Saturday, April 26, 2014

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

I should hate this movie. I really should. Not because it ever did anything bad to me, but because of the countless people who always thought it was hiLARious to call me Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm when I was a kid. Maybe even longer than that. Hey, grown ups! Not funny then; not funny now. Still, I should not hold any of my anger about their misplaced humor against this great film of Shirley Temple's. And it is quite great. Here's the story.

The titular character played by Shirley in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is Rebecca Winstead. At the start of the film, she is in the custody of her stepfather, Harry Kipper, because her parents are...well, you know the drill. Sucks for her where this is concerned, because this guy is kind of creepy. Not as creepy as the guy who was stalking her in Poor, Little, Rich Girl but still. Also, he is obviously trying to capitalize on her talent to make money as he takes her to audition for something called Little Miss America, a radio role being spearheaded by a guy named Tony Kent, played by Randolph Scott. He hears her sing and wants to hire her, but through some miscommunication thanks to Jack Haley's character, Orville, she thinks she didn't get it. So, believing that his chance of making money on her is no more, Harry takes Rebecca to live on a farm with her Aunt Miranda, played by Helen Westley, and her cousin Gwen, played by Gloria Stuart. Now Aunt Miranda is a slightly bitter woman who hates show business people. She says she'll take Rebecca, but Harry can never come back for her. Gee, I hope he doesn't come back and try to take her later!!! Yeah, if there is one lesson we can learn from these movies, it's that if someone leaves a Shirley Temple on your doorstep, they'll be back for her.

In a crazy twist, the house next to Aunt Miranda's is owned by Tony Kent, the guy who wanted to hire Rebecca to sing. What are the odds! He's there on vacation, because farmland for rich people was the Hamptons of the 1930's. He meets Rebecca and Gwen, with whom he begins a ongoing flirt session, but, of course, it takes a while for him to find out who the little girl is. When he does, he still wants her for his radio show, but Aunt Miranda says NO! I'm not kidding. She just shouts "NO!" You know, because she hates showbiz people. It also doesn't help that Tony employs a guy named Homer Busby, who was an old sweetheart of Aunt Miranda's and she is not fond of him at all anymore. And I'm sure that won't change. Not at all. Oh, yeah. They went there, alright.

A big part of the movie after this has to do with everyone trying to trick Aunt Miranda so Rebecca can get on the radio anyway. They do, but she finds out and gets mad. For like two seconds. Sometimes I wonder if this whole thing was just to pad the movie a bit, since she had to get on the radio anyway. Her being on the radio is what brings back her stepfather (no kidding!), along with his new and hilariously awful wife, and turns the last chunk of this film into a big custody battle, which is resolved as you would expect in these movies. You know, where somebody knows what should be done, but decides that Shirley getting whatever she wants is more important. And you know what? IT IS!!!

The highlights in this film certainly include the radio show wherein Shirley does a medley of some of the songs for which she has been known over the years. I can't decide if it was meta or breaking the fourth wall. You pick, but I think it might be both. Also, we get some more dancing with her and Bill Robinson, who plays Aloysius, Aunt Miranda's farmhand. I can never complain about a movie that has that in it. I should also point out that they gave us quite an interesting subplot concerning a love quadrangle. Seriously. I know I mentioned that Tony was getting flirty with Gwen, but I failed to mention that he already had a sort of girlfriend-ish named Lola. She's nuts about him, though you can see that he might not be so much into her. Who is into her? Orville, of course. He knows his chances are slim, but they do have some chemistry. Especially when they sing "Alone With You" together. It's another major highlight, I must say.

So, despite people's efforts to make me hate this movie, as I mentioned at the start of this review, I actually love it, a lot. It doesn't have a ton of music, yet it is some of the best. Same goes for the comedy, and all the performances are fantastic. It's another of the must see films. Oh, who am I kidding? All of Shirley Temple's movies are must see!

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Little Princess - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

Oh, no! Shirley Temple is eleven-years-old in this one. Eleven! Too old. TOO OLD! I kid, though of all the movies of hers I am reviewing this week, this is the one wherein she is the oldest. And whilst I do, at this point, miss some of the adorable chub that has abandoned her cheeks, I also enjoy seeing her growing up into a young lady and maturing a bit as an actress. And since this is considered a classic, it seems other people felt the same way about The Little Princess. And here's the story of it.

The Little Princess is set against the backdrop of the Second Boer War. A man named Captain Crewe is called to fight and must leave his daughter, Sara, played by Shirley, along with her pony, at Miss Minchin's School for Girls. What's that you say? You're wondering about the pony? Well, Captain Crewe is a very wealthy man and wealthy people give their kids ponies, because why not? And all of this money is why Miss Minchin is overwhelmingly, albeit insincerely, nice to Sara. Now, mind you, the actress playing Miss Minchin is the same one who played Fraulien Rottenmeir in Heidi. Call that foreshadowing, if you must.

Anyway, Sara befriends many people whilst at the school, including many of her fellow students and a servant girl named Becky, who has one of the thickest accents I have ever heard. She also becomes friends with Bertie, Miss Minchin's brother, who is played again by Arthur Treacher. Yes! And then, there is also her riding instructor, Geoffrey Hamilton, and Rose, one of her teachers. There's a bit of a subplot about Geoffrey and Rose having a secret relationship, because...I don't know, Miss Minchin is a control freak? And, sadly, not everyone can love Sara. Enter the 'mean girls' clique. No, I'm not kidding. This squad of wenches is led my Lavinia, the former top dog of the school who resents Sara for seeming to take her place as Miss Minchin's favorite. This girl, amazingly enough, is played by Marcia May Jones, who also played Clara in Heidi. Quite a shift in character, I see. And, yes, you counted correctly. Four actors who were in Heidi, were also in this. It's a thing that happened a lot back then, so, obviously, the Shirley Temple oeuvre was The Avengers of the 1930's. Actually, this was a thing back then, wherein certain actors were signed certain studios and could not make movies with anyone else. I don't think they do this anymore. But I digress. Back to the story.

We soon learn that Captain Crewe has been reported killed in the war, and his money is gone. So that means that Miss Minchin doesn't like Sara anymore, because poor people - ewww! No lie, she does a complete 180 on this little girl, making her live in the attic and work as a servant. I think she even sells off her belongings. That can't be legal. Of course, Sara rarely complains, and she does make yet another friend named Ram Dass, played by the great Cesar Romero, who lives across the way and is servant to a man named Wickham. Holy crap, Sara, don't you read Jane Austen. Never trust a man named Wickham. I kid. He's actually a nice guy.

Now the later part of the story is basically Sara being in denial about her father being dead and running off in the hopes to find him in the hospital. Also, a couple of her other friends are sent off to the war, and we get a cameo from not actually Queen Victoria. I will say this, though. The ending is quite a bit of a tearjerker.

So the highlights of The Little Princess would include pretty much anything involving Arthur Treacher, as per usual, and a very interesting dream sequence. Good times. Also, whilst other of Shirley's movies were eventually released in color instead of black and white, for better or worse, this was the first one actually filmed in Technicolor. And it was the most expensive movie of hers to be made to date. You can certainly see why. Now I don't know if I would call this one of my most favorites, but it certainly is charming enough to be enjoyable. If for no other reason than to see the amazing production and Shirley give her most mature performance at the time, I say check it out.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Little Colonel - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

This Shirley Temple movie is weird, very weird. Why, you may ask? Because in this Shirley Temple movie, she has - brace yourself - TWO PARENTS! That's right. A mom and a dad, right the heck there! Now I know that in all the films I'm discussing, she always has someone to take care of her, so don't think I'm undermining them. Anyway, though she does have mom and dad, due to the circumstances of the story, one of them isn't around the whole time. More on that in a second. Still, she does get something of another father figure in her life, and that is what the plot of the movie revolves around. Off we go.

The Little Colonel begins just after the Civil War when a young Southern woman named Elizabeth Lloyd falls in love with and marries a man from the North named Jack Sherman. You'd think that would be okay, since the war is over, but it isn't, especially when it comes to Elizabeth's father, Colonel Lloyd, played by Lionel Barrymore. Being a proud Southerner, he does not approve of their relationship and disowns his daughter. With that, Elizabeth and Jack move out West. Wow, I feel bad for us in the East. We get no love in this thing.

Cut to six years later, where we see Shirley for the first time playing Lloyd Sherman and being made an honorary colonel in the Army. Get it? SHE is the little colonel. Whilst her father remains in the West to go looking for gold, as you did in those days, Lloyd returns to the South with her mother, where they are both shunned when seen by Colonel Lloyd. Little Lloyd has no idea what's going on but is told the whole story by their housekeeper, Becky Porter, played amazingly here by Hattie McDaniel, who is hilarious in this. She is lovingly referred to as Mom Beck, and I love the way Shirley says her name always in an inquisitive way, because she always has so many questions for her. After hearing what happened, Lloyd eventually and officially meets her grandfather and promptly throws mud on him. Yep. She makes sure he knows how stubborn she can be, as she is known to stamp her foot when she gets mad, and she gets all red in the face, and she hollers back at people. Her words. They begin to have a bit of a relationship, albeit a combative one, but it's there, nonetheless.

When Jack Sherman arrives home, he is quite sick from a fever, and Lloyd must be kept away from him. This leads her to have to stay with her grandfather. Though, they had been getting to know each other, there is still tension and she really doesn't want to be there. Still, during her stay, she begins to learn about her own maternal family history. Most memorably, there is a touching scene where Little Lloyd sings a song and Colonel Lloyd tells her about his deceased wife, her grandmother. It is quite a pivotal moment in the story.

Things go nuts, though, when some former partners of Jack's show up with not so good intentions. Lloyd is forced to run to her grandfather for help and realizes that her biggest hurdle will be working her way through his stubbornness in order to help her family and waiting to see whether he decides to put aside the contention and assist them is the nail biting end to this film.

I enjoy The Little Colonel for a lot of reasons. As I said, I like the Mom Beck character, especially when she takes Shirley to the baptism, and I also like how Shirley gets a chance to be a little bratty in this film. Now it's mostly to show how Lloyd has clearly inherited the stubbornness of her grandfather, but it's still entertaining. But, without a doubt, the highlight of this film is the work that Shirley did with Bill Robinson who played Colonel Lloyd's butler, Walker. He is one of the most phenomenal and legendary dancers of all time. They worked together on no less than four films, but this was their first, and because of this casting, they are recognized as the first interracial dancing couple. Amazing. In fact, he was known for this very complicated dance done on stairs, and whilst he did not have time to teach it to Shirley in the few days that they had, he modified it for her and mimicked what she could do, in order to make it look as though she was mimicking him. And yet, though it was whittled down, the dance was still incredible. Actually, he and Shirley stayed friends, and she always said she loved him because he treated as an equal while others talked down to her. I don't doubt that he felt the same way about her for the same reason.

So if I am going to give this film some extra credit for something other than what I already mentioned, I'd have to say that this is one of the better stories where Shirley's movies are concerned. It does entertain us, but it also gives us a lot to think about.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Poor Little Rich Girl - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

I am posting this on April 23rd, the day our beloved Shirley would have turned 86-years-old. In honor of that, I have chosen today to discuss what is my all-time favorite of her movies, Poor Little Rich Girl. Oh, friends, it is just glorious. There's so much singing and dancing and funny. Also, car accidents and kidnappings, sort of, and creepy creeper dudes and a ton of things that you could get away with in the 1930's that you SO could not get away with today. More on that later. I'd say that this review will have the most spoilers this week, probably because there is so much I want to talk about, what with this being my favorite. Hope you don't mind.

In Poor Little Rich Girl, Shirley plays a poor, little, rich girl named Barbara Barry. She is the daughter of a wealthy soap manufacturer played by Michael Whalen and no one else. Get it? Because she's Shirley Temple and she's not allowed to have two parents in a movie. Anyway, Mr. Barry begins to worry about her and the fact that she's alone too much with no friends. But wait, sir, she does have friends: her dolls. Say, do you remember when I mentioned that this film had some things that you could get away with in the 1930's that you couldn't today? Well, let me introduce you to the "Oh My Goodness" song. Whoa, boy!

Okay, so in the beginning of the movie, Barbara is confined to her room because her nanny thinks she's getting sick. She feels lonely so she starts to sing to her dolls. So far, so cute. Then, we get some instrumental music and the dolls start to dance on their own. Alright, she has an active imagination. Also, I'd say those were good special effects for the time. And THEN, she re-sings the song to each of the dolls, individually. Oh, did I mention that these are dolls of the world, each one a different nationality, featuring one Dutch, one Russian, one Japanese and one African-American? And as she sings she takes on their accents and, let's say, personas...in the 1930's. Um...yeah. Look, I can't even get into this and do it justice. It's a thing you need to see for yourself. It also may be the reason why I can't find this thing on DVD. Maybe. Moving on.

Anywho, since she has no friends and no mother and he works a lot, Mr. Barry decides to send her off to boarding school, as you do when you're rich. Of course, this is not before she sings a little song she made up for him, which also has a couple of creepy lyrics, though I'm sure the intention was for them to be cute. Again, go hear it for yourself. So Barbara goes off to the train station with her nanny, Collins, to send her to school. Whilst they are waiting with their luggage, Collins realizes that she misplaced her purse somewhere outside, so she leaves Barbara alone and then gets hit by a car. Wow! First, what happened in Bright Eyes and now this? Shirley Temple sure is dangerous to be around.

It doesn't matter, though, because, after a quick conversation with one of the train station employees that also might cause you to cringe a little, she just wanders off into the crowd. Why? Because she's like 8-years-old and she loves lollipops and everyone in the world is a good person who is pure of heart. No, not even in the 30's. So she runs into an Italian organ grinder named Tony. He has a monkey, a wife and about 87 children. They take her in after she tells them that her name is Betsy Wear, an orphan who ran away because they treated her badly. She's basically pretending to be a character she read about it a book. Hey, why not? That night, we get a glimpse of this guy who we saw earlier at the train station WATCHING HER THROUGH THE WINDOW AS SHE SLEEPS! What is the actual heck? Some people say that he knew whose daughter she was and was going to go all extortionist on us. My mind goes to a more sinister place, as it tends to do. But who knows?

Anyway, the next day she dances for all the kids and Tony as he plays his organ grinding thing, whilst above live a former Vaudeville couple, Jimmy and Jerry Dolan, played by the amazing Jack Haley and Alice Faye. Man, these people are fantastic in this movie. Jimmy's working on some new tap dancing moves, and he hears someone downstairs matching him, step for step. And it's Betsy, formerly Barbara. She feeds the Dolans her sob story and they decide to take her and make her part of their act, so that they can make a comeback. Wait, what? That easy, huh? Just find a kid, take a kid, I guess.

So they rename her Bonnie, say she's their kid and put her in the act. So, to recap, she has, in about ten minutes, gone from being Barbara Berry to Betsy Wear to Bonnie Dolan. This is getting harder to follow than Face/Off. Anyway, they go on an audition for a radio spot where they sing the song "But Definitely". Now Shirley does get her part, and she's so cute. But the part where Alice Faye performs is incredible. Besides the fact that her voice is gorgeous, they shot her in a way that made her look so unbelievably beautiful. The whole thing is breathtaking.

Now whilst we follow Shirley's character, there are also other things going on. Her father, Mr. Barry, starts getting flirty with a woman he met at the start of the film named Margaret played by Gloria Stuart. You youngsters will know her as older Rose from Titanic. The problem is, though, she works for Barry's biggest competitor, the Peck's Soap Company. Oh, no! And here's the thing with these two companies. Mr. Barry is all about using the radio to do advertising through hour long entertainment shows and whatnot. Mr. Peck, on the other hand, who is played brilliantly by Claude Gillingwater, is very much against radio, though his employees are trying desperately to talk him into it. In fact, the radio show that the Dolan's were auditioning for was for the Peck's Soap Company. What a twist! And after Barbara/Betsy/Bonnie melts his heart, Peck decides to go ahead with the radio show.

At this point, we get some great musical numbers and a boat load of moments where Mr. Barry almost finds out where his daughter actually is. It's not until a night when he and Margaret are having a date and listening to the show that he realizes what's been going on. Craziness ensues after this, but not to worry. Everyone is punished according to their crimes, sort of. Okay, creepy creeper dude is punished. Everybody else becomes friends with everybody and we get a nice big musical number at the end. Good times.

And that is my most favorite movie from Shirley Temple, Poor Little Rich Girl. I know I made some jokes about some of the things that go down in this film, and I stand by what I said about some of those things being a little off, but I still love it for some reason. It's got so much good music and the dancing is phenomenal. Seriously, the last number they perform has this part where there is no music, just tapping, and it's mesmerizing. Also, we get a song about spinach. What else, as an audience, do we need.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Heidi - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

So is the book always better than the movie when it comes to adaptations? Well, I'd say usually yes. But what about Heidi? Is that book better than the movie? I have no idea. I've never read the book. Who cares, though? This is Shirley's time, and she did not write it. She was in the movie, however, and that is what we're talking about today. Again, a few spoilers.

The story of Heidi is all about a little girl named Adelheid. Relax, her nickname is Heidi, and that titular character is, of course, played by Shirley Temple. The film starts with her being brought by her Aunt Detie to the Alpine hut of her grandfather. See, Aunt Detie has been raising Heidi for years, because her parents are dead. Of course, they are. But Detie's tired of it now and decides to leave her with Adolph Kramer played by Jean Hersholt, the grandfather that Heidi doesn't really know. He takes the child in but says that Detie can never return to take her back. Gee, I hope she doesn't show up one day to try and take her back.

So Grandfather isn't exactly jovial, and it takes a while for him to warm up to Heidi. He eventually comes to love having her around , and she comes to love her life in the mountains, even making new friends like Peter, Blind Anna and Pastor Schultz. But, alas, Detie returns and full-on kidnaps Heidi in order to give her to a rich man in Frankfurt who needs a companion for his wheelchair-bound daughter. A companion? I'm sorry, is her wheelchair a TARDIS? Whatever, I guess, even back then, rich people bought friends.

Heidi, of course, does not want to be there as she wants to continue living with her grandfather, but she manages to start enjoying herself in this place as well. She becomes fast friends with Clara Sesseman, rich guy's daughter, and she gets to hang out with Arthur Treacher, who plays Andrews the butler. Who would't want to do that? However, she must also deal with Fraulein Rottenmeir (ROTTENmeir? Subtle!), who is, I don't know, the caretaker for the house and Clara, I guess, whilst her father is out of town. Yeah, she's a "B" alright, but there always has to be one person who is blind to the charms of Shirley Temple. Anyway, though she does enjoy herself, Heidi still longs to go home to her grandfather and Clara promises that she can, once her father, Herr Sesseman, returns. Still, Herr Sesseman had heard untrue things about the Grandfather and thinks Heidi would be better with them.

It's at this point where it really hits the fan. No lie! There's more kidnapping, cops, gypsies, snow globes and porcelain dolls going kablooey! It's amazing, albeit, done very quickly. Like in the last five or ten minutes, a ton of things happen, and then it just ends. Because we got wrap this up and give everybody a happy ending where the last thing we see is Shirley smiling into the camera. Roll credits.

So Heidi came out at a time when Shirley's career was flagging a bit, because she was getting older. A whole nine-years-old. Still, she remained a box office success, and that's all that matters in Hollywood, am I right? For real, I do like Heidi. It's good for some laughs, especially when it comes to Arthur Treacher, and I like the "In Our Little Wooden Shoes" song. Though I have no idea why it was in there, other than Shirley wanted that dream sequence and we wanted to make Shirley happy. But it's well made and it has a good cast. It's one you should see.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Monday, April 21, 2014

Bright Eyes - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

I think, if there is one word that could describe Shirley Temple throughout her life, it would be adorable. And it is in this 1934 film, Bright Eyes, that I believe she is at her most adorable. It helps that she was barely six-years-old, as it does with most of us. I suppose I could say that this was one of her first films, but according to my info, big part or small part, credited or uncredited, this was the thirteenth film in which she appeared and the tenth in 1934 alone. Wow! Her name is Shirley, and she works hard for the money. Although, I think it was this, along with Stand Up and Cheer and Baby, Take a Bow, that really got her noticed. Why? Well, let's get to the story. And their may be a few spoilers.

In Bright Eyes, Shirley plays a little girl named Shirley. Why not? Shirley lives with her mother, Mary, who is a live-in maid. And where is her father, you may ask? Well, he's dead, of course, because Shirley is never allowed to have two parents in her movies. Okay, sometimes she does, but it is rare. Here, he was an aviator who died in a plane crash, and his best friend and godfather to Shirley is a guy named Loop, played by James Dunn. Most of the movie is about the relationship between these two, and it is really sweet. Shirley is also close with the rest of the aviators who were all friends of her father's and have almost adopted her in a way. But not everyone loves Shirley that much. I know, right?

The people for whom Mary works as a maid are the Smythes. We have the husband and wife, J. Wellington (of course, that's his name) and Anita, as well as their lovely, sunshine of a little daughter named Joy, who is just about Shirley's age. And when I say lovely and sunshine, I mean she is kind of evil. Jane Withers played her, and I'm going to talk more about her later, because she's worth it.

Now not everyone in the family dislikes Shirley and her mother. Uncle Ned, played Charles Sellon, is quite fond of both of them, even giving Shirley the titular nickname of Bright Eyes. Still, Uncle Ned is not fond of much else, least of all his own family. He is quite aware that they are keeping him around in order to also keep around his bank account. There is also Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, the butler and cook, and they adore Shirley and her mother as well.

The story begins just before Christmas, and we get to see that little Shirley is so excited. She knows she won't get much, but she's grateful for everything. Yeah, she's basically a teeny, tiny, perfect angel. What she is truly excited about, though, is a party she will be having with Loop and all the aviators in a airplane. And she loves airplanes. It's during this party that she sings her iconic song "On the Good Ship Lollipop"...to a bunch of grown men. And, no, it's not creepy. I don't care what anyone says, it's not. It's sweet as all heck, if your mind is proper. However, things take a sad turn when, on the way to said party, Mary is hit by a car and dies.

After this, the dilemma is what is going to happen to Shirley. Not because nobody wants her, but because a ton of people want her. Uncle Ned wants to adopt her and the Smythes are going along with it to keep the money. Loop wants her, but, despite being her godfather, the odds seem against him because he's a single guy with NO money. The Higgins would take her, but they don't have the means. Even Loop's ex-fiance, Adele, who happens to be in town and happens to be a cousin of Mrs. Smythe (what a twist), has taken a liking to her. Shirley loves them all and would be happy with any of them. She would actually prefer all of them. Does she get what she wants? Does everybody? Well, you'll have to see the movie. Warning, though, it is a pretty major tear jerker. That's right, people. Shirley cries; you cry. It's a rule.

Okay, I'm going take this opportunity, as I promised, to go back and discuss one of Shirley's co-stars. Now, I have to say, everyone was great in this movie and played their roles perfectly, but if anyone nearly stole the show from little Miss Temple herself, it would be Jane Withers as Joy. HOLY CRAP! This girl was fantastic! She was basically the polar opposite of Shirley. Joy was a loud, spoiled, ungrateful brat, and she was so mean. In fact, even as a child, Jane Withers wasn't sure if she wanted the part, because she knew she would have to be mean to Shirley and that might cause audiences to hate her. A plausible concern, indeed, and that might have actually happened. However, they were smart enough to have her play it from a highly comedic place. Yes, Joy was super-mean, but she did it such an incredibly hilarious way that you just enjoy the performance and move on. Hmmm? So we love our little protagonist, but we get a bigger kick out of the villain. In other words, Shirley and Jane are basically Thor and Loki, but even cuter...maybe.

Bright Eyes has always been one of my favorite Shirley Temple movies. Sure, it's one of the sadder ones, but, as I mentioned, it is very iconic, if for no other reason than the "Lollipop" song. That aside, there is a strong cast supporting her and the story is great. And it was just the beginning for Shirley, and a good one at that.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Sunday, April 20, 2014

My Tribute To Shirley Temple

Greetings Pups,

As everyone knows, a couple of months ago we lost a national treasure. That being Shirley Temple Black, or just Shirley Temple, or, heck, just Shirley. Honestly, for pretty much my entire life, if someone said the name Shirley, hers is the face that would pop into my head. And with good reason. I've been a fan of hers forever, and I will be one forever. I admired her as a performer and as a person, and that's not always something I say about many celebrities. I could always say it about her though.

Now when she passed away, of course, I made mention of it here, and I said that I had been planning to do a week long tribute to her, by way of some reviews. Well, this week is when her birthday is, so I'm taking the opportunity to do it now. It's the least I can do to show how much I appreciated everything she did. And I hope everyone enjoys it.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why I Love DVD Commentaries...Usually

Greetings Pups,

I like to know stuff. I do. When I watch a movie or a TV show, a lot of times, I'm really interested in how things are done or the stories behind the scenes or just how the people working together got along. It's why I am ever so grateful for DVD commentaries. My word, they have brought such joy to my life.

Yes, I am one of those people who gets giddy when I see that there is a commentary in the special features, or, better yet, multiple commentaries. I don't know what it is, but I find it quite fascinating to hear those who worked so hard making a movie tell us about everything that went into it. It almost can make you see the film in a different light, for better or worse, and yes, there is the risk of things changing in a way you wish they hadn't. Frankly, I think it's worth the risk, especially when you can get some amazingly great commentaries to some fantastic movies.

Some that I really enjoy are the ones by Cameron Crowe for Vanilla Sky and Almost Famous. That last one featured his mom, which was, at times, hilarious. I get a kick out of the one for School of Rock, hearing Jack Black talk about the great time he had with the kids. I absolutely love the Rocky Balboa commentary where I can listen to Sylvester Stallone being his brilliant and inspiring self. Yeah, I said it. And, of course, I adore my White Christmas DVD with a play by play from Ms. Rosemary Clooney. I mean, come on now.

However, not only do movies have these, but a lot of television shows feature commentaries on their DVDs. Yay for that! And some of them are quite generous. I think every single episode I own of Leverage has one, and how great is it when I get to hear Michael Rosenbaum stop being all broody as Lex Luthor and bring the funny for a bunch of Smallville episodes. I think I even heard him do a Seinfeld impression one time. And I remember sitting there listening to the creators of Lost talk over an episode as I desperately hoped for them to answer at least one question for me as to what the heck was going on. Okay, maybe these things didn't always bring me joy. I kid...a little.

Although, I suppose I should take the time to say this. Yes, I do love commentaries, if they are good. Holy crap, I have heard a few that were so not that. I would say that some of the worst are pretty much just really boring. I won't be rude and mention names, but if you've heard them, then you know. I'm not saying the ones I think are boring cannot be informative. They probably are, but I like to be entertained whilst I am being informed. It is possible to do that.

Now that brings me to a major reason why I love these things. You just really never know what you're going to get. I have to say there are some times when the commentary can be just as entertaining, if not more so, than the film itself. Crazy, I know, but in some cases, it's true. There's a treasure trove out there, I'm not kidding. You wanna hear Vincent D'Onofrio mention Vanilla Ice, you wanna hear Mickey Rooney express the fact that he SO does not want to be there, you wanna hear Joel Schmacher basically apologize for the bat nipples? Well, there it is. Right the heck there in a commentary. They are where awesome stuff is hidden away, waiting to be found. I mean, I could go on and on and mention a ton more films and shows that do this, but there are just too many. So go and seek, my friends.

To be honest, there is one more thing. I know that a lot of the people interested in commentaries are aspiring film makers who want to know what goes into a big project like that. It's actually a good thing for them to do, I think. Now I don't know if I personally will ever make a movie, but I do like to know what goes into one. I know there are plenty of documentaries and featurettes that can give you some info, but there's just something satisfying about watching a scene and hearing about how it was made as you watch it, or hearing someone tell a story about something as it happens. For me, it just makes me appreciate the work so much more. I know there are plenty of people who make movies that don't seem to care too much about it. Again, no names, but they know who they are. Still, I know that there are film makers who do nothing short of pour their heart and soul into their work in order to make something that they are proud of and that we can enjoy.

So, thanks, good directors and producers and writers and actors and whatnot, for making all these fantastic movies. And then for telling us all about it.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Friday, April 11, 2014

The One Seasoner's Club - Moonlight

Greetings Pups,

Okay, I haven't done one of these in a while. Are vampires still popular? Maybe. Well, whatever. Today, I'm going to talk about a show wherein the lead character was a vampire. And not a particularly bad guy vampire, because that's how they are these days. Hey, you wanna be a mean vampire, fine, but you aren't getting the lead in our show...or book...or movie. So let's talk about Moonlight.

Moonlight premiered on CBS in the fall of 2007, and it starred Alex O'Loughlin. Most people know him now from the new Hawaii Five-O or, perhaps, from another show I talked about here, Three Rivers. Anyway, he plays a guy named Mick St. John, an 85-year-old vampire who is also a private investigator. Well, that's new. And I must point out that, when I said he was an 85-year-old vampire, I did not mean that he had been one for 85 years. No, he had only been one for barely over fifty. That was one of the criticisms of the show, like, as a vampire, he should have been older. Although, I did hear someone make a joke that, at a mere 85, he was a little young for CBS. Ha! I see from where they were coming, though. I mean, you're always going to have newbie vampires hanging around, but your leads should be at least a hundred. That's just how I feel. Plus, the flashbacks weren't as elaborate or interesting when they were only taking us as far back as the fifties, as opposed to the 17th century or something. You know, like Angel. Yeah, we'll get those comparisons in a minute.

So we can't have a hot, male vampire without a human love interest, can we? Nope, because, again, that's how it is these days. To fill that role we have Beth Turner, an internet reporter, played by Sophia Myles, who ironically played a vampire in Underworld. As a child, Beth was kidnapped and then rescued by a stranger, and that stranger was Mick. Twenty-two years later, she meets him again, though does not initially realize that he was the one who saved her. Of course, everything comes out eventually, and they begin to build a relationship, whilst dealing with the fact that she is human and he is vampire. Not so easy, though, because she has a boyfriend named Josh, played by Jordan Belfi, who is a District Attorney. There you go, conflict.

Now we've also got some other vampires on the show, because no one wants Mick to be too lonely. I'm kidding. We always want them to be alone and depressed and sad and whatnot, because that's sexy...apparently. Anyway, we have Jason Dohring as Josef Kostan. He is a 410-year-old vampire (now that's what I'm talkin' about!) who is Mick's friend and mentor, though they are pretty different from one another. Mick is a bit brooding, whilst Josef is quite ostentatious with every aspect of his life, from his actions to his belongings and living arrangements to the fact that he regularly had women over to give him blood and, I'm sure, other things. But he was pretty awesome and even fun, as I recall. Also, there was Shannyn Sossamon as Coraline Duvall, Mick's sire and ex-wife. She was also quite old, around 340. She returns at one point using a pseudonym and appearing to be very different from when she was last seen. I actually found the story line with her rather interesting.

Some other cast members included Jacob Vargas, Brian J. White and Tami Roman, who you may remember from the second season of The Real World. My word, that was a long time ago. Actually, I really liked the supporting cast on this show. They were just the right amount of entertaining and, well, supporting. What are the odds?

Oh, I suppose I should talk about what the particular vampire rules are in this universe, since everyone just makes up their own for whatever they're doing. So, in this world, we do follow the basics of them needing human blood to survive, the idea of the sire, immortality, and superhuman abilities. However, whilst silver and fire can be toxic, crucifixes, garlic and Holy water have no effect. Also, they can go out in the sun. Relax. They do not sparkle, and thank you very much for that, show, but what the daylight does is weaken them. So they can be out in the day, just not for long. Fair enough. Also, this made Mick always have to wear super-cool sunglasses.

Now why did this show not make it very far? Well, the critics weren't exactly kind to it from the beginning. It was considered not so great when it came to the writing, and the acting, and the chemistry between those doing the acting. I think the only person who got really good feedback was Jason Dohring, and it was well-deserved. And oh, the Angel comparisons. I suppose I can see from where they were coming on that point, too, but it is difficult to come up with a completely original idea to begin with. However, once one starts with a familiar foundation, one must build upon it with new and unique ideas. I'm not so sure that Moonlight was great at doing that. At least, not within the year they were allotted. And as a writer, I would agree, somewhat, that the writing here wasn't the best in all of television. But, again, it could have improved.

So did this show deserve a second season? You know, I'm going give it a verdict of maybe. The thing is that Moonlight was one of the shows that fell victim to the writer's strike of 2008. Now I think it did have something of a fan following, but not a super strong one. Factor in that, the not-so-stellar reviews from the critics and the strike, and it kind of didn't stand a chance. Still, I personally got a bit of a kick out of it, and I think it was a show that had some potential and may have hit its stride, given some more time. Even a lot of those critics who were harsh in the beginning made mention that it did improve as it went on. I guess not enough.

If this interests you at all, the show is available on DVD. I'd say it's worth a watch, especially if you dig the vampire thing. Actually, as you have your 'popcorn movies', I might be inclined to call this a 'popcorn show'. It's kind of kitschy and could entertain you a bit. Or just watch it for the Alex O'Loughlin. That's why I watched it in the first place.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Kid Could Paint That - Documentary Review

Greetings Pups,

As I've said numerous times, I am a big fan of the arts, but not such a big fan of kids. So...here's a review of a documentary about a kid who maybe does art. I could go either way on this one, my friends. Be prepared.

My Kid Could Paint That is a 2007 documentary about a four-year-old girl named Marla Olmstead who starts to get a ton of attention for how well she can paint abstract works of art. Question mark. I say "question mark", because slowly but surely this film turns from being about how amazingly gifted this child is as an artist to being about whether or not this child IS actually amazingly gifted as an artist.

At the start, we follow Marla and her family, including her dad, Mark, her mom, Laura, and her little brother, Zane, as she begins to get noticed by various art collectors and media in general. We see how all of this affects the family, how the parents react in different ways to the demand on their daughter, and how they make decisions concerning her. At first glance, it seems to be an in depth look at an ordinary family that is going through an extraordinary experience.

Things begin to make a change after Marla is featured in a 60 Minutes II piece wherein her abilities are called into question. They even have a child psychologist, who studies the arts in gifted children, chime in on what she can do. Ultimately, after viewing various videos of Marla actually painting, she concludes that the girl isn't doing anything that any other child wouldn't do. Basically, she's pushing paint around on a canvas. But it's not so much about that process, rather than the end result.

First of all, whilst her paintings are obviously abstract, you can see that there is something of a structure to a lot of them, if that makes any sense. Like if you look hard enough, you can see things. I don't think all abstract art does this. Soon people begin to take notice that the paintings she does when she's on camera appear to be different from those she has done off camera. By that, they mean the ones we don't see being created are better. This starts speculation that, perhaps, she isn't doing these paintings all on her own. Her family and their motives begin to raise suspicions, especially when it comes to her father, who was, himself, an amateur painter. It's as though everyone needs a gimmick and the idea of a four-year-old doing these paintings is the one they chose. And the film really becomes a "Did she or didn't she?" plot.

In the end, the film makers pretty much leave the audience to look over the evidence, if you will, and decide for themselves what is real and what isn't, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There was some controversy, however, on how it seemed that the director, who initially was quite friendly with and supportive of the family, almost started to turn on them, hoping for a big "A-ha!" twist if he could discover that they were lying. I'm not sure if I really got that. At least, not as much as other people. To me, he appeared to just be getting as suspicious as everyone, and rightfully so. And after watching some of the interviews and videos, I certainly began to get suspicious of these parents, particularly, again, of the father. He seemed a little off to me, and the mother just looked so uncomfortable with the whole situation. Now, I don't want to judge them or make assumptions, since maybe this was just how they ended up being portrayed in the film, but it makes sense to wonder.

One of the interesting aspects of this documentary was that they also gave some great commentary on the art buying public. It kind of shows that rich people buy, literally, anything if they think it will give them status. I mean, I know a lot of us can complain about rich people buying things that they don't need, but this reminds us that they sometimes buy things they might not even want. Now I won't turn this into a condemnation on the 1% and their spending habits. Look, if you have money, spend it on whatever you like. I'm not going to judge you. We are all frivolous from time to time, no matter how much money we have, and we buy things we don't need. However, buying things you don't want, just because it's going to make you look good or high class, is something that maybe no one should really do. At least, not a lot. Don't get me wrong. When I make my first gazillion, I might go out there and get myself a Van Gogh or a Monet or a McCartney (yeah, that's right!), but that's because I really like them, not because I'm supposed to have them. It's the same reason I'm going to buy myself a Chanel bag. Also, because I deserve one. EVERY WOMAN deserves a Chanel bag. You're welcome, ladies. But I'm getting off topic here.

In conclusion, I'm going to say that this is a really good documentary. It will definitely keep your interest and make you think, which is something I love in film. And if you're wondering what is my opinion on whether or not little Marla did these paintings all on her own, I can say without any doubt or question...I don't know. Yeah. Again, I think that's another great thing about this movie. It can make you go back and forth in your head about what you think is for real and what isn't. If I have to state what I most think may have happened here, I think it's possible that Marla did paint on those canvasses, like any other kid would do, and then maybe someone else came along and added a little something to them. MAYBE. I'm not saying that this is what happened; I'm merely saying that it is a possibility. However, do I hope that this is what went on? Absolutely not! I don't want this to be a case of shady parents getting caught using and exploiting their child. I want it to be a case of parents who were blessed with an extremely gifted child who can create amazing artwork, and they just want the world to see. That is my piece. But with all the subjectivity in the art world, what with abstract art and even Dadaism, who can ever say what's good or not, or what's legit or not. I suppose it all comes down to what a person likes to look at, and I like to look at this documentary. So I say give My Kid Could Paint That a glance, too. It's worth your time.

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quiz Show - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

You know what I hate? I hate when a great movie is released, and, at the time, it gets a boatload of critical acclaim and such, then it kind of just goes away. I hate it when people forget that certain great movies existed. To be fair, those people probably forgot because they merely heard of these films and did not see them. Case in point, one of my all-time favorite movies that I can't talk to anyone about because apparently no one I know has seen the darn thing, Quiz Show.

Quiz Show is a 1994 film, directed by Robert Redford, about the 1950's quiz show (WHAT!) scandal. And if there is one thing this movie teaches us it's that the reality show television phenomenon did not start recently, nor did the crookedness within it. Reality TV started with game shows, where average people could become well-known to the public for various reasons, and for better or worse. In this case we see that, even from those early days, things weren't always as real as they were purported to be. And here is what happened in both the movie and for realsies.

In the 1950's, there was a game show called Twenty-One where contestants would try to rack up 21 points by answering trivia questions with different levels of difficulty. After a simple, opening scene that mentions Sputnik, because...topical, and the credits, we begin with the taping of an episode wherein Herbert Stempel is back for yet another time, trying to win some more cash. Stempel, by the way, is portrayed by the disgustingly underrated, master of acting, John Turturro. Yes, prepare yourselves for a performance that will begin another round of "Screw You, Oscars, For Not Giving This Guy AT LEAST a Nomination!" Trust me. Now Stempel, at this point, has been a contestant for quite a while, because he is actually very intelligent, albeit, maybe not educated by way of a ton of degrees, as far as I know. More of an autodidact, he is, from being an avid reader. And, personality-wise, he is kind of an underdog, blue collar and all that, from Queens, which is "not New York", according to someone in this movie. Still, it makes him a favorite with the audience. Also, he's Jewish. I bring this up only because it is brought up quite a lot as a plot point in the story. After a while, the guys running the show decide that he has been on long enough and make him an offer to leave the show. More accurately, he is asked to throw an easy question and, in exchange, he is promised everything from cash to a spot on a panel show, whatever that is. I think it might be like a talk show of yesteryear or something. But who will replace him on the game show?

Enter Charles Van Doren, a handsome, Columbia University instructor from a distinguished and scholarly family. Basically, they see him as the polar opposite of Herbert Stempel. Van Doren is played by Ralph Fiennes. I know, right?. Early 90's Ralph Fiennes cast as the good looking guy? What a shock! I kid...sort of. He actually also gives a phenomenal performance in this film, which you will notice if you aren't distracted by the way they constantly make him look like his face has been kissed by the morning angels! Too much? Sorry. Moving on. Anyway, the producers decide that he is the perfect man to be their new, long-lasting champion. But his staying on the show relies heavily on whether or not Stempel agrees to the deal. Spoilers, he does. But that happens pretty early on, so...spoilers...kind of.

In the midst of all this, a young, congressional lawyer, Richard Goodwin, played by Rob Morrow, begins to investigate rumors about some game shows possibly being rigged. I assume that congress gets involved because it has to do with fraud and conspiracy. Yeah, I'm not smart about stuff like that. Anyway, after this, we follow Goodwin in his investigation, Van Doren as he deals with sudden fame and other things, and Stempel as he tries to get justice for himself, since he feels as though it was he who got cheated. That is all the detail I will go into, because this is a movie that needs to be watched. And though I'm sure many people know of this story at its barest minimum, like I did, this film really takes you inside what went on and into the lives of those involved.

Now, I know I already mentioned a few of the cast members, but let me bring up a few more. And HOLY CRAP, this film has a stellar cast. We get Hank Azaria (P.S. Love when he does drama!), Mira Sorvino, David Paymer, Christopher McDonald, Martin Scorcese (just acting this time) and the great Paul Scofield in an Oscar nominated role. Okay, so they got THAT one right. Actually, I have to say that this is one of the most perfectly cast films I have ever seen. I mean, every single person was absolutely right for the part they played. It is a good thing when that happens. A very, very good thing.

And speaking of the characters, going back to the two main guys, there is something I have to say. I love how they are shown here. I love that, whilst it would be easy to put them in the positions of protagonist and antagonist, neither of them is either of those things. Neither is the full on villain or victim. In fact, they both fall very close to the same place between those two archetypes. It is shown that they both make big mistakes and are both taken advantage of in some capacity. They are not presented just as obvious characters, but well-rounded, real human beings.

So, if you haven't yet, go watch Quiz Show. I know you might think that, based on this plot, it won't be all that exciting. To be honest, it's not exciting in your traditional sense, but it is engaging. It's not a few big, explosive jumps to get to the end, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's a story you follow one beat at a time until you reach the conclusion. A conclusion, by the way, which consists of one of my favorite and most satisfying moments in film of all time. Quiz Show is smart and subtle, well-written, well-directed and obviously, well-acted. It's just plain good. So go see it, then go tell others to see it. This movie deserves it...times ten! Oh, heck, why not? Times Twenty-One!

Love and full moons,

Becky the Writer