Wednesday, October 22, 2014

"Emma" (1996)

This movie was not my first Austenian experience -- that distinction belongs to Sense and Sensibility (1995).  However, this is the first Austen-related thing that I loved.  I can't remember the first time I saw it -- I think I probably watched it with my two teen-years best friends.  I do distinctly remember driving to town with my younger brother to rent it so we could watch it with my mom.  I loved it so much, I bought my own copy to take to college with me, where my new friends and I just about wore out that VHS tape.  I've seen this at least a dozen times -- maybe closer to twenty.  However, I think my last viewing was seven or eight years ago, and I'd never seen the widescreen version before.  I bought the DVD a year or so ago, when I found it for an enticingly low price, but never got around to watching it until now.  So when Heidi announced her Discovering Emma Week, I eagerly signed up to review this.  Finally!  A really good reason to sit down and rewatch it!

Oh my goodness.  I loooooooooove the widescreen version!  I kept thinking things like, "I never saw Mr. Knightley's reaction there!"  "I never saw that part of the dance!"  "I never saw Emma have that little moment of realization!"  Splendid, I tell you.

So anyway... you probably know this, but Emma is about a rich, headstrong girl named Emma Woodhouse (Gwyneth Paltrow) who loves matchmaking.  Her rich, handsome neighbor, Mr. Knightley (Jeremy Northam) tries to help her grow and mature into a nicer and better person.  And then she realizes he loves her and she loves him and we all throw flower petals in the air at their wedding.

Right, so anyway, why do I love this movie?  Why is it, in fact, my favorite Austen adaptation?  Why do I like it better than the book?  So many questions, so little time.

I love this movie because it is beautiful.  I want to live inside it.  Hartfield entrances me.  I want to hang out in this room in the evening and read books:

I want to sit in this pavilion and do needlework:

I want to figure out what all these random thingamabobs are that are cluttering up this room:

I want to sit quietly in this rustic corner of the estate and write:

I even want to own chairs like these, though I think they belong to Mr. Knightley at Donwell Abbey, not to Emma at Hartfield:

I'm telling you, I would love to live inside this movie!  And I can't say that about very many movies, certainly not about any of the other Austen adaptations I've seen.  I usually only feel that way about westerns.  So this makes Emma something of a rarity.

And the cast could not be more perfect.  I have to admit that in my teens and early twenties, I would have loved to look like Gwyneth Paltrow in this movie.  She's still kind of my epitome of graceful, elegant womanhood.  I wish I could get my hair to do the pretty things her hair does.  Really, I'm almost a bit obsessed with her hair.

Also, Gwyneth Paltrow makes Emma Woodhouse much more sympathetic than in the book.  She's saucy and meddlesome and spoiled, but she's also sweet and kind and cheerful, and so devoted to her father (Denys Hawthorne), all of which makes me like her quite a bit.

Then there's Jeremy Northam as Mr. Knightley.  He's not nearly as combative as he is in the book.  Still bossy, still always chiding Emma for her faults, but he doesn't constantly pick on her.  And I feel like he knows himself so well in this, that already fairly early on in the movie he knows he loves Emma, and he's just waiting to be sure of himself and more sure of her before he takes any action.

But as handsome as Jeremy Northam is, the first time I saw this, I was really watching it for one person:  Ewan McGregor.  And he still delights me:  the smiley-est, most obliging Frank Churchill you'll ever see.  He actually manages to give the character some depth, which is saying a lot considering that Frank is a vain trickster.  But such a charming and happy trickster!

Even though he has the most appallingly bad wig:

Then there are Toni Collette as the sweet-but-shallow Harriet Smith and Alan Cumming as the unctuous-and-clueless Mr. Elton.  They never fail to make me laugh in almost their every scene.  Brilliant.

And Sophie Thompson as Miss Bates!  Oh, she makes me laugh and cry.  Poor, dear thing.

Also, I love the costumes.  I would love to wear some of these dresses.  And I'm not really all that interested in costumes or clothes or fashion!  But wow, I love these.

My #1 favorite (Emma's, not Harriet's)
My #2 favorite
My #3 favorite

But I think what really sets this apart from other Austen adaptations is how much it makes me laugh.  There are so many moments that I laugh aloud during, and even simple images that set me giggling.

I love how the filmmakers kind of gloried in the absurd in a gentle way instead of taking the story oh-so-seriously.  I can never decide if I should shelve this with the comedies or dramas.  But I generally shelve it with the dramas because when I think of this movie, the first scene that comes to mind is the scene where Mr. Knightley scolds Emma for being rude to Miss Bates at the strawberry-picking picnic.  The first time I saw this, that is the scene where I went from liking to loving it.  It adds such weight to the story, and shows that Emma is not merely a spoiled, heedless girl.  She can feel for other people, she can acknowledge she's been wrong.  She can change.

Okay, I think I've finally run out of things to say here.  Oh yes... is this movie family-friendly?  Nary a hint of sexual content to be found.  There's one scene where some gypsies chase Emma and Harriet and try to steal their purses, and there are a couple of mild curse words, though.

Don't forget to click here or on the button below to visit Along the Brandywine and join in the "Discovering Emma Week" fun!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Discovering Emma Week Tag!

It's "Discovering Emma Week" at Along the Brandywine!  I'll be participating in various ways on this blog and my book blog during the week, starting with answering these tag questions :-)

1. Have you ever read Emma?

Yes, I have!  I read it in high school, and again last year.  My review is here, if you're interested.

2. If so, is that how you first made her acquaintance? (If not, feel free to elaborate!)

I'm pretty sure I saw the 1996 adaptation that stars Gwyneth Paltrow first.  I may have seen Clueless first, too.

3. Do you have a favorite film adaptation?

Absolutely!  The aforementioned Gwyneth Paltrow version, which I will be reviewing later this week as a contribution to Discovering Emma Week.  I like that adaptation better than the book!

4. Favorite dress(es) from that film?

I'll share more in my review, but here is my absolute favorite dress:

I love those swoopy tucks at the bottom.  And the color is so bright and cheerful!

Here's a bit of a look at the front, which has a nice ribbon accent.  I would totally wear that dress.

5. Share a line you love from either the book or movie/s—several if you like!

These are all from the 1996 Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation:

"I love... I absolutely love... celery root!  And what should they be serving but... celery root!"  (I say this rather often.  After many years of quoting it, I finally got to eat celery root for the first time last year, and it's quite tasty!)

"Oh dear."  "What?"  "Oh!  Something about the deer we need for the venison stew."  (I also quote this a lot.  It confuses people, but I don't care.)

"I'm afraid you'll just have to live here, then."  (I use this one to tease my little kids when they get stuck in a tree or something.)

"Try not to kill my dogs."  (Makes me laugh.)

6. Is Emma one of your favorite heroines? Why or why not?

She's actually one of my least-favorite Austen heroines.  She's bossy, meddlesome, vain, and spoiled.  Of course, the point of the story is that she comes to realize she's all those things and begins to change, but still, she spends most of the book being so unlikable.  I like her much better in the movie, as Gwyneth Paltrow makes her sweeter and kinder.

7. What is one of Emma’s strengths (good qualities)?

She's kind-hearted and wants to help other people be happy.

8. Describe in one (or two…or three) sentences, why Mr. Knightley is so wonderful.

He's exceedingly helpful and thoughtful, always giving things to Mrs. and Miss Bates, trying to get Emma to grow and mature, and even being willing to live with a tiresome father-in-law just to keep Emma happy.

9. Why do you think Mr. Knightley and Emma are so well suited to each other?

Because they're used to each other -- neither will be surprised by the other's quirks and foibles.

10. Would you rather spend a week in Highbury with the Westons—on Abbey-Mill Farm with the Martins—or in London with the John Knightleys?

Probably Abbey-Mill Farm with the Martins.  They're such sensible, kind, and forgiving people!  Plus I do like farms and dirt and animals.

Don't forget to visit the kick-off post at Along the Brandywine to join the fun!  Heidi's holding a giveaway and promises more fun to come all week!

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

September/October Issue of "Femnista"

The latest issue of Femnista is out!  This time, I got to write about a subject very dear to my heart:  Combat!  I wrote kind of a "here's what's so special about this show and why it's been my favorite for twenty years" article.

The whole issue is about various "hidden gems" that the writers wish more people knew about, shows or movies or books that deserve more fans.  Please check it out!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tolkien Party Time!

It's Tolkien Week!  Which means my Tolkien Blog Party of Special Magnificence kicked off yesterday on my other blog, The Edge of the Precipice.  Here are my answers to the party questions.

1.  Who introduced you to Tolkien's stories?

My mom gave me The Hobbit to read when I was in high school.  I didn't really care for it, so I mostly credit my fiance-at-the-time, Cowboy, and my best friend Emily for making me go see The Fellowship of the Ring when it came out while we were in college.  That's what hooked me.

2.  How old were you when you first ventured into Middle Earth?

Probably sixteen when I read The Hobbit.  Twenty-one when I saw The Fellowship of the Ring and started reading The Lord of the Rings.

3.  Did you read the books first, or see movie versions first?

A bit of both!  Read The Hobbit first, long before the movies were made.  Saw The Fellowship of the Ring first, then read the book, and then waited to read The Two Towers until I'd seen the movie.  Ditto with The Return of the King.

4.  A dragon or a balrog -- which would you rather fight?

Um... why didn't I think up an answer to this when I made up these questions?  I guess maybe a dragon, as they're not entirely made of fire.  They're more cunning, or seem like they are, since they can talk and all, but there's a teeny chance you could reason with them and have a battle of wits instead of brawn.  But Balrogs -- whoa.  Terrifying.  

5.  Who are three of your favorite characters?  (Feel free to elaborate on why.)

Last year, I talked about Boromir, Sam, and Gandalf.  They're my three absolute favorites.  This year I'll talk about my next top three:

I love Eomer because he's loyal.  Steadfast in his devotion to Theoden even when Theoden supposedly has him banished.  And he seems like a really good big brother, even taking the new king to task when he thinks Eowyn has been trifled with.  

I love Aragorn because he's not a shirker.  He's spent decades protecting people who don't like him, and who don't even realize they're being protected.  Thankless job, that.  He uses the Palantir to wrestle with Sauron.  He leads the army to the Black Gates even though he assumes he will die there.  He's not just brave, he's also willing to do whatever must be done.  I admire that. 

I love Faramir because he's thoroughly honorable.  He's a recent favorite -- I only started loving him during my last read-through of the book, specifically here.  He's like the epitome of the word "chivalrous," isn't he?

6.  Have you ever dressed up like a Tolkien character?

No.  Not yet.  One day!

7.  If someone asks you to go on adventure, how do you respond?

"But I already have my whole day planned out!  Come back in five minutes when I've made new plans that can include your adventure."

8.  Have you read any of the "history of Middle Earth" books?

To my lasting shame, no.  Not yet.  Not even The Silmarillion.

9.  Would you rather drink a bowl of Ent Draught or a glass of Old Winyards?

Not a huge fan of wine, so I'd rather try the Ent Draught!  Plus, I always wanted to be 5'8", and I'm only 5'7", so maybe it'd give me that extra inch!

10.  List up to ten of your favorite lines/quotes from the books or movies.

(Trying not to use any from last year.)

"What news from the North, Riders of Rohan?" -- Aragorn

"Now there's an eye-opener, and no mistake" -- Sam

"What new devilry is this?" -- Boromir

"A wizard is never late.  Nor is he early.  He always arrives precisely when he means to." -- Gandalf

"The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived." -- Eomer

"Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear." -- Aragorn

"Courage is found in unlikely places." -- Gildor

"Oft the unbidden guest proves the best company." -- Eomer

"My cuts, short or long, don't go wrong." -- Strider

"I'm going on an adventure!!!!" -- Bilbo  (Last time I was at my parents' house, I ran down their driveway yelling this, and my Mom told me to calm down.  I'm 34.  I think all hopes of me "calming down" are pretty well over.  Just sayin'.)

Please join me at the party!  You can find these questions here, enter the giveaways here, and there will be a new game each day from today through Friday, starting with this one :-)

Just a random screencap I took while prepping for party games.  Love this dress!

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Piratical Blogathon!

Avast there!  This be me 800th post on this blog!  And what be a better way to celebrate than with a tankard of grog and me very first blogathon :-)

Here they be -- a host of swashbuckling blog posts by as scurvy a crew of bilge rats (including meself) as ye've ever seen.  I hope ye enjoy reading each others' posts!  Don't forget to be leaving comments fer each other, just like ye'd like them to do fer yer post.

Along the Brandywine -- The Sea Hawk
Fiction Predilection -- Treasure Island
Flowers of Quiet Happiness -- Pirates and Prejudice by Kara Louise
A Free Mind -- Captain Blood
Hamlette's Soliloquy -- The Black Swan 
High Noon -- Yankee Buccaneer
J and J Productions -- The Princess Bride
Miss Daydreamer's Place -- The Pirates!  In an Adventure with Scientists
Reading in the Dark -- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson 
Sidewalk Crossings -- Cutthroat Island
Sidewalk Crossings -- DKoren and Hamlette chat about Pirates of the Caribbean
The Story Girl -- Arabella Bishop, forgotten heroine from Captain Blood

And don't be forgettin' that today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day!  Here be a button that'll link ye to the official ITLAPD website's handy guide to adding a bit of swash and buckle to yer speechmaking.

Me thanks go to each of ye fine swains and wenches fer yer participation.  Now hoist the Jolly Roger and bring me that horizon!

"The Black Swan" (1942)

This is my contribution to the very first blogathon I have ever hosted :-)  Click here or on that button to find the list of all the other entries and read those too!

I first saw this a few years ago, before I really had seen Tyrone Power in much of anything.  Oh, I'd seen him in two or three movies, but none of them recently.  This is the movie that made me sit up and go, "Zowie!  I need to see more Tyrone Power movies!"  In fact, most of the time I can't actually remember Tyrone Power's name -- I think of him as "Jamie Boy," his character in this movie.  (Also, I just learned I've been pronouncing "Tyrone" wrong all these years.  At least, according to the trailer for this movie.)

Anyway, on to the pirates!

The Black Swan opens with Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) and his band of pirates descending on a sleeping Caribbean city and carrying off all the treasure, wine, and women they can hold.  But Captain Waring (called "Jamie Boy" by those who love him) gets captured by the Spanish soldiers, and the governor of Jamaica puts him on the rack and tries to torture him into revealing where notorious pirate Henry Morgan is.  Of course, Jamie Boy just spits insults at him until his pirate crew comes to free him, and they stick the governor on the rack instead.

And that's when Lady Margaret (Maureen O'Hara) sweeps imperiously down the stairs, points a pistol at Jamie Boy, and demands to know where her father is.  Turns out she's the daughter of some British lord they'd just tossed in a dungeon.

Jamie Boy tells his crew he's claiming her as "captain's share" of the loot, then salutes her with his sword and trades insults with her for a bit.

Frankly, if I'd been confronted by a shirtless, scruffy Tyrone Power brandishing a beautiful sword, I probably would have swooned on the spot to make myself easier to tote.  However, Lady Margaret is made of sterner stuff than I (being played by Maureen O'Hara, after all), and instead she tries to threaten her way free.  He disarms her handily, then tries to kiss her, saying he always samples a bottle of wine before he buys it.  When he does manage to kiss her, she bites him, so he does what any self-respecting pirate would:  slugs her and prepares to carry her off to his ship.

But when he opens the door, what to his wondering eyes should appear but Captain Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar)!  Freshly pardoned by the English government and set up as the new governor of Jamaica!

Captain Morgan announces that peace has been declared between England and Spain, and that as governor, he's giving all pirates the choice of either stopping their piratical ways and settling down on land he'll give them, or else leaving the Caribbean for good.

Of course, that doesn't sit well with every single pirate, particularly Captain Leech (George Sanders) and his menacing pal Wogan (Anthony Quinn).  They declare they think that Morgan is an English spy and that they're going to continue pirating if they darn well please, and don't start ordering them around!

But Jamie Boy agrees to stop being a pirate and instead become Governor Morgan's right-hand man.  And then we have the ceremony where Morgan gets installed as governor publicly, and Lady Margaret is very upset by having a pirate as a governor, especially since it means Jamie Boy is around to bother her now.  AND he's sleeping in her old room at the governor's palace.  She flounces out into the garden, Jamie Boy follows her, and we have my favorite scene in the whole movie.

Jamie Boy tells her that he's learned a whole new set of manners, and that now, instead of hugging and squeezing a woman into loving him, he's going to try his hand at being a gentleman.

 And even with him looking this splendid, she still keeps glaring and yowling at him!

How on earth she can resist him in this outfit, I don't know.  But she does.  Like I said, sterner stuff than I'm made of.

Actually, that's what I like best about this movie -- the way these two characters grow.  They're both very selfish and proud, and they both have to learn to think about someone other than themselves before they can find love and happiness.  It's a very sweet moral, for a pirate movie, but don't worry -- it's not all about the romance.  It's mostly about the swashbuckling, and they have a sword fight every ten minutes or so just to keep things peppy.

Lady Margaret has a fancy-pants fiance named Roger Ingram (Edward Ashley), who Jamie Boy refuses to duel with because he's promised not to kill any tame rabbits today.  Which is important to the plot, but also, I wanted to mention him so I could show you this shot of how awesome Jamie Boy's cape is:

That rascally Captain Leech continues pirating all around the Caribbean, and the people of Jamaica think Governor Morgan is feeding Leech information, so Morgan sends Jamie Boy and a couple other trustworthy captains out to find Leech in Tortuga and bring him to justice.

Leech does have a spy on Jamaica, so he knows to run away from Tortuga before Jamie Boy ever got there.  Jamie Boy heads back to Jamaica to figure out who the spy is, and stomps into the assembly room or whatever it is, looking fearsome and delicious again.  The Jamaican gentry think it's either Morgan or Jamie Boy who's the traitor, and Jamie Boy gets really angry and declares he'll find Leech and stop him or die trying.  Or something like that -- I get distracted by the jaunty angle of Jamie Boy's hat and don't pay close attention to dialog in this scene.

Before he sets sail, Jamie Boy kidnaps Lady Margaret on the eve of her wedding to the tame rabbit, with the help of his trusty sidekick Tommy Blue (Thomas Mitchell).  Tommy Blue calls her a "flouncy wench" and declares she's more trouble than she's worth, but he helps anyway.

They set off to find Leech, but he finds them first and prepares to attack.  Jamie Boy decides the only way to save himself, his ship, and Lady Margaret is to pretend he's gone back to piracy and join up with Leech.  When Lady Margaret comes out on deck, there's a delightful shot of her confronting the Jolly Roger as they're preparing to run it up.

Leech sees their flag and comes over to parley, but he's not convinced.  Jamie Boy claims he and Lady Margaret are married, and she has the good sense to not disagree.  Leech signs articles with Jamie Boy, but insists Jamie Boy and Lady Margaret come sail on Leech's ship, the Black Swan, as an assurance of their loyalty.

They have to share a cabin on the Black Swan, but Jamie Boy courteously cedes the bed to her and sleeps in a hammock.  And looks all wistful and dreamy.  Honestly, has there ever been a more handsome pirate?  I think not.

And then there's a sea battle, and lots and lots and lots of sword fighting, with various and assorted feats of derring-do, as befits a pirate battle.

I'm not going to tell you exactly how it ends.  Watch it for yourself to see if Jamie Boy finally wins the affections of Lady Margaret, or if he dies in glorious battle with Captain Leech, or what.  Seriously -- this is a must-see pirate movie, and it's not hard to find on DVD.  You can pick up a used copy on the Barnes & Noble website for $7, or a brand-new one on Amazon for under $20.  Also, any self-respecting library should have this.

Is this movie family friendly?  Well, I'm not going to show it to my six-year-old just yet, but that's because I think the scene with Jamie Boy on the rack might worry him.  The action is all non-bloody, even when someone gets run through with a sword.  Lady Margaret does have her (non-bare) ankles and calves felt up on a couple of occasions, not to mention Jamie Boy forcing a kiss on her, but that's as racy as it gets.  And there are zero bad words.

Now, let's discuss those costumes a minute.  Specifically the glory and splendor that is Jamie Boy's black outfit with the swooshy red cloak/cape.  This is, hands down, the best pirate costume I have ever seen.  A screenshot can't show you how awesome the cloak in particular is.  I wish I knew how to create a GIF so I could show you how he can swoop the long right end of it up and over his left shoulder -- it's so supremely cool that if I had a cloak like that, I would wear it All The Time.

I probably should have screencapped a few more of Lady Margaret's costumes, but I did get long shots of a couple.  This one makes her look a little bit like Glinda the Good Witch, but it's sparkly and looks soft, and I would wear it if I had the figure for it.  Or a really good corset.  I don't much care for the little poofy bow on top of her head, but she pulls it off.  Because she's Maureen O'Hara.

I like this dress of hers best, with its layers of sheer and flimsy stuff, and that trailing scarf/wrap thingie.  It's the one she gets kidnapped in.  She has a couple others that are not a pale peachy color too, but I couldn't get good long shots of them.

Here's the trailer, if you want a sample this bottle of wine before you buy it: