Take 3: Kyoko/Because of You Review

Kyoko/Because of You is a movie I first planned to review back in May. But as I explained in my review of The Pit and the Pendulum, my DVD copy of Kyoko/Because of You didn’t arrive in time for the blogathon I was participating in. Thanks to this month’s Genre Grandeur, I now have an excuse to finally check this movie out! ‘New York Films That Take Place Prior to 9/11’ was selected for September’s Genre Grandeur theme. Not only was Kyoko/Because of You released in 1996, the protagonist takes a trip to New York. When I first came across this movie on IMDB, the synopsis immediately caught my attention. It sounded heartfelt, almost like a Hallmark Hall of Fame production. Since this movie is a lesser-known title, it gave me a chance to try to find a hidden gem!

Kyoko/Because of You poster created by Concorde-New Horizons

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: I’m not familiar with Saki Takaoka’s filmography. Despite this, I thought her portrayal of the titular character was pleasant to watch! From scene to scene, Saki displayed genuine emotion. One great example is when Jose is telling her about a lampshade his mom loved. When the scene begins, Kyoko has a smile on her face, happy to be spending time with her mentor. But as Jose is sharing his story, Kyoko’s face slowly falls, highlighting just how sad his story is. At the end of Jose’s story, Kyoko smiles again and tells him she’ll help find this lampshade, making her response bittersweet.

Kyoko’s mentor, Jose, is portrayed by Carlos Osorio. For the majority of the film, Jose is dealing with the effects of not only AIDS, but also Dementia. Despite these struggles, the humanity of this character shown through, thanks to Carlos’ acting talents. Before Kyoko leaves to purchase a souvenir, Jose asks to keep the van door open, as he wants to feel the breeze. Jose’s face has a wistful look about it, like he is reminiscing on simpler times. When Kyoko returns, Jose is angry at a young man named Angel. He not only yells at Angel, Jose also uses his cane to protect himself.

While in New York, Kyoko meets a limousine driver named Ralph. Portrayed by Scott Whitehurst, Ralph was one of the best characters in this movie! He was so charismatic and such a good friend to Kyoko. During their first interaction, Ralph encourages Kyoko to take a ride in his limousine. Using charm to his advantage, Ralph’s encouragement sounded more like a sales pitch. Despite this, the pleasant demeanor and friendliness of Scott’s body language and facial expressions indicated his good intentions.

Various sides of New York: In any movie taking place in a well-known, beloved location, there are two angles a creative team can take their project: glamourize and glorify it or show the not-so-pretty sides of that location. When it came to New York in Kyoko/Because of You, the presentation of New York seemed balanced. Yes, there is a shot of Radio City Music Hall. But well-known landmarks were not the only places featured in this part of the story. While looking for Jose, Kyoko visits a dance studio and a local bar. While the dance studio visit was brief, the local bar is where Kyoko shows off her dance skills. Since New York is such a large city, it hosts a landscape of multiple restaurants and cultural hubs. The film shows how various communities can make their home in the Big Apple.

The soundtrack: Throughout the film, Latin tunes can be heard in the background. While the tunes themselves were pleasant, I liked how they contained a strong connection to the story. Jose is from Cuba, sharing through a voice-over how dancing plays a huge role in his culture. Both Jose and Kyoko are Latin dancers, with the music emphasizing their shared interest. What’s also good about the music is its consistency, as Latin music was the principal sound for this movie.

New York City skyline with letters image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/new-york-skyline-typographic-silhouette_719554.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.

What I didn’t like about the film:

Dancing has a limited presence: In the synopsis for Kyoko/Because of You, it states Jose taught Kyoko to dance when she was younger. With that in mind, I was expecting dance to be one of the film’s key themes. Sadly, there wasn’t much dancing within the story. In this hour and twenty-five-minute movie, there were two dance solos and three duets. Even though this film wasn’t a musical, I still found this disappointing.

The bait-and-switch: Because Kyoko travels to New York and because the New York City skyline is featured on the film’s poster, I assumed the majority of the story would take place in New York City. Even though the Big Apple is featured in the movie, only about a third of the film is set there. The rest of the movie becomes a road trip story, with some shots of a moving vehicle used as padding. Since I watched this film partly because of its New York City backdrop, this was somewhat misleading.

Drawn out scenes: As I just mentioned, some shots of a moving vehicle were used as padding. They were also used to satisfy the film’s run-time. One example is when Kyoko is driving out of New York. In this shot, she is driving her vehicle on a bridge, which lasts for about thirty seconds. Scenes like that one should have been cut shorter, giving more time to the plot.

Image of ballerina preparing to dance created by Pressfoto at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/people”>People photo created by pressfoto – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

The story of someone reconnecting with their mentor could be heartwarming. While that potential was there for Kyoko/Because of You, it didn’t contain as much heart as I expected. The majority of this story focused on the road trip instead of the bond between Kyoko and Jose. Yes, I know Jose was experiencing Dementia. But it seems like the road trip, from a story-telling perspective, tried to make up for Jose’s disintegrating memory. The acting performances were nice to watch. I also enjoyed the dance routines. However, I wish dance had been a key theme in this movie. New York is such a diverse landscape, especially when it comes to dancing. Therefore, this felt, to me, like a missed opportunity. I’m glad I finally got a chance to review Kyoko/Because of You. But it’s not the hidden gem I thought it could be.

Overall score: 6.1 out of 10

Have you seen Kyoko/Because of You? Which ‘dance films’ do you like? Tell me in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

Sally Silverscreen

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

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

The 80s-tastic Mall-tacular Double Feature Introduction!

Whenever I publish 100 posts, I coordinate a special double feature. Back in January, my 600th post was my Buzzwordathon review of How to Write Good by Ryan Higa. Since then, I’ve been waiting for the right time to talk about my next double feature. Now, I’m excited to finally publish these long over-due articles! With the changing of the seasons from summer to fall, there’s one place that has remained a constant staple: the mall. Back to school shopping may be in full swing, depending on when a given school distinct begins their year. Some people might consider starting their Christmas/holiday shopping, especially to avoid the crowds. Maybe a local mall has a reputation of gathering the community, from being a popular hangout spot to hosting community events. With that said, this double feature will revolve around the mall!

There are several movies from several decades where a mall is a story’s setting. For this double feature, though, both films were released in the ‘80s. Within that decade alone, there are several options I could have selected. But I ended up going with The Legend of Billie Jean and Night of the Comet! At first glance, pairing these films together seems like a no-brainer. However, I intentionally chose these titles because they were referenced on the Dead Mall Series, created by Youtuber, This is Dan Bell.

Image by Freepik

In my double features, I attempt to answer a question through both of my reviews. But this time, I will only make a prediction, as I haven’t made a prediction since my Halloween double feature back in 2018. For this double feature, my prediction is the mall in Night of the Comet will play a bigger role than the mall in The Legend of Billie Jean. I haven’t seen any of these films prior to these reviews. Based on the clips that were in the introduction of Dan’s video, ‘DEAD MALL SERIES : Tour of the SUNRISE MALL from THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN (1985)’, my guess is the story of The Legend of Billie Jean will revolve around a conflict that is not confined to the mall. I once read a synopsis for Night of the Comet that stated the film contained a zombie apocalypse. If this is true, the script would present a logical explanation for the story remaining in one location.

Have fun at the mall!

Sally Silverscreen

Take 3: Woman in Gold Review + 440 Follower Thank You

For this Blog Follower Dedication Review, I was originally going to review some episodes of Murder, She Wrote. The two reasons for that decision were a) I haven’t reviewed Murder, She Wrote episodes since 2020 and b) I was going to offer something different for my readers and followers. But since I recently watched Woman in Gold, I chose to write about that movie instead. The 2015 film revolves around the subject of art restoration, specifically art stolen during World War II. When it comes to entertainment media, this subject seems to have received more awareness within the previous decade. Two years after the release of Woman in Gold, the Signed, Sealed, Delivered series tackled this subject in their movie; Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Home Again. In 2014, Robert M. Edsel’s book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, was adapted into a film. These are just three movies, with two of them based on a true story. Think of all the other stories like these that haven’t been covered in film yet?

Woman in Gold poster created by BBC Films, Origin Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, The Weinstein Company, and Constantin Film

Things I liked about the film:

The acting: Helen Mirren is an actress who has a commanding presence. While I’ve only seen a handful of her movies, the ones I have watched feature her as a lead actress or in a prominent role within an ensemble. In Woman in Gold, Helen portrays Maria, a woman desiring to reunite with a painting of her aunt. Maria was eccentric in the film. But the way she was presented in the movie was pleasant and inviting! On a trip to the airport, Randol ‘Randy’ Schoenberg and his wife are giving Maria a lift. When Randy mentions how much luggage was packed, Maria replies, nonchalantly, how they should arrive in Austria in style. Before meeting with the art museum’s archivist, Maria excitedly tells Randy how their mission is like a James Bond film, with Randy as Sean Connery. This presentation, as well as the on-screen camaraderie, made Maria someone to root for!

In my years of watching and reviewing movies, I have noticed a more successful transition of comedic actors in dramatic roles. This was Ryan Reynolds’ case in Woman in Gold. When Randy first meets Maria, the subject of her recently deceased sister is brought up. After seeing how much stuff Maria inherited from her sister, Randy jokingly remarks how she will no longer have to argue with her roommate. Remembering why Maria has her sister’s belongings, he quickly apologizes for the ill-timed joke. Even when scenes are more light-hearted, Ryan utilized his comedic acting skills. However, it never overshadowed his dramatic efforts!

The more of Daniel Brühl’s movies I see, the more I appreciate his acting talents! So, when I discovered his involvement in Woman in Gold, it piqued my interest in watching the film. Daniel portrayed Hubertus Czernin, a reporter from Austria. Because he supports the art restoration movement, Hubertus uses his resources to help Maria and Randy. The scene where these three characters are interacting for the first time showcases Daniel’s acting skills! While Hubertus is speaking about who he is and why the aforementioned movement is so important to him, you can sense how at ease Daniel is in his role. His mannerisms come across so naturally, the interaction between these three characters felt realistic. With all that said, I wish Daniel had more appearances in this film, as he was only in a handful of scenes.

The historical accuracy: As I’ve said in past reviews, an indicator of a movie’s time period is the inclusion of technology. Some parts of Woman in Gold take place in the late ‘90s. Therefore, bigger, boxier computers are shown at Randy’s law firm. Randy’s cell phone looks like one sold from around that time period, even sporting an antenna. But technology is not the only indicator of when a story takes place. A series of flashbacks show pieces of Maria’s life, including moments from around World War II. In these flashbacks, wardrobe elaborates on that story’s respective time. The World War II segments show Maria wearing sensible blouses and skirts that reach the knees. These parts of the flashbacks even show characters in tailored coats.

The legal side of art restoration: When I think of art restoration, I reflect on the process of restoring a piece to its original form. But because Woman in Gold revolves around restoring art to its original origin, the legal component is explored. A lot of well-known pieces I’m familiar with were acquired by respected museums and institutions. Therefore, I, more often than not, assumed those museums and institutions legally owned those pieces. Even if a museum or institution acquires an art piece, Randy and Maria’s story shows how difficult it is to obtain ownership of such a priceless artifact. Woman in Gold not only highlights United States law, it also addresses Austrian law. This allows the audience to witness the similarities and differences between these two legal systems.

Art tools image created by Freepik at freepik.com. <a href=’https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/flar-art-tools-pack_835368.htm’>Designed by Freepik</a>.  <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/paint”>Paint vector created by Freepik</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

What I didn’t like about the film:

How Randy’s grandfather was an afterthought: Throughout the story, Randy’s grandfather, a renowned composer, is brought up by various characters. Maria even claims to have crossed paths with him. Since the film primarily focuses on Maria’s efforts to reunite with her aunt’s portrait, Randy’s grandfather seems like a footnote within the overall narrative. As a viewer, I get the impression Randy deeply cared about his grandfather. A shot of Randy tearing up at a concert celebrating his grandfather’s work serves as one example of this assumption. Unfortunately, I don’t feel I learned enough about Randy’s grandfather from this story.

Some rushed parts of the story: Another thing I’ve said in past reviews is how there’s only so much story you can tell within a given run-time. In the case of Woman in Gold, the movie is an hour and forty-nine minutes. Because of this and because of how long and complimented the legal process is, some parts of the story were rushed. One example was when Maria and Randy took the Austrian government to court in California. I know that any on-screen court case is going to be abbreviated for the sake of time. However, the aforementioned California case only presented the opening arguments and the end result. As someone who wanted to learn more about the legal side of art restoration, it felt like the script skipped some key elements just to get to the exciting parts of the case.

Weak segues between flashbacks and “present time”: I like how the story incorporated pieces of Maria’s life through flashbacks, giving depth to the overall narrative. Unfortunately, I found the segues between these flashbacks and “present time” weak. In one scene, Maria is looking out a window. All of a sudden, a flashback begins. Several moments later, the flashback ends abruptly. Weak segues like this one caused the flow of these scenes to feel a bit choppy.

Courtroom image created by Macrovector at freepik.com. <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/isometric”>Isometric vector created by macrovector – http://www.freepik.com</a>. Image found at freepik.com.

My overall impression:

Before I share my overall impression, I’d like to thank every follower of 18 Cinema Lane! I appreciate the time you’ve given to reading and engaging with my content! Now, on to my overall impression of Woman in Gold! The subject of restoring art stolen during World War II has, in the past decade, received more awareness within entertainment media. In the case of the aforementioned film, it explores the legal side of that subject. I did learn how complicated the process of art ownership can be. The movie also had its strengths, such as the acting performances and the project’s historical accuracy. But due to the film’s heavier subject matter, the re-watchability rate isn’t as strong as other films I’ve reviewed. The movie had its flaws as well, with some rushed parts of the story as one example. With all that said, Woman in Gold is a film I would recommend, especially if you’re interested in the topics brought up in this review.

Overall score: 7.4 out of 10

Do you see Woman in Gold? Have you seen any films about restoring art stolen during World War II? Let me know in the comment section!

Have fun at the movies!

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

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.

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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