Friday, June 23, 2017

Award Winners for a REASON: The African Queen (1951)

The African Queen (1951)
starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn

I'm back! I can't believe it's been almost a year since I last posted on this blog. Taking a break from certain things proved to be necessary for my emotional survival this last year. We're had a lot of upheaval at work and just overall stress and the last thing I needed was the additional weight of trying to write movie reviews on a regular basis. But I'm back and willing to give it my best shot.

The basics haven't changed. I'll still be watching and discussing classic film and actors.

However, I've also decided to incorporate modern movies set in the era of old Hollywood. Those can be loads of fun. Like, right now, I'm rewatching Zodiac, which is of course about the Zodiac Killer and takes place in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Not a classic movie, but set in the right era. It'll be a fun expansion since I really do love movies set in the era of classic Hollywood, period.

On to The African Queen from 1951.

Please tell me that everyone has seen this movie at least once?

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn SHINE in this glorious film that is based off C. S. Forester's book of the same name that I have yet to read, but is on my bookshelf. This movie is actually filmed on location in Africa. Do you know how rare that was in the days of classic Hollywood, to film a movie anywhere other than a studio?

The basic story is this: Katharine Hepburn (Rose) and her brother are missionaries to the Congo in 1914. They've been there for 10 years. World War I breaks out and the little African village they minister to is raided by the Germans and all of the Africans are driven off. The shock of it puts Rose's brother into an early grave and she's left alone until Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), the captain of a sweet little vessel called the African Queen, shows up on her doorstep. He's been delivering supplies and mail to them for years, but now he takes Rose on as a responsibility to get her to safety. Except that Rose decides they need to destroy a German gunboat named the Louisa that is on a lake far down the Ulanga River. It's a dangerous proposition and Charlie is reluctant to even start, but together the two form an unusual partnership and even end up discovering they are soul mates.

The African Queen is a gorgeous film for two reasons.

First, like I already said, it was filmed on location in Africa.

Second, Humphrey Bogart was never more brilliant as an actor in all his life than in this film. Which explains his Academy Award for Best Actor! He earned it . . . hands down, no arguments. You'll also never see him in any better physical shape. Not a spare ounce of fat on his body anywhere, or on Katharine Hepburn for that matter. The two sparked!

Did you know that filming The African Queen was a welcome break for the actors from the McCarthy Hollywood red scare? Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and Bogie's wife Lauren Bacall were all under fire by the Army-McCarthy Hearings that were nothing more than a glorified witch hunt for communists. So for them, getting away from Hollywood was refreshing, despite the physical trials of a difficult African climate.

While one of the film's benefits was its authentic setting on location another was that it was an independent film, directed by John Huston yes, but funded independently. Not being attached to a major studio gave the actors a bit of breathing room. John Huston approached Bogart first, without any funding at all, and Bogart got Hepburn on board since he'd never acted with her and thought their chemistry might work with the story. The funding came next and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Bogie is the only one to come away from The African Queen with an Oscar, it's a good thing since it was his only one. But it was still an honor for Hepburn and Huston to be nominated in addition to being nominated for "best-adapted screenplay."

It's normal to wonder if your movie is going to be a success or a flop. But I don't think anyone anticipated that The African Queen would be such a phenomenal success. Now 66 years later, fans still marvel at the connection between Bogie and Hepburn and the absolutely stunning scenery as the African Queen floats down the Ulanga River, through white water rapids and sometimes under fire from German guns.

Oh, and by the way, the remastered DVD is AMAZING! You can tell how hard the restorers worked to present modern audiences with the best version of The African Queen that was humanly possible.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (2016)

Some books got it and some books ain't got it. A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay is the latter.

It felt like I started reading one novel and ended up finishing a completely different one. There was no cohesive whole, just bits and pieces that never matched up together. I was expecting a story of an art restorer and ended up in a whirlwind romance where the heroine (and you wouldn't believe how easy it is to forget her name is Emily despite the title because of how few characters actually use her name) falls in love with an Italian chef and in two weeks has given up her Americanized life and moved to Tuscany so he can help run his family's restaurant.

This one really disappointed me. I was hoping for something poignant and genuine like in Lizzy & Jane or for something magical and literary like in The Bronte Plot. Instead, I'm following a heroine who magically transforms her art from mediocre to magnificent simply by moving to Italy. None of it matched, and if that wasn't disappointing enough, any important conversations and scenes that the reader should have been privy to were referred to instead of experienced. Emily mentions that she had this conversation or was sitting with this person or experiencing that thing, but we weren't there to experience it with her. It's the worse kind of telling instead of showing.

My usual complaint of Ms. Reay's books remains the same; there isn't enough faith in this story to make it anything other than a clean read instead of a Christian one. Ben and Emily fall in love in just two weeks and never once do they express their faith to one another. Ben could have been marrying an atheist for all he knew, which would have gone off real well in his devoutly Catholic family, I'm sure.

While I may not have been overly fond of Dear Mr. Knightley because I don't care for epistolary novels, I would happily give it a re-read before ever again picking up A Portrait of Emily Price. I know that Ms. Reay loves classic literature and tries to imbue her work with it. In this last novel, she failed. Sure, there's a couple of mentions of a book by James Joyce called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but I'm curious as to how many of her readers have picked up Joyce's tome? I know that I never have, but I have read Austen and Bronte. No more obscure reads, please, otherwise the magic of Ms. Reay as an anglophile may just fade.

The next book on her docket is The Austen Escape (releasing November 7, 2017) and I can only hope it's a vast improvement from A Portrait of Emily Price.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Mini Movie - The Perfect Bride (2017)

Am I a romantic? Sometimes I wonder. I guess there are levels of romanticism in everyone, more in me that in some and less than what some of my friends possess.

But even I have to admit that Hallmark's The Perfect Bride is absolutely, well, perfect.

Especially if you happen to have a mild crush on Kavan Smith and think that Pascale Hutton is just about the cutest thing ever captured on film. Which I do. My friend's husband claims that a Hallmark movie is "good" when it doesn't end with a wedding. Well, this one ends at a wedding, but not necessarily with a wedding, if that makes any sense.

Bridal Bootcamp Instructor Girl meets adorable Wedding Photographer Boy, gets her crush going, has dreams shattered by discovering boy is actually engaged to another girl now attending her Bridal Bootcamp. Ohhhh, that angst.

What I love about Pascale is her ability to make you believe all the feels she's experiencing. Her character is a real sweetheart who refuses to do anything to ruin Wedding Photographer and his fiance's happiness.

Of course, this is Hallmark. Duh, you know what happens. But for a girl like me who only watched The Perfect Bride for Kavan and Pascale, I confess it's pretty cute.

Thank goodness for loving besties who will record a Hallmark movie for you when you don't have the station!