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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Sunday, August 12, 2007

INSIDE: Three Movies, 27 Links

Once in a while I like to write about movies - not as a critic - just as a person who dearly loves them. Somehow we've managed to see three current movies so I'll ignore the borders until Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on the 15th, and take you where the lights are dim and the scents aren't of gingers and amarcrinums, but of popcorn and fake butter.
As members of the Austin Film Society Philo & I occasionally get to see movies before they're released. A couple of weeks ago we saw Stardust, which opened on Friday. The trailers made me think of old favorites like Time Bandits , Willow, and The Princess Bride, where the tongue is held firmly in cheek as the hero wields his weapon. Stardust did resemble those movies, but with modern computer effects and sensibilities reflecting changing social attitudes.
I liked how the movie looked on the screen, large and romantic with some lovely sweeping views. Claire Danes and Charlie Cox play the hero and heroine, but with Robert De Niro out-Depping Johnny, and Michelle Pfeffer shedding her leading-lady skin to emerge as a wickedly funny villainess, the young actors have to fight for leading status. This is not a great movie, but I think it's a good one - and it was lots of fun to see it with a summertime audience in an airconditioned theater - I even got the souvenir poster above to bring home.

When the Austin Film Society sent a notice for a screening of Werner Hertzog's new movie, Rescue Dawn, I told Philo about it so he could act fast and snag a pair of tickets. Philo really liked the 1997 documentary Little Deiter Wants To Fly, about Dieter Dengler's experience as a prisoner and eventual escapee in Laos during the Vietnam War. My husband wanted to see the new fictionalized version but was surprised to hear that I did. It kind of surprised me, too - but I'd heard about the documentary from Philo, heard interviews about both movies with Terry Gross on NPR and most compelling of all - it starred Christian Bale and Steve Zahn. That's one reason I can't be a movie critic - I like actors way too much to be impartial.

Philo noticed big differences between Little Dieter Wants to Fly and Rescue Dawn. In the documentary, Dieter goes back to Laos, speaking of his adventures in a very matter-of-fact way while meeting many people who helped him. Christian Bale is more of a superhero in the film, which was very intense and dramatic and gripping. I liked it a lot, was completely blown away by Steve Zahn's performance and was surprised at how much dry humor threaded through the story. There are reports that relatives of other men who were in that camp are angry that Hertzog used the prisoners' real names while fictionalizing their personalities and changing events. That part does bother me - why didn't he just give them different names? It also surprised me when some glossy scenes that seemed unreal turned out to be factual, while other, quite believable scenes were fabricated.

Is there any way to watch a movie set in a tropical jungle without past images coming to mind? I guess after decades of watching actors push through greenery in the rainy season, those visions are embedded on my cortex - I saw flashes of The Deer Hunter, The Emerald Forest, The African Queen, Anaconda, Hertzog's own Fitzcarraldo, the documentary about the making of Fitzcarraldo called Burden of Dreams and The Vertical Ray of the Sun. I couldn't forget other prisoner of war movies like Stalag 17 , The Great Escape, and Bridge On The River Kwai. A few scenes echoed such unlikely movies as South Pacific, The Sound of Music and Camille!

I don't, however, think this means Hertzog was derivitave - I think it means that I've been watching movies for a long, long time!

My fast work in getting tickets for Rescue Dawn gave me trading points when choosing the next movie to see - I'll bet this kind of bargaining is common! We'd watched The Good Shepherd on DVD a few days after the Hertzog movie. While I liked The Good Shepherd, it was yet another story that involved interrogation and torture. I demanded a movie with some fluff, some songs, some Johnny Travolta in a dress!

Some people who loved the original Hairspray are ready to hate this new musical version - but by thinking of it as a completely separate movie I thought it was lots of fun. All the versions use music to celebrate individuality, acceptance of body size, interracial romance and the vanquishing of snobs, but things have changed in the nearly twenty years since Edna was played by the outrageous transvestite Divine followed by Broadway's Harvey Fierstein. With so many actors gay & straight vying to don that outsize bra, playing Edna in Hairspray may become the pop equivalent of the celebrity guest role of Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker. Here's a link to a site that compares the three versions.

While watching John Travolta in the new Hairspray, I was struck by how natural it seemed to have him play the mother, and realized that I've been watching him for over 30 years - not just in movies or TV but in interviews and on talk shows where he frequently shows the nurturing side of his personality. His Edna seems genuinely maternal and what fun it is to watch Travolta make Edna dance - both on her own, and with Christopher Walken as Edna's husband Wilbur.

I liked the energetic young Nikki Blonsky as Tracy, and was glad to see Queen Latifa get some time to shine as Motormouth Maybelle. Jerry Stiller played Wilbur in 1988, but shows up here as the proprietor of a plus-sized clothing store. Maybe you know the other young stars like Zac Efron, Elijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes - they were new to me although I'd seen Brittany Snow before.

The actor playing TV show host Corny Collins is James Marsden - known for the X-men movies. I'm keeping my eye on him in future. Allison Janney, Paul Dooley and Ricki Lake, the original Tracy Turnblad, show up in small rolls. And circling back to Stardust - Michelle Pfeiffer has a lot of fun playing another villainess - and gets to sing and dance this time.

Next time I promise to show up with flowers.


  1. Annie,

    There were YEARS (many years ago) when I went to movies and rented them and loved them. It's been a long time since I watched a movie from start to finish. I look foward to taking the time to watch a good movie. After I retire.

    I love John Travolta!

  2. I so long to see something that isn't animated! The only movie we've seen this summer was Harry Potter. I've seen several good reviews of Hairspray. Maybe next month.

  3. I'm excited to find a gardener who also loves movies! I've haven't seen any of these but I do want to see "Hairspray" and hear that it is terrific.

  4. Oh, I love talking movies! I watched Stardust this afternoon with the kids and found it entertaining and occasionally funny, but also all over the place. It's being billed as a kids' movie, but parents should remember that it's rated PG-13, and there's a good bit of body chopping as well as a few tasteless rape comments tossed off for laughs. Yuck.

    I saw the third Bourne movie last weekend, but the movie I'd really wanted to see was Rescue Dawn (DH won that decision). It's at the top of my list. Christian Bale is always an incredible treat to watch onscreen, in many ways. ;-)

    I've never seen Hairspray, but based on your comments I'll add it to my list.

  5. I go in spells with movies. When the garden is hot and dry, and you are at your wits end as to what to do with it, a few hours in a movie theater is just the ticket to take your mind off of it all, and cool down, too.

    I watched the 1st two "Bourne" movies on DVD this weekend to get caught up, now I can go see the third one at the movies. I'm going to add "Hairspray" to my list now.

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  6. You must be the only person I've ever met who has seen "The Emerald Forest". I'm a big John Boorman fan although sometimes his commentaries are more interesting than his movies.

    My favorite Herzog film is "Nosferatu", even though it's a remake."Grizzly Man" was hynotising.

  7. Oh, you've met another, MSS. My husband and I have seen the Emerald Forest too, though it was many years ago.

  8. There are not many short-comings to living in the country, but not being able to go to good movies is certainly one of them. At least there is Netflix.

    Oh there are some multiplexes about 30 miles away in several directions, but they mostly just have action movies and kid's movies - neither of which are among my favorites. At least there is a chance they will show Hairspray. I really enjoyed the Divine version and expect to like this one too. As for the others they will have to wait for a DVD release. I added Emerald Forest to the queue also.

    Oh, and thanks for the reviews.


  9. I love Neil Gaiman's books, so I'm really looking forward to Stardust -- although all movie versions of his work tend to be uneven.

    Hairspray was (pardon) tons of fun. I don't have a problem with it being a confectionary version of the tarter original. I can like both on their own merits.

    now I'm amazed that I've seen two movies this summer (Harry Potter is the other). For a toddler mama, that's outstanding!

  10. I will add Stardust to my Netflix. I love Clare Danes. I don't know about Hairspray though. Does John Waters have any cameos?

  11. Mary, we go months without seeing one - then see several in a short time. There were years when we saw very few movies... you're a lot younger than I am - bet you'll get your chance!

    Apple - oh dear! Kid movies are fun but you need some variety.

    Welcome Phillip - from the comments so far, it looks like lots of gardeners love movies. I have other movie posts linked in the labels, including our chance to be film extras last year.
    Your blog is fun to visit! What wonderful use of color!

    Hiya Pam/Digging. Thank you for the mom's take on Stardust - it would be impossible for me to guess what's okay for kids now.
    The first time I saw Christian Bale he was playing the child POW in Empire of the Sun and it's been wonderful to watch him ever since. Go see Rescue Dawn without the kids!

    Carol, my son thought this third Bourne adventure was great - I hope you like it.

    MSS, two of my favorite John Boorman movies are Hope and Glory and Excalibur, but we've not seen them with the commentaries. How intriguing.
    Philo is the Hertzog fan, and he loved Grizzly Man.

    Hi again Pam/Digging, we saw it in its theatrical release so it was a long time ago for us, too.

    Hello Bill - we have quite a few theaters around but recently lost our independent video store. We many have to go to Netflix, too. I want to see the original Hairspray again.

    Marthachick, we hadn't seen the books, but they could also go on the list.
    What a super analogy: raw meat and candy!!
    When our kids were young, [usually for our anniversary], some kind relative might take them from Friday to Sunday morning so Philo & I could go on a movie bender. Matinees were cheaper which also helped.

    Hello Meresy, Claire was fun even as the doomed Beth in Little Women... oh yeah, Christian Bale was Laurie in that version.

    Yes, John Waters appears early on as a flasher... something about that sequence reminds me of the introduction to Sweethaven in Altman's Popeye.

    Thanks for the comments!


  12. Nice post! I don't watch movies as much as I used to, but lately my garden activities consist of moving the sprinkler, so I think a good flick would help pass the time.

  13. I will have to remember to check here for my movie reviews! Enjoyed reading your thoughts. The only one I've seen on your list is Hairspray. My daughter and I usually see a movie every week or so and that was one on her list. Alas, she's off to school soon, but I will still catch an occasional movie.

    I thought Bourne was okay, entertaining and sometimes that's enough. It's not like the book(s), though. That's just a thingie with me...when I've read the book and then the movie is so not the book. Of course, Matt Damon is enjoyable.

    I thought Bruce Willis' sequel Live Free or Die Hard (I think I got that right!) this summer was really pretty good...if you like that kind of movie! I like Bruce Willis, so...(Easy one to take DH to vs Hairspray....not going to happen!).

    Thanks for the reminder about GB Bloom Day! I surely would have forgotten!

  14. I love to read movies revues, and especially yours Annie, so your post is much appreciated.
    Can that really be John Travolta in a purple outfit? I'll have to watch Hairspray now, because I wouldn't want to miss that :)
    Stardust has a star-studded cast and sounds like a movie I'd enjoy. The Princess Bride was a big hit with the women in our family, especially our youngest, Kathy, so I'm sure she'd like Stardust.
    We've watched very few movies lately, but you've piqued my interest......so I'll check the library to see what's interesting. We no longer have a video rental store close by either, but the library is a great source!
    Thanks for a fun read Annie :)

  15. I rarely go to the theater anymore, and I love it when I find something good on HBO. The other day I saw Pee Wee's Big Adventure and it was fantastic. I can't believe I'd never seen it before.

  16. I'm only in "movie mode" at certain times of the year, and summer isn't one of them, so it's nice to see some good reviews from someone in the know. I'm so impressed that you're a member of the Austin Film Society. Annie, you're a woman of many talents!

  17. Hi Annie,
    I haven't seen Stardust yet, but I recommend reading the book. It's actually a comic book (well sorta, the version I have has pictures on every page and really reads like an adult fairy tale). It's good reading.

  18. I like to watch movies at home late at night when the Mr is away.
    So I'm always behind, rarely seeing anything when it first comes out.
    Have not yet seen any of the three you mention but will keep them in mind. I don't like to watch war movies or torture even when it is not really shown which really limits movie watching these days. I did see 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' years ago but I was younger...

    Did see a great movie about a Japanese father that finds out his estranged son is dying. The father decides to travel to China and finish a documentary film the son had promised to complete. The father learns much about his son from those that know him through his work. There are some great scenes with a young boy whose father is in prison and the mother has just died so a village takes over his care. They get lost out in a wilderness area because the boy runs away and the old man follows him.The whole village is out searching for them.Great look at the country side and a different vision of our world.
    Do not remember the name of the movie but the picture on the DVD box is of the Japanese man with the young boy on his shoulders.

    Saw Painted Veil this year which also took place in China . I have read much of W. Somerset Maugham but not this particular story so was almost afraid to watch as happy endings are not his way. Edward Norton is such a talented actor that anything he is in is usually worth watching.

    Do you know 'Movie Talk'? A small local publication that reviews films or least once did, I have not seen recently. Maybe the easy access of the internet has put them out of business.
    Does belonging to a film society help you find movies you might like to see?
    Movies are a cultural commonality that will always spark a conversation. Even amid gardeners...


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