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