Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Radio Theater: Orson Welles in Around the World in Eighty Days (10/23/1938)

Around the World in Eighty Days

Starring: Orson Welles, Ray Collins, Edgar Barrier, Eustace Wyatt, Frank Readick, Arlene Francis, Stefan Schnabel, Al Swenson, William Alland, Howard Hughes

Year: October 23, 1938

My Rating★★★

Available free from Indiana University Bloomington

I've never read this particular novel either, although it is on my list. However, I did watch the 1989 miniseries starring Pierce Brosnan as Phineas Fogg so I'm quite familiar with the story. 

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

Phineas Fogg is a wealthy Victorian gentleman who runs on time. Every moment of his life, down to the last second, is accounted for. So when members of his club place a wager with him that he cannot make it around the world in 80 days when he positively claims he can, well, the race is on. Phineas' journey involves steam trains, ships, boats, elephants, and more, all accompanied by his new French manservant Passepartout, a loyal man who likes his new master but also thinks he's CRAZY, and he wouldn't be far wrong. But the greatest question is, can Phineas actually deliver on his promise to make the trek in 80 days, or will his faith in Father Time ultimately fail him in the end?

This play is very nearly brilliant. Orson approaches the role of Phineas Fogg with a delightful bit of snobbery in his voice, making the character very memorable. I've heard Edgar Barrier before, playing the voice of the hotel manager in Private Lives, so it was fun to have him play Passepartout as well. He uses such an eccentric and hyper French accent that just works for the role.

The script is good, very, very good, but, due to the shortness of time, there are days and weeks that are simply mentioned in narration as having happened, Phineas hopping from train to boat, etc., without actually seeing these scenes. It's a shame, but also understandable that the audience is unable to experience everything. Unfortunately, this also means that the listeners don't have time to really engage with the love story so that bit feels a little, shall we say, sudden? Considering the lack of time, however, this play is concise, clear, and easy to follow, even for those with no familiarity with the story.

Around the World in Eighty Days is, quite simply, a fun romp around the world with Orson Welles. It's entertaining and quirky and one of my favorites of Orson's radio productions.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Hedy Lamarr, Robert Walker, and June Allyson star in Her Highness and the Bellboy (1945)

Her Highness and the Bellboy

Year: 1945 (set in 1938)

Starring: Hedy Lamarr, Robert Walker, June Allyson, Agnes Moorhead, and Rags Ragland

My Rating★★★★

Written for the Joe Pasternak Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

Jimmy Dobson (Robert Walker) is a flirtatious bellboy for a fancy hotel but is, surprisingly, a bit of a straight-shooter. His closest friend is Albert Weever (Rags Ragland), another hotel employee, but one with a bit of an undescribed mental disability. Jimmy's fondness for Albert manifests whenever Albert starts getting dragged into bad company and Jimmy yanks him back out again. In a cozy old Victorian brownstone that has been split into multiple apartments, Jimmy lives fairly comfortably in an apartment directly below the lovely Leslie Odell (June Allyson), a charming and sweet girl who loves Jimmy dearly but suffers from emotional anxieties that manifest themselves in an inability to walk. So she spends her days painting Santa Claus figures to sell so she can help her aunt pay their rent and dreams of a day when Jimmy might just tell her he loves her back.

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

Each day is much like another for this little group of people until Princess Veronica (Hedy Lamarr) and her entourage including Countess Zoe (Agnes Moorhead) arrive from an unnamed European country. Princess Veronica wants to visit America for a very specific reason; she is in love with a newspaper journalist. But once there, a twist of fate throws the princess and Jimmy into the same path. Jimmy foolishly believes the princess is in love with him, when in reality, she yearns to marry her journalist who refuses her because he has no wish to marry royalty, no matter how much he loves her, which he does. Leslie yearns after Jimmy who is now infatuated with Princess Veronica who dearly dreams of her journalist. A mess if ever there was one.

At times a screwball comedy of errors, at times a romantic tragedy, Her Highness and the Bellboy is an entertaining ride from start to finish. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Can true love overcome deadly illness in the popular Japanese movie, Today's Kira-kun from 2017?

In Japan, the red string of fate binds lovers together, running from pinky to pinky. For Yuiji Kira (Taisha Nakagaway), he is living his life on borrowed time. A bad heart means he has roughly a year to live and up until his current high school year, Yuuji had been living life recklessly. But now, with his time so limited, Yuiji has settled down, his heart heavy because he doesn't want to die, and keeping the secret of his illness from his friends is loneliness itself. One day, shy, introverted Ninon Okamura (Marie Iitoyo) sees Yuiji crying, hurries up to him, a boy she has started admiring because he is different now, and vows to stay by his side for a year. Despite the oddity of her declaration, Yuiji takes her up on it, tying her fate to his. For Yuuji, this is the first genuine relationship he's had with a girl, allowing himself to fall in love. And for Ninon, this is her first relationship ever, including friendships. Together they must weather the storms of new beginnings, misunderstandings, parental influence, and Yuiji's weak and dying heart.

No country does high school stories like Japan. They're in their element when dealing with youth and love and that exhilarating time of life. I put off watching Today's Kira-kun because I wasn't sure if it had a happy ending, and I just have not been in the mood for sad stories. I'm happy to report that Today's Kira-kun ends very, very well. It's not like Koizora which is labeled a romantic tragedy for a reason.

The actors did a solid job in their performances. I've encountered Marie Iitoyo before in a couple of different roles and have always liked her. She's a good actress, although here she does perform a bit on the overly dramatic side. I did find some of her reactions a smidgeon over the top, but that's okay. It worked for the role and for the story. Taishi Nakagawa is newer to me, so I don't have much to compare him to in terms of past performances, but I do like him as Yuiji. He has a nice, friendly face, very expressive, and he cries on cue. I found myself liking the character a great deal and hoping his fate wouldn't be to die at the end of their year together. I was less impressed with the secondary actors Shono Hayama and Yuna Taira playing Yuiji's friends. Shono was okay in his best friend role, but I'm afraid that Yuna Taira as Rei Yahagi fell flat for me. She felt so much older than a teenager as if she were a woman of the world, and that just didn't work. Plus, I usually hate the ex-girlfriend/boyfriend of lead characters anyway since they're simply plot devices with no purpose but to stir things up. Which is what she does.

The screenplay did leave a little to be desired. The story is based on a girl's manga but they left out some critical details, like how Ninon and her parents even know Yuiji is ill. In the manga (I read the first chapter free online from the publisher), it's because Ninon and Yuiji are next-door neighbors and she's known him for years. None of that is a part of the screenplay, so that's sort of a major oops. They probably should have added 15 minutes to the run time and put it back in because as it stands, there's no logical reason for Ninon or her parents to know that Yuiji is even sick. A boy can cry a few tears in the park without a girl thinking he's on death's door. 

3/22/2021 Update: With the new VIKI subtitles, a lot has been made much more clear regarding the screenplay. Yes, they are neighbors, although more like they live on the same street to say hello to one another every once in a while. Ninon overheard her parents discussing Yuiji's health because her parents know his parents. Which is why she knew he was sick. That really clears up a lot of my confusion and frustration with the screenplay, so YAY. Many thanks to the VIKI subtitlers (that's how you should watch it, link at the bottom of my review).

However, it still didn't clear up the wedding scene. If that was straight from the manga, they needed to leave it out, since there was no minister and I'm pretty sure you're not married if there's no official performing some sort of wedding ceremony. I "love" how they dug up a suit for Yuiji and a wedding dress for Ninon out of thin air. That was quite the stretch.

Overall, there are many endearing and sweet scenes, like when Ninon hosts a birthday party for Yuiji and when, on the same day, he shares with her what he was like as a delinquent in junior high. Marie and Taisha really had good, believable chemistry so their scenes together were charming. I also, personally, love that Ninon is a crafter. So many little crocheted amigurumi in her bedroom. Adorable.

Today's Kira-kun is pretty clean on the whole. PG-rated language. Rei has a picture of Yuiji in bed that she uses to manipulate Ninon, but according to the new, likely far more correct, subtitles on VIKI, they never did actually sleep together. Unfortunately, sleeping around is not really surprising behavior for someone acting like a delinquent in junior high, at least, not in Japanese film. Ninon and Yuiji are going to sleep together, but her parents come back unexpectedly before they even have a chance to kiss, so nothing happens.

Overall, I enjoyed Today's Kira-kun. Thanks to Yuiji's friend Yabe, Yuiji realizes that none of their time is set in stone. No one knows when they will breathe their last, and so he should not run from Ninon just because he's afraid of burdening her. Any of them could die tomorrow, so the important thing is to live today. It's a solid Japanese movie with a happy ending which made me very, very glad. Despite the plotholes, this movie is filled with lots of warm fuzzies and very pretty cinematography.

Where can I watch Today's Kira-kun?

3/22/2021 Update: You can now watch Today's Kira-Kun officially on VIKI if you have a Standard VIKI Pass ($4.99 a month).

The subtitles are outstanding and this is a perfectly legal streaming service so you are supporting the actors and filmmakers.

Today's Kira-kun (Closest Love to Heaven)

Country: Japan
Year: 2017
Genre: School, Romance, Friendship, Illness
Starring: Marie Iitoyo, Taishi Nakagawa, Shono Hayama, Yuna Taira

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Dev Patel in The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

The Personal History of David Copperfield

(based on the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens)

Starring: Dev Patel, Jairaj Varsani, Ranveer Jaiswal, Peter Capaldi, Hugh Laurie, Tilda Swinton, Ben Whishaw, Rosalind Eleazar, Morfydd Clark, Gwendoline Christie

Year: 2019

My Rating★★★★★

I'm an avid lover of Charles Dickens' work. So the moment I saw the trailer 6 months ago at a showing of the last movie I saw in the theater, Emma, I knew that as soon as possible, I wanted to watch The Personal History of David Copperfield. Whereas Emma didn't fully work for me, this movie did, in so many glorious ways. So I braved the theater with my sister for the first time since March 2020. We had popcorn and soda and social distanced from the other attendees and thoroughly enjoyed seeing a movie on the big screen.

The story begins with David, as he tells his youth and upbringing himself. Dev Patel as grown-up David Copperfield joins his mother, her housekeeper Peggotty, and his aunt Betsy Trotwood played by Tilda Swinton at the moment of his birth. This is a unique plot device having Dev Patel there, but it worked because of the way the story is narrated. After all, this is David, telling his own story, so why wouldn't he, grown-up David, be there at the moment of his birth?

For those unfamiliar with the Dickens' story, young David (played brilliantly by Ranveer Jaiswal) lives happily with his mother and Peggotty until his mother marries again when he's still a lad. His stepfather, Mr. Murdstone, and the man's sister Jane Murdstone are tyrants of the first order, a fact David realizes the first time he talks back to Mr. Murdstone and is cruelly horsewhipped for his insubordination. David (now played just as brilliantly by Jairaj Varsani) is then sent away by Murdstone to work in Murdstone's bootblack factory and live with an impoverished and silly man by the name of Micawber (Peter Capaldi) and his family. Inevitably, David's mother dies and David (now Dev Patel) leaves the factory to seek out his only living relation, his Aunt Betsy Trotwood who did not want him when he was born because he was a boy and not a girl, and her cousin Mr. Dick, played by the marvelous Hugh Laurie of Jeeves & Wooster and House fame.

Dev Patel as David Copperfield
David inevitably attends school where he meets and befriends a young man named Steerforth, meets a steady and faithful girl named Agnes (played wonderfully by Rosalind Eleazar) who he does not yet love, and ends up falling in love with Dora (Morfydd Clark who will apparently be in the new The Lord of the Rings that I'm very hesitant about), the lovely and foolish daughter of his future employer. Ben Wishaw plays Uriah Heep, a scoundrel version of Mr. Guppy from Bleak House.

The story of David Copperfield is always about the ups and downs, highs and lows of life. David starts life happy for about 8 years, then is miserable in the bootblack factory for about 10 years, until he's adopted by his aunt and goes to school, then his aunt loses everything, and so on and so forth. This is life as we know it. It's not always going to be a happy experience. There will be a combination of good times and hardships. I love that Dickens wrote his stories based on this premise, but always with such a ray of hope, and as we know, the story of David Copperfield is very nearly an autobiography of his own life.

There were many many moments where it felt like I was watching a story about Charles Dickens with Dev Patel as the great man himself. I LOVE that. It was a brilliant bit of directing. Let's just stop and talk about Dev Patel for a minute. He was born to play David Copperfield. I love him in this role. He attacked it with zeal and fervency and just made David come alive on the big screen. This brings me to Jairaj Varsani and Ranveer Jaiswal both playing young David Copperfield. I adore child actors. They have so much spark and pizzazz and both of these little boys are remarkable. I couldn't have asked for better child actors to take on the role of David Copperfield in his youth. There's a striking moment at the end of the film where grown-up David and young David (I believe it's Jairaj Varsani) see each other and grown-up David encourages him that it will all turn out right in the end. It's such a great moment.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Radio Theater: Orson Welles in A Tale of Two Cities (7/25/1938)

A Tale of Two Cities

Starring: Orson Welles, Mary Taylor, Edgar Barrier, Martin Gabel, Frank Readick, Betty Garde, Erskine Sanford, Ray Collins, Kenneth Delmar

Year: July 25, 1938

My Rating★★★

Available free from Indiana University Bloomington

This review will be quite brief.

I have listened to this radio play at least a half a dozen times, but it still confuses me. I partially blame my confusion on Mr. Welles' adaptation that feels a bit jumpy, but also on my having never read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. My unfamiliarity with the story makes it hard for me to focus and if I have just a few minutes where my mind wanders, which always seems to happen, well, that's the end. And I spend the rest of the play struggling to keep up.

All I do know is that it is a very condensed version of Dickens' novel. It has to be or they could never fit the story into an hour. 

Go to my Classic Hollywood page to find all my Classic Hollywood reviews!

Orson Welles gives a stellar performance as both Dr. Alexandre Manette and Sydney Carton, two men who are alike in appearance and voice but in no other way. My brain disengages about 10 minutes in and re-engages about 15 minutes from the end when I realize that Dr. Manette is about to be executed during the French Revolution and Sydney Carton, a man who has never done anything for anyone, decides to take his place. The final several minutes are very moving and fit well into my expectations of Orson Welles' emoting abilities.

The only reason I've listened to this radio play so many times is because it is the first play in my complete Audible collection of Orson Welles' plays. I forget that every single time and am simply too lazy to skip ahead. I must keep hoping that the story will someday click in my brain. Alas, it hasn't happened quite yet.

However, if you are familiar with Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, then I have no doubt you will enjoy the radio play.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Review: A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson (2018)

A Christmas by the Sea

Author: Melody Carlson

Genre: Christian Fiction

Length: 176 pages

Year: 2018

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads - Amazon (Kindle Unlimited)

When widow Wendy Harper inherits a cottage by the sea from her grandfather, a cottage she had visited and loved many times when she was a child, the boon is an unanticipated godsend. Wendy and her twelve-year-old son Jackson travel to Seaside, Maine the week of Thanksgiving, intending to do as many minor upgrades as possible before Christmas. Wendy's intention is to put the cottage on the market to help assuage their financial burden, but Jackson is just as determined to stay in Seaside, Maine with his mother and make a new life for themselves. Fortunately for Jackson, he gets local wood handicraft artisan and business owner Caleb Colton on his side, a man who finds himself falling hard and fast for Wendy. As Jackson constantly reminds his mom, the important thing is trusting that God will provide for them, a truth that she's found herself wandering from in the years since her husband's losing bout with cancer.

Sometimes you just want to sit back and read a Christmas book, and when that mood strikes, Melody Carlson is the author who fills the bill in Christian fiction. A Christmas by the Sea is a simple and easy read, filled with the warmth of family and new friends and the possibility of making new memories. I lived on the Oregon coast for 6 years growing up and I loved much of it, although we didn't suffer from the same bouts of cold and snow as they do in Maine. 

How do you get ready for autumn?

Cinderella's Pumpkin Farm sign and Cinderella doll
My favorite season is upon us! The weather turns chilly (at least it does in Colorado), the leaves change color, and I can pull my long-sleeved shirts and sweaters out of storage! We even had snow the other day, the earliest snowfall in recorded Colorado history. Such a crazy year of nuttiness!

Do you have any fun things you do in the autumn?

This year we hosted an afternoon tea for a friend's daughter's high school graduation.

Her life this year has been tough, so that was fun to support her in this way. We hosted it last weekend and apart from the Congrats, GRAD! sign and little curlycue things hanging from the ceiling, it was all fall-themed. My sister and I wandered into Party City last Friday where we found the graduation stuff, but we also found an awesome flannel-backed vinyl tablecloth in fall leaves that fits our table perfectly. I love that it's vinyl because it means easy cleanup for spills. We used it for the tea and it was perfect.

I had a difficult Sunday a few weeks ago so I went for a long drive out into eastern Colorado, just to get away from the city and get some fresh air and fresh perspective. When I came back, my sister had changed out the art wall and even put up quite a bit of our fall decor. It was such a blessing to me.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Sunshine Blogger Award

I haven't been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger award in forever! I'm deeply touched that Rachel at Hamlette's Soliloquy nominated me. Thank you very much. ❤

Sunshine Blogger Award Rules 

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you in the blog post and link back to their blog.

2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.

3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.

4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

The Sunshine Blogger Award Questions Assigned to Me

1) What's something good that's happened to you this year?

I finally figured out a knitted shawl pattern that has been a thorn in my side for at least 5 years. I've had more than 2 dozen false starts over the years that had me ripping the pattern out and trying again, on repeat, until I would shove it into the closet to be dragged out again a year later. But this time I've got it. I'm now 3/4 of the way through the shawl and feeling an immense sense of pride and accomplishment.

2) What was your favorite movie when you were ten years old?

Hmm, it might have been All Dogs Go to Heaven or The Little Mermaid. I was fairly obsessed with both of them. It's funny watching All Dogs Go to Heaven now because it is so NOT politically correct and I love that aspect of it. I don't think it could be made now, at least, not with the same raw intensity.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Drama Review: Sapuri (2006)

Sapuri poster from 2006


Year: 2006

Episodes: 11 episodes, 45 minutes each

Country: Japan

Genre: Inter-Office Romance, Age-Gap Romance 

Starring: Kazuya Kamenashi, Ito Misaki, Eita Nagayama, Koichi Sato, Reina Asami

My Rating: ★★

You can find a list of my Japanese drama reviews on my Japanese Drama and Movie Reviews page. 

Sapuri follows the inter-departmental relationships and romances of a marketing company. College-age Yuya Ishida (Kamenashi) is the new guy on the block, hired as a part-timer or almost an intern to do a gofer type of job. While there, he falls hard for straight-shooter Minami Fujii (Ito Misaki), a woman in her late twenties who wants to fall in love but regrets that she's never spent time actually pursuing feminine traits and can't easily put aside her business-like demeanor.

Then you have the boss, Imaoka-san (Koichi Sato) who's having love problems of his own, but who does take good care of Yuya in remembrance of Yuya's deceased father. And of course, the "other" woman chasing Yuya, Yuri Watanabe (Reina Asami) and the "other" guy chasing Minami, Satoshi Ogiwara (Eita Nagayama). With the sheer amount of romantic escapades happening, it's a miracle that anyone gets any work done.

I'm cutting right to the chase with this one.

In my estimation, Sapuri would have been much, much better if it had simply been an office comedy and left the age-gap romance completely alone. The relational stuff falls so horribly flat. I didn't buy it. I don't see how it became an age-gap romance. Yuya and Minami have almost nothing in common. He's a surfer boy with long beach bum hair, a reckless attitude, and abundant enthusiasm. He does mature somewhat by the end of the drama, but not enough to be a good match for Minami. She's straight-laced and prim and proper and no-nonsense like an American schoolmarm from the 1850s. How is that ever going to work out?