Take 3: Anna and the King Review

I know what you’re thinking, “What does Anna and the King have to do with the number five”? Well, I’m glad you asked! As Rebecca has stated in the announcement post for the Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon, all entries had to have something to do with the number five, to commemorate the event’s fifth anniversary. For my selection, Anna and the King, which stars Bai Ling, was released in 1999, five years after The Crow premiered. From what I’ve heard, The Crow was Bai Ling’s first American/English film. Last year, when I reviewed the 1956 adaptation of The King and I, I mentioned Anna and the King was a non-musical version of the story. As I write this review, I realize I haven’t seen many non-musical film adaptations of musicals. Sure, I’ve heard of these types of productions. But, off the top of my head, a non-musical adaptation doesn’t immediately come to mind. So, with this review, I will expand my cinematic horizons!

Anna and the King poster created by Fox 2000 Pictures, Lawrence Bender Productions, and 20th Century Fox

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Anna and the King is a drama film with a more serious tone. Therefore, Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Anna is sterner in nature. However, Anna also comes across as being fair. A great example of this is when she is disciplining both her son and King Mongkut’s eldest son. In the evening, when the royal family is bringing Anna dinner, Jodie presents a mild-mannered sweetness that feels genuine. As she’s realizing the dinner is for her and not King Mongkut’s son, Anna never displays any meanness toward her student, as she truly wants to teach him a valuable lesson. King Mongkut himself is also a stern, yet fair character. Chow Yun-fat balances the seriousness and loving sides of his character consistently throughout the film. In one of their many conversations, King Mongkut is asked by Anna if his wives ever get jealous of one another. Even though this question is a personal one, King Mongkut never appears offended. Instead, his calm, collected, and approachable demeanor make the conversation less awkward than it could have gotten. One of these aforementioned wives is Tuptim. Portrayed by Bai Ling, Tuptim is an emotional character that expresses herself in subtle ways. It’s not until she faces a life-or-death moment where more of her emotions are drawn forward. While I won’t spoil Anna and the King for those of my readers who might be interested in seeing it, Bai delivers on the emotional intensity needed for a moment like the one I just mentioned. But even outside of that moment, Bai knows how to use emotion in her and her character’s favor.

The set design: Anna and the King is a beautiful looking film! One of the reasons why is its set design. Everywhere you look, exquisite detail and impressive structure helped elevate the world around Anna and King Mongkut. The royal family takes a trip in a massive river boat. This boat was a deep blue with gold etched artwork. At the head of the boat, a set of giant golden dragons adorn this beautiful mode of transportation. On the walls of King Mongkut’s palace, a full-length mural consistently coats the interior perimeter of rooms and even a hallway. The mural itself appears painted, depicting the natural landscape of Siam. Smaller elements like the ones I mentioned added to the overall beauty of the set design!

The costume design: Similar to the 1956 adaptation, the costume design in Anna and the King was simply elegant! One notable example was Anna’s reception gown. At this event, Anna wore a full length, white gown. The off the shoulder bodice and sparkly skirt was not only eye-catching, it also felt reminiscent of Belle’s gown from the 1991 animated film, Beauty and the Beast. At this same reception, King Mongkut’s wives also wear beautiful gowns. Tuptim’s was especially pretty, a simple yet classy red dress. What also complimented Tuptim’s ensemble was a sparkly gold and bronze crown that adorned her dark hair. The exquisiteness of the costume design carried the spirit of The King and I story!

The Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room

What I didn’t like about the film:

The war story-line: Because Anna and the King is a non-musical version of The King and I, there needs to be something to replace the musical numbers. In the 1999 adaptation, that replacement was a subplot about a war between the Siamese and the Burmese. While it was interesting to explore the tense side of ruling a country, I found this subplot to be the weakest one. That subplot was drawn-out, getting resolved at the very end of the movie. With the run-time being two hours and twenty-eight minutes, the war story-line felt longer than it really was.

Under-utilized characters: Anna and the King contains a larger cast of characters. Therefore, some of them are bound to receive less screen-time than others. Tuptim was, once again, one of those characters. After seeing how under-utilized Rita Moreno’s talents were in the 1956 adaptation, I was hoping Bai Ling would receive more screen time. Sadly, she only appeared in a handful of scenes. In the 1956 adaptation, Tuptim created a play based on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, giving her a reason to stay on screen a little bit longer. Because there is no Uncle Tom’s Cabin play in the 1999 adaptation and because only King Mongkut’s oldest son reads Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tuptim, in Anna and the King, has less reasons to stay on screen.

No musical Easter eggs: Before I wrote this review, I was well aware Anna and the King was not a musical film. But because the film is an adaptation of a musical, it was a missed opportunity to not include musical related Easter eggs. In the 1956 adaptation, King Mongkut says “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” on multiple occasions, whenever he had something important to say. In the 1999 adaptation, however, King Mongkut never says the aforementioned quote. One of the songs from the 1956 adaptation is ‘Shall We Dance?’. During both versions of this story, King Mongkut and Anna dance with one another. However, it would have been nice to hear one of them say “shall we dance.”

Hand-written letter image created by Veraholera at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Veraholera – Freepik.com</a>. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/love-letter-pattern_1292902.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Anna and the King is a fine, competently made film. The movie’s creative team clearly knew what they doing, displaying the clear direction they wanted to take their adaptation. But compared to the 1956 musical, I find myself liking the musical more. Without the musical numbers, it feels like the story is missing something. Even though the 1999 adaptation found a replacement for the lack of musical numbers, I was wishing they hadn’t been omitted. I would have even accepted Easter eggs related to the musical, such as quotes from the songs woven into the dialogue. But despite its shortcomings, Anna and the King does attempt to make meaningful changes that were not in the 1956 musical. One of these changes is giving Anna’s son, Louis, and some of King Mongkut’s children their own unique personalities and a little more involvement in the overall story. As for Bai Ling’s involvement in the film, I wish she was given more on-screen appearances. But because Anna and the King is based on The King and I, which also showed Tuptim in only a handful of scenes, maybe I was naïve to think more material was available?

Overall score: 7.2 out of 10

Have you seen Anna and the King or The King and I? Can you think of any musicals that received a non-musical adaptation? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Redwood Curtain’: From Stage to Screen

The Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Redwood Curtain is based on a Broadway play. It was also released in 1995. With these facts in mind, I found Redwood Curtain to be the perfect subject for the Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon. Prior to this event, I saw the movie and read the play. This lent itself to an interesting idea. Discussions about film adaptations often feature films adapted from books, short stories, or poems. Movies born from plays aren’t often included in the conversation. So, I decided to write an editorial highlighting the similarities and differences between the Redwood Curtain play and film. This article contains spoilers for the story of Redwood Curtain.

The Fifth Broadway Bound Blogathon banner created by Rebecca from Taking Up Room

Movie-Exclusive Characters

On the stage, Redwood Curtain contains three characters: Lyman, Geri, and Geneva. While there are other characters in the story, they’re only mentioned within the dialogue. Geri’s father, Laird, is one of these characters. According to the script, Laird was a desk-jockey lieutenant in the Vietnam War. This means he “didn’t see a day’s fighting, to come completely unglued in the war.” Laird taught Geri how to play the piano simply to entertain dinner guests. He also developed a dependence on alcohol and died two years prior to the play’s events. Laird is even described as a “drunk.” Because Laird never physically appears in the play, all the information about him is hearsay.

John Lithgow portrays Laird in the film adaptation. The film version of Laird did fight in the Vietnam War, though his specific role was never mentioned. Like in the play, he develops a dependence on alcohol. However, this dependence was Laird’s attempt to cope with war-related trauma. Toward the end of the movie, Geneva shares with Geri how Laird wanted to be a pianist, but didn’t feel he was talented enough. So, he became invested in Geri’s piano career, appearing to live vicariously through his daughter. His presence in the movie shows the audience the strained, yet close relationship between Geri and Laird. Laird’s death within the film’s first half and Geri’s discovery that Laird is her biological father are presented as bittersweet moments.

Redwood Curtain poster created by Chris/Rose Productions, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, American Broadcasting Company (ABC), and Republic Pictures (II)

Expanding the World

The majority of Redwood Curtain’s story in the play takes place in Arcata’s redwood forest. A few scenes happen in Geneva’s house, Geneva’s car, or a local coffee house. Geri’s first encounter with Lyman is when the play starts, with the lead-up to this moment woven into the dialogue. Events such as Laird’s death take place off stage, prior to the play’s story. The creative team behind a play is given a limited amount of space and time to work with. Therefore, designating a few key locations makes sense among these limitations. In the Redwood Curtain play, Geneva’s house is described as “a large and very fine Victorian house.” The script states her house contains a music room as well. When presenting this play at a theater, only the home’s sitting room and music room would be staged and the style of the house would be heavily implied through décor and set structure.

A plus side to film-making is the freedom to take the story wherever the film-maker chooses. If a movie’s creative team desires to adapt a stage play, that story has the opportunity to grow beyond the boundaries of a stage. In the case of the Redwood Curtain film, the events from the play are contained in the story’s second half. That means the movie’s first half takes place in and around the Riordan family home. This inclusion not only expands the world the characters exist in, but also gives the audience a glimpse into Geri’s world that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Filming on location provides benefits to visual storytelling. However, that creative decision has its own limitations. Using Geneva’s house in the movie as an example, a location scout might not be able to secure a location similar to one described in the source material. Even if they succeeded, there’s a process in order to film at a residential building, especially if it’s someone’s real-life home. That’s probably why Geneva’s house is presented as a smaller log cabin with a large deck, but no music room.

A picture of the Redwood Curtain play from my copy of the play’s script. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen

Geri’s Motive

In both the play and movie, Geri attempts to search for her biological father. This attempt is the story’s main conflict. Geri’s reason for her search was different in each version of Redwood Curtain. In the play, Geri knew some information about her past. Prior to the start of the play, Geri discovered Lyman tried to help her and her biological mother get to the United States. The script mentions that Geri began her search when she was twelve. Her search turns into an obsession, to the point of abandoning her musical endeavors. In fact, the play’s synopsis states Redwood Curtain “is a story of obsession and discovery.” Though the information Geri received was partly true, she eventually learns more through her interactions with Lyman.

The movie version of Geri has three motives for her search. Wanting to receive answers about her past was the first motive. The film’s script heavily implies Geri did not know much about her past until the events of the movie. Yes, she was aware she was adopted. But Geri’s belief that Lyman was her biological father stemmed from a photo and a note bearing the name ‘Raymond Farrow’ that Laird gave his daughter after he died. At various moments in the movie, Geri expresses how she feels she doesn’t belong. She even shares these thoughts with the Riordan’s house-keeper, Matilda. These feelings fuel Geri’s journey of self-discovery and finding her biological family. Her third and final motive is her music, which plays a crucial role in Geri’s life. Geri’s believes if she finds her biological father, she will be able to incorporate more emotion into her musical pieces.

String of musical notes image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/pentagram-vector_710290.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a> <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com. 

Significance of the Redwoods

As I’ve said before on my blog, a film’s title can serve as a promise to the audience. In the case of Redwood Curtain, the audience should expect not only to see redwoods, but also to receive an explanation of what the “redwood curtain” is. The “redwood curtain,” in both the play and movie, is the redwood forest itself, where Vietnam veterans choose to live their lives. This is one of the reasons Geri meets with Lyman in the forest. While Geri learns about the “redwood curtain” in each version of the story, the way she learns about it is different. An Arcata Union reporter provides the explanation for the “redwood curtain” to Geri in the play. In the movie, she is given this same explanation by a gentleman working at Arcata’s veterans’ office.  

As I mentioned above, the majority of Redwood Curtain’s story in the play takes place in Arcata’s redwood forest. The redwood forest in the movie only appears in the story’s second half. Because of how often or little this location appears in the story, its association with the characters and the themes connected to it depend on these appearances. Topics relating to the environment are brought up throughout the play. When Lyman asks Geri why she’s visiting Arcata, she tells him she’s studying horticulture and botany at the local college. Geri also claims to have magical powers, which allow her to do things such as control the weather. Within the play, Geneva talks about how her family’s portion of the redwood forest is being bought out by investors. While this part of the story is also in the movie, it is discussed in more detail in the play, from Geneva bringing up the specifics of the sale itself to describing Arcata’s weather. The theme of family connects with the redwood forest in the movie. The Riordan family owns a portion of the redwood forest. While Geri stays at Geneva’s house, Geneva shows her niece a wall of family photos. These photos showcase various members of the Riordan family in the redwood forest. The number of photos and whether or not the photos are in black-and-white indicate how the forest has been in the family for generations.

Wellbeing of Veterans

When I brought up the movie version of Laird, I mentioned how he depended on alcohol to cope with war-related trauma. I also mentioned how Geri learns about the “redwood curtain” at Arcata’s veterans’ office. These are just two examples of how the movie includes the subject of veterans’ well-being. In the history of Hallmark films, veterans have been presented with a sense of reverence and respect. Veteran-related issues have also been included in Hallmark’s programming. An example is a veteran struggling with trauma in Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Lost Without You. Even though the film adaptation of Redwood Curtain was released a decade before Hallmark debuted the Hallmark Channel, this tradition can be seen and felt in this Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation. At Laird’s funeral, Geri shares with Geneva how she wished the family had addressed Laird’s alcohol dependency sooner. Geneva reminds her niece how Laird had a problem related to his experiences in the war. Geri says the family’s politeness and willingness to skirt the issue are what enabled Laird’s struggles. The points Geri makes to her aunt highlight how seriously these topics are taken in this adaptation.

While veteran-related issues are brought up in the play, it was never enough to be one of the story’s main topics. Compared to the movie, there isn’t the same amount of reverence for veterans. During her first interaction with Lyman, Geri’s personality is pessimistic and bitter. When Lyman asks Geri about the translation of her hometown’s name, Geri responds by saying, “Well, you’re not Spanish. You must belong to the other half of the country’s population.” After Geri learns Laird was her biological father, she says, “You’re right, Lyman, he was the saddest man I’ve ever known.” Geri also says, “And I thought I was joking when I said to follow in my father’s footsteps I had to mope and pine and drink myself to death. Not a very promising path he’s laid out for me to follow.” With the way veterans’ well-being wasn’t addressed, it made the play seem less hopeful. It also seemed like none of the characters were willing to find any solutions.

Children holding American flags during a sunset image created by rawpixel.com at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People photo created by rawpixel.com – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

Lyman, Geri, and Geneva

As mentioned above, I said Lyman, Geri, and Geneva were the only three characters to physically appear in the play. These three characters also serve prominent roles in the movie. Geri’s personality in the play was pessimistic and bitter. She was also disrespectful when talking to Lyman or talking about Laird. In the movie, however, Geri was a more empathetic character. While interacting with Matilda in the Riordan family kitchen, Laird recalls a memory of Geri when she was younger. In this memory, Laird was tearing up as he was chopping onions. Upon seeing this, Geri asks if Laird is sad because the onions are hurt.

Lyman, in both the play and movie, shares parts of his life story with Geri. In the play, though, more of this information is given. Toward the end of the movie, Lyman tells Geri how, before the war, he would fix and race cars with his dad. He also talks about how he never dated a crush he had. Lyman in the play not only drag-raced vehicles, he also worked in his dad’s garage. He recalls owning a Mustang Boss 302 and never having a girlfriend. Geneva’s family’s portion of the redwood forest was being bought out by investors. As a result of this, Geneva, in the play, is planning on moving to Key Biscayne, Florida, with her husband, Barney. In the movie, however, Geneva expresses no interest in moving out of Arcata. In fact, after one of Geri’s piano performances, Geneva tells Laird how she plans on fighting to keep her land. She and Barney are also divorced.

The cover of my copy of the play’s script. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen

After I watched and read Redwood Curtain, I ended up liking the movie adaptation over the source material. What worked in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation’s favor was how the story was expanded. Not only were more locations added to the characters’ world, more context was given than the play provided. Even though there were more characters added to the film, the cast as a whole was smaller. Through their interactions, the audience gets a more intimate look into the characters’ relationships. The changes to the characters from the play made them more likable, especially Geri. Both the screenwriting and acting allowed Geri to be one of the strongest protagonists in Hallmark movie history. Redwood Curtain reminded me of another Hallmark Hall of Fame movie based on a play: The Boys Next Door. Similar to Redwood Curtain, The Boys Next Door contained multiple locations and provided context to each of the key characters. Since I have seen the 1996 adaptation, but have never read the play, perhaps another comparison and contrast editorial is in order.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Tommy Review

For my third year participating in the Rule, Britannia Blogathon, I, at first, considered reviewing an adaptation based on a book I’ve read. This would be similar to when I wrote about the 2002 adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a perfect opportunity on my hands. That opportunity was the chance to review the 1975 film, Tommy! Years ago, long before I became a movie blogger, I saw a trailer for Tommy on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). On the one hand, the story itself seemed interesting; a man with disabilities living his best life and making his dreams come true. But, on the other hand, the visuals within this trailer appeared “bonkers”, making the movie seem intimidating. After reading some reviews, I came to the conclusion Tommy is a polarizing film. This isn’t the first time I have written about a movie that received mixed reviews. Two years ago, for another blogathon, I reviewed the 2011 Hallmark film, The Cabin. Historically, this is considered one of the most polarizing titles the network has ever created. When I got around to seeing it, I found The Cabin so bad, it was disappointing.

Tommy poster created by Robert Stigwood, Organization Ltd., Hemdale Film Corporation, and Columbia Pictures

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Prior to watching Tommy, I had seen Bye Bye Birdie. In the 1963 film, Ann-Margret gave an expressive portrayal of Kim MacAfee. The 1975 movie shows Ann-Margret in a completely different role, which allowed her to expand her acting abilities. Portraying the titular character’s mother, Nora, Ann-Margret gave a well-rounded performance! Because this story incorporates heavier subjects, her portrayal contains the emotional intensity required for a story of this nature. While watching television, Nora sees her son on TV. As she’s watching, a sense of guilt grows within her. This guilt causes Nora to appear disgusted, a grimace slowly overcoming her face. She attempts to change the channel in order not to see Tommy, only for the TV to magically switch to Tommy’s image. Angry about her plan not working, Nora throws her champagne bottle at the television, which results in a flood of laundry detergent, beans, and chocolate. Relieved to instantly receive the items she just saw in television commercials, Nora suddenly is taken over by pleasure. A smile appears on her face as she rolls around on the floor in the commercial materials.

When discussing a movie heavily revolving around a titular character, it’s important to talk about the actor or actress portraying that character. In the case of Tommy, that role was given to Roger Daltrey. Based on some reviews I’ve read of Tommy, it seems like Roger had little to no acting experience prior to working on this movie. Despite this, his performance was such a strong addition to the story! Roger’s portrayal had the emotionality and versatility to make Tommy a character worth rooting for. These aspects also held my interest in Tommy’s journey. In one scene, Tommy stays over at Cousin Kevin’s house. During his stay, Kevin tries to burn Tommy with a cigarette. As Tommy is sitting tied up in a chair, his face instantly changes from exhaustion and writhing in pain. This change in facial expressions is seamless, Roger never missing an emotional beat.

While I have heard good things about Tina Turner’s acting performances, this was the first time I had seen any of them. Tommy shows Tina portraying The Acid Queen. Even though her performance was limited to one scene, she gave so much energy to her role. While her portrayal was over-the-top, it fit the tone and vibe the movie was going for. With all that said, I honestly wish Tina had received more appearances in this film.

Ann-Margret’s wardrobe: Even though I knew Ann-Margret would be starring in Tommy, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked her wardrobe! Each outfit she wore complimented her so well, while also looking great on-screen! Toward the beginning of the movie, as Nora and her husband, Captain Walker, are running through the war-torn streets of England, she wore an asymmetrical, sky-blue gown. The dress itself was simple, but it was elegant enough to not be plain. Ann-Margret’s strawberry blonde hair paired beautifully with the color of the dress. Later in the movie, Nora wears a silver, mesh pant suit. Accompanied by shiny, silver sandals and a white furry cape, this ensemble boasted a posh look. While the outfit felt very reflective of the 1970s, it was a divine version of that type of outfit. Ann-Margret definitely pulled off this film’s wardrobe in style!

The symbolism: In some reviews I read about Tommy, it was mentioned how there was symbolism found among the over-the-top, flashier imagery. Since I knew before watching the movie there was going to be this type of imagery, it allowed me to focus on what the film’s creative team was trying to say through their story. In a desperate attempt to cure her son, Nora takes Tommy to The Church of Marilyn Monroe. Other patrons with disabilities are also in attendance, from a woman with a guide dog to multiple people utilizing wheelchairs. Marilyn’s likeness can be seen throughout the facility, with the most notable being a giant statue of Marilyn in the iconic flown skirt pose. I interpreted the scene as a piece of commentary on how people who claim to be religious and/or contain the ability to cure everyone with anything can, sometimes, take advantage of those in vulnerable positions. Those people could be considered “false prophets”. So, choosing Marilyn as the film’s church icon is interesting, as Marilyn’s name and image were all a fabricated version of Norma Jean.

The 9th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon banner created by Terence from A Shroud of Thoughts

What I didn’t like about the film:

Some villains not receiving their comeuppance: There were several characters in Tommy’s life that failed him. While a few of these characters did receive their comeuppance, most of them did not. Whenever Tommy went to stay at Cousin Kevin’s house, Kevin would physically abuse and torment Tommy. Kevin only appeared in a sequence of scenes showing Tommy mistreated by him. Because of this, Kevin’s comeuppance was never shown. I’m not sure if this creative decision was made because there wasn’t enough time to show each character’s comeuppance or if it was meant to show how unfair life can be.

Some confusing parts of the story: At one point in Tommy’s story, his parents take him to see The Specialist, in an attempt to figure out why Tommy has several disabilities. During this appointment, Nora and The Specialist continuously flirt with each other. After this scene, this interaction and The Specialist himself are not brought up again. I was unsure if Nora planned on leaving Frank to start a relationship with The Specialist or if she was flirting with The Specialist simply to encourage him to lower her son’s medical bills. Either way, the movie does not provide a clear explanation.

An unclear time-line: This story starts during and shortly after World War II. The script heavily implies Tommy was born sometime in 1945. Most of this story takes place when Tommy is an adult. If Tommy were, say, twenty during the film’s events, that would mean the story takes place in 1965. With that said, why do the wardrobe, set design, and special effects look like they came straight out of the 1970s? I know this film was released in 1975. But because Tommy’s age is not specified, the movie’s time-line is unclear.

Music and stage image created by Topntp26 at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-photo/music-sign_1179519.htm’>Designed by Topntp26</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/vintage”>Vintage image created by Topntp26 – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The way I feel about Tommy is similar to how I feel about Queen of the Damned. Is this one of my favorite films? No. Is it one of the best movies I’ve seen this year? Also, no. But, for what it was, I enjoyed it. Yes, the visuals can be “bonkers”. When you look past all of that, though, you will see the film’s creative team had something interesting to say. The story itself was easier to follow. The symbolism and messages associated with it appeared to be given a lot of thought and effort. Therefore, artistic merit can be found in this movie. The story of Tommy is a heartbreaking one. However, it is also a somewhat uplifting story. I won’t spoil the film for those who may be interested in seeing it. I will say when a climatic event happens, the moment itself feels earned.

Overall score: 7.3 out of 10

Have you seen Tommy? Are there any musical films you’d like to see me review? Let me know in the comment section below!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Coming to a TV near you: The World Television Day Blogathon!

When I published my review of Murder, She Wrote: The Queen’s Jewels for August’s Buzzwordathon, I announced I would be hosting a new blogathon this November. I also said more details were to follow. Well, the time has come to reveal more information about the event! As I mentioned in the aforementioned review, the theme is ‘World Television Day’. Because this particular holiday takes place on November 21st, my blogathon will happen between November 19th  and November 22nd. Television is such a broad topic, so here is a list of ideas if you are interested in participating:

  • Television Shows (favorite or least favorite, specific episodes, talent involved, etc.)
  • TV Movies and Mini-Series
  • Films based on or inspired a show (Downton Abbey: A New Era, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, etc.)
  • Books based on or inspired a TV show (Murder, She Wrote, etc.)
  • Songs used in TV productions
  • Sports Events (Super Bowl, Olympics, etc.)
  • Televised Contests (pageants, Eurovision, etc.)
  • Historical Events (Challenger Disaster, etc.)
  • Podcasts or Youtube videos about TV shows
  • History of Television
  • Lost/Found Media related to TV (Sesame Street’s infamous Wicked Witch episode, etc.)
  • Public Service Announcements (PSA) or Public Information Films (PIF)
  • Commercials, Trailers, or TV Spots
Created by Sally Silverscreen at Adobe Creative Cloud Express

Once you’ve selected an idea, take a moment to read the official rules:

  1. Please be respectful toward other participants and the subject(s) you’re writing about (especially if you choose to write about historical events on television).
  2. Please let me know in advance if you plan on publishing your post(s) earlier or later than the allotted time-frame (November 19th to 22nd).
  3. Only new posts will be eligible for the event.
  4. Because of how broad the subject of television is, I will not be allowing duplicate entries.
  5. There is a three-entry limit for each participant.
  6. All entries must be original work.
  7. Subjects from any genre, year, or country are allowed.
  8. If you’re interested in participating, please share your idea(s) in the comment section below.
  9. Pick one of the four banners and spread the word about the World Television Day Blogathon!
Created by Sally Silverscreen at Adobe Creative Cloud Express

World Television Day Participants

Sally from 18 Cinema Lane — The Flamingo Rising: Book vs. Movie, Review of Murder, She Wrote: Dying to Retire

Gill from Realweegiemidget Reviews — Review of Baywatch (1999) (Season 9, Episode 18 — Water Dance)

Rebecca from Taking Up Room — List of Top 10 Gilmore Girls episodes

Andrew from The Stop Button — Review of Jericho Mile (1979 made-for-tv movie)

Created by Sally Silverscreen at Adobe Creative Cloud Express
Created by Sally Silverscreen at Adobe Creative Cloud Express

Have fun at the blogathon!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: In The Good Old Summertime Review

Earlier this month, I said I would review In The Good Old Summertime for the Van Johnson Blogathon. Now, with the arrival of the aforementioned event, it’s time to talk about this film! There are two reasons why I selected the 1949 movie. The first is it was recommended to me by Becky, the same reader who suggested Easy to Wed. The second was how the summer season is winding down. Because the movie is titled, In The Good Old Summertime, I figured it would serve as a sort of last hurrah. As of 2022, the 1949 title is the fourth one of Van Johnson’s I’ve seen. While I found both Plymouth Adventure and Easy to Wed just ok, I was not a fan of Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. Therefore, it’ll be interesting to see what I thought of In The Good Old Summertime!

In The Good Old Summertime poster created by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: As I said in the introduction, In The Good Old Summertime is the fourth film of Van Johnson’s I have seen. Therefore, I knew what to expect from Van, talent wise. While portraying Andrew, Van utilized emotions well. A great example is when Andrew and Veronica are attempting to sell some sheet music to a customer. The sheet music in question was “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey”. During this song, Andrew looks threatened, like he knows Veronica is doing a better job at selling the music than he would have. Because of the quality of his acting talents, Van was able to make scenes like this one feel believable.

In The Good Old Summertime is the fifth movie of Judy Garland’s I have watched. Looking back on those films, I have noticed how Judy is a more versatile actress than I feel she gets credit for. While waiting for her secret admirer, Veronica, Judy’s character, appears visibly nervous. She’s glancing around the restaurant and constantly readjusting her flower and poetry book. When Andrew arrives, Veronica’s unpleasant feelings toward her co-worker grow stronger. Her face appears troubled, frustrated over the fact he won’t leave. At some points during this interaction, Veronica raises her voice. When she eventually returns home, Veronica appears deflated, her night not going as she expected.

I am not familiar with Spring Byington as an actress. Despite this, I enjoyed her portrayal of Nellie Burke! Her on-screen personality was so pleasant. Even when she was upset at Otto Oberkugen, she was still a character worth rooting for. Spring and S.Z. Sakall had good on-screen chemistry. One good example is when Nellie is trying to explain a misunderstanding. During this conversation, Otto reveals his insecurities as a musician. This explanation comes across as genuine, as a businessman trying to save face. Meanwhile, through gentleness and kind words, Nellie reassures Otto he is the only man she cares about. It was nice to see two older characters fall in love, especially since this type of romance story doesn’t seem as common as those featuring younger couples. Through the acting performances and screenwriting, Spring and S.Z. brought forth a couple that was interesting to watch!

The musical numbers: At Otto’s music store, a harp is introduced among the instrumental stock. In order to sell the harp to a potential customer, Veronica plays the harp to a song called “Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland”. With the combination of Judy’s vocals and the harp instrumental sound, the song exuded the dreamlike tone the film’s creative team was striving for. Even with the inclusion of a piano, these sounds complimented one another. The aforementioned song, “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey”, was performed in two tempos. At Veronica’s suggestion, the first tempo is slower, providing a romantic tone. But with the second, faster tempo, a jollier tone is presented. Because of this musical, creative decision, it was interesting to hear how one change can make a song sound so different.

The historical accuracy: In The Good Old Summertime takes place around the late 1800s to early 1900s. With that said, there are many aspects of this movie that appeared historically accurate! One of these areas was the wardrobe. Louise Parkson, portrayed by Marcia Van Dyke, is Andrew’s friend. She is attempting to win a prestigious audition. When this audition arrives, Louise wore a white dress with a full, floor length skirt. The sleeves are medium length, covering Louise’s upper arms. The dress also had a higher neckline. These design choices represented modesty in women’s fashion from that time.

The Sixth Van Johnson Blogathon banner created by Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood

What I didn’t like about the film:

The underutilization of Buster Keaton: I haven’t seen many of Buster Keaton’s films. But based on what I know about his filmography, he seems like he’s a comedic actor who utilizes physical comedy. In In The Good Old Summertime, however, Buster wasn’t given much material to work with. There were two scenes where Buster’s character, Hickey, trips and falls. But these felt like weak attempts at giving Buster something to do. If anything, it seems like Buster was cast in the film just for the sake of it.

A drawn-out plot: The story of In The Good Old Summertime revolves around Veronica’s and Andrew’s search for their respective pen-pals. While this plot can lend itself to a good story, it was drawn-out throughout the entire movie. It got to the point where, after Veronica’s secret admirer was revealed, she was being manipulated into believing the secret admirer is someone else. This was likely done to keep the plot going. But it just felt too cruel for my liking.

No strong subplots: So much time was given to the aforementioned main plot in In The Good Old Summertime. As a result, there were no strong subplots. Some aspects of the narrative could have lent themselves to good side stories. But because the script focused so much on the main plot, these ideas weren’t able to reach their full potential. For example, Otto is experiencing difficulty selling some harps. This felt like a running joke that didn’t lead anywhere. An interesting story idea would have been if a wealthy customer was looking for a specific harp. Otto would then spend the rest of the movie trying to locate this instrument.

String of musical notes image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/pentagram-vector_710290.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a> <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Backgroundvector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

This is the third time I have participated in the Van Johnson Blogathon. While I reviewed Van’s episodes of Murder, She Wrote the first time around, I wrote about Plymouth Adventure last year. Both Plymouth Adventure and In The Good Old Summertime have one thing in common: there were ok. With the 1949 film, I enjoyed the musical numbers. They were not only entertaining, but creative as well. But there were times where I felt more effort was placed in the musical numbers than the script. This movie adopted the “enemies to lovers” trope, which could work in a story. Unfortunately, this part of the script was drawn-out. While watching In The Good Old Summertime, I kept thinking back to Meet Me in St. Louis. The 1944 musical not only takes place in the early 1900s, but also stars Judy Garland. Personally, I think In The Good Old Summertime is a weaker version of Meet Me in St. Louis.

Overall score: 6.9 out of 10

Have you seen any of Van Johnson’s films? If so, which one is your favorite? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Lake Effects Review

‘Family Vacation Films’, that’s the theme of August’s Genre Grandeur. When one mentions this subject, the idea of happy times or fun destinations usually come to mind. What also comes to mind is how a family chooses to go on these trips, mostly to have a good experience. But what if a family takes a vacation out of necessity? And what if it wasn’t possible for that family to take a literal trip? Perhaps a “staycation” would have to be in order. A figurative trip away from personal hardships, doubt, and stresses of everyday life. This is the case of Lake Effects, the movie I’ve selected for this month’s event. While Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, could be a vacation spot, the protagonist and her family live in that location. But due to a family tragedy, they are forced to take a break from their daily lives. Whether a family vacation is close to home or travels abroad, what’s important are memories shared together.

Lake Effects poster created by Life Out Loud Films (LOL), Hallmark Channel, and Anchor Bay Entertainment 

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Around the time of this film’s release, 2012, Jane Seymour appeared in several Hallmark productions. Whether starring in Dear Prudence and Perfectly Prudence or in a supporting role in A Royal Christmas, these roles have been enjoyable to watch. In Lake Effects, Jane’s portrayal of Vivian was one of the strongest performances in this movie! A tradition Vivian and her husband, Ray, shared was Ray giving Vivian a pink rose every Friday. While cleaning out the closet, Vivian finds a box of old roses from Ray. Out of the blue, she starting sobbing. Because of Ray’s death, all Vivian’s bottled-up feelings bubbled over.

Another strong performance came from Scottie Thompson, who portrayed the protagonist, Sara. While sharing a drink with her sister, Lily, Sara reminisces over memories of her father. But when she remembers a secret her father kept from the family, Sara’s demeanor quickly changes. Her face falls in a serious expression, not sugarcoating anything she’s saying. Sara’s tone of voice is also serious, attempting to get Lily to see things from her perspective.

I was pleasantly surprised by Ben Savage’s performance in Lake Effects. His character, Carl, was very different from his portrayal of Corey Matthews from Boy Meets World and Girl Meets World. Carl was an enthusiastic man who was passionate about finding a mythical creature called the Smithy. But there are times when he can be awkward. This is the case when being interviewed by a television host. During the interview, Carl has a blank look on his face, unsure of what to do. Sitting tense on a couch, Carl is nervous about being filmed, especially since he’s never been interviewed before. What made this performance work was how believable it was.

The scenery: At the end of Lake Effects, on-screen text states the movie was “filmed entirely on location at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia”. As someone who never knew this location existed until I watched this movie, I was impressed by the natural beauty it had to offer! The film opens with the sun rising over the lake. The peach-gray glow of the rising sun reflected off the water, creating a peaceful environment. In an overhead, cutaway shot, the lake was shown during the day. The clear, blue water was surrounded by green lawns and a mixture of green and orange trees. Topped off with a clear sky, this location appeared inviting!

Evening view from the shore image created by 0melapics at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/landscape-in-a-swamp-at-night_1042860.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/background”>Background vector created by 0melapics – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

On-the-nose music: As I’ve stated before, music can highlight a scene’s intended mood and elevate emotions among the characters. Even if there are lyrics within the music, those songs should appropriately fit what’s happening on screen. But in the case of Lake Effects, the music was so on-the-nose, it was, honestly, cringey. One example happens when Sara and Lily are sharing drinks at a local restaurant. A live band performs a song containing the lyrics “there’s a storm that’s brewing outside”. A few minutes later, Sara shares Ray’s secret, causing animosity between her and Lily. Because this happened on more than one occasion, the on-the-nose music became annoying.

Inconsistent elements: There were some elements of the story that were inconsistent. Technology was one of them. When Sara is arriving at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, she is experiencing technical issues with her Bluetooth earpiece. She even says “is it still stringing tin cans around here”? A few scenes later, Sara accepts a call on her cell phone in her parents’ driveway. Based on that short call, it seems like her phone is working perfectly fine. As I already mentioned, Sara has a Bluetooth earpiece, as well as a cell phone. This phone looks like a smartphone from around the early 2010s. Meanwhile, Carl receives a call on a flip-phone from the previous decade. In one scene, a cassette boombox was featured at an event. With all that said, it seems like Hallmark forgot when Lake Effects was meant to take place.

Too many cliches: Back in 2020, I reviewed JL Family Ranch: The Wedding Gift. One of the flaws of that film was how many Hallmark movie cliches were featured in the story. Lake Effects has the exact same issue. The 2012 production was filled with cliches typically found in Hallmark Channel movies. A few of these cliches are the “woman from the city coming back to her small hometown” cliché, the “save the (insert establishment here)” cliché, the “business person is a jerk and/or out of touch” cliché, and the “small town festival conveniently taking place” cliché. What’s frustrating about Lake Effects is how it was originally shown on what is now known as Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. This second network has historically created films that were more dramatic and serious from Hallmark Channel’s lighter content. The inclusion of these cliches made the purpose of this story confusing. Was this film meant to be a Hallmark Channel movie, but Hallmark ended up premiering it on the second channel? Or was Lake Effects always meant to have a serious tone, border-lining Hallmark Hall of Fame?

So many story ideas: Like I just mentioned, there were too many cliches found in Lake Effects. These cliches lent themselves to several story ideas. Because of the inclusion of the “save the (insert establishment here)” cliché, part of the story revolved around Sara attempting to save her family’s home. Since so much emphasis was given to this part of the plot, other story ideas weren’t fully developed. In Smith Mountain Lake, there was a group called the “She-Doos”. This group consisted of women who take occasional trips on their jet-skis. With the “She-Doos”, there was an interesting story idea waiting to come to fruition. Unfortunately, it was competing with several other story ideas, trying to win over the audience’s attention.

Colorful travel suitcase image created by Pikisuperstar at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/beautiful-illustration-of-travel_2686674.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/watercolor”>Watercolor vector created by Pikisuperstar – Freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Lake Effects is a movie Hallmark fans typically don’t talk about. It also seems to have been forgotten over the years. Now that I’ve seen the film, I think I have an idea why this is the case. The 2012 title is uninspiring. It’s filled with too many cliches, but doesn’t take the initiative to try anything new. Lake Effects attempts to adopt many different stories. However, the execution of these stories was weak. I will admit the scenery was aesthetically pleasing. But, as I’ve said before on 18 Cinema Lane, “the scenery can’t save you”. Like I’ve also said, a film’s script can make or break a production. If the script isn’t strong, there’s only so much a creative team can do to remedy the issue. While watching Lake Effects, there were a few story ideas trying to burst out of the murkiness of poor content. Sadly, these ideas couldn’t reach above the surface.

Overall score: 4.5 out of 10

Have you seen Lake Effects? Are there any lesser known Hallmark movies you’d like to see me review? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Easy to Wed Review

As the dawn of August arrives, so does the Esther Williams blogathon! Like last year, I have decided to review another movie from Esther’s filmography. But this time, I selected the 1946 title, Easy to Wed! Similar to the previous year, Easy to Wed was recommended to me. However, this film was suggested by a reader named Becky. That’s not the only reason why I’m reviewing the movie. I’m also participating in The Sixth Van Johnson Blogathon. Since Van happens to star in Easy to Wed, this is a good segue to that event. In the 1946 film, the characters’ trip to Mexico contained the “summer vibes” one would expect from the season. This is an interesting coincidence, as the movie I’m reviewing for the Van Johnson Blogathon is In The Good Old Summertime! My readers will have to wait a little while for that review. For now, though, it’s time to talk about Easy to Wed!

Easy to Wed poster created by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Loew’s Inc.

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: In Easy to Wed, Esther portrayed Connie, a socialite who is wrongly accused of stealing another woman’s husband. Before she meets Van’s character, Bill, the employees at the New York newspaper that accused Connie label her as “spoiled” and “arrogant”. But when Bill meets Connie, he, and the audience, sees she is the complete opposite. In fact, Esther’s on-screen personality was very sweet! I enjoyed watching Connie and Bill’s interactions. The gentle sweetness of Connie’s personality and the charming yet cunning personality of Bill worked, as opposites attracted. Connie’s wittiness also helped this relationship’s favor. One of my favorite scenes is when Bill is riding on an inflatable raft in Connie’s pool. In an attempt to get him to join her in the pool, Connie tries to deflate the raft. Since she wants to catch Bill off guard, she deflates the raft with her foot during their conversation. Not only do Esther’s and Van’s acting abilities add to this on-screen relationship, so does their on-screen chemistry!

When it comes to Lucille Ball’s filmography, I’ve, so far, stuck with I Love Lucy. Therefore, I had an idea of what to expect in her portrayal of Gladys, the fiancé of Warren. Expectations aside, Lucille’s performance was enjoyable to watch! Not only did she work well with the other cast members, she used comedy to her advantage. During Bill’s stay in Mexico, he learns how to use a duck call whistle. While attempting to make a duck call, Gladys opens the door to Bill’s main sitting room and loudly yells “Happy New Year”. Personally, I found this scene hilarious, as the moment itself was unexpected. Speaking of Warren, let’s talk about Keenan Wynn’s performance. His portrayal reminded me of a more dramatic version of “Rooster” from the 1982 adaptation of Annie. What I mean by that is Warren was a cunning man who had a way with words. Another scene I liked was when Warren visited Bill about the newspaper’s libel suit. Because of how cunning both Warren and Bill are, they went toe-to-toe with each other, never missing a beat. What also helped was the quality of both Van’s and Keenan’s talents!

Lucille’s and Esther’s wardrobe: I loved Lucille’s and Esther’s wardrobe in Easy to Wed! However, there were three outfits that absolutely stole the show! Lucille wore the first outfit in the aforementioned duck call scene. A shiny gold top was covered by a velvety blue suit jacket. Deep blue slacks match the jacket, with the outfit complimented by shiny gold shoes. The blue and gold color palette paired beautifully with Lucille’s red hair and blue eyes! During a hunting trip, Connie wore fishing boots over a pair of black pants. A gray turtleneck shirt is under a red and orange plaid jacket. Finished with a maroon cap, the outfit is a classy ensemble that reminded me of the fall season. A few scenes later, Esther wore a light green sweater with cattails on them. A medium length black skirt compliments the cattails on the sweater, as well as Esther’s headband. A pair of brown boots helps pull off a look that would look great during fall or winter.

The “Boneca de Pixe” musical number: Toward the end of Easy to Wed, Connie and Bill perform in a musical number at a party. This number reflected their time together in Mexico. Both Esther and Van sung in Portuguese, dancing alongside each other and a large ensemble of dancers. The dancers’ costumes are so vibrant and colorful, boasting shades of red, yellow, and green. A small orchestra provided the sound, teaming up with Ethel Smith on the organ. Leading into this musical number, Ethel performed an organ solo that was fun to watch! This solo added the energy and excitement this piece needed. Overall, this number made me wish Easy to Wed was a musical.

The Third Esther Williams Blogathon banner created by by Michaela from Love Letters to Old Hollywood

What I didn’t like about the film:

A drawn-out conflict: Easy to Wed’s conflict revolves around Warren and Bill’s plan to prevent the libel suit from going to court. While it was interesting to see this plan unfold, it was drawn out for most of the story. In fact, this conflict was drawn out for so long, its resolution was delivered in a rapid-fire style within the last ten minutes of the movie. Had this script been a little bit tighter, the resolution’s delivery could have been more satisfying.

An inconsistent use of music: As I’ve said before, music can elevate the mood or tone of a given scene. It can also help make a scene more memorable. The film’s first half featured less music than its second half. Because of this, the memorability of some scenes was weaker. One example is when Bill is hosting a dinner party in his hotel’s sitting room. If music had been playing in the background, it would have heightened the anticipation of Connie’s arrival. The accompanying melody would highlight the growing feelings Bill and Connie have for one another as well. Instead, the scene felt mundane, slogging along to the next part in the story.

No subplots: Like I already mentioned, the conflict in Easy to Wed was drawn out for most of the movie. There are no subplots in this film, as the script focuses on the aforementioned conflict. Personally, I wish the story received a subplot. It would have given the audience additional intrigue to carry them through the film. The newspaper’s photographer could have formed a romantic relationship with the female organist. Maybe his camera goes missing and he has to find it. To me, the lack of subplots felt like a missed opportunity.

Since I loved the outfits described in this review, I decided to share screenshots of them, so my readers could see how great these outfits are! Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.
Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

My overall impression:

In my opinion, Easy to Wed is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there are things about the movie I liked. The acting was strong, the “Boneca de Pixe” musical number was great, and I loved Lucille’s and Esther’s wardrobe. On the other hand, the script could have been stronger. Tighter writing might have helped the conflict reach a satisfying resolution. The conflict could have also been paired with at least one subplot. As I watched Easy to Wed, I was reminded of another movie with a drawn-out conflict: Anchors Aweigh. Because that movie’s musical numbers were more consistent, the audience had something to occupy their time until the conflict could be resolved. As I mentioned in this review, the music was inconsistent in Easy to Wed. Therefore, parts of the story felt longer than necessary. So far, I’ve seen three of Esther Williams’ films. Out of those titles, Easy to Wed is my least favorite. Hopefully, the next picture of Esther’s I watch will be better.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Have you seen any of the Esther Williams’ films? Are you looking forward to my review of In The Good Old Summertime? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Hallmark Hall of Fame’s O Pioneers! Review

When I participated in the Legends of Western Cinema Week last year, I reviewed the Hallmark Hall of Fame film, Durango. Unfortunately, the movie was weaker than I hoped. While thinking about what to write about for 2022’s event, I remembered how I had never seen O Pioneers! Therefore, I thought the Legends of Western Cinema Week was the perfect time to finally see the film! In the 1990s, Hallmark Hall of Fame had a history of adapting stories from the western genre. After the premiere of Sarah, Plain and Tall, the story’s sequels were released; Skylark in 1993 and Sarah, Plain and Tall: Winter’s End in 1999. Outside of this trilogy, Hallmark Hall of Fame created O Pioneers! (in 1992), Rose Hill (in 1997), and Durango (in 1999). While looking back on this history, one has to wonder if this was done in an effort to capitalize on Sarah, Plain and Tall’s success? Whatever the reason, these films provide more than one perspective of westerns. Now, with that introduction out of the way, let’s review O Pioneers!

O Pioneers! poster created by Craig Anderson Productions, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, Lorimar Television, and Prairie Films

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I’ve seen a small handful of Heather Graham’s projects from her filmography. Based on what I’ve seen, she seems to receive one of two types of roles: a “damsel in distress” or the “ditzy” girl next door. But in O Pioneers!, Heather’s role was different. Portraying Alexandra Bergson in her younger years, she not only displayed a motherly persona, she also showcased a quieter strength. After trying to find more fertile farm land, Alexandra comes up with a plan to purchase the surrounding farm land near her family’s home. When she discusses this plan with her brothers, Alexandra explains it in a sure, yet calm way. Even when her brothers doubted her enthusiasm, she consistently maintained her composure, never letting uncertainty get in her way. Through her performance, Heather does a good job at foreshadowing who her character would become!

The majority of O Pioneers! revolves around Alexandra after her family’s farm is established and successful. Because this part of the story takes place fifteen years later, Alexandra is portrayed by Jessica Lange. Throughout the film, Alexandra experiences a variety of situations. This allowed Jessica to utilize different facial expressions, body languages, and emotions. As she reads a letter from her brother, Emil, a warm smile lights up Alexandra’s face. She appears to be sitting in a comfortable position, a friendly demeanor plain to see. Two scenes later, as Alexandra is sharing bad news with Emil, a sullen look is seen on her face. Her tone of voice is serious, as she’s trying to break this news as honestly, but gently as possible. The strength of Jessica’s acting abilities helped her performance appear believable!

One of the most important people in Alexandra’s life is Emil. Portrayed by Reed Diamond, Emil had a personality that was pleasant. Reed adapts to each situation in Emil’s life as well, similar to Jessica’s performance. In the aforementioned scene where Emil receives bad news, a concerned look is shown on his face. He also listens intently to what Alexandra had to say. Emil’s bottom lip quivers, as shock quickly morphs into sadness. The scene ends with Alexandra consoling her brother as he crumbles into tears.

Historical accuracy: O Pioneers! takes place between the late 1880s and early 1900s. Keeping this in mind, it’s important to note how the production looked and felt like the viewer was transported back to that time! In one scene, a man named Frank is walking around the interior of his house. On the wall in the kitchen, a telephone can be seen. The style of this phone is similar to those featured in programs like When Calls the Heart. Another timely piece of technology was the kerosene lamp hanging from the ceiling. This lamp was found in the dining room of Alexandra’s house. Three more kerosene lamps are located in Alexandra’s posh sitting room. Even though these props are smaller components of the movie, it shows how detail oriented this film’s creative team was!

Reed Diamond and Anne Heche’s on-screen chemistry: Anne Heche portrays Marie, a friend of Emil’s since childhood. Most of Emil and Marie’s interactions take place after they grew up, when they are able to live their own lives. During these encounters, I found their on-screen chemistry very sweet! Marie carried herself with a sense of whimsy, almost like she’s a “child at heart”. Meanwhile, Emil is more headstrong, choosing to ground himself in reality. Instead of clashing, these differences worked in Anne and Reed’s favor. The opposites attracting created a balance between their characters. During Marie and Emil’s interactions, they seemed to share an understanding with each other. Their shared history provided that layer of understanding, as well as Anne’s and Reed’s performance.

Legends of Western Cinema Week banner created by Heidi from Along the Brandywine, Olivia from Meanwhile, in Rivendell, and Hamlette from Hamlette’s Soliloquy.

What I didn’t like about the film:

An episodic story: The story of O Pioneers! revolves around Alexandra’s attempts at creating a successful farm with the land she inherited. But instead of those attempts providing an overarching conflict, the movie is filled with smaller conflicts that are resolved in a shorter amount of time. Ivar is a man Alexandra and her family have known for many years. He claims to have powers from God, which causes him to receive some negative attention. At one point, Ivar is threatened of being sent to an asylum. But in the very next scene, Alexandra simply talks to her brothers about what she’ll do if something happens. After that, the issue is unceremoniously resolved.

Too many characters: O Pioneers! is based on a book I haven’t read yet. Despite this, I could clearly see how large of a cast this production contained. Stories with a larger number of characters can be hit or miss. In the case of O Pioneers!, it didn’t work. Because of how many characters were in this story, some of them didn’t receive the amount of attention I feel they deserved. One of these characters was Amedee, a friend of Emil. A European baseball player, Amedee was such a charismatic character I wanted to learn more about. But with all the other characters trying to compete for attention, he only appeared in two scenes.

Some loose ends: Despite the movie having an hour and thirty-seven-minute run-time, there didn’t seem to be enough time to tie up some loose ends in the story. A good example is when one of the characters gets in trouble with the law. Alexandra visits this character in jail and claims she will help them. However, this issue is never resolved. That’s because this conflict takes place within the last eighteen minutes of the movie. It made me wonder why the creative team would include this part of the script when there was no intention to find a resolution to that conflict?

I know this is a screenshot of Wilma’s house from the Walker, Texas Ranger episode ‘The Lynching’. But Alexandra’s house in O Pioneers! reminded me of Wilma’s house, especially that wrap-around porch! Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

My overall impression:

There are some movies where the style is executed better than its substance. O Pioneers! is one of those films. As I said in my review, the project looked and felt like the story’s respective time period. The acting as a whole was good as well. But when it comes to the script, it could have been stronger. A major flaw is the movie’s run-time, which was an hour and thirty-seven minutes. This was not enough time to address the story points and characters within the narrative. Personally, I think O Pioneers! should have been adapted into a multi-part mini-series or a television show. With more time, the creative team would have been able to explore more stories and give some underrated characters more attention. Having an episodic narrative for a mini-series or television show would also make sense, as each story would be more condensed than a film’s plot. Like I mentioned in my review, I haven’t read this movie’s source material. Therefore, I don’t know if it’s better or worse than the 1992 Hallmark Hall of Fame production.

Overall score: 6 out of 10

Have you seen or read O Pioneers!? Is there a book-to-film adaptation you like? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: The Lost Empire/The Monkey King Review

Last month, I wrote a list of movies I’d love to review someday. One of those films was The Lost Empire/The Monkey King. Originally, I was going to review the 2001 picture for Bai Ling’s birthday, as it is in October. But because July’s theme for Genre Grandeur is ‘Fantasy Movies of the 21st Century’, I found a reason to see this movie three months early! In my aforementioned list, I said the story of The Lost Empire/The Monkey King is based on Chinese folklore. This is very different from the types of films Hallmark creates today, which seem to, mostly, be recycled, predictable material. In fact, the only new Hallmark movies I’ve seen this year, so far, are Cut, Color, Murder, Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: Haunted by Murder, and Curious Caterer: Dying for Chocolate. The Lost Empire/The Monkey King was created during a time when Hallmark wasn’t afraid to take creative risks. But did those risks lead to cinematic rewards? Let’s journey through this review as we find that answer together!

The Lost Empire/The Monkey King poster created by Hallmark Entertainment, RTL, Babelsberg International Film Produktion, Milk & Honey Pictures, National Broadcasting Company (NBC), and Hallmark Home Entertainment

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: When I reviewed Point of Origin last month, I was disappointed by Bai Ling’s limited presence in that film. To me, it seemed like her talents were underutilized. In The Lost Empire/The Monkey King, however, Bai was given more acting material to work with. This allowed her talents to be satisfyingly showcased! I’ve said in the past how Bai Ling has a strong sense of emotionality when it comes to her acting abilities. This was not only incorporated into her portrayal of Kwan Ying, but her on-screen performance was also fluid. A great example is when Kwan and Nicholas “Nick” Orton interact for the first time. While sharing drinks at a local restaurant, Kwan’s demeanor is giggly and somewhat flirty, reflecting her drunken state. She holds hands with Nick as she casually leans across the table. But as soon as Nick asks Kwan why she needed to see him, her mood changes without missing a beat. Kwan becomes very serious, as she sits up in her seat and even looks over her shoulder. This change in Kwan’s demeanor also indicates what’s to follow in the story.

Years ago, I read American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. From what I remember, the Monkey King was portrayed as an older, wiser character who younger characters looked up to. Russell Wong’s portrayal of the Monkey King was much different from what I expected. However, it was enjoyable to watch in The Lost Empire/The Monkey King! The Monkey King in the 2001 film was a humorous character. Russell’s dryer sense of humor and one liners worked in the story’s favor, as it provided a break from the tenser moments in the movie. The humor itself also fit within that movie’s world. When Nick first meets the Monkey King, he is taken aback by his change of scenery. The Monkey King uses that interaction to explain what is happening. Nick asks the Monkey King when the book, The Journey to the West will be destroyed. The Monkey King casually responded by saying, “Midnight. Next Thursday”. What also worked in Russell’s favor was his comedic timing. All of the Monkey King’s humorous moments were delivered at the right place and time. This was not only the result of the screenwriting, but the strength of Russell Wong’s acting abilities as well!

One of the most relatable stories is the “fish out of water” story. In order for this story to work in film, you need an actor or actress who can believably sell this idea to the audience. Thomas Gibson in his portrayal of Nick did just that! The way Thomas expressed emotion appeared more realistic, adding to believability of his performance. Thomas’ ability to adapt to each situation was strong, allowing the audience to witness Nick grow over the course of the movie. The Lost Empire/The Monkey King is not only a “fish out of water” story, but also a “hero’s journey” story. That means the protagonist makes a significant change in his or her life. Throughout the film, Nick makes a personal transformation, gaining confidence as he encounters each obstacle. The way Nick reacts to these changes adds a sense of relatability to the character.

The set design: Immersive and imaginative worlds are a staple within the fantasy genre. The quality of a project’s set design can successfully present that illusion to the audience. I loved the set design in The Lost Empire/The Monkey King because it was able to pull the aforementioned illusion off! Nick is on a business trip to China. Some scenes showcased a typical Chinese city, with smaller details emphasizing the realism of this location. String lights and red lanterns can be seen overhead, which brings a softer glow in the middle of the evening. Vending booths line the streets, elaborating a greater number in population as extras and background characters walk by. Banners and signs in Chinese indicate how that specific part of the city is popular for business.

As the story progresses, more fantastical worlds are shown on-screen. One of these worlds is Jade City. Massive structures boast an ancient Chinese architecture. The ground beneath the characters’ feet displays a pale green hue, subtly reminding the audience of the city’s name. Bright pink flowered trees nicely contrasted the buildings and landscape, bringing a pop of color to the city. Nearby lanterns and window screens are smaller details that show the craftmanship that went into the film’s set design!

The discussion of literature: The main conflict in The Lost Empire/The Monkey King was the fate of the original copy of The Journey to the West. The villains want the book destroyed, while Nick and his friends are trying to save it. This main conflict led to a discussion of censorship versus preservation. The way the discussion is brought up, verbally and visually, was interesting. What was also interesting was the author of The Journey to the West, Wu Ch’eng En, receiving the opportunity to witness the impact of his literary work. I found this part of the story thought-provoking, as it made me think of authors who didn’t really have the chance to see their stories effect the world. The script’s focus on literature brought a sense of depth to a fantastical and whimsical story!

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What I didn’t like about the film:

Some of the special effects: When creating a television movie, there’s only so much technological resources at the creative team’s disposal. I’m also aware cinematic technology was not as strong in the early 2000s as it is in the 2020s. Despite these setbacks, the special effects in The Lost Empire/The Monkey King were not a consistent issue. But when they were an issue, it was noticeably rough. While Nick was trying to find a way back to his world, he encounters a tiger in a nearby forest. This tiger appears to have been created through computer technology. Instead of resembling a real-life tiger, it resembled one from a computer game from the time of the movie’s release. The longer the tiger was on screen, the more dated it looked.

Lack of acknowledgment for Pigsy’s mistake: Pigsy is a character that tags along with Nick on his journey. During this journey, Pigsy makes a mistake that negatively impacts his friends and their mission. There were moments where Pigsy appears guilty about his choice. However, the mistake itself was not acknowledged like I hoped it would. Pigsy’s situation does get resolved. But this resolution was glossed over instead of being properly addressed. That was an underutilization of one of the movie’s themes, which was truth.

Mentioning Nick’s ex: On more than one occasion, Nick’s ex-girlfriend is brought up in the story through flashbacks. At a more climatic moment, her inclusion made sense. But, personally, I found it unnecessary for the ex-girlfriend to be brought up more than once. These parts of the story reminded me of a Hallmark movie cliché I’ve talked about in the past: the “protagonist’s ex showing up unannounced” cliché. Nick’s ex-girlfriend is only shown through flashbacks, as I’ve already mentioned. However, I’ve also mentioned how pointless it is to bring up a protagonist’s ex when those characters have no plans to get back together.

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My overall impression:

As I watched The Lost Empire/The Monkey King, I noticed some parallels between this movie and The Wizard of Oz.  In the Hallmark production, the characters travel to Jade City. Meanwhile, in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy and her friends seek out The Emerald City. But comparing The Lost Empire/The Monkey King to The Wizard of Oz does the 2001 film such a disservice. This is because the Hallmark film holds up on its own! I found this production so imaginative, creative, and one of the more unique pictures I’ve seen this year! It was entertaining, engaging, sometimes thought-provoking, and even somewhat educational. The Lost Empire/The Monkey King makes me wish Hallmark would make more movies like this instead of what they’re currently creating. Like I said in the introduction, the 2001 production was made during a time when Hallmark wasn’t afraid to take creative risks. In more recent years, Hallmark has over-relied on one genre to the point where it seems like they don’t want to try anything new. I, honestly, find this to be a shame, as there are so many more stories Hallmark could tell.

Overall score: 7.9-8 out of 10

Have you seen The Lost Empire/The Monkey King? Are there any older Hallmark films you wish received more recognition? Please tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

Watching ‘Singin in the Rain’ for the First Time

Throughout my years of movie viewing (and blogging), I have received the opportunity to check out films boasting a “classic” status. This status has, in my opinion, been earned on some occasions, as I gained an understanding for why a particular movie was granted its praise. However, there were certain titles I found myself unable to figure out why it is considered a “classic”. Out of all these “classic” films, I have been meaning to see one specific picture. That title is Singin in the Rain. The 1952 production needs no introduction. From the song, “Good Morning”, being featured in an orange juice commercial to a replica of Gene Kelly’s umbrella in Disney MGM/Hollywood Studios, Singin in the Rain has carved out a slice in America’s pop culture pie. But for someone, like me, who hasn’t seen this iconic film before, these references are going to seem like a company, individual, or creative team is, simply, taking advantage of the movie’s 50+ year popularity. That replica is just used for tourists to have their photo taken. That song was just an appropriate selection to promote a beverage primarily found at breakfast-time. With the arrival and fruition of the Singin in the Rain Blogathon, I finally have a wonderful excuse to watch Singin in the Rain. It also gives me an opportunity to gain more context of the film’s respective songs, images, and quotes.

Singin in the Rain poster created by
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Loew’s Inc.

Creative Musical Numbers

Singin in the Rain is not just one of the most iconic movies of all time, it’s one of the most iconic musicals of all time! A musical with a “classic” status will bring something unique and creative to the table. The Wizard of Oz took on the power of Technicolor, in a time when that specific technology was more of a luxury. Xanadu showed the world roller skating can be magical. When it comes to Singin in the Rain, the creativity lies in the musical numbers themselves, presenting performances that hadn’t really been seen before 1952. Toward the beginning of the film, Gene and Donald perform a duet, “Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)”, at a vaudeville show. Throughout this musical number, Donald and Gene not only tap danced, but played the fiddle as well. For the 21t century viewer, dancing and playing an instrument at the same time doesn’t seem like a new concept, as Lindsey Stirling has capitalized on those talents. Within the realm of cinematic musicals, however, a routine like Gene and Donald’s isn’t often included.

Gene Kelly’s famous solo isn’t the first musical number featuring rain. Two decades prior, in Just Around the Corner, Shirley Temple performed “I Love to Walk in the Rain”, her film’s big musical number that represented the spirit of the movie. Looking back on “Singin in the Rain”, I, personally, feel Shirley’s number walked (no pun intended) so Gene’s solo could soar! The solo from the 1952 production takes place after Gene’s character, Don, takes Kathy home. Despite it raining outdoors, Don is head-over-heels in love with Kathy. Gene tap danced in his solo. But unlike “I Love to Walk in the Rain”, “Singin in the Rain” felt more immersive, as it wasn’t just a performative routine. Because the number takes place within the story’s context, it feels grounded in reality, a downtown street replacing a glamourized stage. Watching Gene jumping and splashing in puddles added uniqueness to the routine. Even though “Singin in the Rain” wasn’t the big musical number for its respective movie, it represents the film’s spirit, reminding the audience to see the good in a not-so-good situation.

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Strong Camaraderie

In most of my reviews, I talk about the acting. I will choose a few performances to discuss and write about what I liked about them. For this review, I want to talk about a different acting component. While the overall acting in Singin in the Rain was strong, what stood out to me more was the on-screen camaraderie between Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor! One of my favorite scenes is when Don, Kathy, and Cosmo are concocting a plan to save Don’s film. Each character’s personality shines through during this brainstorming session. Cosmo encourages Don to turn the film into a musical, as he spontaneously breaks out into song. Meanwhile, Kathy attempts to keep the group’s good spirits lifted, her kind demeanor certainly helping the situation. After hearing Cosmo’s idea, Don is open-minded about it, joyously realizing he can use his talents to his advantage. This scene, as well as the “Good Morning” musical number, is just one example of Gene, Debbie, and Donald’s on-screen camaraderie. Through their interactions, it felt like Don, Kathy, and Cosmo had been friends all along. This on-screen bond was so pleasant, I looked forward to each time these characters crossed paths!

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Learning about Cinema’s Early Years

Singin in the Rain takes place in the 1920s, during the transitional period between silent films and “talkies” (movies with sound). Even though the 1952 film is a musical that takes time to focus on its numbers, it lifts the figurative curtain enough to educate the audience on how film-making was executed in that time period. Don’s respective studio, Monumental Pictures, adopted sound after Warner Bros. took a chance with their film, The Jazz Singer, a high risk that was met with high rewards. Because of that one creative decision, it forever changed the cinematic landscape. As emphasized in the musical number, “Moses Supposes”, actors had to not only memorize their lines, they also had to remember to annunciate those lines. Singin in the Rain also shows the audience how dialogue is incorporated into a movie. As someone who appreciates the film-making process, it was nice to see this part of movie-making shown in steps. This step-to-step process was a good introduction to some of the work that goes on behind the camera.

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The Context of “Broadway Melody” in Don’s Film

While working to adapt his film, The Dancing Cavalier, into a musical, Don proposes the movie’s new opening scene. This scene is presented as the musical number “Broadway Melody”. As a musical number in Singin in the Rain, I liked this performance! It had colorful set and costume design, as well as strong choreography. But as an opening scene in The Dancing Cavalier, the musical number, in my opinion, doesn’t work. “Broadway Melody” is too long, my guess is ten minutes. The number itself kind of feels like an extension of Don’s past, as his journey to Hollywood came from simpler beginnings. Based on what the characters said about The Dancing Cavalier, Don’s proposed opening scene seems to have little connection to that film’s story. If Don’s movie were a real picture, some audience members might become bored with the film before the story began.

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No Subplot for Cosmo

As I mentioned earlier in this review, I liked the on-screen camaraderie of Gene, Debbie, and Donald. In fact, I liked Donald’s character, Cosmo! Not only was he hilarious and charming, but he was talented as well! The story of Singin in the Rain primarily revolved around the main plot; Monumental Pictures attempting to save their latest film. There is a subplot in the movie, but it mostly focuses on Lina, Don’s co-star. I would have loved to see Cosmo receive his own subplot. Since his contribution to the studio is musical, Cosmo’s part of the story would have pulled back that figurative curtain a little further to show the audience cinematic work behind the camera. I’ve said in previous reviews how important music is in film. Without it, there isn’t an opportunity for viewers to become emotionally affected by a given scene. Because Cosmo is a musician, that aspect of film-making could have been explored.

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A Love Interest That Wasn’t Meant to be

In my point about Cosmo not receiving a subplot, I mentioned how Singin in the Rain’s subplot mostly focused on Don’s co-star, Lina. Personally, I think more of that time should have been given to Cosmo. I know Lina is meant to be the film’s antagonist. I also know her actions and choices are intended to fuel the movie’s conflict. But why would Lina receive so much time when she and Don were never meant to be? Before and after the premiere of The Royal Rascal, people speculate about Lina and Don’s relationship. Even Lina carries the assumption she and Don are romantically involved with one another. But Don makes it pretty clear he is not romantically interested in Lina. This part of the story reminded me of a Hallmark movie cliché I’ve talked about in the past: the “protagonist’s ex showing up unannounced” cliché.

The Singin in the Rain Blogathon banner created by Ari from The Classic Movie Muse

In Conclusion

Before the Singin in the Rain Blogathon, I had never seen the event’s namesake. That means if someone were to tell me one of the movie’s quotes or if I heard one of the film’s songs, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. Now that I have finally seen Singin in the Rain, I have gained an understanding and appreciation for it! When Kathy first meets Don, she claims, when referring to films, that “when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all”. However, I’d argue the 1952 musical built a solid identity that affords it a distinction from other musical movies. Even though Singin in the Rain was released within the Breen Code era, I was pleasantly surprised by the good messages and themes in the story. When I talked about the movie’s on-screen camaraderie, I shared one of my favorite scenes; where Kathy, Don, and Cosmo were figuring out how to save Don’s film. Through this interaction, the message of being one’s self is stressed. This message also allowed Don to use his talents in his favor. When I reviewed The Bridge on the River Kwai, I wondered what the criteria was for lists such as AFI’s 100 Greatest  American  Movies of All Time. One of my speculations was titles that brought something new to the cinematic table. It should be noted that Singin in the Rain is on AFI’s list. While I don’t know for certain how it got there, I think I have a pretty good idea why it’s there.

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen