Pride and Prejudice miniseries cheat sheet

October 20, 2007

For the beloved, and faithful, 1995 miniseries from A&E / the BBC starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Not to be too stereotypical (but, okay, I’m definitely being stereotypical), but I assume this is mostly for guys. If guys at large are anything like the guys I know, they’d rather roll around in a bed of hot coals (like Dwight from The Office) than watch this 5 hour Jane Austen-athon. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe my boyfriend recently used the term “loathe” to describe his feelings for this miniseries – although if it wasn’t loathe, it was definitely something like detest or abhor (as a random aside, I just love the words “loathe” and “abhor” – they really sound like total hatred).

Now, as I consider the miniseries to be among my favorite movies of all time, I thought it might be a good idea to help those poor guys out there stuck with girlfriends or friends who are girls who love the film and want them to love, or at the very least watch, it too. And now… they can pretend to!

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

(NOTE THAT THIS IS A CHEAT SHEET FOR THE 1995 MINISERIES, NOT THE BOOK)

Title

Pride and Prejudice

Useful trivia: Austen’s novel was originally entitled First Impressions.

Who?

Because things are just never that simple, there is unfortunately not just one person who is “pride” and one who is “prejudice.” Besides the two main characters, many of the other people in the story are shown as having both deep prejudices and faults of pride.

Back to those main characters though. They are Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle, and Fitzwilliam Darcy (almost always referred to as Mr. Darcy), played by Colin Firth. Elizabeth is both proud and prejudiced – simply put, her pride is injured at the beginning of the story when she overhears Mr. Darcy saying that she is “only tolerable” (ouch), leading her to be prejudiced against him. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is accused of being proud throughout the book, and he is often prejudiced against those who are “beneath” him.

Nice and straightforward, right?

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

Produced and released by the BBC and A&E. Never released in theaters. Written by Andrew Davies, who also wrote the movie version of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

300 minutes long (yep, that’s a solid, and to the unitiated possibly deadly, 5 hours). The miniseries is split up into 2 DVDs: the first one ends after Darcy’s proposal and Elizabeth’s rejection of it, and the second DVD starts with Darcy storming away after the rejection.

The bonus features are seriously lacking on the DVDs (no Firth or Ehle in the making-of?) so feel free to complain about them to your girlfriend.

If you can’t beat ‘em…

Like Clueless with Austen’s Emma, Bridget Jones’s Diary is essentially a modern-day update of Pride and Prejudice. The book version of Bridget Jones has more of the elements of the original Austen, but the film keeps the gist. As an added bonus, Colin Firth reprises his role as Darcy in Bridget Jones as well.

Sure, it’s still a chick flick, but a lot less painful than a 5 hour period drama with fancy language, no? Read through this cheat sheet and then watch Bridget Jones to get the general idea, and to see who that guy is (Firth) that all the girls are swooning over.

Keep in mind: Bridget Jones = Elizabeth Bennet (but without the confidence), Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) = George Wickham, and Mark Darcy = well, Mr. Darcy.

Other modern updates: Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood take on the film starring former Miss World Aishwarya Rai as Lalita (aka, Elizabeth Bennet).

For more fun Austen connections, see my six degress of Austen post.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think You’ve Got Mail mixed with Crossing Delancey combined with some of the tone from Shakespeare in Love, all set in 19th century England.

Who are all these people?

With so many people to keep track of, even those who have watched the miniseries all the way through can get confused.

Here’s a handy guide:

Pride and Prejudice character guide

(key: “Not known” – never mentioned in the film)

In PDF: Pride and Prejudice character guide

For The Republic of Pemberley’s complete list, with links to where the characters are mentioned in the novel, click here.

To see what some of the cast looks like, click here.

And where do they go?

Longbourn – where the Bennets live, a village in the area of Hertfordshire

Netherfield Park – the home that the Bingleys rent, also in Hertfordshire, near Longbourn

Meryton – a village one mile away from Longbourn, where the soldiers (including Wickham) are camped for a time

Pemberley – Darcy’s massive estate in the area of Derbyshire near the imaginary village of Lambton. Think the Chatsworth estate in England, where the scenes at Pemberley in the 2005 film with Keira Knightley were filmed. The estate, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is thought to have perhaps been the original inspiration for Pemberley.

Rosings Park – Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate in Kent, in the village of Hunsford, which is where Mr. Collins is the rector.

Plot

The Bennet family of Longbourn, upper class, but not noble and poor compared to other gentry, are excited to hear that the wealthy Mr. Bingley, a single man, has rented out the nearby Netherfield Park. With five single daughters, Mrs. Bennet is desperate to get them married well, and hopes that he will marry one of them, particularly Jane, the eldest. Mr. Bingley, his sisters and his even wealthier friend Mr. Darcy soon attend a ball at Meryton. Although Bingley is liked and immediately taken with Jane, Darcy is thought to be haughty and proud. What’s more, Elizabeth and her best friend Charlotte Lucas overhear him telling Bingley that Elizabeth is not good enough for him.

Following the ball, Bingley continues to dote on Jane. Meanwhile, a cousin of the Bennets, Mr. Collins, comes to visit. A distant heir of Mr. Bennet, he will inherit the estate because Mr. Bennet has no male heirs of his own. Mr. Collins, who is obsessed with his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, wants to marry one of the Bennet girls. As Jane seems to be “taken” by Mr. Bingley, he asks Elizabeth to marry him. She refuses, and he then proposes to Charlotte Lucas, who accepts him.

During all of this, Bingley has abruptly left for London and Elizabeth has met George Wickham, a handsome officer at Meryton. She is very attracted to him, and soon after they meet he tells her about his dealings with Mr. Darcy, claiming that although he was the steward of Mr. Darcy’s late father, Mr. Darcy refused to give him an inheritance that was due to him. This leads Elizabeth to now hate Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte at Hunsford and, while there, meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who, it turns out, is Mr. Darcy’s aunt. He comes to visit, with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Eventually, Darcy visits her at the Collins’s house when she is alone and proposes to her. She flat out refuses him and he storms away. However, the next day, he hands her a letter that explains how Wickham actually tried to elope with his 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her money, and that he did advise Bingley not to marry Jane, but he thought it was for the best.

Elizabeth returns home to Longbourn, shortly before Lydia leaves, invited to follow the soldiers (who are leaving Meryton) with her friend Mrs. Foster, the wife of the Colonel. Elizabeth leaves again for a trip through Derbyshire with the Gardiners. While there, they visit Pemberley and run into Darcy (who they think is away). He behaves very politely, without any sign of pride, and Elizabeth is very surprised and impressed by this behavior (and his extensive grounds). She also meets his sister, Georgiana, whom she likes very much.

Unfortunately, a letter soon arrives from Jane that says Lydia has run away with Wickham (very scandalous at the time, as they were not married). Elizabeth reveals this to Darcy, who is shocked and leaves, and Elizabeth thinks she will never see him again, since he hates Wickham and would never want to be associated with a family tied to him.

Elizabeth returns home to find the family in disarray. Her father has gone to London to try and find Lydia and Wickham. However, after her father has returned without luck, a letter arrives from the Gardiners, who live in London, saying that the two have been found and they will get married. Mr. Bennet thinks Mr. Gardiner paid Wickham to marry Lydia, but Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Gardiner that it was actually Mr. Darcy who found the couple and paid Wickham off.

Lydia returns to Longbourn to visit her family with Wickham, happily married (or in denial) and gloating that she has a husband, and then departs again almost immediately. Soon after, Bingley returns to Netherfield and begins to see Jane again. Darcy comes with him, but pays no attention to Elizabeth. Bingley eventually proposes to Jane and, of course, she accepts. Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed.

Shortly after the proposal, Lady Catherine comes to pay a visit and tells Elizabeth that she has heard that Mr. Darcy, her nephew, is going to marry Elizabeth. She wants Elizabeth to promise she won’t marry him. Elizabeth refuses. Lady Catherine communicates this to Mr. Darcy and, thinking Elizabeth might have changed her mind about him (since she refused not to marry him, get it?), Darcy stops by Longbourn with Bingley and he and Elizabeth end up going for a walk. He tells her he still wants to marry her and she accepts. They get married, and both couples live happily ever after (far away from Mrs. Bennet and Lydia).

Famous Scene

Something to do with a pond and a man’s shirt…

The wet shirt that launched a thousand sighs (and newspaper cover articles), this classic scene from the miniseries features Firth as Darcy plunging into a small pond on his estate, Pemberley, on his way back to his house, presumably to help him clear his mind of Elizabeth (this is after she’s already rejected him). Unaware that Elizabeth is currently visiting Pemberley, he walks back to his house soaking wet, in nothing but a wet white shirt and pants. They meet-cute on the grounds of his estate – he’s shocked and flustered, she’s horrified and embarrassed – and the rest is movie history.

The following scenes at Pemberley in general are crucial (and well-worn on my DVD), as a sort of turning point where Elizabeth starts falling for Darcy and he starts realizing she might not hate him anymore.

Crucial Quote

“She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Darcy’s (unfortunately overheard) comment about Elizabeth, early on in the book. Remember, if you can’t say something nice about the girl you end up wanting to marry, probably best not to expect a great response to your marriage proposal. For instance:

“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner…

…I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry!”

What Elizabeth says in response to Darcy’s first proposal. I think it means “no.” (of course, we all know what phrases like “the last man in the world I would ever…” eventually lead to at the end of a film)

Themes

Love, marriage, social class, status, vanity, family, money, reputation, and (I have to say it) pride and prejudice.

Gifts for the girl who loves P&P

Some other Austen films: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Clueless, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Becoming Jane, Bride and Prejudice, Jane Austen Book Club

Other period romances: Possession (with Jennifer Ehle), Jane Eyre, Ever After, An Ideal Husband, Much Ado About Nothing

Other Colin Firth films: The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespeare in Love, Bridget Jones and the Edge of Reason (and, of course, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Love Actually, The English Patient, Girl with a Pearl Earring, What a Girl Wants

Classy Conversation Starters

I was watching Pride and Prejudice last night, and…

You know, my friends often tell me that I’m a modern day Mr. Darcy.

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Wallace and Gromit cheat sheet

October 8, 2007

With the recent announcement of a new Wallace & Gromit movie in the works (and how can you not get excited just hearing that?), I figured it was time for a look at the wonder that is British humor + painstaking claymation + cheese. And so, here is a hopefully somewhat helpful guide to the classic adventures of the infamous dairy-products-obsessed inventor and his long suffering dog.

Who or what are Wallace and Gromit?

Wallace

(voiced by Peter Sallis)

Wallace of Wallace and Gromit

A single white British male in search of cheese and chachkes for his elaborate, and, well, almost successful, inventions, Wallace can usually be seen sporting a classy red tie, or bowtie, and knitted sweater over a white shirt. He likes tea, reading the newspaper and dogs – most of the time, anyway – and is easily identifiable by his rather large ears and nose and perennially optimistic disposition.

Gromit

Gromit of Wallace and Gromit

A dog – and if you’re wondering what kind, he wasn’t designed to look like one in particular but does seem to resemble a Snoopy-esque beagle. Perhaps a bit too sensible for his own good, especially in this particular household, he lives with kindly, and slightly mad, inventor Wallace. A fan of the newspaper like his housemate, he also enjoys reading books and can often be found knitting something, anything, in a futile attempt at a calm, normal lifestyle. Forced to suffer the results of Wallace’s failed inventions in silence (he is a dog, after all – hence, no speech), he takes comfort in copious eye rolling, his own superior skills at electronics, and the sounds of classical composer Bach.

According to an interview with Nick Park in indieWire:

Gromit is a word my brother, an electrician uses. It’s a piece of electrical wiring insulation, called a Gromit. I just liked the word. I gave it to the character, which was a cat, at the time. Later, in college, it became a dog. Wallace was just a name I liked.

Nick who?

Wallace and Gromit are the clay creations of filmmaker Nick Park, a British animator and director at the animation studio of Aardman Animations in the UK. He won his first Oscar for the incredibly cute claymation short film, and later TV series, Creature Comforts. A one-man claymation machine (with, ok, the help of his fellow Aardmanites), he also co-directed Chicken Run – that chickens – can – do – crazy – things – just – like – humans flick with Mel Gibson voicing the rooster.

Wallace and Gromit are arguably Park’s most enduring, and recognizable, creation. According to the official website, they have appeared in a full length feature film, three short films, and a series of even shorter animations broadcast on the web and on BBC One – not to mention the video games, graphic novels, a children’s TV show, etc.

Here are all of the film installments of W & G, in chronological order:

A Grand Day Out (1989) – In a catastrophic turn of events, Wallace runs out of cheese. Always the logical one, Wallace decides to go the moon to get some, since naturally the moon itself is made of cheese and thus could provide an essentially inexhaustible supply of the crucial snack. And thus, a rocket is built in a basement, moon cheese is eaten and adventures with a lunar robot ensue.

About 23 minutes long. Debuted at the British Short Film Festival. Nominated for an Academy Award (for short film), but lost – to Creature Comforts. Yep, that’s right, it’s Nick Park’s world, we only live in it.

The Wrong Trousers (1993) – With the bills piling up, Wallace decides to take in a lodger – a suspicious penguin with potentially evil plans (perhaps the original crazy penguin with a nefarious plot – I’m looking at you Madagascar penguins). Disgruntled about the penguin’s relationship with Wallace, Gromit moves out and the penguin starts working on converting one of Wallace’s inventions, mechanical trousers, into a criminal and (I just have to say it) evil machine. Meanwhile, on the outside, Gromit uncovers the penguin’s sinister past.

A lengthier 30 minutes. Oscar winner for Best Animated Short Film.

A Close Shave (1995) – In another inevitably doomed money-making venture, Wallace and Gromit run Wash ‘N Go, a window cleaning service. At the same time, Wallace is very taken with the lovely Wendolene, who owns a wool shop and, unfortunately, an evil dog as well (you knew it was coming). The notorious canine is involved in malevolent sheep stealing plots and sets up Gromit to take the fall.

Another 30 minute installment. First aired on Christmas Eve on the BBC and, in a not so surprising turn of events, won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. One of the sheep from the film later went on to a budding TV career in Shaun the Sheep.

Cracking Contraptions (2002) – Not one film, but rather a series of 10 1-3 minute short films featuring some of Wallace’s most inventive inventions. Having debuted on the internet and then aired on the BBC, it can currently be found as an extra on the DVD release of Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Speaking of which…

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) – The only feature length W & G film so far (it clocks in at about an hour and 25 minutes), this Wallace and Gromit adventure from Aardman and Dreamworks deals with the historic Giant Vegetable Competition. To capitalize on this very important event, Wallace and Gromit run a pest control business to help keep those pesky wabbits away from their neighbors’ prize vegetables. Unfortunately, the captured rabbits begin to pile up and, in what becomes yet another harebrained scheme (pun, of course, intended), Wallace decides to invent something that will brainwash the rabbits into not wanting to eat the veggies at all, thus enabling him to just release them into the wild. Surprisingly (or not), something goes terribly wrong and soon a, well, evil were-rabbit is rampaging through the town, eating everything in sight. The beautiful Lady Tottington (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter), who is hosting the competition, asks Wallace and Gromit to capture the dangerous beast.

SPOILER ALERT (If you don’t want to know how it ends, scroll down quickly. No spoilers past the picture.)

A hunter who wants the wealthy Lady Tottington for himself, Lord Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes) hates Wallace, his pest control business, and especially the fact that Lady Tottington seems to be interested in Wallace (quite the ladies’ man, isn’t he?) not him. Sadly, Victor discovers that the were-rabbit is actually Wallace, whose mind was warped by his brainwashing device. Victor acquires golden carrot bullets (the, ahem, were-rabbits’ “silver bullet” if you will) to kill Wallace the Were-Rabbit. There is a final action-packed showdown at the vegetable contest, and ultimately Victor is chased away, Wallace and Gromit (well, basically just Gromit) win the day, and the curse is broken. Gromit gets the Golden Carrot Award, the contest’s trophy, for being so brave and Lady Tottington turns her estate into a rabbit sanctuary. For more on the full story, go here.

Gromit in Curse of the Were-Rabbit

And coming soon…

Trouble at Mill – A new 30 minute W & G film coming in late 2008 to the BBC.

According to Reuters UK:

“In this film Wallace and Gromit have got a new business, they’re into baking and they’ve built a windmill on the top of their house to grind the corn, to bake the bread and with a dough-to-door delivery service,” [Nick Park] said. The film… also sees cheese-fan Wallace develop a new love interest in the guise of a woman called Piella…

Ah yes, a windmill on top of their house. I can’t imagine how things could possibly go wrong – and of course I hope they do, as much as possible. Lots of reserved British mayhem on its way!

IMPORTANT NOTE: The official website is very unstingy with its free W & G online clips. Go here to check them out.


Alfred Hitchcock cheat sheet

September 25, 2007

Sure, you know he’s famous, and you know his name is associated with some movie involving a shower, a knife and a crazy guy in a motel, but what else do you really know about Alfred Hitchcock and his movies?

And so Buttercups and Ravenwood presents… Alfred Hitchcock.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

Bitty bio: Actually born before the turn of the century (1899), Alfred Hitchcock truly witnessed the entire evolution of cinema – from silent films, to talking black and white, to color. The British son of a Roman Catholic greengrocer, he first entered the film industry through art design and directed his first complete film in 1925, the commercial flop, The Pleasure Garden. He then went on to direct (and produce) more than 60 feature films. He also appeared in uncredited roles in many of his own films and ran a successful television show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents / The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (remember that silhouette?), for a decade.

As a classic director, he naturally never won an Academy Award for Best Director, although his film Rebecca did win the Oscar for Best Picture (he did not produce that film and thus, did not get the Oscar for it). He did, however, get that popular consolation prize, the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, from the Academy for his efforts in 1968. He died in 1980. And by the way, that’s Sir Alfred Hitchcock to you.

Here (what I believe anyway) are his most classic and/or famous films, in chronological order:

For those who want to keep the ending a mystery…

The Man Who Knew Too Much – And you thought the title of that Bill Murray film was just a clever invention. This 1934 film (remade in 1956 by Hitchcock himself and with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day starring) concerns a vacationing couple (Bob and Jill) who are passed valuable information about an assassination plot from a dying spy. To prevent the couple from revealing what they know about the plot, the people behind it kidnap the couple’s daughter, Betty. The movie follows the couple’s attempts to get her back.

The 39 Steps – Based on a novel by John Buchanan, this is a classic tale from 1935 of espionage and an innocent man on the run from the law (no, not “The Fugitive”). It involves a Canadian man (Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat), essentially an innocent bystander, who is swept up in a world of spies and assassins after witnessing a fight at a London theater. He is accused of killing Annabella Smith (Lucie Mannheim), a spy who was murdered while she was in his apartment, but not before she told him of an organisation called “The 39 Steps” that was out to get her.

Rebecca – Starring Laurence Olivier as Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the new Mrs. de Winter, this 1940 adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel tells the story of a young woman who meets and soon marries the rich Maxim de Winter only to find his house haunted (figuratively but perhaps also literally) by the spirit of his late wife, Rebecca. The housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, in particular, loved Rebecca and does everything in her power to make Mrs. de Winter feel unwanted and, essentially, to drive her mad. As noted above, it won Best Picture (and Best Cinematography).

Shadow of a Doubt – Supposedly Hitchcock’s own favorite, this film noir from 1943 concerns Charlie Newton (short for Charlotte), played by Teresa Wright, who receives a visit from her favorite Uncle, Charlie Oakley (short for Charles), played by Joseph Cotton. After a detective reveals that her uncle is a suspected serial killer (the ominous-sounding “Merry Widow Murderer”), Charlie begins to become suspicious of her uncle’s increasingly condemning behavior.

Notorious – From 1946, this dark romance / spy film starring Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains concerns the wild daughter of a German spy (Bergman as Alicia Huberman) who is asked by a government agent (Grant as T.R. Devlin) to spy on her father’s Nazi friends in Brazil. Alicia falls in love with Devlin, but he needs her to marry one of the Nazis, Alex Sebastian (Rains). Agony ensues.

Strangers on a Train – Not just a CSI episode, this 1951 film (yet another literary adaptation, this time from Patricia Highsmith) tells of two, uh, strangers who meet on a (you guessed it!) train and discuss murder. Guy Haines (Farley Granger) will murder the father of Bruno Antony (Robert Walker) and Antony will murder Haines’s unwanted and unfaithful wife, thereby allowing them both to committ murder without getting caught (because neither one actually has a connection to their respective victims, get it?). Haines thinks it was just “idle” talk (yes, I can see how he would make that mistake…), but then his wife is murdered. Hmm.

Dial M for Murder – From 1954 and based on a play, this tale of suspense concerns ex-tennis player Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) and his extremely carefully planned plot to kill his wife, wealthy Margot Wendice (Grace Kelly), for her money and because of an old (now ended) affair with Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings). Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men… The movie was remade in 1998 as A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen (pre-Lord of the Rings, Mortensen actually also appeared in a remake of Psycho with Vince Vaughn later that same year).

Rear Window – The classic voyeur film, this 1954 movie (yes, based on a short story) stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. While spying on his neighbors, Stewart as photographer Jeff (stuck in a room due to a broken leg) begins to think that a murder has occurred in one of the neighboring buildings. Kelly plays Jeff’s girlfriend, the model Lisa. For you trivia/remake people, this movie was remade in 1998 with Christopher Reeve as the friendly neighborhood peeping tom, and also inspired 2007’s Disturbia starring Shia LaBoeuf.

To Catch a Thief – Pretty light-hearted for a Hitchcock film, this romantic intrigue from 1955 is set on the French Riviera and deals with an ex-jewel thief, John “the Cat” Robie (Cary Grant), who doesn’t want to get blamed for a recent string of jewel thefts. To catch the actual culprit, he gets to know the people he suspects are the next victims, wealthy Jessie Stevens and her (surprise!) beautiful daughter Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly).

Alfred Hitchcock Presents… – Arguably one of the things Hitchcock is most famous for, the opening credits of this long-running show (the silhouette, the music, the somber “Good evening”) are iconic. Starting in 1955, the show was renamed The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962 and extended to a full hour. It ended in 1965 (but lives on through iTunes!). Each episode was a different story of mystery or drama, and featured many famous (or soon-to-be-famous) guest stars, such as Dick Van Dyke, Bette Davis, Steve McQueen, Robert Redford (who just loves his classic mystery TV shows with famous opening sequences by the show’s creator – he also had a main role in an episode of The Twilight Zone a year later), and yes, William Shatner. You can listen to the show’s theme music, Funeral March of a Marionette, by playing the video below.

Vertigo – A head trip of a movie, this 1958 thriller with Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak tells of retired, and acrophobic (really, really afraid of heights – in other words, someone who has height “vertigo”), detective John “Scottie” Ferguson and the favor he does for an old college friend, Gavin Elster. Elster believes that his wife Madeleine is possessed by the spirit of her dead great-grandmother, Carlotta Valdes, (yes, you heard right) and asks Scottie to follow Madeleine to confirm his suspicions. Scottie does, but gets a little too involved in this case. If you know what I mean. Which I’m sure you do.

North by Northwest – You’ve probably all seen that scene of a guy running from a low-flying plane through a corn field at some point or another (or you’ve seen one of the many imitations of it). Well, that scene is from this iconic 1959 thriller starring Cary Grant as ad exec Roger Thornhill and Eva Marie Saint as the mysterious Eve Kendall (trivia: Saint won an Academy Award for her role in On the Waterfront and, yep, that was her as Martha Kent in Superman Returns). As a suspense thriller, this movie naturally has many twists and turns, but essentially it tells the story of Thornhill and his unfortunate escapades after being mistaken for government agent George Kaplan. Thornhill travels all across the country, pursued by policemen (who believe he has murdered someone), in an effort to find the real George Kaplan.

Psycho – Showing the lengths to which someone will go to win the coveted “Best Costume” award, someone actually dressed up as the “Shower Scene” from this classic Hitchcock horror film at a Halloween costume party I attended. I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say that fake blood, a shower curtain and a skin-colored body suit were involved. Although you may not have seen the film, almost everyone has heard of the fateful (and fatal) meeting between the owner of the Bates motel, Norman Bates as portrayed by Anthony Perkins, and Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane. This 1960 film was, naturally, based on a Robert Bloch novel, who actually based his own work on the real life of Ed Gein, a serial killer. The movie follows the investigation into the mysterious circumstances behind Marion’s and other disappearances at the Bates Motel.

The Birds – Continuing on his horror streak, this 1963 film is another (albeit loose) adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier story (see Rebecca for the other). Rich Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) encounters attorney Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a pet shop – they’re both, surprise surprise, buying birds – and ends up following him to his family home on the coast. Soon, the small town is being viciously attacked by flocks of birds. Trust me, it’s scarier than it sounds.

For a complete list of Hitchcock’s many titles, go to IMDB.com.

Alfred Hitchcock

SPOILER ALERT

SPOILER ALERT

…and those who don’t.

The Man Who Knew Too Much – (1934) The assassination attempt (of a diplomat, as it turns out) at Albert Hall in London is prevented by Jill, who screams, thereby distracting the shooter. The shooter escapes to his hideout, but is followed by the police, who lay siege to the place in a gunfight modeled on a real gun battle in London in 1911. Jill, an excellent shooter, kills one of the kidnappers holding Betty, the police breach the building, and Betty is saved.

The 39 Steps – Hannay, after a cross-country chase, ends up back at the same London theater watching the same show with Pamela, a woman he met while on the run (she doesn’t want to be with him and betrays him repeatedly to the police). He discovers that the man headlining the show (“Mr. Memory”) is actually part of the “39 Steps” organization, and gets him to reveal what the organization is and what their plans are (building a silent aircraft). One of the men behind the organization, Jordan, shoots Mr. Memory and tries to escape, unsuccessfully.

Rebecca – Maxim de Winter tells the story of the “real” Rebecca, a manipulative and unfaithful wife whom he did not love. Telling de Winter she was pregnant with someone else’s child, he wanted to kill her, but she fell and hit her head, dying by accident instead. Later it is discovered that she was not pregnant, but instead had learned she had cancer and wanted to provoke de Winter into killing her. After learning about Rebecca’s illness and that de Winter and his wife will be returning to the house, Mrs. Danvers sets fire to the mansion. The last shot is of the mansion, with the married couple outside and safe, being burned to the ground.

Shadow of a Doubt – Uncle Charlie is the serial killer. He attempts to kill his niece several times, eventually trying to throw her from a train bound for San Francisco. They fight, and Uncle Charlie is the one who falls off the train and dies under the wheels of a train coming from the other direction.

Notorious – Sebastian finds out about Alicia and gradually begins to poison her. However, Devlin discovers what he is doing and takes Alicia out of Sebastian’s house, warning him about what will happen if Sebastian’s friends find out what was going on (Alicia a spy and so on). As Devlin takes Alicia away, Sebastian is left to his fate at his friends’ hands, who would not hesitate to harm him.

Strangers on a Train – Antony stalks Haines, incessantly reminding him to keep up his part of the bargain. Eventually, Antony confides what’s going on to Anne, the woman he loves, as Antony tries to turn the police onto Haines as the murderer of his wife. In the end, Antony and Haines struggle and Antony dies, crushed by a merry-go-round. However, in his hand is a lighter, a piece of evidence that implicates him in the murder of Haines’s wife. The last scene is Anne and Haines on a train together, walking away from a stranger who is attempting to make conversation.

Dial M for Murder – Margot manages to kill Swan, the attacker hired by Tony, by stabbing him with scissors. To cover everything up, Tony then tries to make it look like Margot planned to kill Swan, rather than killing him in self-defense. However, the inspector on their case (Hubbard) discovers that Tony is the one behind it all when Tony accidentally reveals that he knows the hiding place of the key Swan used to get into the apartment.

Rear Window – Jeff was right and he did see a murder. The murderer throws Jeff out the window, attempting to kill him, and is then arrested by the police. Jeff doesn’t die, but breaks both of his legs, and lives happily ever after (or so I assume, but this is Hitchcock after all) with Lisa.

To Catch a Thief – Yes, John “catches the thief,” a young girl named Danielle. John is cleared and ends up together with Frances at his vineyards in the south of France.

Vertigo – Madeleine commits suicide from a bell tower and dies. Scottie tries to save her but can’t, due to his vertigo. Scottie goes into despair, and eventually becomes obsessed with a woman, Judy, who looks just like Madeleine. However, it is revealed that it was all a scam – Judy was actually hired by Gavin to pretend to be his wife and convince an esteemed detective, Scottie, that she was possessed and had committed suicide (when in fact, Gavin pushed the real Madeleine from the tower), so that Gavin could literally get away with murder. Scottie confronts Judy with the truth at the bell tower itself, and frightened by the appearance of a third person at the top of the tower (who turns out to be a nun), Judy stumbles and falls to her death. Scottie looks down at her body, his vertigo now gone.

North by Northwest – Oh dear. It’s very complicated. Essentially, Eve (revealed to be the bad guy’s girlfriend and then revealed again, this time for real!, to be a government agent) helps Thornhill get national secrets away from the bad guys. There is a struggle on Mt. Rushmore, the police shoot the bad guy, Thornhill saves Eve’s life, and they end up together.

Psycho – Although the murders seem to have been committed by Bates’s mother, it is revealed in a famous twist that it is in fact Bates, dressed up as his mother, who has committed them. His mother, whom he murdered, is now a preserved corpse in his basement. Nice and creepy, right? The movie ends with Bates in a prison cell, now totally crazy (as if he wasn’t already crazy enough).

The Birds – After several deaths, panick ensues. Mitch, Melanie, Mitch’s sister Cathy, and his mother Lydia board themselves up in a house and survive a massive bird attack, but Melanie is severely injured after they think the attack has ended. Mitch, Cathy and Lydia drive Melanie to the hospital, surrounded by a sea of birds. The birds do not attack and they drive off safely.


Cool Hand Luke cheat sheet

September 12, 2007

Ever wonder why “Jackass” staged an egg-eating contest? What Guns ‘N Roses meant by a “failure to communicate?” Or what on earth John Cusack was talking about in Serendipity? Cool Hand Luke – a smooth prisoner movie before there was a George Clooney – has all the answers.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

Title

Cool Hand Luke

Who?

Paul Newman’s conformity-averse convict Luke Jackson. Named Cool Hand Luke by prisoner Dragline (George Kennedy), a compulsive nicknamer, in reference to a game of cards they played (a “cool hand” of cards).

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

1967 film, distributed by Warner Bros. Over 2 hours, in color. Directed by the late Stuart Rosenberg (many TV episodes, the 1979 Amityville Horror). Written by Donn Pearce, who wrote the novel on which the film is based. To learn more about this very interesting writer (who, believe it or not, seems to have based the novel partly on his own life), go here.

People you should know

Paul Newman, star and all-around leading man. The George Clooney-Brad Pitt of his day.

Is that…?

Yep, that’s Dennis Hopper (pre-Apocalypse Now and definitely pre-Speed) as a fellow inmate.

Awards

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards (including Best Actor and Screenplay), George Kennedy was the only one from the film to come out triumphant, winning for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think George Clooney’s Jack Foley from Out of Sight, with the edge of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, at the O Brother, Where Art Thou? prison.

Plot

The movie starts off with Lucas Jackson (“Luke”) drunkenly cutting the heads off parking meters. Sent to a Florida prison, Luke, an army veteran with honors to his name, quickly becomes a favorite among the inmates for his rebellion of authority, spirited comments and all-around bravado. While in prison, Luke works in a prison chain gang, cleaning out ditches and paving roads for the “Boss” (the prison guards, headed up by the Captain of the prison).

He attempts to escape three times – seemingly driven to do so by the fact that he was placed in the isolation box after his mother died in order to (ironically) prevent him from trying to escape and presumably go to her funeral. The first time, he escapes briefly after sawing a hole in the prison’s wooden floor. The second time, he escapes after pretending he has to go the bathroom in the bushes. He’s gone for longer this time (and sends a – unfortunately fake – photo of himself living it up in the outside world to the prisoners), but is captured again and then tormented by the Bosses for many days.

His final escape attempt, driving off in one of the Bosses’ trucks with fellow prisoner Dragline, leads to his eventual capture and shooting death at a church.

Famous scene

And you thought competitive eating only meant scarfing down hot dogs. Watch and learn as Newman’s Luke downs 50 hard-boiled eggs in a row to win a bet between the prisoners. (No, not with the shells still on, and, yes, he does win.)

Crucial quote

“What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.”

Said by the Captain to Luke and his fellow prisoners (after an escape attempt by Luke) and then by Luke to the Captain at the end of the movie (after Luke has escaped and been caught again).

Themes

Non-conformity, anti-establishment, rebellion, religion (Luke as a “Christ figure” – martyred in his cause).

Classy conversation starter

Did you know that I can eat fifty-one hard-boiled eggs in a row? Funny story…


Citizen Kane cheat sheet

August 24, 2007

There have been many occasions where I’ve been embarrassed by my lack of information about earlier, so-called “classic” films – with my boss or other superiors at work (“Ha, ha! Rosebud! That’s so true!” “Oh, um, yeah, of course.”), reading an article in a “serious” magazine or newspaper, or when my grandparents destroy me at Trivial Pursuit.

Ok, maybe that’s just me, but I do think it can come in handy to know a thing or two about the classics. I recently decided to go through and watch all those classic movies I’ve been missing out on, and since I was going to watch them anyway, I figured I’d put everything I’d learned into little cheat sheets that could be used to, you know, impress various friends, colleagues or acquaintances.

I decided to start with the granddaddy of them all: Citizen Kane. Citizen Kane is intimidating for several reasons. 1) It’s in black and white. 2) It’s long. 3) It stars one of those big, serious actors, Orson Welles. 4) It’s on the top of seemingly every single “best movies ever” list out there, from AFI Top 100 Movies to Time magazine. As Time magazine says:

Named the greatest of all films in poll after critics’ poll for the past half-century, Kane might by now seem suitable for viewing not through the glass of the movie projector but under glass, in the museum of outmoded innovations.

In the end though, I decided to conquer my fear and take the plunge. How bad (re: boring) could it be? Not too bad really, as it turned out. So, here then is my cheat sheet for Citizen Kane.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

Title

Citizen Kane

Who?

Charles Foster Kane, the powerful and enigmatic main character.

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

1941 release. By RKO Pictures. Black and white. Two hours long.

The movie begins with the death of Kane (Orson Welles).

People you should know

Orson Welles, the star/director/producer/co-screenwriter. He won an Oscar for the screenplay. Trivia: Orson Welles is the guy who sent the world into a panic by reading H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds over the radio.

Awards

It did NOT win Best Picture, although it was nominated. It was also nominated in 8 other categories, including Best Director, Actor and Score, but it only won Best Original Screenplay.

Crucial quote

The movie begins and ends with it: “Rosebud.”

Trivia: Roger Ebert calls this “The most famous word in the history of cinema.” It’s short, memorize it.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think a non-violent Godfather: Part II crossed with Spike Lee’s Inside Man on a dark and stormy night.

Plot

The life of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane is told through flashbacks and the stories of those who knew him. This look into his life is prompted by the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death at his massive estate known as “Xanadu” (which appropriately describes its scope). The last thing he uttered before he died was “Rosebud,” a strange phrase no one can understand. A journalist is sent out to discover what it means by interviewing those who were a part of his life: his general manager, the late banker who raised him (no, this isn’t sci-fi, he reads the guy’s journals), the closest thing he had to a friend (Jedidiah Leland), Xanadu’s manager, and his second wife, Susan Alexander Kane (a reluctant opera singer).

His life is revealed to be one of turmoil and regret, where he, an incredibly wealthy man, acquired many things, but none made him feel loved or happy. He lost both of his wives (the first one died a short while after divorcing him), large parts of his controversial, sensationalist newspaper, his friend/hapless sidekick Jedidiah, and, most importantly, his mother, who gave him away so that he could be raised in the city by a banker. He dies alone on his huge estate, with nothing but meaningless possessions surrounding him.

In the end, no one figures out what “Rosebud” means.

So what does Rosebud mean?

It’s the name of the sled Kane had when he was a child, and that he was forced to give up when he left his family to go live with his new foster father. It’s a symbol of his life of loss, regret and loneliness (and empty materialism), and the shot of it being burnt up after his death is the last shot of the movie.

Famous scene

Unfortunately, the whole movie is a famous scene. Here are a few: the opening scene where the camera moves slowly through Kane’s deserted estate to the room where he’s dying, the strained breakfast table scenes between Kane and his first wife, Susan Alexander Kane’s opera debut.

History

Much of the film is based on the life of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who (shockingly) was not very happy with the film (for more: see film RKO 281, a whole movie about Hearst’s battle with the filmmakers). Hearst’s company still exists today, and owns magazines such as O (The Oprah magazine), Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar.

Themes

Regret, materialism, money, ego, loss, fame, friendship, love. Kane is always obsessed by possessions and by what he can’t have – particularly the mother (and by association, the sled) that he lost and was forced to give up so that he could do what she thought was best for him.

Classy conversation starter

“You’re my Rosebud.”