Kiss Me Kate (1953)

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Lilli (Kathryn Grayson) and Fred (Howard Keel) talk about their past marriage and work in her dressing room.

[1] This is my favorite musical, not for the dancing alone, but it is the best. The dancers, not just Ann Miller and Rall, but Bob Fosse, Bobby Van, and Carol Haney!! What more could any dance fan want? There is always something new to see, no matter how many times you have watched it. The lyrics are magnificent, tricky and intriguing. I will admit that the music is great, but folks, catch the dancing!

[2] Keel, with his big big voice and untrained natural talent, fills the screen (and his tights!) with his masculine presence. He struts, swaggers, and yet shows his vulnerable side believably enough to make us *like* his character, ego or no ego. Grayson… really comes into her own here–she’s excellent as Lilli, swooning at the right moments, strident during the rest, and actually bites out ‘I Hate Men’ with conviction…  I’m also partial to Tommy Rall, whose soaring athletic ability just crackles off the screen. It’s such a thrill to see Miller get matched with someone who can dance circles around most everyone else alongside her. They make the cutest couple in their two numbers together, with the energetic, exuberant dance to ‘Why Can’t You Behave?’ definitely making one of my favourite film dance routines of all time.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

I became a fan of this musical after seeing a version of it on Great Performances (PBS) several years ago; it stars Brian Stokes Mitchell and Marin Mazzie, two VERY well-respected Broadway veterans. I bought the soundtrack (released in 2006). Seriously, WHO can resist Stokes’ voice!? 

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Marin Mazzie (Lilli/Katharine) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Fred/Petruchio)

I saw this movie on TCM two weeks ago; it was pretty fun, though NOT as fabulous as the Broadway version. Fred Graham (Howard Keel) and Lilli Vanessi (Kathryn Grayson) are a divorced pair of actors who are brought together by Cole Porter, who has written a musical version of The Taming of the Shrew. Lilli, recently engaged to a Texas oilman, is reluctant to act w/ Fred, who is involved w/ Lois Lane (Ann Miller). It’s obvious that the tap dancing ingenue (Lois) and more mature leading lady (Lilli) resent each other. 

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Katharine (Kathryn Grayson) and Petruchio (Howard Keel) fighting during the play.

We soon seen that Fred and Lilli act a LOT like the mismatched lovers they play, Petruchio and Katharine. A fight between them on opening night threatens the production. Also, two thugs w/ thick New York accents (who are BIG fans of the theater) think that Fred owes their boss a LOT of money, so insist on staying next to him ALL night. Lois (who is cast as Bianca) is in love w/ another of her co-stars, Bill Calhoun (Tommy Rall), who forged that IOU. 

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Three suitors woo Bianca (Ann Miller) during the Tom, Dick, or Harry number.
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Bianca/Lois (Ann Miller) and Bill (Tommy Rall) talk in the theater’s alley.

…Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore, who get into the play and later get to sing one of Cole Porter’s best satirical numbers and a personal favorite of mine, ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare.’ It’s their own ode to their theatrical experience and also advice to the lovelorn that if you want to win the mate of your choice, learn the classics so you can wow them with rhetoric. Wynn and Whitmore are priceless.

Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re a big fan of The Bard, you will definitely enjoy the thugs’ song (Brush Up Your Shakespeare); it’s a combo of high culture and naughty wordplay.

I esp. like Lois’ signature song Always True To You (In My Fashion). Here is the (updated) song from the 2006 Broadway play, sung by Amy Spanger.

 

 

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The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) starring Jessica Chastain & Daniel Bruhl

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in U.S. theaters).

Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book was greatly inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska and Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. The book was published in 2007. While the real life events occurred in Warsaw, the movie was filmed entirely in Prague (w/ real baby lion cubs). This film also has a woman director (Niki Caro) and woman adapter (Angela Workman). 

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[1] It is still possible to find love and comfort in the darkest of times. Love is all around us. We must be the vessel through which hope and love spreads. Antonina believed this with her whole heart which is why she and Jan did what they did. There are brave people all around us: fighting for our rights, fighting for theirs, their family, their country – bravery comes in so many forms. This film reflects this: there is bravery in combat and ‘silent’ bravery. One is not greater than the other.

[2] One of the key messages seems to come from an early monologue delivered by Antonina where she compares the purity of animals (their eyes tell you everything) with the propensity to deceive and commonplace of ulterior motives in humans.

[3] Caro is able to reflect humanity, sincerity and earnestness in her films, which captivates and entangles the viewer. Caro’s directing prowess brings to mind the ideology of the male gaze vs. the female gaze in films… I feel as though I’m witnessing a life lived, purely, rather than someone’s perspective of that life. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

We first see Antonina (Jessica Chastain) as a happy figure riding her bike through a zoo with a young camel trotting beside her. She helps rescue a newborn elephant, interrupting  a dinner party. But soon German bombs begin dropping on her city (Warsaw) and this zoo she runs w/ her zoologist husband, Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh). 

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…she is undeniably captivating as the eponymous lead, channeling grit and vulnerability in equal measure as she fleshes out her character’s fears, anxieties and convictions. Among the supporting actors, Bruhl and Haas [the teenaged Israeli actress who plays a pivotal role] are the standouts, the former exercising admirable restraint in what could have been a traditionally villainous act, while the latter surprisingly nuanced in her portrayal…

-Excerpt from IMDB review

The scenes between Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) and Antonina are tense; as he disarms her with his affinity/experience w/ of animals, BUT later scares her (and us) with his unwanted advances and desire to cross-breed animals in hopes of creating a new type of bison/bull (superior beast). 

Holiday (1938) starring Cary Grant & Katharine Hepburn

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A poster for the movie.

Set in NYC, this film stars Cary Grant as Johnny Case, a 30 y.o. businessman working at a “financial house.” While he takes a skiing holiday to Lake Placid, he meets Julia Seton (Nolan); the two fall in love (in ONLY 10 days). They get engaged!

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Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is amazed by the size of the Seton family’s home.

It turns out that Julia comes from a VERY wealthy/influential family. Johnny is surprised and bemused, BUT then finds himself taken w/ Linda (Katharine Hepburn), Julia’s free-thinking/dramatic older sister and her little brother, Ned (Lew Ayres), a musically-gifted alcoholic. (Linda Seton was loosely based on Gertrude Sanford Legendre, a former débutante who left high society to become a big-game hunter and later spied for the OSS during WWII.) 

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Sisters Julia (Doris Nolan) and Linda Seton (Katharine Hepburn) surround Johnny (Cary Grant).

There are a lot of humorous little episodes. I tried to get Father to let me take a nursing course at a hospital. Oh yes, and I almost got arrested trying to help some strikers over in Jersey. Well, how was I to know that Father was on the board of directors at the company? You see, Case, the trouble with me is I never could decide whether I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, or John L. Lewis. -Linda talks about her past

It turns out that Julia is NOT that different from her father; at some point you wonder WHAT Johnny saw in her in the first place! Her siblings are discontented with being under their father’s thumb. Mr. Seton is NOT a bad guy, BUT has strong feelings about how things should be done to keep the family on the up and up. 

You’ve got no faith in Johnny, have you, Julia? His little dream may fall flat, you think. Well, so it may, what if it should? There’ll be another. Oh, I’ve got all the faith in the world in Johnny. Whatever he does is all right with me. If he wants to dream for a while, he can dream for a while, and if he wants to come back and sell peanuts, oh, how I’ll believe in those peanuts! -Linda explains, revealing her true feelings for Johnny 

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Johnny (Cary Grant) with his friends, Professor Nick Potter (Edward Everett Horton) and his wife, Susan (Jean Dixon).

[Quoting an imaginary society column] ‘Miss Linda Seton – on New Year’s Eve – entertained a small group of Very Unimportant People.’ -Nick jokes 

In the original play, Nick and Susan Potter are wealthy socialites. Due to the Depression, the plot was altered so that Johnny (“the common man”) would have more ordinary, down-to-earth friends. Johnny’s friends, the Potters, were intellectuals and funny- great combo. They added a LOT of fun to this film! 

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Johnny (Cary Grant) thinks about his future while his fiancee Julia (Doris Nolan) and her father (Henry Kolker) look on.

[1] Hepburn, clearly the star of this production, acts each scene with an emotion and charm that is almost unheard of in the mainstream cinema of the present. …I found myself becoming so endeared to her character that I probably would have been completely devastated if she didn’t get some sort of happiness in the end, probably one of the highest compliments that I can give to an actor’s performance… He [Grant] is such a fresh and passionate character… 

[2] Cukor takes a lighthearted approach to this story, which keeps it upbeat and entertaining, and he laces it with warmth and humor that’ll give you some laughs and put a smile on your face. But beyond all that, Cukor shows some real insight into human nature and the ways of the world. And it makes this film timeless. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Brothers Karamazov (1958) starring Yul Brynner, Lee J. Cobb, & William Shatner

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A poster for the film.

Alexi was the young monk who personified what it means to be a generous and forgiving Christian; Ivan the spiritually conflicted and deeply honest man of science; Dmitri the tortured deeply human soul who takes on suffering…

I just happened upon this film- had never seen it before. William Shatner is VERY young (and cute) here; he plays Alexi, the youngest brother in the family who is a monk. This film is about money (particularly inheritance), sibling rivalries (and alliances), forbidden love, and honor. Yul Brynner is perfectly cast as Dmitri, the oldest brother in the dysfunctional family. He is a Lt. in the Russian Army whose favorite hobby is gambling. Of the two female leads, Claire Bloom (Katya) and Maria Schell (Grushenka), I thought Bloom are more effective.

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Alexi (William Shatner) and his father Fyodor (Lee J. Cobb) have a serious talk.

Brynner is very charismatic and gives the right emotional intensity and vulnerability, while Cobb gives his patriarchal role so much juice and life, his demeanour sometimes even quite intimidating (the role is a problematic one due to being one that could easily fall into overacted caricature, Cobb admittedly does overact but enjoyably and the character still felt real). Richard Basehart brings many layers and nuances to Ivan… William Shatner does suffer from a greatly reduced (in terms of how he’s written) character, but surprisingly this is Shatner at his most subdued and moving, most of the time in his acting for personal tastes he’s the opposite.

-Excerpts from IMDB review

At the start of the film, Alexi convinces their wealthy father, Fyodor (Lee J. Cobb) to give him some money to pay off debts run up by Dmitri (Brynner). Fyodor is reluctant, knowing of Dmitiri’s irresponsible spending; he is also tyrannical and lecherous. Dmitri should be getting some money (which comes from his deceased mother’s side). 

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The brothers is the Karamazov family with their father.

Alexi is in the role of peacemaker in the family; while Dmitri is the “black sheep.” These two brothers are tight, though they have opposite personalities. The other brothers are Ivan (Richard Basehart), an atheist writer and Fyodor’s unclaimed bastard/servant, Smerdjakov (Albert Salmi). 

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Katya (Claire Bloom) is engaged to Dmitri- he’s NOT that into her though!

The daughter of Dmitri’s captain, Katya (Bloom), falls deeply in love w/ him after he helps her father out of a difficult situation. Dmitri admits that he wanted Katya, BUT didn’t love her. She explains that she doesn’t mind that. Some time later, when she becomes an heiress (thanks to a grandmother), she proposes that they get engaged. Dmitri agrees to it; after all, she is a beautiful, respectable, and wealthy woman. Katya goes to his town and meets his family, impressing them w/ all her charms. She and Ivan spend a LOT of time together; he falls in love w/ Katya, BUT she only sees him as a friend (and future brother-in-law).  

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Fyodor (Lee J. Cobb) has dinner with his mistress, Grushenka (Maria Schell).

So, why is this engagement taking SO long? Dmitri stays away (gambling and drinking), so there is no time to get to know and (maybe) fall in love w/ Katya. Back at home, Ivan and Smerdjakov are getting impatient to inherit; they’re waiting for their father to die. Fyodor shows no signs of slowing down; he has a young/blonde mistress, Grushenka. Though he’s NOT the sentimental type, Fyodor proposes marriage. 

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Dmitri (Yul Brynner) plays a song for Grushenka (Maria Schell).

For anyone interested in family dynamics and love relationships “Brothers” presents a web of triangulated rivalries and unrequited, seething passions — fiction that rings powerfully true.

I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t read this great novel — although the movie makes me want to — so I wasn’t familiar with the story. 

-Excerpt from IMDB review

Grushenka, who owns a tavern and has made some money of her own, buys Dmitri’s debts (on behalf of Fyodor). When Dmitri learns of this occurrence, he insults her servant (a former soldier), and then sets out to find the mysterious woman. He sees Grushenka at a skating pond (where she is having fun w/ another man, not Fyodor). It’s basically love at first sight (at least on his side); Dmitri is a VERY passionate man after all. Grushenka seems VERY taken w/ him, too, BUT she is also a professional (who knows how to survive in a man’s world). Check out this film to find out what happens next! 

Into the Badlands (AMC): Season 2, Episode 1

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the Season 2 premiere of the AMC TV series. New episodes will be airing Sundays (10PM EST).

I’m Only Human, a popular song by Rag’N’Bone Man plays. We find that Sunny (Daniel Wu) is a shackled prisoner in some sort of huge mining camp. The setting is somewhat reminiscent of the recent Mad Max: Fury Road film (note the colors, dust, etc.) Sunny makes an attempt to escape (fight scene ensues), BUT it finally subdued by his captives. The leader of the camp explains that the ONLY way to escape is death! 

At night, he dreams of Veil and their baby, then wakes up to find himself chained to Bajie (British actor Nick Frost), a chatty/burly/bearded prisoner. It turns out that Bajie, now a fellow Picker, was an opium dealer in his free life. He brags that he knows how to get stuff others want in the camp. 

***

M.K. (Aramis Knight) has been training for 6 mos. in a remote mountain location. He and his fellow Novices wear purple robes and sleep in hammocks. After M.K. admits that he’s glad he doesn’t have to hide his powers here, another young man explains how he was “treated like a king” by his clan. M.K. asks this boy if he was “scared to kill.” The boy dismisses him, recounting how he fought and killed many enemies; there are multiple scars on his forearm. 

M.K. sneaks off in search of The Master (someone he has yet to meet); we know how curious and persistent he can be from S1. It turns out that The Master (Chipo Chung) is an youthful-looking woman of color! The actress looked a BIT familiar to me; it turns out she played Chantho in Doctor Who, Season 4 (Utopia). I’m NOT an expert on that show, BUT I love the acting of David Tennant (who played Dr. Who for 2 seasons). His companion at that time was Dr. Martha Jones (Freema Agyeman- also on Law & Order: UK). Chung had the rare opportunity to play the assistant of Sir Derek Jacobi’s character. 

***

The Master challenges M.K.- he loses b/c he can’t control his powers yet. After M.K. goes back to this room in defeat, we see The Master heal a broken bone of her injured forearm (WOW)! Looks like there could be MORE to the powers possessed by M.K. and the young men.

***

The grimy prisoners are cleaning up after work. Sunny removes his shirt; Bajie sees all the tattoos on his back for the first time. He instantly knows that Sunny was a Clipper (oh no)! Sunny looks pissed off, BUT Bajie says “you can trust me.” 

While eating dinner, Sunny asks Bajie what he knows re: the situation in the Badlands. He learns that Quinn is considered missing (w/ a reward for his return). The other Barons are scrambling for power. The Nomads are running wild. 

Chaos leads to new opportunities. And I’m ALL about new opportunities. -Bajie explains to Sunny 

Since the Pickers met their quota last month, there will be a “fight night” in the camp. It’s VERY brutal; Bajie says that “no one ever escapes alive.” Sunny asks him to find a map of this mine.

***

Ryder (Oliver Stark) is reminiscing about his lonely childhood in his old room at The Fort. The room is dusty and items are covered up, including a rocking horse he used to play on. Jade (Sarah Bolger) comes in and sweetly tells him about his accomplishments (so we get to know what happened directly after the finale of S1 until now). They are (finally) together; he calls her “The Baroness.”  They are looking a BIT more grown-up (he w/ a beard/goatee; she with a wavy updo). They and their people have been living at Jacobee’s mansion. BUT Ryder still feels like his father is haunting him. 

***

At the oil refinery (now controlled by Ryder), Tilda (Ally Ioannides) sneaks up behind an experienced Clipper and stabs him silently. Work is NOT being done at an efficient rate, Ryder learns, since a LOT of Cogs keep leaving. A worker (perhaps manager) explains: “The Widow has been giving them sanctuary.” Ryder is surprised by this, since they had NOT heard from her in months. Jade advises to cut back on working hours and giving more rations to those Cogs who stayed loyal. Hmmm… looks like these two are working more like partners, unlike Quinn and Lydia. 

The next moment, Tilda causes an explosion- a Jeep blows up. Jade is thrown back by the force; Ryder shouts at his few Clippers to find her and get her to safety. The Widow (Emily Beecham) walks out w/ a smugly satisfied look on her face. (We’d been waiting for that right?) Tilda and the other Butterflies are behind her, ready to fight the Clippers. 

The Widow breaks off at one point to chase after Jade (she’s unhurt) and the Clipper guarding her. Jade witnesses some of the bloody sword fighting; she is shocked, scared, but keeps her wits about her. The Widow climbs the stairs, cutting through several Clippers posted along the way in her creative/bloody fashion. On the roof, she deflects the arrows of five Clippers, then slices their throats w/ one of her butterfly-shaped blades. She struts up to Jade, BUT doesn’t hurt/kill her! The Widow simply has a message for Ryder- she has reclaimed her oil fields, and anyone who tries to stop her will end up dead. Then she grabs the knife from Jade’s hand and cuts down the red banner (w/ the armadillo on it) from the wall. 

***

Bajie presents Sunny w/ a map; he got it from the oldest Picker in the mine. Sunny is skeptical, wondering if it’s “accurate.” Bajie figures out that Sunny is going to attempt an escape, so wants to go along. Sunny glares at him- that’s a no go! Someone yells that they found something. Bajie (being an opportunist) quickly punches that guy out and grabs the ring. After an expert examines it, he is given a 24-hr. break from mining. That wasn’t the reward Bajie was hoping for, so he tells The Engineer (Stephen Walters; also in Outlander) that he knows of something much better, asking: “Do you know what a Clipper is?” 

***

The Widow is looking wistfully at the photo of her little boy inside a gold locket. Tilda comes in and tells her of the MANY that are joining their cause. The Widow admits that she needs to be more than a fighter now- more of a leader. Tilda suggests she come and meet some of the people who have put their faith in her (and her way of life). 

You don’t belong to me. Everyone here is free and equal. My dream is that, one day, there will be no Cog, Clipper, Doll, or Baron… only free women and men deciding the course of their own future. -The Widow states her philosophy to a group of Dolls and Clippers at a food station

 ***

M.K. is angry w/ Ava, his Abbott, who he’d been training w/ for 6 mos. He told her secrets which she revealed to The Master. Now The Master has decided to take over training M.K. 

***

Tilda and four of the Butterflies take revenge against a group of Clippers. They think it’s b/c they refused to fight, BUT Tilda explains that it was for abusing the Dolls (incl. her friend Odessa). Tilda turns to go (like a boss) while the blood of these men flies in arcs behind her. Yeah, this gal has her OWN mind! 

***

The Engineer comes over to Sunny, w/ Bajie in tow. He knows that Sunny is a great killer (being a Clipper). It turns out that Bajie traded his freedom for Sunny’s (was NOT expecting that)! Sunny is led out of the mine by two guards. 

***

In an unknown location, Veil (Madeline Mantock) has given birth to a healthy baby boy. She is presented him by Quinn (Marton Csokas). Surprise- he’s alive!