film, not a book

Not a Book: Enchanted

Oh yes. The sequel has just dropped on Disney plus so how could I resist talking about another Disney movie – and another opportunity for me to tell you how much I love a movie musical. Also this is a mad displacement exercise because this weekend is the start of a World Cup that I feel deeply conflicted about as well as the fact that this is Not The Right Time Of Year for a major football tournament and it is also the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix aka the last race of the F1 season, aka the first anniversary of the most controversial F1 race of all time and I really can’t deal with the stress of it all and also the fact that as the MotoGP season has already finished we’re about to enter the period of the year where there is no motorsport for me to watch. Anyway… Lets start with the original trailer for those of you who haven’t seen it…

Yes, Enchanted is a Disney princess movie and a very meta one. Unlike Mary Poppins or Bedknobs and Broomsticks where you start in the real world and have an interlude in animation, this one has the animated people visiting the real world and I love it so much. It subverts some of the princess tropes, reimagines others and it works for kids and adults. It’s also funny, the songs are great and the big production numbers are fabulous.

And that’s all before you get to the fact that that the cast is amazing. If you only know Amy Adams from her Oscar nominated stuff, it might be a shock to you, but this was her first big success as as leading lady. She had already got her Oscar nomination for Junebug at this point and my memory says that even then this seemed like a risky move. But she’s amazing in this – playing wide eye naiveite brilliantly without making you want to punch her for being so sunny and optimistic and irritating. Patrick Dempsey was pretty much at the peak of his McDreamy Greys Anatomy fame when he was cast as the real world leading man and he’s brilliant, as is James Marsden – who came off the back of playing Cyclops in three X Men films, to do two movie musials in 2007 – he’s also in Hairspray (which I also love). And of course before she was the voice of Elsa in Frozen, Idina Menzel was in this too. I’m a big West End/Broadway musical person (have I told you all that before?) and by the time this came out, Menzel was already a Big Deal on Broadway but hadn’t done a lot on screen so this felt like a big moment for her – especially because she didn’t sing in it. She was the original Maureen in Rent (she’s in the film of that too, but I can’t really recommend it unless you’re a mega Rent fan) and then originated Elphaba in Wicked, which she won a Tony for. I saw her play Elphie when she opened the West End production in 2006 and can confirm that it was epic.

If I haven’t convinced you to watch it yet, then I don’t know what will. I love the original so much, I hardly dare google the reviews, but I probably will to see if it’s going to be worth watching or if it’ll spoil my memories of the original. But all four of the two original couples are back and the trailer looks promising – even if the fact that it’s going straight to Disney + is a concern – although of course post covid, that doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to.

Have a great Sunday everyone.

film, not a book

Not a Book: Addams Family movies

I’m finishing the Halloween-y themed posts with two of my favourite films of the early 90s that also happen to be very weird and the perfect films to watch at this time of year – whether you’re an adult or a kid.

So the films in question are the early 1990s live action Addams family movies, which I think are pretty much the perfect kids scary movies where there is something for the adults too. My favourite is Addams Family Values, for reasons which I will come to but they are both pretty blooming brilliant. I had watched some of the black and white TV series (although I think I had seen more of the Munsters than the Addams) but never read any of the actual cartoon strips so the characters existed to me already – but these movies are the way I see them in my head. Angélica Huston and Raul Julia are Morticia and Gomez to me and their relationship is a perfect alchemy of creepy and nuts about each other.

The plot of the first film sees the reappearance of Gomez’s long lost brother Fester – or is he? He’s in train with two con artists who have designs on the Addams’ house and wealth. I nearly said that the plot is quite thin, and that it does a lot of establishing of the characters, but there is actually quite a lot of plot it just doesn’t always seem to hang together very well, but it does keep you guessing about whether “Fester” is or isn’t the long lost brother.

Now to the sequel, and first the plot: Morticia has had a new baby and brings in a nanny to help. Uncle Fester falls in love with the nanny, but is she all she seems? Each strand of this is great – Fester and Debbie, Debbie and the kids, the kids at summer camp. I prefer the sequel partly because it has a better plot and I think it has better one liners, but also because I think the holiday camp section is just brilliant – it does everything you could want if you have ever read a book about an American summer camp (or watched the Hayley Mills Parent Trap). I defy anyone to come away from this without having laughed at something.

These are on tv fairly regularly – and I think they will be in the next few days, but you can rent them from some of the steaming services too. You won’t regret it. And here’s some summer camp to show you what I mean!

film, not a book

Not a Book: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Today’s post is the latest instalment in my very loose collection of stuff about religion, which had previously featured stuff like Under the Banner of Heaven (now a tv series that I haven’t watched yet!), Murder Among the Mormons, Educated, Lula Rich and Unfinished: Short Creek.

Tammy Faye Bakker was a televangelist. Starting in the 1960s she and her preacher husband Jim were regular features on Christian TV channels – including founding their own network: The PTL network (PTL stands for Praise The Lord). This is a biopic of her life, following her from her childhood in Minnesota through the highs and lows. I don’t know how much I should tell you about the rest of the plot, because I don’t know what’s common knowledge and what’s not because I’ve read a lot about this sort of thing over the years! Jessica Chastain is Tammy – and was nominated for a bunch of awards for it. In fact the makeup department won the Oscar – and if you watch it, you’ll see why. Andrew Garfield is Jim and he’s very good too, although her performance was the one that was picked out.

It’s two hours long – and I think it’s a good watch, even if you’re not interested in the American religion nexus like I am. If you want to watch it, you’ll need Disney + in the UK – there are various trials around, and of course if you do get one, you can also watch The Dropout!

Happy Sunday everyone

film, not a book

Not a Book: The Red Shoes

Let’s continue the overarching themes of this month again – with some ballet and some theatre in a classic film.

The Red Shoes is all about a ballerina’s dedication to her art being tested by an impresario forcing her to chose between her career and love. Moira Shearer’s Vicky Page is plucked from obscurity to be the lead role in a new ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen story of the Red Shoes. But at the same time she’s secretly falling in love with a composer who is working with the country. And so it begins. I’m not spoiling the rest of it.

Made in 1948, it’s frequently on lists of the best British films ever – it got a bunch of Oscar nominations at the time and its reputation has only increased since then. It’s one of the sequence of Powell and Pressburger films from that period – coming after the adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Black Narcissus which is one of the other really well known ones. It’s also packed full of real ballet dancers – so you can see Robert Helpmann in a role that’s not the Child Catcher!

For me, when I first saw it the opening ballet class and performance sequences showed me exactly what I had imagined Veronica’s life at the Wells to be like. The film is from just a couple of years before the first Sadlers Wells book was published – I think Moira Shearer even gets a mention in one of them – although obviously Veronica is a child and Vicky is already a trained dancer, and Veronica and Sebastian’s… situation has a positive resolution!

A couple of years back, Matthew Bourne turned the film into a ballet, using the amazing score. I saw it on it it’s first tour and it’s proper good. New Adventures rotate through their shows, and it was touring when Covid started and everything stopped, so it might be a while before it’s on stage again – but it’s worth seeing when it is. But in the meantime, you can just go an watch the original film, which was restored in 2009 and looks amazing. It’s on BritBox if you have that, or you can buy it on DVD. It also comes around on TV reasonably regularly – often around Christmas.

Happy Sunday everyone – if it’s a bank holiday where you are, I hope you’re enjoying it.

book adjacent, film, not a book

Not a Book: Parent Trap

To keep the children’s book theme going while I’m at conference, today’s not a book is one of my favourite children films – which also happens to be based on a middle grade book!

Let’s make something clear to start with: I’m talking about the Hayley Mills Parent Trap. Yes I’ve watched the Lindsay Logan version, but by the time that came out I had already seen the original and I was not about to be won over! I first stumbled over the second half of this film on tv one weekend afternoon when I was an early teen and was astonished to find a film that seemed to have the plot of one of my favourite books from primary school – except set in America. The book in question is Erich Kästner’s Lottie and Lisa – which I had been borrowing as my reading book from the school library about once a term (maybe more) since I had finished the reading grade levels. I think it might have been the first time that I’d come across a book adaptation that had really been adapted and changed for the film. Or at least the first time I realised I had! And apologies if you’ve never see the film – because the trailer does do the entire plot, but hey.

Instead of 1930s Vienna, we’re in contemporary America but our two separated at birth twins still meet at camp. In the book they’re younger than the movie’s thirteen going on fourteen, but the plan is the same – switch places and meet the parent they don’t remember and try to engineer a reconciliation. And yes, as a rational adult I know that splitting up twins when they’re tiny and never telling them that the other exists is wrong, but oh boy do I love it as a plot. And because it’s Disney their lives look glossy and fabulous. Sharon lives in a fancy house in Boston with her mum, delightful grandpa and uptight grandma but Susan lives on a California ranch with a lake that she swims in, her own horse and what would be called now an indoor/outdoor life style. It just looks so cool. Why wouldn’t the twins want to get their parents back together so they can stay at the ranch forever.

I also love Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith as the warring parents. They’re not bit characters in Sharon and Susan’s story – they’ve got proper plot and a love story of their own. In fact I’d argue that O’Hara’s Maggie is the best part – with great outfits and all the best lines as she does her part in outfoxing her ex’s new girlfriend. Just try to ignore the bit where she punches Mitch in the eye! And then there’s the technical achievement of getting Haley Mills to play two characters at once in the pre-CGI era. It was like magic – and the explainer video on my DVD of how they did it is fascinating. It’s such a technical achievement.

Honestly I could go on for hours about how much I love this film, but I’ve written enough and now I need to stop because I want to go and watch it again on Disney+!

Have a great Sunday everyone.

film, not a book

Not a Book: The Sparks Brothers

Back with another documentary this week – this time a film about the band Sparks – namely brothers Ron and Russel Mael. If you’re not sure who they are, the song that you’re most likely to recognise is This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us:

The brothers first formed a band in the mid 1960s but broken through nearly a decade later in the mid 1970s and have been constantly producing music and evolving ever since, whether people have been watching or not – and some times people really haven’t been watching. But they have a lot of high profile fans. Don’t believe me? Watch the trailer:

Directed by Edgar Wright (yes him from Hot Fuzz) this is a two and a bit hour love letter to one of pop’s most enigmatic bands. Who are still enigmatic at the end of the film, but you’ve really enjoyed watching them go through their career and making music. The film is structured by working it’s way through the bands albums and what was going on in the band at the time. But only in the band. I still don’t know if the brothers have partners, or kids or anything. But I do know that Ron has a very cool and very retro car.

It’s also totally notable that although many other musicians have joined them in the band at various points only to be jettisoned as the brothers moved on, lots of them appear in the film and seem to be absolutely fine about it. In fact Ron and Russel are often described as gentlemen and a joy to work with. So not your normal music documentary on that front either.

Maybe it could have been shorter, but why wouldn’t you want to include puppets and incredibly literal props and visual gags. It’s just a lovely way to pass the time, and you’ll end up listening to a Sparks playlist afterwards. I’ve even included on for you so you don’t have to go looking for it. You’re welcome. The Sparks Brothers is on Netflix in the UK. Enjoy.

film, not a book

Not a Book: Judy Garland

Friday marked 100 years since the birth of Judy Garland, so I’m going all Hollywood again here today.. When we went to Wicked earlier in the year, I had a moment as it started where I wasn’t sure if our nieces had seen the Wizard of Oz – but when I checked at the internal they had, so I think it’s still impossible not to have seen a little of her work.

And although you might first encounter her as a child in The Wizard of Oz, if as you grow up you start wandering into Hollywood history (or maybe even if you don’t!) you soon discover the troubled life – the child star whose life was wrecked by her fame and career. She’s not the first troubled child star, but she’s the one who everyone remembers – the drugs she got hooked on after the studio gave them to her to keep her thin, give her energy to work or get her to sleep after work, the troubled personal life, the early death. It all over shadows the actual talent. I’ve put the Get Happy clip in here as well as the Wizard of Oz trailer because people forget that she did upbeat.

And of course there’s so much Garland-related media to consume. Rufus Wainwright is doing his Judy show again this week for the anniversary – I’m still hopeful that one day I will manage to see him do it live, but I’ve listened to the CD to death (yes, I’ve had it that long).

Then of course there’s the plays and movies. I still haven’t watched Renee Zelwegger in Judy, but I did see Tracie Bennett in End of the Rainbow when that was touring and it was really quite something. The clip from the Tony Awards really doesn’t do it justice at all.

And then I was in the Royal Albert Hall for the John Wilson Movie Musical Prom where Caroline O’Connor did this amazing version of The Man That Got Away.

I’ve only watched the 1954 Star is Born once – because as we all know I’m all about the upbeat, but Garland is amazing in it and I still don’t know how she didn’t win the Oscar – and the story about the cameras coming to her hospital room (she’d just given birth) to film her in case she won breaks my heart every time. And The Man That Got Away lost the best song prize too – to a song I’ve never heard off. What a swizz.

In terms of reading material – after all this is a book blog – I read Get Happy by Gerald Clarke more than a decade ago and it’s still considered to be the definitive one so that’s worth a look if you’re interested. But if you don’t want 500 whole pages, she’s Chapter 10 in Anne Helen Petersen’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood as part of the Broken by the System section. And she gets a few mentions (as an example) in Helen O’Hara’s Women vs Hollywood too if you want to read about the bigger picture of Hollywood being awful to women.

But let’s end on the woman herself performing and not on the sadness. I’ve picked the Trolley Song from Meet Me In St Louis, because it’s upbeat and because Judy said that this film, directed by Vincente Minnelli who she went on to marry, was the first time she had ever felt beautiful. Which is sad, but she does look amazing in this film and I’m glad she could see it.