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Mary Poppins Returns: My quick take

The screener for Mary Poppins Returns arrived in the mail the other day but instead of watching it right that very minute I waited to watch it with my sister. Her grandson, a special needs boy of 15 had just had an operation, we thought he might like it too. As it turned out he slept through most of the movie, even the parts where Lin Manuel Miranda leads a group of his fellow lamplighters through the streets of London, over bridges and through the air, in an exciting display of BMX skills

While I thought Miranda was somewhat miscast-thinking he would be to Mary Poppins what Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep was to Julie Andrew’s Mary in the original-my sister Nancy thought he was charming, charismatic and practically perfect in every way. As it turns out there’s another romantic interest in the film for our lamplighter as you’ll see. Van Dyke  does play a completely different role in this film; one of the high points of the movie is watching the old codger dancing on his desk.

The heart of the story belongs as always to Mary of course, and Emily Blunt brought her considerable skill set to the task. She sings beautifully-as she did in Into The Woods-but there was no Spoonful of Sugar to capture this old fan’s heart. In fact the most memorable musical number might belong to scene stealing Meryl Streep as some sort of fix-it marvel in a shop that turns upside down. 

While my sister and I both enjoyed the film, I can’t pretend I’m not a teeny bit disappointed. There was, despite everyone’s best efforts, a soupçon of magic mysteriously missing. Not that there weren’t moments where I didn’t ooh and aah and get a tad misty eyed but I can’t imagine the movie compelling little girls to beg their mommies and daddies to go out and buy them a Mary Poppins doll-yes Virginia, little girls do still play with dolls. And when it comes to singing the songs, I really don’t have one roaming around my head, an ear worm begging to be sung. For a musical, that can’t exactly be Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.

The Actress Roundtable: Regina King Nominated for If Beale Street Could Talk

Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Congratulations to Glenn Close for her Golden Globe Best Actress nomination for The Wife. We had a look at what Close had to say to this year's roundtable panel on Monday.

Today, let's have a listen in on Regina King, nominated in the Supporting Actress category for If Beale Street Could Talk.

From THR...

"I want to have ownership in telling the story," King told the Actress Roundtable. "What's the point of being a part of it if not?"
Regina King told the Actress Roundtable she chose to participate in If Beale Street Could Talk because of Barry Jenkins and James Baldwin. Beale Street is Jenkins' follow-up to his Oscar-winning film Moonlight, which he wrote and directed and which won the Oscar for best picture and best adapted screenplay.
Jenkins also wrote and directed Beale Street, adapted from the James Baldwin novel of the same name. On Jenkins, King told the Roundtable, "He is one of the most gracious human beings I've ever met. I learn something from him every time I'm in his presence."
She continued to say, "I am attracted to projects that not only are good stories, but the creators of that project are true collaborators."
"I want to have ownership in telling the story. What's the point of being a part of it if not?"
The first time she and Barry Jenkins met was over a Skype call. King recounted that an hour after their meeting she thought, "If it's not this film, I am working with him on something, because he is truly a collaborator and I know I'm going to learn something. I'm going to leave the situation bigger than I was when I came in."
King is a three-time Emmy Award winner (American Crime, Seven Seconds) and a Golden Globe nominated actress (American Crime). She stars in If Beale Street Could Talk alongside KiKi Layne and Stephan James.

If you don't know who Stephan James is, check out the Julia Robert's Homecoming series. The young Canadian actor, nominated for a Golden Globe in the series, is major star material.

Watership Down: This ISN'T Peter Rabbit

Watership Down stars James McAvoy, John Boyega & Nicholas Hoult

It's been two years since I first shared the news that the BBC and Netflix were teaming up to bring you a new adaptation of Watership Down, based on the classic novel by Richard Adams. At the time I was blown away by the strength of programming we were seeing on our TV screens. That's only been multiplied in the past couple of years. We are seeing amazing content on our small screens, much of it via Netflix with HBO and Amazon in hot pursuit, it's no wonder movie theaters are seeing less of our entertainment dollars. The four hour-long episode series promises to be more of the same, especially with its all-ages appeal. Watership Down features the vocal talents of James McAvoy as Hazel, John Boyega as Bigwig, Nicholas Hoult as Fiver with Peter Capaldi, Daniel Kaluuya, Gemma Arterton and Ben Kingsley. Beware, while it's billed as all ages, this is no Beatrix Potter fuzzy bunny children story, as you'll note in the trailer below. 

“All the world will be your enemy, and when they catch you they will kill you. 

But first, they must catch you.”

About the book

A worldwide bestseller for more than forty years, Watership Down is the compelling tale of a band of wild rabbits struggling to hold onto their place in the world—“a classic yarn of discovery and struggle” (The New York Times). 

Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time. Set in the Hampshire Downs in Southern England, an idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of “suspense, hot pursuit, and derring-do” (Chicago Tribune) follows a band of rabbits in flight from the incursion of man and the destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they travel forth from their native Sandleford warren through harrowing trials to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society. “A marvelous story of rebellion, exile, and survival” (Sunday Telegraph) this is an unforgettable literary classic for all ages.

Watership Down hits December 22.

The Hollywood Reporter: The Actress Roundtable

Rachel Weisz, Glenn Close, Regina King, Nicole Kidman, Lady Gaga & Kathryn Hahn for THR's Actress Roundtable

One of the things I look forward to most as awards season heats up is the annual tradition of the Hollywood Reporter sitting down with a table full of possible award contenders and chatting. Organized by category: actors and actresses, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors, etc, the videos give we the fans extraordinary peeks into the thought processes and personalities of the people who make the movies. 

While THR doesn't release the full hour-long recordings until January, we do get tantalizing bits and pieces like this five-minute video edited to highlight some of what Glenn Close shared with the panel of women—three of whom are starring in movies based on books we've been talking about— including Nicole Kidman (Boy Erased, Destroyer), Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk) and Rachel Weisz (The Favourite) plus Lady Gaga (A Star is Born) and Kathryn Hahn (Private Life). Close is part of this year's conversation due to her work on the remarkable The Wife based on the book by Meg Wolitzer.

I'll share additional videos throughout the week.

My take on the novel, The Wife

Louisa May Alcott: Ten of Our Favorite quotes from Little Women

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship” Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Little Women is full of quotes to live by, especially for young women, coming of age, learning how to navigate their way in the world. As women, we have come so far since Louisa May Alcott's beloved Little Women was published in 1868 and 1869. And yet, how much has stayed the same! What would the author, who died at the age of fifty-five, think of where we are today? What would she think of the Kardashian obsession with looks, from botox to anal bleaching? Of television shows like The Bachelor where women offer themselves up to a man in competition? It's amazing when we think of all the work our sisters have done over the years to procure our freedom, to think what we have done with it. The freedom to think, to have our say, the freedom to be as deplorable as a man.

Yep, we've come a long way, baby. 

Following, the rest of our top ten Little Women quotes:

“Take some books and read; that’s an immense help; and books are always good company if you have the right sort.” 

“. . . for when women are the advisers, the lords of creation don't take the advice till they have persuaded themselves that it is just what they intended to do. Then they act upon it, and, if it succeeds, they give the weaker vessel half the credit of it. If it fails, they generously give her the whole.” 

“Love is a great beautifier’’

“Some people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow…” 

“Be worthy love, and love will come.”

“... for love casts out fear, and gratitude can conquer pride.” 

“I wish I had no heart, it aches so…” 

“Conceit spoils the finest genius.”

“Now and then, in this workaday world, things do happen in the delightful storybook fashion, and what a comfort that is.”

“Have regular hours for work and play; make each day both useful and pleasant, and prove that you understand the worth of time by employing it well. Then youth will bring few regrets, and life will become a beautiful success.” 

Margaret Atwood is Writing a Sequel to The Handmaid's Tale!

And you can bet your life, we'll be seeing it on screen! But note ... don't expect the author's novel to pick up where the tv show left off. It's an entirely different animal, set as the author says, 15 years after Offred's final scene in her novel The Handmaid's Tale. Which is not a large book, by the way, so if you haven't read it, you really should prior to next year's book release.

Here's the author's announcement on Twitter.
And here's what Atwood has to say on her website

I am writing a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale for publication on 10 September 2019. The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.
Everything you’ve ever asked me about Gilead and its inner workings is the inspiration for this book. Well, almost everything! The other inspiration is the world we’ve been living in.
Also… The Testaments is not connected to the television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Hugh Grant is Joining Nicole Kidman in You Should Have Known #book2movie

Hugh Grant will play Nicole Kidman's husband in The Undoing ... based on You Should Have Known

We've been following Nicole Kidman around lately, watching what she's reading, what project she's attached to. Seems like the woman is always up to something! While we're waiting for the second season of Big Little LiesThe Goldfinch and The Female Persuasion, we've also been excited about another HBO limited series in the works: The Undoing based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’ You Should Have Known and scripted by Big Little Lies writer David E. Kelly. 

The most recent bit of good news is that Hugh Grant has been added to the cast as the apparently devoted husband of Kidman's central character, Grace Sachs. Grace is a psychologist and the author of the book You Should Have Known, "in which she cautions women to really hear what men are trying to tell them" and when her husband disappears she's left to question why she was unable to follow her own advice. 

"Overnight a chasm opens in Grace's life," reads the logline, "a violent death, a missing husband, and, in the place of a man Grace thought she knew, only a chain of terrible revelations. Left behind in the wake of a spreading and very public disaster, and horrified by the ways in which she has failed to heed her own advice, Grace must dismantle one life and create another for her child and herself."

I adored Hugh Grant's younger rom-com starry—and blinking—persona but his willingness and ability to take on darker, less conventional roles as he ages is very exciting.

Here, Grant himself reviews his most iconic film roles for GQ.
I'm partial to Love Actually and Notting Hill. What's your favorite?

Franco Nero, Born on this Day, was the original Knight in Shining Armor in Camelot

Franco Nero as Sir Lancelot, the original knight in shining armor

Ah, Franco Nero, you really f**ked me up! I was fourteen and impressionable when Camelot came out in 1967. Saw it on the big screen and swooned as Guinevere fell in love with Lancelot, her Knight in Shining Armor while King Arthur wept at the betrayal of his best friend and his lady love. In truth, I fell in love with the whole notion of romantic love and its tragic impossibility. 

It took me years to sweep away the make-believe notion that men were supposed to be our knights in shining armor, to learn that love lasts longest when they are our partners in this crazy little thing called love and life. 

Franco Nero and Vanessa Redgrave married in 2006

And in their own real life, it took years and a lifetime of loving each other behind the scenes for the actors Franco Nero (Lancelot) and Vanessa Redgrave (Guinevere) to get back together and marry in 2006. 

Actor Richard Harris, beautiful as the betrayed King, died in 2002. Watch him sing How To Handle A Woman from Camelot. And yes, like Guinevere, I loved him too.

Camelot—based on the book The Once and Future King by T. H. White which is based upon the stories and legends collected by Sir Thomas Malory and published as Le Morte d'Arthur in 1485—is available to stream for a few dollars on Amazon, Vudu, YouTube, iTunes, and GooglePlay. 

Here, two of the scenes that swept my girlish heart away. 

My Brilliant Friend: My take on the book by Elena Ferrante (now on HBO)

My Brilliant Friend. Elena Ferrante's brilliant novel of friendship.

Ferrante shares her deeply personal view of close friendship between females at that especially vulnerable period of time—as the girls approach puberty and reach the ripe old age of sixteen. So much happens during that tumultuous time, whether you live in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley or, as these girls do, the impoverished streets of Naples, 1958.

Told from Elena Grecco's viewpoint—Lenú (Elena's alter ego)— yearns to be Raffaella Cerullo—Lila—her seemingly always smarter, always braver, more adventurous friend who pushes Lenú to move beyond the bounds of her own limitations. Lila, the leader. Lila, the daughter of a shoemaker, the one who wins all the school competitions, Lila the one all the boys fall in love with. But Lila too, we see has her own measure of jealousy and while Lenú is like an open book, Lila is manipulative, a spy, digging around—as Lenú sees it—to see what's coming next, in order to best her friend at it. 

I decided I had to model myself on that girl, never let her out of my sight, even if she got annoyed and chased me away.

I suppose that was my way of reacting to envy, and hatred and of suffocating them. Or maybe I disguised in that manner the sense of subordination, the fascination I felt. Certainly I trained myself to accept Lila's superiority in everything, and even her oppression.

Set in Naples of the late 1950's, the first of four called The Neapolitan novels, the book is an extraordinarily honest look at the complex relationship we have with each other. We think of boys as being competitive, trying to top each other with their lists and their games and their horseplay. But it's girls, desperate to define ourselves, to determine where we stand, that are truly competitive. Are we the leader or the disciple? We fight with claws—sometimes in puberty, we descend into a real catfight, sometimes it's just catty behavior to each other. Sometimes it boils down to the world being a man's world with very little room for women. And only the 'best' women gain entry. We have to be best at classroom competitions or best at being beautiful. Later, we can win entry by being best at cooking, best at keeping house. Being best is difficult, being oneself, harder still. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is that it takes us to another time and place, the impoverished neighborhoods of Naples, Italy in the late 1950's. While I've been to Italy twice, I've skirted Naples twice due to a perceived crime problem. I'm not sure if that is in reality the case—although a quick check on google talks about the city being run by the local Mafia called the Camorra and that there are a wealth of pickpockets with the Piazza del Gesu being very dangerous at night. 

So while I've visited Sorrento, Capri and Vesuvius, I may never visit Naples in real life, I can't wait to see Lenú and Lila's Naples on the upcoming HBO series. According to press reports, if this initial adaptation, presented in Italian with subtitles, does well, the remaining three adaptations are ready to air here in the US as well. 

I can't wait. Can you? My Brilliant Friend debuts the first of the eight-episode series on Sunday, November 18th. 
UPDATE: I've seen the first episode and while the acting is tremendous, I'm not sure what I think. In the novel, so much of what we think and feel about the girl's friendship comes filtered through Lenú's lens. The opener felt a little flat, a little lacking but I'm in for the long haul. Highly recommend you read the book first!

RIP William Goldman: WRITER

There are all kinds of writers. Novelists. Screenwriters. Memoirists. Playwrights. Children's Book Authors. Short Story Writers. William Goldman was all of the above. Goldman died November 15th, 2018 in Manhattan from pneumonia, a complication of colon cancer. He was 87 years old. 

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."

~William Goldman

He's the author of 16 novels and 34 screenplays counting scripts for Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Misery,  Harper and All the Presidents Men among them. 

And the lovely Princess Bride, based on his own novel. 

With thanks and remembrance for a massive contribution to the world of film and literature. And for all of us wannabe writers out there, it's important to note he wrote eighteen screenplays that were never produced. 

As You Wish!

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