and her personality.
Emma Thompson was nominated (very deservedly, IMO) for Golden Globe's "Best Actress" 2013 award. She was great portraying very difficult character.
While the film is biographical, like many "biopics" it takes liberties in which facts it presents, omits &/or distorts. Nevertheless, it captures much of this author's qualities, personality, and history. The Wikipedia article on "P.L. Travers" is worthwhile for those who wish to sift fact from film fiction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._L._Travers
And also, if interested, you can google the Chicago Tribune article about an interview with the author of a biography of "P.L. Travers": "'Mary Poppins, She Wrote' author discusses P.L Travers, 'Saving Mr. Banks' "
Our Hospitality (1923)
A take-off on the Hatfield-McCoy feud
This was seen in the annual Kansas Silent Film Festival. It stars Buster Keaton and is a take-off on the famed Hatfield-McCoy feud, with those names altered to "Canfield" & "McKay."
The plot has Willie McKay (Keaton) being taken north and raised in NY state after his father is killed in the feud. When he becomes a young adult, he's tricked into returning to inherit his father's estate (unaware that it's practically non-existent) and where he'll inevitably run into the wealthy Canfield family who have the intent to murder him.
BUT also on his train journey back is a lovely young lady -- a Canfield as it happens -- who invites Willie to supper in her home with her father and 2 brothers. Because of the customs of Southern hospitality, her father forbids his sons to kill Willie in their home, so they try tricks to get him outside. A very funny movie with many surprises. (Keaton loved trains and had "The Rocket" built especially for this film.)
The Butler (2013)
Worthwhile BUT misleading
This film was inspired by and loosely based on the career of Eugene Allen, a black butler who served 8 presidents in the White House, the "lifetime" of a fictional "Cecil Gaines" (Whittaker) and his family is used to briefly retrace the conflicts and advances in American race relations over the last 100 years.
I was mistaken in seeing this film, thinking that it was the biographical drama of an actual White House butler's experiences. It is NOT, and I didn't fully realize that until after the movie when I turned to the internet to get more information. There are OCCASIONAL similarities between the lives and experiences of the actual butler (Eugene Allen) and the character, "Cecil Gaines," inspired by Allen and brilliantly portrayed by Forest Whittaker. But many spicy & highly charged elements have been added, no doubt to more dramatically portray the severity and some of the extremes that were fostered and tolerated in America during Allen's/"Gaine's" lifetime (plus add dramatic tension).
I'm 85 and lived through many of those years. I was active in demonstrating for racial equality (and fortunately never injured as some others were). While this movie shows a few extreme examples (& newsreel clips) of racism & protests, I totally agree with A.O. Scott's statement in his NYTimes review: "A brilliantly truthful film on a subject" (civil wrongs) "that is usually shrouded in wishful thinking, mythmongering and outright denial...."
BUT I DO wish that this movie made it clear FROM THE BEGINNING that it's NOT the film version of a biography but an "As if" drama of what many people, such as Mr. Allen, did or could experience. Several internet sites list the several places this movie's details of the fictional "Mr. Gaines'" life correspond with Mr. Allen's actual life and the many where they do not. E.g., Mr. Allen's one son served in Viet Nam and returned safely whereas this film's fictional "Mr. Gaines" has 2 sons: 1 killed in Viet Nam, and another active in the Black Panthers, etc. (One of those sites is "How True Is The Butler" at www.slate.com)
I'll be surprised if Forest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey do not, at the least, receive Oscar nominations for their roles; they were both outstanding. But the characterizations of many presidents (and their wives) vary between good and "unhh!"
My rating of 8 is downgraded from 10 because of objections cited.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Interesting "Time Travel" to an era
Background to that '30s era: this 1934 film is often called the first (of the many following) in the 'screwball comedy' genre; it came out in the worst of the Great Depression (US unemployment in 1928 was 2.9%, by 1933 it hit 25%; millions were hungry and desperate, leading to some antagonisms between economic classes). This was also a time when women's roles were changing in the US: the 'women's suffrage' movement gained women the right to vote in 1920 (19th Amendment), more equality in decision-making, more freedom in dress, gender & sexual roles (e.g., '20s 'Flappers'). "Screwball comedies" capitalized and fed on those changes: they typically "feature farcical situations, a combination of slap-stick with fast-paced repartee and show struggles between" (central characters of different) "economic classes. They also generally feature a self-confident and often stubborn central female protagonist and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage" ("quotes" from Wikipedia).
A young 30's Gable plays "Peter," a drinking, hard boiled newspaper reporter just fired from his job when he accidentally meets the young 20's "Ellie" (a young 30's Colbert) who's increasingly rebelled against the escalating but failing attempts of her upper class, super-rich father to control her. He tries to keep her on his Florida yacht while arranging to annul Ellie's impulsive marriage to a man (whom her father recognizes but Ellie doesn't as mainly interested in her wealth). But Ellie escapes her father's captivity and sets off to NYC to be reunited with her new spouse. On her way, she meets Gable who's initially interested in helping her because it'll lead to his scoop of a newspaper story (and reinstatement of his job). But then--romance eventually, gradually, starts to happen between you know who.
My rating: 6 of 10 I found this interesting as a time-traveling experience--early '30s bus rides, clothes, roles, attitudes, etc.-- but all the people seemed to me to be too much caricatures and not enough real characters. (However, many people on IMDb's "Discussion Board" say the more often they've seen this film, the more highly they value it--many saying it's among their most favorite films of all--so maybe familiarity breeds appreciation?) FWIW: Neither Gable nor Colbert wanted to be in this film; MGM "loaned" them to Columbia Pictures, then a 2nd rate movie company, for this movie as punishment for each being too "uppity" and/or violating MGM policies. But, after this film gained such outstanding success (lifting Columbia's rank to among the majors) and substantially helped both Gable's & Colbert's careers, they came to appreciate it.