Friday, August 5, 2016

Movie Review // Westward Ho The Wagons! (1956) with Fess Parker, Kathleen Crowley, and Jeff York

So here at long last is my review for Emma and Olivia's Legends of Western Cinema Week!

The official summary: “Inspired by the trials and triumphs of the American pioneers, Westward Ho, The Wagons! is the story of a wagon train full of families heading west on the treacherous Oregon Trail. Fess Parker (TV’s Davy Crockett) stars as Doc Grayson, in charge of guiding the wagons through hostile Indian territory. After a band of Pawnees attack and steal their spare horses, Doc leads the wagons to the safety of Fort Laramie. But the Sioux who reside nearby are suspicious of the new settlers and soon a feud erupts, further endangering everyone in the fort.  Full of true grit and determination, Westward Ho, The Wagons! is an action-packed adventure that’s fun for the whole family.”

Wow. Oh dear. I hadn’t realized how very often the back of movie cases are just slightly off. I mean, they got the gist there, but if you’ve seen it… yes, not quite. Still, they’re more on than off in this instance, so I’ll let it stand. ;P

I watched this again recently while driving across Kansas, heading toward the Colorado Rockies. I had planned to do it anyway and then realized partway through how funnily applicable it was! It definitely made it all the more vivid and fun.

A classic Disney production, it was based on the book Children of the Covered Wagon by Mary Jane Carr and the script was actually written by Tom Blackburn who was also a scriptwriter for the Davy Crockett series.

Now… to give the full picture and all that right off, I’ll make my statement here and now that some of my family members are less than enamored with it and others love it (particularly my littlest sister). I’m kind of in the middle and would say I enjoy it. Yes... it’s not the most amazing acting/cinematography/costumes ever, but it’s touching and somehow still gets right to the heart of the great western venture and the pioneer spirit. 

I particularly like the man-to-man/friend interactions between Doc Grayson and the wagon train scout Hank Breckenridge (Jeff York). They’re excellent.

And David Stollery does an especially good job as young Dan Thompson. 

All in all it has an episodic feel to it. The songs/ballads are super simple, almost like children's rhymes; but -- just like those -- they stick in your head. For days. :) 

Also (in case you were interested and/or worried), it does have a cute, well balanced romance.

As far as the Indians, etc. Allowing for it’s being a family friendly film and all, I think they’re done quite fairly well. There's an attack scene with quite a bit of dust and shooting and Indians falling off horses and settlers being shot in the shoulder -- things of that nature -- but there’s no blood. It’s also taken for granted that all the members of the wagon train are Christians; what’s more, it’s even quietly and openly portrayed as a good thing, which is refreshing.

It’s a little slow in places, but for all that the tension builds. For me, I think part of that tension comes anytime children are that closely involved with physical danger. Not that these children are helpless -- they’re built of far hardier stuff than that -- but they still need to be protected. On the flip side, while it’s not a grit-and-dirt sort of film, I think they still did a good job of showing how the children (while still children) were yet thoroughly mature and experienced for their years.

As I said, the tension does build rather incredibly near the end, but it’s not scary scary. (Again, my little sister likes it and she’s most particular on that score.)

Altogether I’d say it’s a good, comfortable young family film, especially if you’re looking for one to introduce the Oregon Trail and the stories of the brave souls who set out on it – or even just to add to your collection of reliable standbys for a rainy afternoon. (Or, of course, if you ever need something appropriate to watch when driving across country. It works great for that, too.)

Tell me! Have you ever seen or heard of this one?

And... if you haven't already, do make sure to visit Olivia and Emma's blogs. They're two of the loveliest friends ever and they both have an a-m-a-z-i-n-g way with the words. :)

(Olivia and Emma, thank you so much for all the work you've done and for hosting this again! *Hugs* It's been a marvelous week!! :D)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August! & The Epic West

Wow. So here we are in August. AUGUST. And oh, it’s lovely! Crazy busy, but lovely and beautiful and marvelous. There are so many things spinning through my head right now it’s dizzifying.

But ohh I miss you all and can’t wait to be posting more regularly come October-November-ish! (At which time I’m hoping to have a grand comment-replying-extravaganza as well. Trust me. I’m getting each and every one of your wonderful comments, and whenever one pops up in my email it brings a huge smile and such a warm happy feeling. ;))

I snapped this picture recently. Russian Sage. It's a common landscape plant
out in Colorado and Wyoming and other such glorious places and seems to grow 
EVERYWHEREI'm really looking forward to seeing if it'll grow on a sunny 
hillside back of  my new homestead after I settle in!

Seriously. Wedding planning is one of the wildest experiences ever. Continuing to build one particular new relationship and at the same time communicating with almost every. single. person. you know in all the different circles of your life -- immediate family, extended family, church family, friends all across the country (including you lovelies), local neighborhood acquaintances… While analyzing and reanalyzing sandals, and music, and pictures, and registries, and hotel rooms for guests, and… and… and… All while figuring out this whole moving across the country thing at the same time. Add in a few quick and splendiferous installments of summer travels and you have the makings of some bursting-full days. ;)

I just realized this button is actually hilariously perfect.
I'm afraid it's very much my expression when a new thing lands
on the to do list at the moment. ;D

BUT. In the meanwhile! Emma and Olivia are also hosting their Western Week again!! Yay!!! And ohh I’m soooo excited!! *coughs* This is a big sewing week so I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do for it, but I *do* have some notes written up for a quick movie review, so if I can properly string some sentences together with a few pictures I’ll have that to contribute. (It's really one more thing respectfully soliciting yet more of your lovely comments. ;D)

Hamlette’s also hosting a big western giveaway here and do hop over to Emma’s or Olivia’s to join in the epicness!

How is your summer going? Did you have any adventures this summer or any you’re looking forward to?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Movie Review // The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh

Howard Pyle’s Men of Iron has always ranked high on my favorites list and I was stunned a few years ago to find out there had been a film adapted from it in the 50’s -- starring none other than Janet Leigh (one of my favorite actresses) as the hero’s love interest!

And as I was writing this, I realized this film actually lends itself to a fun scene-by-scene encapsulation as well so maybe that’ll come along someday, too. ;) Meanwhile, enjoy!

(Also note: I used a varied collection of screenshots for this, so some are better than others. :P As I recall, the quality of the film itself -- at least the digital version -- is quite excellent.)

The following official summary isn’t faultless, but since it’s a little known film I thought it’d be helpful:

“In The Black Shield of Falworth, Tony Curtis woos his real-life bride Janet Leigh, while defending the British throne in a swashbucking tale filled with jousts, jests and medieval heroics. The time is England in the reign of King Henry IV. Myles (Curtis) is a headstrong, handsome peasant determined to learn the name of his slain father and discover his true heritage. His fiery ambition and swift sword lead him to the majestic Mackworth Castle. There he must vie for both knighthood as well as the hand of the fair Lady Anne (Leigh), but her love is claimed by the evil, conniving Sir Walter Blount. All the while the English throne is being challenged to the death - from sinister forces within. With its remarkable supporting cast and stunning set design, this is truly an epic tale of which legends are made!”

I admit I had to get used to Tony Curtis a little in the role of Myles, but by the end I think it’s pretty near impossible not to be desperately rooting for him as he finally locks grips with his deadly enemy.

The supporting cast is all VERY well played.

They take a few plot liberties, but I was honestly amazed at how close they stuck to the original story line. We bought the digital copy at one point and, sadly (due to unrelated computer issues), we haven’t been able to watch it for a while, but indeed, from what I remember, the tweaks in the plot aren’t arbitrary and seemed quite reasonable, condensing and tying things a little tighter for screen purposes.

It’s full-fledged classic medieval drama with sparks of humor here and there. And, seeming at first lighthearted, it’s yet totally weighty with the gravity of serious conflict. 

A resentful hothead, flailing for his place in the world -- uncertain of friends and enemies, puzzled and only seeing the knotted underside of the threads of life and not the full tapestry -- Myles comes one day to find himself at the very center of a huge web of political intrigue.

(Myles and Gascoyne's friendship is so utterly fun and delightful.)

For Black Shield is really a coming of age story. The story of how the headstrong boy of the beginning is taken in hand and given a purpose, a weighty calling.

Because at the last, all that political intrigue tightens to a literal noose. When all the pieces are in place and the conflict is laid out, the stakes are huge and the pressure comes crashing down on our hero… our hero who has been carefully pruned and tempered to be able to bear the crushing weight of expectations and responsibility.

There are some hard questions asked. 

And in the end, it’s about loyalty. And gratitude. 

(Also, we have to have one quick specific note on the ladies… They’re both GREAT. *spoilers* Loyal and daring, in the end, while remaining perfect and utter ladies, they yet manage to pull off an ingenious rescue operation, ultimately saving the day. ;))

So yes, I know I condensed a lot about the plot, etc., but as you can probably guess, it ends with a duel to the death between our hero and his arch-nemesis, a duel which ultimately explodes into a raging full on battle scene.

And…. since I’m trying not to give any more spoilers at the moment, I’ll just set your mind at rest by saying that, yes, it does indeed have a most happy and triumphant ending! ;D

Tell me! Have you read Men of Iron or seen Black Shield?
What do you think?

My fifth and final review for Miss Laurie's Period Drama Challenge 2016!

Movie Review // Love Comes Softly with Katherine Heigl and Dale Midkiff (2003)

Wow, this is funny. Two movies I chose to review this close together both released in 2003! Funny quirk indeed…

Now I’ve not seen much of the rest of this series (though I read the books a LOT at one point in my life, so when it comes to script inaccuracies I feel Quite Well Informed), but I have seen and researched enough to laugh heartily at certain gently-poking-fun-blog-posts that pop up from time to time. 

But, to take a step back, I really think this one is good as a standalone in its own right and tends not to get its full due sometimes.

Now I don’t agree with all the theology. And yes, the story’s also simple and straightforward, but you know what?? It’s really quite fairly realistic. Sometimes real life isn’t always all that complicated. And sometimes it’s both super hard and very sweet.

The soundtrack -- with its refrain of Come Thou Fount – is beautiful. 

Let’s see… Hmmm. What else? Oh yes. The costuming isn’t completely period, but it’s well done and Marty’s outfits are very pretty. (And I love how they do her hair! I’ve imitated her braided updo multiple times and it’s become one of my quick Sunday standby’s. ;))

And… I just looked it up and I knew it was close, but after I get married I’m actually going to be living within easy driving distance of where this was filmed! How incredible is that?!? Hem. All such exciting rabbit trails aside, as I was getting around to saying, I love the landscape in this! Mountains and dry rolling hills and wind and wide running spaces…. You all know I’m a western loving girl. ;)

So in conclusion, I definitely love this story. A good, clean, simple (also honestly thought provoking at times) dose of sweet romance! 

How about you?

Reviewed for Miss Laurie’s Period Drama Challenge 2016.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Movie Review // The Music Man (2003) with Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth

Hello everyone!

Glorious, wonderful, amazing, emotional, rollercoaster ups and downs of engagement and wedding planning notwithstanding, I’m determined to get as close as I possibly can to finishing Miss Laurie’s period drama challenge (up this Saturday!). (Especially as I mostly have everything all in my head, the words are just begging for a few somehow unemployed minutes on my laptop to spill out and form some sort of coherency.)

Which leads us into our actual review here for one of my very favorite musicals. (Incidentally, reviewing it at the moment is actually very fitting as it’s something that’s helped me through a couple tough spots in the last few years and as it’s also tied more than a little into all the wedding planning.) And the story takes place over the course of the three weeks between Flag Day (June 14th) and the 4th of July. So it’s the absolutely perfect time.

Now where to actually start?

First, to get the quick FYI negatives out of the way, the language etc. is all very clean, but there are a couple inappropriate uses of God's name, particularly in the song Iowa Stubborn (so we usually just skip that one). And now for some background. I have indeed seen the 1962 version as well and I won’t spend much time on all that (as this isn’t about all the reasons why I didn’t/don’t like the ’62), but suffice to say, this one fixed every single thing I didn't like in that one and I love it!! Indeed (with a surprise twist at the end), I think they made it five times better. Which is also why the story jumped from the bottom of the scale to become one of my tip top favorites. 

From beginning to end it’s just so happy

As aforementioned, it happens in June 1912, right at the tail end of the Edwardian period, with an absolute wealth of delicious colors and incredible styles. Some of them are a bit stylized, but the costuming altogether -- textures, colors etc. -- is just breathtaking. Not to mention the hats. Those are stunning.

I feel like Kristin Chenoweth’s acting as Marian takes a bit of getting used to, but the story pulls you in and altogether she does a very nice job. I really like how they change her make-up and dresses over the course of the film, too, highlighting how she changes -- warming and softening. And her voice is incredible.

One aspect I particularly love in this version (seeming to make a lot of sense) is that she’s a little older. It’s fascinating to see how the town has ostracized her (and how she’s grown accordingly) and then as Harold Hill publicly values her -- pursuing her in a thoroughly gentlemanly fashion -- she starts becoming valuable in other people’s eyes as well. It’s lovely.

Matthew Broderick does a great job with the singing and an excellent job as Harold Hill. A con artist, he’s yet genuinely concerned for other people, looking out for their best interests and noticing the smallest details; entering into their lives and into their stories -- understanding their secret fears and hopes and dreams.

And, with perfect and utter courtesy, he turns their strait-laced, straight-buttoned, neat-as-a-pin world upside down, bringing life and resurrection to little, stubborn, holier-than-thou River City Iowa. (So yes, there’s some incredibly neat Biblical imagery there about which much could be said -- including the role music plays in all of it.) But, even with all that wonderfulness aside, the story is just pure and delightful fun.

In short, it’s quintessential small town America. In the summertime. And the humor throughout is priceless.

The cinematography is beautiful and -- energetic and dynamic from the very first scene -- with the vibrant tweaks in storytelling it’s an absolutely top notch remake of an old classic!!

Tell me! Have you seen this Music Man and what do you think?

(Reviewed for Miss Laurie’s Period Drama Challenge 2016.)
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