> Chapter1-Take1: November 2013

The Hunger Games: My take on the book by Suzanne Collins

UPDATE: 11/30/2013 Originally published 3/19/2012
Catching Fire, the second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy just wrapped up its first week of release with a mega take of over $400,000,000 worldwide. Just the kind of numbers Lionsgate was gambling on. 

I just finished the ya novel today and just as with the first book, my only real complaint was the non-ending ending. I'll try to get something a bit better thought out soon. I just reread my take on the first one, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and reposted it below; I needed a refresher course. 
My take on the movie is here. I'll wait and see but at this point I'm actually wishing the books had been serialized for HBO or Netflix; I can't stand waiting.

About the Book The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins
Pages 374
Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth,
Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Lenny Kravitz,
Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci
Release Date: March 23, 2012
About the Book
While Dystopian fiction is never going to be my first choice of reading material, The Hunger Games really snuck up on me. I borrowed a copy from a friend who has three teenage daughters, all of whom had read it long ago and were waiting for the paperback edition of the third book of the series to come out.
Series is the key word; I didn't realize that being the first book in a series meant the ending would be, well, not exactly the end!
That's probably my only complaint, the unsated curiousity about what comes next, my disappointment in Collins for leavin' me hangin'. That being said, the book was a wonderful surprise!
As most people reading this blog probably already know ....
The former United States, now Panem,  has been divided into 12 districts, each of which sends one boy and one girl to fight to the last person standing every year in the annual Hunger Games. This is all presumably so the Capitol can keep its people in line.
The story is told from Katniss pov. She's a somewhat embittered 16year old who hunts with her friend Gale to keep herself, her mother and young sister, Prim, fed. Her archery and survival skills come in handy when in a noble act of self-sacrifice she takes her sister's place as District 12's female 'tribute' and travels to the Capitol for to take part in the televised Hunger Games.
Peeta, the baker's son, is District 12's male 'tribute', a boy who has been kind to her in the past. But in the games he is her enemy too. Or is he?
I got a real kick out of the pair's arrival in the Capitol and the wonderful futuristic inventions. Who wouldn't want the ability to think of what you'd like to eat, and miraculously, it whooshes its way to you in mere moments. That's got to be better than Katniss usual existence of eating bark and squirrels!
And the description of the costumes she and Peeta wear for the contestant parade and the interviews are spectacular. I am curious to see how the costume designer and special effects people have teamed up to make those work!
Shepherding Katniss and Peeta through the process are the very p.c. and silly Effie Trinket and the pair's drunk mentor, Haymitch.  In the movie they are played by Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harreslson. Lenny Kravitz is Cinna - Katniss super cool stylist!
When they get into the arena, the tone changes as the battle begins immediately and the bodies start to pile up. Cinematically I think it's going to be a very suspense-filled, terrifying and pulsing with emotion. Some of the other tributes are cut-throat and blood-thirsty, others seem to have a more developed moral compass. Short-lived but important friendships are formed like the one Katniss forms with Rue, who reminds Katniss of her sister, Prim. Each night the contestants see who has died when their images are projected in the sky. The only trouble with that is since Collins has us seeing through Katniss' eyes only, we're not privy to the other entanglements so we're not really emotionally invested either.
A big part of the books question is where the heroine's heart lies and it looks like Collins has set up a Team Gale vs Team Peeta equation. Gale is faster, and stronger. He's a great friend but a bit younger than Katniss. Too young?  But Peeta is handsome, brave, selfless and incredibly romantic. Who to choose? Who to choose? Who to choose?
It's great to see Katniss, the girl, be the strong one who looks after the guy rather than the other way around. What a marvelous role model for girls. That being said, with cutey pies Liam Hemsworth as Gale and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss would seem to have it made any way you look at it. If she can survive the games of course.
I would think this book would be too violent for grade school readers - and certainly the film will - but teens - especially teenage girls - and up should find it action packed and romantic.
I know I did and I will almost certainly read book two so I can satisfy my curiosity. Between you and me, I hope my guy wins.  :)

Emma Thompson on the Making of 'Saving Mr. Banks'

Emma Thompson's embarrassment about her Saving Mr. Banks haircut was so evident in the THR actresses roundtable I posted just before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd dig a little deeper. I found this bit (below) about her hair in Variety; clearly the acclaimed actress was really unhappy with the results of the perm. I'm tempted to post a picture of me in my bad - not badass - perm from the 70's. That would cheer Ms. Thompson up considerably, not that she needs it. Bad perm or not, Saving Mr. Banks is getting all kinds of good press and Thompson herself is getting raves for what sounds like a show-stealing performance.
"An unforeseen battle in the making of “Saving Mr. Banks” had to do with Thompson’s hair for the role. In real life, Travers had a simple bubble cut with frilly curls. The hairdo matched her steely personality, and was a crucial foothold into the character. But Thompson is wig averse: “I think a lot of energy comes off the top of your head when you’re acting,” she says, “and a wig really puts the lid on it.” So she visited a salon to get the Travers cut. “I went in willingly like the proverbial woolly lamb to the slaughter and I came out looking like a baby woolly mammoth,” Thompson says. She wasn’t expecting her hair to feel so tight after her perm. She tried to unspool the curls, even going as far as rubbing olive oil on her scalp, but it was no use.

 Talk about curly ... the real P.L. Travers curly do blends right in with the foliage.

“I did everything I could,” Thompson says. “I rolled around. I pulled at it. I think the spirit of P.L. Travers was going, ‘If you’re going to play me, I’m going to make you suffer — you’re not going to have sex for months on end.’ ” Not wanting to be seen with Travers’ coif, Thompson spent much of her time on the Los Angeles shoot in a solitary space. One night in London, she met her pal, writer-director Richard Curtis (“Love Actually”), for dinner. She texted him with an advance warning: “Beware the hair.” She spent the rest of the evening teasing her husband, actor Greg Wise, about it. The gist of the joke, according to Curtis, was “they’d grow old happily together with her and the tight perm.”
Maxxed out on hair talk? Watch this six minute edited interview where Thompson, without a word about the hair, talks about P.L. Travers, songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman (Travers HATED the music) and compares Tom Hanks to Walt Disney saying both men have an enduring charm, an 'everyman' quality and the power of an emperor ... Saving Mr. Banks opens December 20th here in the states.

The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable: The Sisterhood

I've been posting The Hollywood Reporter roundtables on Sunday but I couldn't wait to share this one! It's the women. THR's The Actresses has Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniel's The Butler), Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks), Julia Roberts (August, Osage County), Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station), Amy Adams (American Hustle) and Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave) all engaged in one fascinating conversation filled with amazing moments. 

Scroll down to view the video; it's almost an hour in length but I promise laughter and tears.

Here are some of my favorite moments ...

Oprah Winfrey with Terrence Howard, Lee Daniels "The Butler"

Early in the hour, Oprah bursts out with her honest loving support for Lupita Nyong'o as Patsy in '12 Years a Slave' - "We're all watching you now. We can't take our eyes off you" Oprah says with that glowing generous energy she has. Lupita, lovely and modest, is clearly taken by surprise. Only much later - almost at the end of the hour in fact, do we learn that Nyong'o first began to dream of being an actress after seeing Oprah in The Color Purple. Up to that point she had mainly seen Caucasian faces in films and not seeing herself, had thought she couldn't do it. Can you imagine what sitting next to Oprah must have meant to her?

Lupita Nyongo in 12 Years A Slave

Nyong'o also shared that she first worked in film as a production assistant on The Constant Gardener;when one of her duties was to walk Ralph Fiennes to set every morning. She reported that Fiennes was always dark and grumpy and she'd try to engage him cheerfully chatting. Fiennes would be polite but Nyong'o could see he wasn't having it; she said she finally understood when she played Patsy in 12 Years A Slave, a role so emotionally upsetting to play, she would find herself crying in a corner.

Amy Adams, American Hustle

Amy Adams had a similar experience on American Hustle, finding herself crying all the time. It sounds like David O. Russell who she termed a method director really pushed. Adams reports she would be in the middle of a scene, a complete crying emotional wreck and Russell would be yelling out specific lines for her to say. Russell has a reputation for having anger control issues which are reportedly in the past. There was a famous meltdown when he goes ballistic on Lily Tomlin during the making of I Heart Huckabees and it came to blows with George Clooney in the making of Three Kings.  Adams said she wasn't sure she could act again after finishing American Hustle, she was so devastated by the process! Her answer was to get back in the saddle instantly; she's playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's film about the artist behind those big eye paintings. Adams also talks about wanting to do a big splashy Broadway musical. 

Julia Roberts with Meryl Streep, August: Osage County

Julia Roberts said she agreed to do August: Osage County only so she could watch Meryl Streep work without quite realizing that meant Streep could watch her too. She's kidding but obviously Streep is a legend, who Roberts says works her ass off. The experience was mixed as Roberts missed her children desperately; it was the first time she'd been away from them in their almost 10 years of life!

Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Octavia Spencer spoke of devoting herself to her career, not really thinking about having a family until it was too late, which she definitely calls her choice. The childless Spencer spoke of substituting her nephew for her son, played by Michael B. Jordan, in Fruitvale Station. Thompson asserted that it's important for some women not to marry, not to have children, but to do other work that sometimes does preclude having kids. Agreed!  

Thompson was also outraged that the panel was still being asked whether more good roles for women were being written; no matter if we have come a long way baby, and despite these half dozen great roles, there are still many, many more strong roles written for men. That's what happens when you have an industry dominated by men in all positions of leadership and power, from producers to directors to studio execs. It's still a big boys club with a few female outliers here and there. Imagine the size of the "cojones" of the women who fought and found their power within that system?And how did 'cojones' literally testicles, or 'balls' become synonymous with being brave? What male-centered thinking brought that about; as if - since women have ZERO balls - we can't be brave too. 

Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

 Emma Thompson - looking beautiful as a platinum blond - is my hero here; she's not afraid to be frank, barking back at moderator Stephen Galloway's question "What personal sacrifice have you had to make?"  I'm paraphrasing but "Bloody Hell!" about sums up her outrage. She's shocked they would be asked that question when clearly these actresses are the privileged few who would be quite selfish, in Thompson's opinion, to talk about sacrifice when you look at the lives they lead. Thompson - who Oprah announced would make the best dinner guest - shared that the hair stylist on Saving Mr. Banks assured her that the haircut she needed to play Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in the film, would have her looking like Annette Bening. Instead, Thompson says, she ended up looking like a sheep for months and months. 

Ok, enough from me. I hope you enjoy this look at the women. They are, as Lupita Nyong'o says, a sisterhood. 

Read the full transcript at THR.

The Wolf Of Bedford Falls ... It's A Wonderful Life on Wall Street

It's that magical time of year when visions of holiday movies and Jimmy Stewart and angels getting their wings all dance in our heads. Thanks to a Christmas miracle comedian Owen Weber - we have a blendship that meets our need to watch It's A Wonderful Life with our anticipation about the Christmas Day release of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It's Weber's take on a Martin Scorsese remake and he calls his mash up The Wolf of Bedford Falls. He really found the frenetic energy in Capra's classic - who knew! I've included the The Wolf of Wall Street trailer so you can view and compare. The Kanye West song "Black Skinhead" serves up the driving beat that ties the conceit together. Oh and the fiery explosion doesn't hurt. 


Boy Genius Plays Boy Genius T.S. Spivet

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunot (Amalie) introduced this film to French audiences last month under the title -as you can see - "L'extravagant voyage du jeune et prodigieux T.S. Spivet". Have any of my French friends - especially you guys here via Dreaming of France - seen it yet? Harvey Weinstein and Co (who else!?) picked up the US theatrical rights last spring but as of now there's still not a confirmed release date.

Publisher Weekly noted Wes Anderson fans would appreciate the book - 
Jeunot's film has that feel as well.

The movie, based on Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, will be known as The Young and the Prodigious T.S. Spivet  IF the film gets a release date here in the states. 

I'm hoping it does. The trailer (below, with French subtitles) for this movie is really intriguing; don't you just love quirky boy genius stories? The kid is played by Kyle Catlett, some kind of freaky genius himself, speaking fluent Russian and Mandarin Chinese along with English. His twin brother, Layton, is played by young Jacob Davies, a boy we book-to-movie fans will be seeing in the adaptations of Gayle Forman's If I Stay and Francis Lelord's Hector and the Search for Happiness!

The story: A 12-year-old cartographer secretly leaves his family's ranch in Montana where he lives with his cowboy father and scientist mother and travels across the country on board a freight train to receive an award at the Smithsonian Institute. 

The 400 page illustrated novel is filled with deliciously detailed drawings - just the kind of stuff Wes Anderson loves to do with his films. 

Here's page one ...

 And a still from the movie and then the trailer ...

Dreaming of France is a French-themed meme where you can satisfy your cravings for Paris and beyond.

The Hollywood Reporter's Roundtable - The Actors *

Updated 6/26/2017
Congrats! You've just reached one of my most widely visited posts. I get it, lots of us want to hear what actors think about acting straight from their own lips. I've got a hunch if you find this post from 2013 interesting, you'll also find this year's more current video noteworthy too so I'm including it below. Cheers!

Last Sunday I shared The Hollywood Reporter's Writers Roundtable, a lively discussion centered around the process and challenge of scripting stories for film, be it an original idea or adapting from another source. It was an interesting bunch of writers responsible for some of this years most talked about films including George Clooney and partner Grant Heslov (Monuments Men), Julie Delpey (Before Midnight), Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said), John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and Danny Strong (Lee Daniel's The Butler).

This week I want to share THR's Actors panel. Watch as Stephen Galloway, THR's longtime moderator, facilitates a conversation between male actors Josh Brolin (the adaptation of Joyce Maynard's Labor Day), Forrest Whittaker (Lee Daniel's The Butler), Michael B. Jordan (Fruitvale Station), Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) plus Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club). I was blown away by Dallas Buyers Club and the tour de force performances of Matthew McConaughey and the just unbelievable Jared Leto as the transexual Rayon. Watch as Leto shares his audition process (it was via Skype) and how he found his feminine side to play Rayon. There were moments in the film when I not only forgot I was watching an actor, I forgot I was watching a man.

2013 Actors Roundtable

2017 Actors Roundtable

featuring Dev Patel, Casey Affleck, Jeff Bridges, Mahersala Ali, Andrew Garfield et al. 

If "Heaven Is For Real" ... Charlie is there

"Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." The John Lennon lyric is one I'm fond of quoting, accompanied by a shrug of my shoulders when weighing in on the mysterious ways of the world.

This week the plans I'd made included finishing Catching Fire, maybe see the crazy popular movie starring Jennifer Lawrence this opening weekend, and post my thoughts here.

But life, or rather, the end of life, happened.  Our beautiful beagle, Charlie, passed away on Thursday. He was diagnosed with CHF a few months ago after my husband took him to see the vet for what we thought was a simple cough. We were stunned at the diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure; so stunned I don't think we quite believed it. There's no cure for the disease; the vet prescribed a handful of meds to manage the symptoms and intellectually we told ourselves we understood where the journey was going. Still when the meds kicked in and the first thing that happened is that the cough went away, we couldn't help sighing with relief, thinking the worst was over.  It wasn't.  

We adopted Charlie from a beagle shelter in Costa Mesa, California in the summer of 2001; he was eight months old at the time to our son Russell's eight years. A strong and energetic puppy, it was often a case of 'who's walking who?' 

The years passed with Russell growing up and Charlie growing old along the way. It hasn't been all sunshine and wagging tails, Charlie's original owners gave him up as a young pup when they got a divorce. Right from the start Charlie had abandonment issues, becoming frantic when left alone, barking and destroying what lay between him and a pathway to us. Like scrabbling away at the wall next to the door, digging through the drywall in an attempt to get out and, we like to think, get to us. 

I remember coming home one day after a quick trip to the market, to find a gaping hole in the wall, and Charlie spent with exhaustion, his foreleg cut, lying beside the door, the floor littered with a small pile of dust and debris. That was a bad time and there were others but the good times outweighed them by far, over and over again. We learned to ease his separation anxiety with a citronella collar for those times when we had to leave him alone. We took the bad with the good. We loved him.  And that's how it's been, loving him, all these years.

Russell chilling with Charlie

It's hard to watch your pet slowly decline; the lethargy, the loss of appetite, the labored breathing, the weakened legs that barely support him as he wobbles out to urinate. He spent the past couple of weeks staying close and mostly just shifting positions, trying to get comfortable. Last week he wouldn't eat, vomiting up the little we did manage to get into him along with his meds. Thursday, when Charlie tried to stand up and walk, his body continually betrayed him, sending him careening sideways to to the floor.  He looked at us with those soft beagle eyes pleading what the f!#k is going on? We couldn't bear the thought but knowing it was probably time, Russell and I took him to the vet. Dr. Ban told us we were right and we were giving him a gift. They may say that to everyone who has to make the awful decision to put their dog to sleep but we appreciated her comfort and support. Feeling sad that my husband, working out of state, couldn't be there with us we got him on the cellphone and held it up to Charlie's ear so MLH could at least say goodbye while Russell and I hugged him and stroked those velvety ears. It was painful for us but a peaceful, painless transition for Charlie, the best dog that ever lived.  

We all know we'll be sad for awhile, and that we'll miss his warm body curled up next to us on the couch or straddling our feet on the floor. It will take some time to get used to him not being underfoot and begging for treats the minute any of us headed into the kitchen. It will take awhile to get used to the empty corner where his food bowl and water used to be, and to figure out what to do with his dog bed. It will take some time. Late yesterday afternoon and feeling bluesy, I couldn't help but notice the sunset. It was one of those glorious skies, dappled with clouds against a still blue background tinged with pink and gold and a few dazzling rays of light almost as if the heavens were opening.  And there was my Cloud Charlie in the sky, front paws outstretched, his beagle snout pointing heavenward. I ran and grabbed Russell nervous that he would think his mom had gone off her rocker but I needed Russell to see Charlie too and he did, instantly. Charlie in the sky, surrounded by the glory, smiling and floating towards the light. 

My friend Laura told me it was a sign that he's safely landed in heaven. I love the thought but I told her I struggle with the concept while I guessed my dog would find out if heaven exists before I did. And that if it does I sure hope Charlie will find a way to let me know. Laura asked if I'd read Heaven is for Real reminding me that a film starring Greg Kinnear was coming. I have not. I'd heard of the book vaguely but hadn't given it much thought; honestly, in the past it had sounded kind of sappy. Heaven is for Real is the true story of a little boy who claims to have been to heaven after a near death experience. Just watching the trailer is an emotional journey. I don't know if heaven exists, or if reading the book or seeing the film will convince me that it does, but today with the image of Charlie up in the heavens, I'd sure like to think so. 

Heaven is for Real comes out Easter 2014

Charlie Carter, Best Beagle
11/4/2000 - 11/21/2013

Thank you, dear Laura, for helping me see a little light. And Russell for being there with me, being strong and giving me strength. And MLH for wanting to be there so badly. I love you all.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Love of the Last Tycoon gets a new adaptation. Lovelier the second time around?

I read The Love of the Last Tycoon so long ago, it was still known simply as The  Last Tycoon.* Now, the famously 'unfinished' F. Scott Fitzgerald novel is headed to Amazon in series form. Billy Ray (Hunger Games and Captain Phillips) is writing the screenplay inspired in part by the rivalry of Hollywood heavyweight Louis B Mayer and his head of production at MGM, Irving Thalberg, Pat Brady and the novel's main character, Monroe Stahr respectively, in the novel. Apparently Mayer had a habit of claiming some of Thalberg's innovations as his own but it's broadly acknowledged that it was Thalberg who really created the studio system. The Love of the Last Tycoon, informed by F. Scott's own troubled experiences working within that same system, is as much an indictment of that system as it is the tale of a man, torn apart by the loss of his wife, struggling to move forwardm burying himself in his work.

A movie about making movies; just my cup of tea. What I'm confounded by is that I don't remember the first movie, released as The Last Tycoon in 1976 at all. How flawed a film must it be that with the legendary Elia Kazan directing a star-studded cast including Robert DeNiro as Stahr, Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis, Jack Nicholson Jean Morreau and Donald Pleasance, that it's been relegated to the forgotten file? I may have to add The Last Tycoon to the list of films I want to stream on Amazon to see if it rings any old bells.

Cecilia, Bradley the studio head's daughter, serves as narrator. Here are the first paragraphs from the first chapter of the book -
Though I haven't ever been on the screen I was brought up in pictures. Rudolph Valentino came to my fifth birthday party -- or so I was told. I put this down only to indicate that even before the age of reason I was in a position to watch the wheels go round.
I was going to write my memoirs once, "The Producer's Daughter," but at eighteen you never quite get around to anything like that. It's just as well -- it would have been as flat as an old column of Lolly Parsons'. My father was in the picture business as another man might be in cotton or steel, and I took it tranquilly. At the worst I accepted Hollywood with the resignation of a ghost assigned to a haunted house. I knew what you were supposed to think about it but I was obstinately unhorrified.
This is easy to say, but harder to make people understand. When I was at Bennington some of the English teachers who pretended an indifference to Hollywood or its products really hated it. Hated it way down deep as a threat to their existence. Even before that, when I was in a convent, a sweet little nun asked me to get her a script of a screen play so she could "teach her class about movie writing" as she had taught them about the essay and the short story. I got the script for her and I suppose she puzzled over it and puzzled over it but it was never mentioned in class and she gave it back to me with an air of offended surprise and not a single comment. That's what I half expect to happen to this story.
You can take Hollywood for granted like I did, or you can dismiss it with the contempt we reserve for what we don't understand. It can be understood too, but only dimly and in flashes. Not half a dozen men have ever been able to keep the whole equation of pictures in their heads. And perhaps the closest a woman can come to the set-up is to try and understand one of those men.
* Matthew Bruccoli, noted F. Scott Fitzgerald scholar, retitled the book, according to Fitzgerald's intention, when he put together his new annotated edition in 1994.

Charlize Theron; First official still from Dark Places

Charlize Theron as Libby Day in Dark Places

I can't believe how much has happened since my first post on the screen adaptations of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Dark Places back in July of 2012.  Back then Reese Witherspoon was producing and was also expected to star as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, with Amy Adams set for the role of Libby Day in Dark Places.

What a difference a year makes, eh? Rosamund Pike is now playing Gone Girl's Amy Dunne -- Witherspoon's company is still producing but the actress is  currently filming Wild, the film based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, up in Oregon -- and Charlize Theron went on to take over the Libby Day role when Amy Adams had to bow out.  

Not as well known as Gone Girl, Dark Places is Flynn's story of "A woman who survived the brutal killing of her family as a child is forced to confront the events of that day by a secret society obsessed with solving notorious crimes" per the imdb description.

This past August I wrote a gushy post when I learned that Corey Stoll (House of Cards), Christina Hendrix (Mad Men) and Chloe Grace Moretz were also on board with Stoll set as Libby's brother, the person young Libby identified as her family's murderer. Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah's Key) directed and wrote the screenplay for the film due out in the fall of 2014. While Exclusive Media did screen some footage for buyers at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, for now all we get to see is the picture. 

Toni Collette is a real mother in A Long Way Down; the upcoming movie based on Nick Hornby's book

In A Long Way Down, the Nick Hornby novel with a screen adaptation currently in post production, Hornby has given us four distinct, fabulously flawed and tragi-comedic characters who all meet on a rooftop in London, intent on 'topping' themselves. Is there an American equivalent of the British euphemism, slang even, for committing suicide. What do we say? I want to kill myself? 

Hornby's writing can be so biting and raw with insight that I expect screenwriter Jack Thorne to rob whole chunks of dialogue from Hornby's pages. The quartet made such an impression on me that I've been devoting entire posts to each character. 

We took a look at Martin, the immoral tv presenter played by Pierce Brosnan and JJ, the American musician devastated by what he sees as his failure at music and love, played by Aaron Paul. Then there's Jess, the bored, ignored bratty daughter of wealthy parents who has zero impulse control and no social skills is played by Imogen Poots. (saving her for another time)
JJ(Aaron Paul), Jess (Imogen Poots), Maureen (Toni Collette) and Martin (Pierce Brosnan)

For now the focus is on Maureen; she's the one that the other three feel so sorry for they rarely even give her a hard time. "Bloody pathetic" as Hornby might say.
Poor Maureen. She's played by Toni Collette in the film and I've no doubt she'll be brilliant; in over twenty years of film and television work I can't name a single poor Toni Collette performance, can you? 

Like the rest of them, Maureen is tremendously unhappy and ready to call it a day as far as 'life' goes. And why not? She's a fiftyish single mother with a grown son who has spent his entire life in a vegetative state. Her life has been reduced to little more than attending church and caring for him. 
"They tell me to keep talking to him, but you can see that nothing goes in."
While she loves her son, and takes care of his needs as best she can, she's neglected her own. It's not surprising that she hasn't been to a New Year's Eve party since 1984, or that she feels intense guilt when she lies to Matty, telling him she's off to a party when she's off to 'off herself' - more suicide slang. When the caretakers drive off with him, presumably for a one night stay, Maureen says -
"I couldn't cry when he went, because then the young fellas would guess something was wrong; as far as they knew, I was coming to fetch him at eleven the next morning. I just kissed him on the top of his head and told him to be good at the home, and I held it all in until I'd seen them leave. Then I wept and wept, for about an hour. He'd ruined my life, but he was still my son, and I was never going to see him again, and I couldn't even say goodbye properly. I watched the television for awhile, and I did have one or two glasses of sherry, because I knew it would be cold out."
Pathetic, yes? But not maudlin. Hornby doesn't touch the stuff. While he mostly sticks to sharp and funny, Maureen's character does touch a chord in the mother in me. She has had so little, her expectations so few, we feel with her as she navigates her way around her new friends.
"I didn't mind talking because I knew I didn't need to say very much. None of these people would have wanted my life. I doubted whether they'd understand how I'd put up with it for as long as I had. It's always the toilet bit that upsets people. Whenever I've had to moan before--when I need another prescription for antidepressants, for example--I always mention the toilet bit., the cleaning up that needs doing most days. It's funny, because it's the bit I've got used to. I can't get used to the idea that my life is finished, pointless, too hard, completely without hope or color; (except Hornby would have spelled it colour in his manuscript:) but the mopping up doesn't really worry me anymore. That's always what gets the doctor reaching for his pen, though."

Okay, Maureen does know how to get some of her needs met! It is after all, Maureen's desire to take a trip that gets the group moving. In the novel, they take a small vacay to the Canary Islands where frankly, not a lot happens. Judging from the shot of the group dunking Maureen in the sea, the screenwriter Jack Thorne took something of a trip himself. The dunking scene didn't come out of the novel.

I feel better now; in case you haven't read the book I wanted to tell you enough to get you reading it before the film comes out in March 2014 because it's fantastic. Of course it is; it's Nick Hornby! It made me laugh and it made me blubber a bit but it also made me think; about life, and living well, and the power of love, how much we owe each other, and being just a little gentle with myself and those who mean the most to me. 
Directed by Pascal Chaumel, A Long Way Down starring Toni Collette, Pierce Brosnan, Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, Imogen Poots and Rosamund Pike is due out next year.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire Costumes from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Designer Kick Ass

Katniss' kick-ass character and the dystopian action aside, one of the aspects of The Hunger Games that I enjoyed most in the first film was the inventive wardrobe design by costumer Judianna Makovsky. The often outlandish avante-glam designs enhanced by techno wizardry were stunning, especially the clothing Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss wore in the Capitol, 'Capitol Couture' as it were.  For Catching Fire, Makovsky is gone and Trish Summerville (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) has the reigns.  I featured Summerville, who clearly knows how to dress her kick-ass women, in this post on the Girl with Dragon Tattoo line of clothing at H&M.  It looks like she's done another remarkable job here - as well as having another retail tie in collection, the Capitol Collection from Summerville is now available at Net-a-Porter. And don't fret about Makovsky; she's been busy with other projects including the upcoming Captain America:The Winters Tale.

Design by Tex Saverio

Summerville talked with The New York Times about the new designs, including the frothy wedding dress from illustrator/designer Tex Saverio.
"For her grand entrance to the 75th Hunger Games kickoff, Katniss dons a fantasy wedding dress by the Jakartan designer Tex Saverio — the one she might have worn had her nuptials to Peeta not been quashed by the games.
“I wanted to have a subliminal feel of flames and feathers to keep her the Girl on Fire while also representing the Mockingjay,”  
According to the Times "Mr. Saverio’s froth of layered organza features a flame-inspired silver corset and fabric peacock feathers sprouting at the waist. As Katniss* twirls, the gown erupts, and an iridescent Mockingjay dress rises from the ash. Using images of a mockingbird, blue jay, pheasant and peacock, Ms. Summerville worked with an illustrator and graphic designer to create patterns of feathers and wings, which she then had printed on chiffon and built into the Mockingjay dress."

Amazing stuff as one look at the expression on Stanley Tucci's (Ceasar) face confirms. Check out the entire article here including what the designer said to actor Josh Hutcherson about manning him up. "I was like, 'We have to dude you up.'  

* I saw Jennifer Lawrence being interviewed alongside actor Josh Hutcherson on some television show and the interviewer was gushing over the dress, lamenting how sad Lawrence must have been to give it up. Lawrence kind of rolled her eyes and sighed; she confessed the dress was heavy and tiring to wear and that when it was time to stop wearing it, she was happy to do so. Because the dress was so difficult to take on and off, costar Josh Hutcherson claimed Lawrence actually "had to pee in a bucket" which is likely true. TMI? 

If you loved The Fault in Our Stars you might like Before I Die by Jenny Downham #book2movie

Update: If you're a fan of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, you might like Before I Die too. Like Hazel Grace, Tessa has had cancer for quite quite some time now. While Tessa attacks her days with more fierce desperation than brave Hazel, I think you'll love her too. The book was made into a film starring Dakota Fanning and Jeremy Irvine. So while you're waiting to see Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort as Hazel and Gus,  here's the story of Tessa and Adam.

Before I Die (Now is Good)
Jenny Downham
227 pages

About the Book:

Before I saw the trailer (below) for Now Is Good starring Dakota Fanning and Jeremy Irvine, I hadn't really heard of Before I Die, the Young Adult novel that the film is based on. But the trailer got me quite curious so I checked it out. Written by Jenny Downham, the title Before I Die is a lot more indicative of what actually takes place in the story. But the films' title Now Is Good actually captures the meaning behind what takes place perfectly.
Tessa, at seventeen, has had cancer for four years. Knowing it is incurable, she finally decides to stop treatment so she can savor what she has left of life. And while it sounds like a downer ... at novel's end, there will be tears, oh yes, there will be tears ... it's actually not the weepy sentimental sap you might expect. Here's the opening paragraph.
"I wish I had a boyfriend. I wish he lived in the wardrobe on a coat hanger. Whenever I wanted,  I could get him out and he'd look at me the way they do in films, as if I'm beautiful. He wouldn't speak much, but he'd be breathing hard as he took off his leather jacket and unbuckled his jeans. He'd wear white pants and he'd be so gorgeous I'd almost faint. He'd take my clothes off too. He'd whisper, 'Tessa, I love you. I really bloody love you. You're beautiful.'  - exactly those words - as he undressed me."

That experience is right at the top of the list of things she wants to do BEFORE she dies. She has it written on her bedroom wall. It's a list that includes having sex, doing drugs and breaking the law. A list that as her best friend Zooey says ...
"It's not exactly Disneyland is it?" and "I think your dad's expecting you to ask for a pony, not a boyfriend."

And that's the thing about this book. It's not Disneyland. It's not what you expect when you know it's a story about a teenage girl dying from cancer. This is a book where the characters are so real and flawed and disappointing - the way people are - yet so wonderfully, hopelessly human that you love each and every one of them.

With Zooey's help - the only friend Tessa has who didn't gradually disappear as Tessa became increasingly ill - Tessa goes out and starts ticking experiences off her To Do list. And discovers so much on the way. Like having sex is so much more complex than you can ever imagine, that friends can lift you up and let you down, that fathers - and mothers - don't always know best or do their best, but they try.

I loved that Jenny Downham gave Tessa a best friend that wasn't always there for her - that she had selfish and scared impulses that kept her from Tessa's side 24-7. And that she's not the kind of best friend most parental units would give their blessing to.

Downham also gives Tessa a complicated love story with a boy who is naturally conflicted about his role in Tessa's last days.  It is Tessa's last days that will make you cry. Naturally, but because Downham handles Tessa's death so honestly and without sentimentality, the raw emotion it elicits is extremely satisfying. One doesn't feel manipulated, one feels strangely hopeful.

As in, I hope I can recognize and appreciate the beauty and grace in my own life. And if I don't make it to the Blue Grotto (at the top of my personal bucket list) let me appreciate the touch of my husband's hand on my back, my son's hug when he thinks I'm sad, and the pleasure of a good book.

George Clooney and other less ravishing writers at The Hollywood Reporter's Writers' Round Table;

Sunday, Sunday. As many of you know I like to take it easy on Sunday morning soooo I'm going to revel in Sunday slackery and share one of The Hollywood Reporter's "Round Tables." Every year, during this pre-awards season, THR gathers together groups of top industry professionals - writers, actors, young actors, directors, etc around the table for a discussion of their craft. The conversations last about an hour and never fail to fascinate me. It's quite different watching and listening to these talented individuals sharing challenges and disappointments and talking with each other rather than seeing them on a network television talk show where everything is performance and surface and what's important is whether you have a funny anecdote rather than whether you wrote or acted in or directed an exquisite piece of film and how that process worked. I can't help it; I love process.  And as we learn over and over again, it's process that counts. End results - on the page, on the screen, on the canvas, in the garden, in the kitchen (you get the drift) rarely meet our expectations so you'd be wise to focus on the moment and love the journey.

That preachy Sunday morning lecture over, please to enjoy The Writer's Roundtable. The panel includes George Clooney and Grant Heslov (The Monuments Men/adaptation), John Ridley (12 Years a Slave/adaptation), Danny Strong (Lee Daniel's The Butler/adaptation of a magazine article),  Jonas Cuaron (Gravity/original screenplay), Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said/original screenplay) and Julie Delpy (Before Midnight/original screenplay). I finally saw Before Midnight yesterday, thank God at home and alone, because I spent much of the movie sniffling and sobbing. What a spot on examination of love, marriage, parenthood, traveling through this amazing life and the way we are. So powerful!

If you don't have time to watch the roundtable you may want to schedule some time to stop and smell the roses. In the meantime you can speed-read the full transcript at THR. 
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