Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and The Secret in Their Eyes


The Hills Have Eyes. The Secret in their Eyes. I always get the two titles mixed up. Except the first is a cheesy horror film while the second is Juan Jose Campanella's Academy Award winning adaptation of El Secreto de Sus Ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes) the 2009 Academy Award winner in the Foreign Language category. It's the latter,  The Secret in Their Eyes, that's getting a new treatment, set to debut on October 23rd; perfect timing for a scary movie about — oops there I go again, mixing up the two.


That won't be a problem with the new version. Writer/director Billy Ray—he scripted both Captain Phillips and Hunger Gamesis calling his adaptation Shattered Glass and *  While it's based on the same novel by Eduardo Sacheri about a retired detective still obsessed with both an old case, and a young intern who worked on the case, Ray is changing it up a bit. Here's what he told Entertainment Weekly.
“I felt that as great as that movie is, and I literally mean great, I felt that it needed to be made into a slightly more muscular version of itself, and that just meant it needed a little bit more story and a couple of things I thought were sort of uniquely American touches to justify retelling the story,” he told ET. “I’m pretty confident we found all that.

One change Ray made was switching up the sexes. In his The Secret in Their Eyes instead of an older male detective, we have Nicole Kidman as the older, more established DA supervisor, Chiewetel Ejiofor is the more junior person in the relationship. Both Ejiofor and Julia Roberts are FBI agents.

Here's the official synopsis:
A tight-knit team of rising FBI investigators – Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Jess (Julia Roberts), along with their District Attorney supervisor Claire (Nicole Kidman) – is suddenly torn apart when they discover that Jess’s teenage daughter has been brutally and inexplicably murdered. 
Now, thirteen years later, after obsessively searching every day for the elusive killer, Ray finally uncovers a new lead that he’s certain can permanently resolve the case, nail the vicious murderer, and bring long-desired closure to his team. No one is prepared, however, for the shocking, unspeakable secret that will reveal the enduring, destructive effects of personal vengeance on the human soul. 
Interweaving past and present, this deeply layered mystery explores the murky boundaries between justice and revenge, and asks the question: how far would you go to right an unfathomable wrong?

In addition to the sizzle factor that the pairing of Kidman and Ejiofor brings to the production, Ray told ET that the movie will allow audiences see Roberts differently as she taps into her  “capacity to play pain and range.”  After an almost 30 year career in the industry, I wonder how Roberts feels about that. Did he not see August: Osage County? Did he not see The Normal Heart?
“Julia has never played a character like this, and it’s an opportunity for the world at large to see her do something she’s never done before, and it’s pretty breathtaking.” 
 If you think it's risky making another movie after the first one did so well, so recently, so does he.
“If you’re not terrified when you’re making a movie like this, you’re just not awake. You’re making a movie that’s already won an Academy Award, so the bar is set pretty high.” 

“When I sat down to write the movie, I thought I was writing a movie about loss. It turned out that the movie wanted to be about something else. The movie wanted to be about obsession. It wanted to be about these people that are frozen for 13 years because this horrible crime has torn all their lives apart and none of them can get unstuck, and then here comes Ray, played by Chiwetel, who decides he knows a way to unstick them. And then he proceeds to try to do that and with varying degrees of willingness they let him.”
The film, which is already in post production, was shot by Danny Moder, Julia Robert's husband. Moder was also the cinematographer on The Normal Heart. The production design is by Nelson Coates. It's in the hands of the director and his editor now; frankly not sure who the film's editor is.

Shall we take a look at the trailer for the original?

* I totally blew it here, guys, I mixed up an old Billy Ray scripted film with this one. The remake of The Secret in Their Eyes is still being called The Secret in Their Eyes. 



Sunday, March 29, 2015

Cinderella on Horseback: The New York Times Anatomy of a Scene


Now there's an idea: put Cinderella and the entire cast on horses. That would be a different story. Or would it? I suppose if you stick to the classic tale, they'd still ride off into the sunset together. I know I'm not the only one who wishes Kenneth Branagh had taken a slightly more revisionist look at this old fairytale; one that ended not just with marriage to a prince, but one that gave us a more rebellious, more fully evolved Cinderella. What we got was basically the same old 'and they lived happily ever after' story.

Okay, enough kvetching. I've been over what bugged me about the movie a couple of times—you can catch up, if you care to, with my post Cinderella: 5 Things I Loved, 5 Things I Didn't — and now it's  time to move on!

But being that it's my Slacker Sunday, the day where instead of spending far too much time on this little blog — it's become more of an obsession than a hobby — I roll over and go back to sleep or grab another cup of coffee and focus on Meet the Press; if you don't mind I'm going to share the New York Times Anatomy of a Scene featuring director Kenneth Branagh discussing the meeting of Cinderella and the Prince.

Unlike the traditional story the famous couple meet before the ball in Branagh's version. I guess that's something. It is a beautiful setting; as Branagh says, there's something magical about having these two gorgeous young people meet on horseback, surrounded by 600 year old trees, trees older than Shakespeare.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Carey Mulligan is Fierce and Fabulous in Far From the Madding Crowd (featurette)



Thomas Hardy's portrait of Bathsheba Everdene is about a million miles away from Cinderella


I don't know which is more gorgeous, the new poster (above) or this one (below) that I included with my Far from the Madding Crowd post back in February. I have a feeling we'll be seeing a third poster before the film opens the U.S., the UK and Ireland on May 1st. Why? The first poster featured Bathsheba (Carey Mulligan) and Sergeant Troy (Tom Sturridge) embracing under the trees. This second poster pairs Bathsheba with  Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts) on the dance floor. Since Ms Everdene was torn between, not just two lovers but three, it seems likely that William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) will have his 15 minutes of fame prior to the film's release. Far from the Madding Crowd makes its debut at the Istanbul Film Festival in Turkey on April 17th. Stay tuned for the buzz!


Until then we have a featurette singing the praises of Thomas Hardy's extraordinary portrait of a very modern young woman. Hardy drew a complex picture of womanhood in the character of Bathsheba Everdeen; a young woman as different from Cinderella as the day is long. I'm just about sixty pages in to the 414 page novel but the story practically begins with Bathsheba turning down a marriage proposal. From what we see on the featurette Bathsheba is just as feisty and determined to make her own way in the world as ever. I couldn't be happier. 


Personal Connection
A slightly expanded version, Baby You Can Drive My Car appears on my memoir blog.

 She wouldn't remember in a zillion years, nay, a bazillion years, but I met Ms. Mulligan at the wrap party for Drive, the film in which she was the object of desire for Ryan Gosling's character. It was a complete under utilization of her talent but she was absolute perfection in it. The party was held at a bowling alley in the Valley and Carey was there in a pale cardigan over a pastel colored silk blouse, looking as cool, calm and elegantly demure as you'd expect. My husband, one of the AD's on the show, insisted on taking me over to say hello. Between you and me, I hate wrap parties. I'm a confirmed introvert and making small talk is torture, which is to say meeting famous people is mostly a meaningless exercise in controlling sweaty palms. The stars are almost always gracious and say hello and usually tell me how much they love my husband. Ryan did that; told me how funny my husband was and that he was the one that should be in front of the camera. We took a picture together, Ryan and me, his gorgeous leather-jacketed arm around my shoulder, before he slipped away for a smoke break. It's a horrible photo; I really don't know who looks worse, me—my face pale and puffy and grinning like an idiot— or Ryan, strangely washed out by the bowling alley lights and my hubby's lousy use of his iPhone camera. Which is to say, you won't be seeing me post that here anytime soon. 

Later, when the Karaoke machine was up and running, Ryan proceeded to film my husband's standard rendition of Stairway to Heaven, which he performs with pretty much everything he's got, Elvis-styled hip shakes and all.  I couldn't take my eyes off him. Ryan Gosling, not my husband. The meeting with Carey was much less momentous. Just a sweet and charming hello, it's so nice to meet you and I wondered if she, like me, was on the shy side. I just saw her on Fallon and she's hilarious but I sense a hidden quiet side. My husband asked her if she was having a good time and could we be expecting her to get in on the Karaoke? She laughed a little, made some 'Oh, I don't know about that' kind of comment back. And that was about it before a couple of the hair and makeup folks came over and whisked her away to a table. That's where the real relationships are built, in the hair and makeup trailer where the actors can sit and relax with a cup of coffee—or tea—while the pros brush and polish them until they're camera ready. Like going to your favorite stylist day after day; it's easier to let your hair down and and chat and be yourself in the privacy of the hair and makeup trailer, much easier to bond and make real connections. Anyway,  I've always had a soft spot for Carey, both before and since, and can't wait to see what she does with the role of Bathsheba Everdene. I've always thought she had the most beautiful speaking voice, the voice which you hear singing in the trailer is hers and just as lovely.

How about you? Have you read the Thomas Hardy classic? Will you be watching Far from the Madding Crowd when it hits your local theater? 





Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sense & Sensibility: #ThrowbackThursday

Classic from the Film Library: Circa 1995 


Since it's Throw Back Thursday, I'm throwing it back with a classic from the film library, a certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, blast from the past. Too bad movie theaters don't do a throw-back Thursday special; the price of a movie ticket 20 years ago was about $4.35; movie tix have been going up ever since.

Twenty years. That's how long it's been since Emma Thompson dazzled the critics with her writing skills in her Oscar-winning adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. Kate Winslet wouldn't even meet Leo and fall in love as Rose in Titanic for a couple of years yet. Hugh Grant was in the middle of finding his charming blinking self —he'd made Four Weddings and a Funeral the year before, but it would be another 5 years before he shot Notting Hill and Bridget Jones Diary. Alan Rickman was, well, he was already Rickman, the oft-times villain with the slurry, slightly sleazy delivery.

While Thompson's screenplay won the film's only Oscar, Sense and Sensibility received seven nominations in all, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Dramatic Score by Patrick Doyle. Thompson and Kate Winslet were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress and yes, the period drama was also nominated for Best Costume Design. Bizarrely the film's director, Ang Lee, was ignored. Cuz all that amazing stuff happened and he just happened to be standing there. Right. Anyway Lee knows living well is the best revenge; making the movies he wants to make. That's sweet revenge. Oh, and he's also won the Oscar twice since, for Brokeback Mountain and the beautiful Life of Pi. Thompson, in case you didn't know, wrote the script for the upcoming Effie Gray in which she co-stars with Dakota Fanning. Effie Gray is not based on a book so that's all I'm contractually allowed to say.


The costume designer, Jenny Beavan, working with John Bright, lost to James Acheson for Restoration, a film I have never, ever heard of. Beavan is one of those genius Brit costume designers, a 9 time Oscar nominee for a host of glorious period pictures dating back to the late 1970's including The King's Speech, Gosford Park, Anna and the King, Howard's End, The Remains of the Day and A Room with a View for which she won the Oscar back in 1987

Beavan could get another nomination for Child 44, the upcoming Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman movie based on the Tom Rob Smith best-seller we talked about yesterday but it will be difficult for anyone to beat out  Sandy Powell, the costume designer for Cinderella. Powell —yes, also British—is a ten time nominee, has won three times —for The Young Victoria, The Aviator and Shakespeare in Love—and what she's done with Cate Blanchett's Cinderella look isn't just spectacular; it's an innovative re-imagaining of what could be just another lush period piece.

But I digress, boy do I digress!


If it's been awhile since you read Austen's novel, here you go:
"this film version of Jane Austen's classic 1811 novel stars Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood. With her mother and sisters, Elinor struggles financially after the death of her father, who bequeathed the Dashwood estate to his oafish son by an earlier marriage. While sorting out the family's affairs, the shy, self-sacrificing Elinor secretly falls for her stepbrother-in-law, Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), a sensitive, well-educated bachelor who cannot court her because of his foolhardy youthful engagement to the greedy Lucy Steele (Imogen Stubbs). The grateful Dashwoods are offered a modest country home by family friends, which they accept. Once relocated, Elinor's brash, spirited sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) falls for a dashing local, John Willoughby (Greg Wise), a womanizer who nevertheless seems to share her affections. A prominent neighbor, Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), also falls in love with Marianne, but she is oblivious to the older man's affections. Eventually, Willoughby fails Marianne, breaking her heart, until she realizes Brandon's feelings. When Edward's family disowns him, Lucy marries his brother instead, leaving him free to pursue an exultant Elinor. "

 If you are a fan of

                a) a Jane Austen
                b) British period movies
                c) sharp, witty writing
                d) all of the above plus Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman

... you can stream Sense and Sensibility on Amazon (I so wish I had money in Amazon!) VUDU and GooglePlay. The only thing it's missing is Colin Firth. Greg Wise will have to do; Wise is the dashing and dastardly Willoughby. He also happens to be in Thompson's Effie Gray.











Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Child 44: Where are you?


Coming soon, very soon!

I shared my take on Tom Rob Smith's thrilling 'thriller' Child 44 last month, along with the trailer and an initial poster for the movie starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman.  Now that we're getting closer to the U.S. release date of April 17th, a quartet of posters have arrived online.

The book, set in a world where nobody trusts anyone, not even husbands and wives, was such a great read, completely absorbing and defying any attempts to figure out who done it! I'm hoping the movie will be just as good, which, considering the cast, it stands a very good shot of being. The best-selling novel is the first in a trilogy, so if the film is as successful as I think it will be, we can logically expect movies based on Agent 6 and The Secret Speech to come next. Fingers crossed! Today I was pretty much over-the-moon when the acclaimed author Tom Rob Smith was good enough to respond to one of my tweets about the book like so ...




Well, that's my day week month made! Here's the rest of the new posters, plus the trailer. Can you see this movie without reading the book? Well sure you can, but why would you, the book is so awesome; at 480 pages it may seem daunting but those pages seriously fly by. Really. Now, go read it.






Wolf Hall Wednesday: Goodbye Anne, Hello Who?

Master Treasurer Fitzwilliam (James Larkin) confers with Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)


Week 9: Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies   

They say the wife is the last to know. I doubt that was the case with Anne Boleyn; she was such a plotter herself, it took so much work to get to that sweet Queen of England spot, and then not to bear a male child? She saw the king looking at Jane Seymour and she must have been hyper aware of the machinations of the men around her. Men like William Fitzwilliam who saw her in a harsh light anyway.
"A queen should be mild and pitiful. She should move the king to mercy — not drive him on to harshness."
p. 189

I almost feel sorry for her! Cromwell knows Henry wants to be rid of her, and that it will be easier this time around, than it was to get rid of her predecessor. There are many, including foreign governments and those from the ancient families of England —the Howards, the Seymours—who have never really accepted Anne as Queen. If they could get rid of Catherine, Henry's legit wife of 20 years, of course they can get rid of Anne. It seems her only fans are all the men smitten with her; courtiers that don't hold the same real power as Cromwell and the master plan makers. And Mantel drives home the point, again and again, but with freshness and crackle. I just love the force of this passage ....
"Sir Nicholas Carew comes to see him. The very fibres of his beard are bristling with conspiracy. He half expects the knight to wink as he sits down.
When it comes to it, Carew is surprisingly brisk. 'We want the concubine ousted. We know you want it too.' 
p. 190

There's no beating around the bush, there's a steady drum beat that will lead to her ousting, it seems inevitable. Cromwell will find a way to get rid of Anne, they'll send her to a convent or 'a country house' and Jane Seymour will take her place.

Kate Phillips as Jane Seymour

At the same time everyone is taken aback by Henry's new chosen one; Seymour is the very embodiment of Plain Jane. Fitzwilliam says—
"If it is old Seymour's daughter next, there will be some jealousy among those who think their own noble house should be preferred—but after all, the Seymours are an ancient family, and he won't have this trouble with her. I mean, men running after her like dogs after a — well ... You just look at her, Seymour's little girl, and you know that nobody's ever pulled her skirts up."
p. 190

Indeed! And Eustache Chapuys, the ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire, tells Cromwell he doesn't know what Henry sees in her. Now I'm feeling sorry for Kate Phillips, the actor playing Jane Seymour!

Matthieu Almaric as Eustache Chapuys

"She is very plain. What does Henry see in her?"
"He thinks she's stupid. He finds it restful."
p. 200

Is she? Is she stupid and compliant? And is she the virgin Cromwell and everyone thinks she is? I have one more week to finish my reading before the Wolf Hall debut here on April 5th. I'm pretty excited about it; I know that reading the books beforehand will only help bring clarity to the historical happenings we'll see on the show. And the sheer number of characters! It's a humungous cast list! In fact, next week for my last Wolf Hall post about the books — before I dig in to the actual television show — I'll try to do a cast of characters mini-bio guide.

I do need to keep in mind this is historical fiction though, with conversations and characters painted by the skilled brush of an artist.

Hilary Mantel has created a complex and compelling depiction of Thomas Cromwell, which many fault as being too kind to Cromwell who helped Henry rid himself of both a queen and a church; and too critical of Sir Thomas More who refused to accept Henry as head of the Church, and Anne as the Queen of England.

All along Mantel has shown us that Cromwell is an advocate for an improved England, that his chief complaint about the Catholic Church is all the money in its' coffers that could go to the betterment of his country. The real Thomas Cromwell did in fact try to introduce a law in parliament that would cut down on poverty while improving the country. It's a very modern, democratic point of view. And of course, the powerful, i.e. rich, men in Parliament shut it down. For those of us in America, substitute the word Congress for Parliament and Mantel could be writing an OpEd in the New York Times.
In March, Parliament knocks back his new poor law. It was too much for the Commons to digest, that right men might have some duty to the poor; that if you get fat, as gentlemen of England do, on the wool trade, you have some responsibility to the men turned off the land, the laborers without labour, the sowers without a field. England needs roads, forts, harbours, bridges. Men need work. It's a shame to see them begging their bread, when honest labour could keep the realm secure. Can we not put them together, the hands and the task?
But Parliament cannot see how it is the state's job to create work. Are not these matters in God's hands, and is not poverty and dereliction part of his eternal order? To everything there is a season: a time to starve and a time to thieve. If rain falls for six months solid and rots the grain in the fields, there must be providence in it; for God knows his trade. It is an outrage to the rich and enterprising, to suggest that they should pay an income tax, only to put bread in the mouths of the work shy. And if Secretary Cromwell argues that famine provokes criminality: well, are there not hangmen enough?  
p. 180

That sounds a little Dickensian — "What? Are there no workhouses?" but I appreciate the sentiment whether it came from a historical understanding of Thomas Cromwell's proclivities or Mantel's own wishes. Either way, I'm a fan of the Wolf Hall version of Thomas Cromwell, a man who already knows that as much as Henry VIII counts on him, and favors him, should he, Cromwell, not do what the king commands, his day of judgement could come too.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cinderella: 5 Things I Loved, 5 Things I Didn’t #Oscar-nominated costume design


It can't be easy to take a fairy tale that's not only iconic and filled with familiar archetypes but whose entire premise is wrapped up in a magical transformation, the familiar moth to butterfly trope, and breathe new life into it. While in the mind of a child, it's both wonderfully simple and simply wonderful, to turn a few mice into a team of white horses; a pumpkin into a glorious golden carriage; an ordinary girl wearing the same old dress into a beautiful princess, pulling that feat off in real life has, up to now, been an impossibility. But now, director Kenneth Branagh, in a happy marriage of technology and imagination has made the magic happen. If Disney's 1950's animated version of the beloved story of Cinderella has lived happily alongside a child's imagination, this version fleshes it out in fantastic visual fashion.

This newest incarnation takes Charles Perrault's fairy tale and tweaks, ever so slightly mind you, the conceit that the prince saves the girl—after she gets a magical make-over—from her horrid life where she would otherwise be doomed to cook and clean and be everyone's doormat forever. You know the magic words by heart: And they lived happily ever after. The change, which I fear, is not large enough, goes something like this; IF you are very good, and kind and courageous, AND you get the chance to meet a handsome prince in a forest—or, I suppose, in your real world Starbucks or on the subway or the park across the street—AND you get a magical make-over AND you have an impossibly tiny waist, then your prince will recognize your kindness and courage as the kind of stuff he wants in a partner, THEN he will rescue you, saving you from our horrid life where you would otherwise be doomed to cook and clean and be everyone's doormat forever.

What about his horrid life without the right woman as his partner? Without Cinderella (Lily James), Prince Charming (Richard Madden) might not be as happy, but he would still be a prince, with the castle and mega ballroom and attendants and regal accoutrements while without Prince Charming, Cinderella would still be Cinderella, doomed to cook, and clean and be everyone's doormat forever. There's something wrong with that, that in 2015; girls and women, are still seen as being saved by a man. We're still the ones that keep the home fires burning while men go off and do great things. We're still the ones singing the same old song. In the words of Billie Holiday "Someday he'll come along, the man I love. And he'll be big and strong, the man I love." We need more examples of women who do great things, whose marriage, while wonderful, is as incidental to their great achievements, as marriage seems to be to men.

That being said, I found myself being swept up by the ravishing-looking fantasy of this very familiar fairy tale. Sweeping my inner feminist's fears away, rocking my romantic side, I found a good deal to enjoy about the age old boy meets girl story. I'm old enough to know 'happily ever after' are just three little words; my ten year old self would have dreamt about escaping into a life filled with what I thought love was. Romantic and breath-taking, the magic of a first kiss, day after day.

And after that lengthy preamble, here's five things I loved, followed by five things that bothered me.
                                                   

#1: Cate Blanchett  

Everything about her. From Blanchett's nuanced but wonderfully wicked performance as the step-mother to her green-with-envy costumes by Sandy Powell. Blanchett isn't just evil; when Cinderella's father goes away for the first time, it's clear that it's his daughter, Cinderella, not his new bride that he's bereft at leaving.  Blanchett manages a look that tells us, no matter how bitchy, she's still capable of being hurt by his indifference. 


                                                    #2: Costume Design

There's probably only one blue dress in the world that's more famous than Cinderella's and we're not going to talk about that here! Every little girl wants her blue dress for their Halloween costume; the one Lily James wears here will be equally coveted by their older sisters. Costume Designer Sandy Powell will no doubt get another Oscar nomination for her work here, from the blue dress that reportedly took 500 hours to complete—at union wages, we hope rather than being sewn by hand by slave labor in India or Pakistan—to Cate Blanchett's 1940's screen siren-inspired ensembles to the silly and outlandish styles Cinderella's step-sisters, Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holiday Grainger) wore.

#3 Production Design

The sets by the husband and wife team of production designer Dante Ferreti and set               decorator Francesca Lo Schiavo were drop-dead gorgeous. Director Kenneth Branagh had the sense and senility to hire the best; the pair have worked together for thirty years, been nominated for their work eight times, won three Oscars—for Hugo, The Aviator and Sweeney Todd—and will no doubt be nominated for Cinderella. Equal to any fantasy the ballroom set was built in the 'OO7' soundstage at Pinewood Studios and boasts 5000 oil lamps which had to be lit by hand and 17 chandeliers custom-made in Venice. I'd love to hear that the chandeliers, instead of going into a giant studio warehouse to gather dust, are being auctioned off, with the proceeds going to charity. 
                 


#4 Helena Bonham Carter and that Bippity Boppity Boo stuff

HBC has very little screen time but almost steals the show with her wry humorous take on the fairy godmother role. The very first act of magic she undertakes is to transform herself from cackling old beggar woman to her rather spectacular self. "There, that's better!" she says and one can't help but agree. Hell, yes! If I could be a fairy godmother, why wouldn't I make sure I looked drop dead gorgeous too? The whole approach to Cinderella's transformation is spot on, with HBC melding a combination of barely suppressed sarcasm, the best intentions and just a touch of reckless experimentation. When Cinderella tells her she wants to go to the ball in her mother's old dress which she's refashioned herself, HBC's fairy godmother humors her, but nonetheless whips the ordinary pretty, pink dress into the dazzling blue creation that has nothing in common with Cinderella's old dress, imbuing it with teeny lights and tiny butterflies at the shoulders. Is Cinderella disappointed her new dress looks nothing like mom's? Nope! And who can blame her?

And as beautiful as that transformation is, it's nothing compared to the CGI magic of making a golden carriage out of a pumpkin, mice into horses and lizards into footmen. In my favorite sequence in the film, when the fairy godmother waves her magic wand over the pumpkin—inside a greenhouse, as are HBC and Cinderella—the pumpkin begins to expand, popping out the windows and finally getting so huge, that   it bursts free of its walls, pushing the women out too. Seeing the cute little round ears of the mice pop out into horse's ears is nothing short of phenomenal, as is their return to themselves at the stroke of midnight. I couldn't take my eyes off the oh-so-charming little critters.

#5 Nonso Anozie      

I'll be honest here; while Nonso Anozie was fantastic as the Captain of the Royal guard, the only person who seemed to really care about the prince's best interests, playing the part with humor and dignity, it may not be pc to say but I liked him in part because he was a big, beautiful black man with a beautiful English accent. Kudos to director Branagh for giving us a fairy tale world that's a least a little bit more diversely hued than what we've seen in the past. Would a black man have held such a high position in the royal court? Who cares? This is fantasy, where pumpkins become coaches and mice become horses. More importantly, we have got to start giving children of color people they can recognize when they go to the movies. Today, the Captain of the Guard, tomorrow Prince Charming.

What didn't I like? Well ...


#1 That Whole Cinderella Complex/Rescue Fantasy Thing-ey

Men are fantastic, so is marriage. I love my husband, but he's no Prince Charming. Modern women, young and old, know that love and marriage aren't everything, and shouldn't be. The only way to save yourself from your dull, dreary life is to do it yourself. See paragraphs one and two.


#2 Cinderella's Daddy Issues

When Cinderella's father remarries and has to go away on yet another business trip, Cinderella is distraught and runs after him declaring her love. I can relate because I grew up with a father who was always going off on month and two month long business trips BUT Cinderella, while saddled with a truly wicked stepmother, really needs to grow a pair. She's not a little girl anymore, she's a young woman, so WoMAN up Cinderella. And you know what? IF I were newly married to this man and he spent more time blowing kisses to his teenage daughter than me, I might be a little pissy too. The scenes of Cinderella chasing after daddy had me less inclined to feel sorry for her, than I was sorry for the wicked step-mother.

#3 That Tired Old 'Wicked Step-Mother' Trope

Why are we still selling this fantasy? In our modern age when so many marriages end in divorce, we have more so-called step-mothers and fathers than ever. Don't get me wrong, Cate Blanchett was fantastic, dripping with disdain and her dead-pan delivery of "Call me madam" was dead-on and hilarious when seen through the eyes of adults. BUT what message are we sending kids? This movie is for kids, right? Because if it's not, what the hell are we doing, making fairy tales for grownups?Anyway, don't second marriages and blended families have enough difficulties to overcome than our culture encouraging the continuation of the wicked step-mother stereotype? It's only a movie? Movies and television shows are our mirrors, they reflect our world, they need to do so with accuracy and understanding.


#4 Cinderella's Kindness Needs to Start at Home

By that I mean, with herself. I was mystified that after being raised in such a loving family Cinderella had so little self-esteem and personal strength that she immediately buckled under some cruel sniping and that she obeyed her bossy step-sisters. Just say NO! Cinderella, or better yet, when step-mom dismisses the staff and one of the housemaids offers you a roof, go for it. Instead she stays and subjects herself to verbal abuse. Quite hilariously, she's surprised again and again when she's treated shabbily. Really, Cinderella? And what were you expecting?


#5  That Impossibly Tiny Waist

There's plenty of controversy about Lily James ridiculously tiny waist in that blue dress. And rightly so. While Disney and Kenneth Branagh deny digitizing the dress to achieve the impossibly small waist, and James herself—who went on a liquid diet to fit into the corseted dress—calls the controversy boring, saying that children care more about Cinderella's morals than how she looks; the body image presented is nonetheless unrealistic and sets up unrealistic expectations girls and young women have for themselves. I know I'm being a stick in the mud but for any woman who has ever had body issues, standards like these are not helpful. Instead of stuffing James into a corset —or digitizing her waist—what the world needs now is a Cinderella, with a normal size waist, that all young women can recognize in themselves.




Sources: The Guardian, IMDB.com

Friday, March 20, 2015

Paper Towns: It's all About the Chase (The First Trailer)


To my dear YA followers —all three of you: The first trailer for John Green's Paper Towns has arrived online. I shared John's first set visit  this past November so if you can't get enough of Mr. Green, check it out. As a fan of Green's The Fault in Our Stars, both the book and the movie with Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, I was curious about this one too BUT it definitely skews too young for me. While YA as a genre can appeal to an old broad like me, Paper Towns, set in high school seems just a bit too youthful in tone. Teenagers crawling out of windows. The kind of kids I can't imagine Hazel Grace wanting to hang out with. The familiar trope of the main character crushing on a member of the opposite sex who has no idea they're alive, until suddenly the object of desire aka the crushee needs something from the crusher and voila, the main character high fives it all the way to the prom or graduation day. Maybe she falls for him and he realizes he didn't really need her all along. Or he sees her as she really is and, no, sadly, he's not the girl he invented in his mind but his best gal pal is the true gal of his dreams. Or, IDK, maybe it all ends well and they all find themselves and each other and live happily ever after, all summer long.

We've all been there and it's great fun when you're young but oh, that was so long ago. Or maybe John Green, undoubtedly a gifted mind and writer, has something entirely new and different up his sleeve in Paper Towns? I didn't read it. Did you? Clue me in if I'm being an old lady stuck in my rut, missing out the best book I'll never read.

Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff (Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars) Cara Delevigne and Halston Sage.
Here's that trailer:


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wolf Hall Wednesday: Bring Up the Bodies and Bring on the Drama


Week 8: Bring Up the Bodies

It's another Wolf Hall Wednesday and I've just finished reading the first two parts of Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel's follow up to Wolf Hall. And right on schedule, might I add, for the April 5th debut of the 6 part mini-series on PBS' Masterpiece Theater here in the US. While the BBC production is called Wolf Hall, the series is based on both of Hilary Mantel's historical fiction novels about Henry VIII's  disposal of the queens who fail to produce an heir to the throne. While Anne Boleyn has taken Catherine of Aragon's place, she too has so far failed to give birth to a boy. Thomas Cromwell sees the king's attention turn to the quiet Jane Seymour, in part because Henry wants to leave Anne—pregnant again— alone so as not to put their unborn baby at risk. But it's also clear that Anne's acerbic ways are grating on the king's nerves, and the plain Jane, who Anne discounts completely as a milk-sop, represents a refuge in the storm.

Claire Foy as the pregnant Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall

Is it just me or, as good as Wolf Hall was, is Bring Up the Bodies so much better? Obviously it won the Booker Prize for a reason but Bring Up the Bodies immediately struck me as being clearer, more vivid and faster-paced than Wolf Hall. I'm sure part of it is that after 549 pages or so, I've finally gotten to know the cast of characters but it's more than that. While I was reading Wolf Hall I sometimes felt adrift, without a real sense of where I was, physically, wishing I could see my surroundings better. In Bring Up the Bodies, Mantel has found a way to stay with Thomas Cromwell's point of view yet clearly delineate where the reader stands and what she sees as well. Witness the entrance by Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and an old rival of Cromwell's from his days with Cardinal Wolsey.

Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardener/Wolf Hall
"Stephen Gardiner! Coming in as he's going out, striding towards the king's chamber, a folio under one arm, the other flailing the air. Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester; blowing up like a thunderstorm, when for once we have a fine day."
 p. 36

Mantel has pumped up the volume in the way she uses language; check out her description of Anne's outfit. We don't just see it, we see it with Cromwell's barely contained distaste for the role he's been forced to play, on her behalf.
"Anne was wearing, that day, rose pink and dove grey. The colors should have had a fresh maidenly charm; but all he could think of were stretched innards, umbles and tripes, grey-pink intestines looped out of a living body; he had a second batch of recalcitrant friars to be dispatched to Tyburn, to be slit up and gralloched by the hangman.  They were traitors and deserved the death, but it is a death exceeding most in cruelty. The pearls around her long neck looked to him like little beads of fat, and as she argued she would reach up and tug them; he kept his eyes on her fingertips, nails flashing like tiny knives."
p. 42

I found myself turning the pages, wanting to read beyond the roughly hundred pages I'd scheduled for the week. Somehow Wolf Hall had gone from challenging but fascinating to thrilling and surprising. I was having a lot more fun because the author was clearly having a lot more fun, giving her characters the most outlandish things to say. Her dialogue is as sharp and funny as those flashing nails of the queen.

Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as Francis Weston one of the King's Gentleman of the Privy Chamber
"Thurston grins. 'Come out of a cave. You know young Francis Weston? He that waits on the king? His people are giving out that you're a Hebrew.' He grunts; he's heard that one before.  'Next time you're at court,' Thurston advises, 'take your cock out and put it on the table and see what he says to that.'
'I do that anyway,' he says. 'If the conversation flags.' "
p. 53


Funny, right? I'm ready for Part Two which begins with The Black Book. London: January—April 1535. The black book is a set of rules and regulations on running the court. After Cromwell is wakened when Anne Boleyn's bedchamber—accidentally?—catches fire from an unattended candle, Cromwell insists that the ladies-in-waiting be put on candle watching rotation duty. We wouldn't want anything to happen to Anne Boleyn, especially not before she can give Henry an heir.

Last Week's Wolf Hall Reading

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Rear Window: Back in theaters for two days only


If you've never seen Rear Window as it was meant to be seen—not on your TV, not on your computer  screen or your i-pad and certainly not on your dinky little phone, even if you do have the i-Phone 6—but on a big old-fashioned movie screen; listen up. Turner Classic Movies is bringing the Hitchcock classic to theaters nationwide for two days only; March 25th and March 27th,  at 2pm and 7pm.

Grace Kelly—weren't we just talking about her co-starring opposite Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief?—co-stars opposite Jimmy Stewart this time round. She was so beautiful, and seemed to have such a charmed life, didn't she? The American beauty starred alongside some of the premier actors of their day; Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Ray Milland, Sir Alec Guinness, and Frank Sinatra before she was swept off her feet by a real live prince, Prince Rainier of Monaco. Except of course, her life wasn't so charmed; it was cut short when at the age of 52, Princess Grace of Monaco was killed in a horrific car accident in 1982. A tragedy but thanks to the magic of the movies, we have her elegant spirit frozen forever in celluloid; at just 25 Kelly was absolutely flawless in this fantastic film.

I suspect that like mea lot of you haven't seen Rear Window on the big screen. I can't wait to get a really good look at what Jimmy sees from his own rear window. All the better to see that little doggy in the basket and the expression on Raymond Burr's face.

Robert Burks, who won Best Cinematography for Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief the following year, was nominated for this one as well, as was Hitchcock himself, along with Loren L. Ryder for Sound and John Michael Hayes for Best Writing. Released in 1954, Rear Window was actually an adaptation of a short story by Cornell Woolrich but they didn't have a Best Adapted vs Best Original Screenplay category in 1954.

The nationwide special event includes a recorded introduction by TCM host Ben Mankiewiz.
Tickets are available at FathomEvents.Com  Can't make the date? No worry, Rear Window is now available on BluRay, DVD and to stream on Amazon Instant on your teeny weeny device if you must.









Watch the TCM teaser

And the vintage trailer featuring Jimmy Stewart talking right to you...



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway Putting the Sexy in a Game of Chess in The Thomas Crown Affair: .


You know that sexy chess game I mentioned yesterday? The one from The Thomas Crown Affair?
I found the six minute clip on youtube and I'm making it today's Sunday Slacker video. I know, I know. It's not a movie based on a book. I know BUT since the movie about Steve McQueen's life based in part on Marshall Terrill's autobiography is going forward, I'm considering everything Steve McQueen-related background research material. Or something. I'll be honest; it's just cool.

Michel LeGrand composed the music—part of what gives this particular chess game its atypical sizzle. I mean how often do the words 'sexy' and 'chess' show up in the same sentence? Leave it to McQueen and Faye Dunaway to put the sexy into chess in this very cool and stylized sequence.

Faye Dunaway's super chic 60's wardrobe was designed by three time Oscar nominee Theadora van Runkle—The Godfather II, Peggy Sue Got Married and Bonnie & Clyde—while Steve McQueen, style icon AKA the King of Cool, rocked the upper classy suits and tux look in much the same way that he did leather jackets, t-shirts and jeans.

Michel LeGrand's soundtrack featured The Windmills of Your Mind, sung by Noel Harrison, which won the Oscar for best song that year (1968); the movie must have been a welcome respite from the events of that very tumultuous spring. I turned fifteen that May, watching the world go mad on the evening news, stunned at Martin Luther King's assignation in April, followed by Bobby Kennedy's assassination that June. It's strange to remember that night after night, the horrors of Viet Nam and the civil unrest sweeping the country played on our TV sets, but I was too young for this R rated movie with the sexy chess game played by Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen.

The Thomas Crown Affair may not be a great movie but it's most definitely a great-looking one.
Take a look at the Chess Game scene and see what you think. I'd love to see the sales figures for chess sets for 1968. I bet they went sky high.






Saturday, March 14, 2015

Steve McQueen: Who Should Play the McCoolest Man in Town?


Steve McQueen has probably inspired more men to buy battered, beaten-up, brown leather bomber jacket than any fashion designer ever could. And no one has ever looked better in a pair of white jeans except for maybe that guy I crushed on in the 7th grade! The only actor who has ever even come close to McQueen's cool in those white jeans is David Hemmings in Blow Up. Go ahead young one, look it up.



Even if you've never seen The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Sand Pebbles, The Thomas Crown Affair (the sexiest chess game in the history of filmor The Getaway you know Steve McQueen, Mr. Cool McCool. Movie star with a capital M. The thing about McQueen is that he didn't just act tough, he didn't just go through the motions of being a loner, a drifter, he was. His father left when he was a baby, his mother shipped him off to Missouri to be raised by a relative, he ran away, and kept running his whole life. Like Paul Newman he was addicted to racing fast cars.  Like James Dean he liked nothing better than to take off on his motorcycle. But his love of speed didn't kill him, McQueen was taken out by cancer when he was just fifty years old. He died on an operating table in Juarez, Mexico; he had a heart attack in the middle of a procedure to cut out the cancerous tumors invading his body. That was November of 1980.



Thirty five years later the 'King of Cool' is finally going to be immortalized in a film based in part on the book Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon by Marshall Terrill. The producers, who have just secured funding, and are seeking the right screenwriter, promise it won't be the obvious bio-pic schtick:
“[There is a diary] that was kept by his nurse in Mexico who gave it to the author of the book that was done on him by Marshall Terrill,” said GrahamKaye. “Something happened in McQueen’s life that has been kept secret for a long time. We think we have a very interesting way into this story.”

Something very interesting that's not already known? Because we know that he went awol during his time in the Marines and was put in the brig for 41 days; that drifted from job to job before he became an actor, that he sold encyclopedias and was a runner in a Texas brothel. We know he was married three times, once to Ali McGraw; and there are rumors that he was a cheat, did a lot of drugs and abused McGraw.*  I don't know. I can't stand the thought. The same can be said about Cary Grant who is said to have abused wife Dyan Cannon. I don't know. I don't want to know. I know it's terrible but I'd rather keep my rose-colored glasses on.





We do know he liked guns a lot. We see it and hear it from his first wife, Neile, in the video below. That's probably the one real thing I don't find cool about McQueen but I forgive him that because of the time period he came of age in. I had my own run in with gun fascination. Guns used to be cool, especially movie guns. It's just getting harder to see them that way.



But let's put the rose-colored glasses back on and play the who would you cast game. Who should play the iconic Steve McQueen? Because those are some sexy shoes to fill. Jeremy Renner and his The Immigrant director, James Gray are very hot on this one. I like Renner a lot but he's not my McQueen. Rumor has it Channing Tatum is interested. Fantastic in Foxcatcher but he's not my McQueen either. Too big and muscly. But, but, but Ryan Gosling is also in the conversation. If you know me, you know he's my McQueen.


“With strangers, I can’t breathe,” McQueen told LIFE about Neile. “But I dig my old lady.”

* I suppose a rumor like that merits a source:Daily Mail: Steve-McQueen, Wife-beater, drug-taker, relentless philanderer

Additional sources: Time-Life/July 1963

Variety, THR


This beautiful video interview includes some gorgeous photos of McQueen and his then wife Neile Adams, shot at their Palm Springs home by John Dominis.

Make sure to view in full screen mode to avoid the annoying overlap

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