> Chapter1-Take1: 2015

Lily James as Natasha Rostova: 'War and Peace' Character of the Day

And me? Would you like to kiss me? she whispered almost inaudibly, glancing up at him from under her brows, smiling, and almost crying from excitement. 
Boris blushed.
War and Peace, page 72 

We first meet Natsha as a frisky 13 year old ball of energy who charms everyone she meets. On the brink of womanhood, Natasha is absolutely besotted with Boris Dubretskoy (Aneurin Barnard), but as a young girl she still carries a doll that she uses as an extension of herself. The actress has to travel an arc that spans over a dozen years; clearly in these early scenes the costume designer—Edward K. Gibbon—has given James clothing to emphasize her youth and de-emphasize her bustlineCut high on the bodice, with overly puffy sleeves, the simple floral cotton frock falls stiffly away from her body and a world away from the silky elegant fabrics that an older woman would wear. Unlike many of the older women, she doesn’t wear evening gloves or glittery jewels. Her hair, by makeup and hair designer Jacqueline Fowler, is down and natural looking, a far cry from the more elaborate coiffures we see on the sophisticated ladies at the soiree.

I wanted her to feel really young at the start 
to accentuate her journey. 
I wanted to capture that spirit of youth, 
of excitement and openness 
where everything is going to be okay. 
Lily James on playing Natasha 

Lily James as Natasha, all grown up

I didnt watch Audrey Hepburns performance 
as then I would have been doomed from the start, 
Lily said. I love her and shes the greatest so 
I felt it would be counter productive 
to have her version of Natasha in my head. 
Lily James on Audrey Hepburn as Natasha 

I’m going to try to get to all the key characters over the course of the next couple of weeks, in time for the program’s debut here in the states on Lifetime on January 18th, but sadly not in time for the series’  January 3rd air date on the BBC in the UK. Check back tomorrow to see which character is coming to life on screen from Tolstoy’s printed page.

'First Look' at Emily Blunt as The Girl on the Train: Hey there, lonely girl.

In case you missed the first images of Emily Blunt as The Girl on the Train here’s the ‘official’ first look pictures splashed all over the net. Although, um, I hate to break it to you but we had our first look of both Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux here a few days ago.

For all of us who read the book and kvetched about the relocation of the film from London to New York and its’ suburbs, the director Tate Taylor insists that the move will only add to the drama. The character of Rachel, still a Brit, is battling not just her alcoholism, shes also dealing with a profound sense of loneliness.’ 

Speaking of the shift, Taylor says, “It adds another layer of loneliness. She’s trying to reclaim or redefine herself, and yet she’s not in her native land.”

I love that rationalization. As if the storyline needed the move to NYC to make it work! I guess the loneliness and heartbreak of your husband leaving you for another woman couldn’t be enough of a motivation to fall apart? 

The Girl on the Train, based on the best seller by Paula Hawkins, is set for release on October 7, 2016. Despite my bitching, Im looking forward to it almost as much as many of you looked forward to Star Wars, The Force Awakens.

The EPIC War and Peace: Official Trailer from Lifetime

He’s quite brooding. The one piece of direction I got regularly was to stop smiling. There is so much stuff going on in Andrei. There are these long passages where he’s in a carriage looking at an oak tree, with pages and pages of conflict and existential deep thought. [But] I don’t think he is a classic glamorous hero. He’s not very likeable.  He’s very flawed - he’s a bastard throughout. It’s the conflicted searcher. Andrei goes deeper and deeper into this existential mess.”  James Norton on Prince Andrei, War and Peace
I zoned in on War and Peace as a James Norton fan—if you haven’t seen Norton as a psychotic killer in Happy Valley (avail on Netflix) you really need to. Now I find myself reading the entire massive piece of historical fiction just so I can be a better educated viewer of the mini-series starring Norton, Lily James, Paul Dano, Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea, Callum Turner, Tuppence Middleton, and Aneurin Barnard. 

But Lifetime’s new trailer has me confused. Not at the tough hip approach—they’re trying to appeal to a new generation with their ‘reimagining’ of a classic and to the rest of you who usually find historical dramas a snooze-fest—but at the length of the show. The BBC 6 part mini-series is being touted here as a four parter! Has the promotional team got the wrong end of the stick or are we seeing a slightly modified version of the epic’ drama based on Tolstoys classic? What the what!? 

Just in time for this post, BBC 1 has just released a nifty behind the scenes video. Lots of new footage and comments from the cast, check it out here 

The Girl on the Train starring Emily Blunt & Justin Theroux: Images from the set

That’s better! Emily Blunt actually does look like a wreck in this image from the set of The Girl on the Train. I was disappointed in the first images of Blunt as Rachel, I just didn’t think she looked as much of a hot mess as the alcoholic character author Paula Hawkins created. But this is more like it. She’s still beautiful but clearly something is off. While production for The Girl on the Train wrapped earlier this month, Ive got some images from the Daily Mail of Emily Blunt and Justin Theroux as her ex, Tom, shooting a key fight scene. 

The Girl on the Train starring Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Rebecca Ferguson, Jared Leto, Luke Evans and Haley Bennett comes out October 7, 2016.

Ill scout around, see if I can dig up some pix of the rest of the cast to share with you here in the coming days. Let me know if you find anything interesting on your end.

Brie Larson (Room) & Joel Edgarton (Black Mass) in Actors on Actors video

Today’s Slacker Sunday video is another from Variety’s Actors on Actors series. Joel Edgarton, the Australian actor who played Tom in The Great Gatsby and this year stood out with Johnny Depp in Black Mass teamed up with Brie Larson, the young Indie star who got a lot of buzz for playing the mother in Room. They start out discussing the fact that Brie Larson had to audition for Room, and that succeeding in that process gave her confidence for her performance. Interesting, because so many big name actors don’t have to audition. Hope you find their chat as fascinating as I do. Its about a half hour in length so grab a cup of joe before you press play.

My take on Room, the book

War and Peace: Getting to know the characters played by Lily James, Paul Dano & James Norton

I wasn’t going to do it. Reading War and Peace was just too daunting a prospect. But then I realized I really wanted to get to know the characters for myself, who Tolstoy told me they were, prior to seeing the Andrew Davies’ scripted version that’s coming out as a six part drama on Lifetime, A&E and the History channel. I’m reading it on my Nook, so the massive 1300 pages is less daunting. No heavy book to carry around, no book mark constantly reminding me how much left I have to read. How much do I have left to read? Somewhere over a thousand pages. I’m just over halfway through the free 189 page sample. When the free sample is 189 pages, you know the full length version is going to be massive! So massive that Davies has said he actually "took the kitchen scissors and hacked War and Peace in two”.
“I absorbed the book in as many ways as I could. Besides my vandalised Penguin paperback, I took War and Peace to Antigua on a Kindle and read it on the beach, and when I got home I had the audiobook in my car, playing over and over until the story felt as familiar as the story of my own life.”
“After reading and rereading, I knew what I wanted for the adaptation: a lively, urgent, youthful drama that would appeal to modern sensibilities and find things in common between our world and Tolstoy's,” he said.
“But I did take a look at one or two previous versions. The 1956 film with Audrey Hepburn now feels stagey and miscast, with middle-aged stars as the male leads, and Hepburn herself frankly embarrassing trying to play Natasha as a 13-year-old.
“The 1972 BBC version felt stodgy, wooden and unbearably slow, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins's electrifying Pierre. I hope we've managed to do better.”
Davies said he considered the character of Natasha, played by Lily James, “possibly the most appealing heroine in literature”. 
As I’ve said I’ve only just begun reading the book but already I couldn’t agree more with what Davies says about the 1956 version starring Audrey Hepburn, Henry Fonda and Mel Ferrer. Just reading the opening pages one has to wonder what the heck were they doing having Audrey Hepburn playing Natasha? And Henry Fonda as Pierre??? Mel Ferrer is obviously too old to play Andrei but to be honest, the young prince is such a moody miserable s.o.b. that he doesn’t seem quite so horribly miscast. But of course they’re all too old to play what is essentially a drama of youth. 

That won’t be a problem with this new BBC version with lovely young Lily James as the irrepressible Natasha, Paul Dano as fat Pierre (Dano must have gained weight for the project) and handsome James Norton as the disillusioned Prince Andrei. At this early point in the novel Pierre is the only person who seems to elicit a genuinely happy response from Andrei. He’s horribly dismissive to his wife. And Pierre, criticized by the entire community for his drunken shenanigans bringing shame on his father, has caught young Natasha’s attention. Like the screenwriter I’m curious to get to know this threesome better and to see how they grow and develop over the course of the saga. 
Lily James as Natasha with Aneurin Barnard as Boris

James Norton and Paul Dano as Prince Andrei and Pierre

Aisling Loftus as Sonya Rostova with Jack Lowden as Nicolai

Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna Scherer with Stephen Rea as Prince Vassily Kuragin

Tuppence Middleton as Helene Kuragin

Callum Turner as Anatole Kuragin with Middleton as sister Helen

 Tom Burke as Dolokhov

The BBC has released a fully gallery of images from the first episode which tracks about where I am with the book. I didn’t to look too closely so as not to spoil it for myself but if you’ve read the book, enjoy!

War and Peace debuts on January 18th. Don’t think stodgy old classic, think passion and youth.

The Danish Girl and Room: Inspired Cinematography by Danny Cohen

One thing I love about this time of year is the attention given to craftspeople that make a film look as good as the story and the actor’s performances merit. In today’s Deadline the focus is on cinematography, highlighting the work of Danny Cohen, who has two big movies in the mix of films being buzzed about. And those two films just happened to be based on books: Room and The Danish Girl.

I could edit the article but it’s Christmas and I’m still shopping so let’s just listen in on the entire convo, eh? I have found some interesting pictures to highlight though.

For Cohen—a frequent collaborator of director Tom Hooper’s, who shot The Danish Girl as well as Lenny Abrahamson’s Room—having two prominent films out is “amazing,” he says. “It definitely isn’t something that comes along too often.” 
Though The Danish Girl is a gorgeous period piece with beautiful, sweeping camerawork, and Room is a more confined film with unique logistical challenges, according to Cohen the two films have more in common than one might imagine. Both films were shot on the Red Dragon—the latest Red digital cinema camera—while Room was shot with Panavision Primo lenses and The Danish Girl with ARRI master primes. Though Room more obviously necessitated lighting based in practical concerns, given the fact that half the film was shot within a 10-by-10-foot box, the approach on The Danish Girl wasn’t too far off. “You always want to begin from a point of realistic motivational sources,” Cohen says. 

Certainly, the claustrophobia of the main set was the biggest challenge of shooting Room. “The big thing was to always try and make the most of the lighting and to get some sort of atmosphere going in the room, because we kind of handcuffed ourselves, in a sense,” he says. Light and the choice to use compact digital cameras were informed by the cramped nature of the space.

“The set was modular, so you could pull off some of the tiles in the ceiling,” Cohen says. “What that meant was that as much as possible there weren’t light stands on the floor. We used the ceiling for lighting, as much as possible, to give the actors, within the limited space, as much freedom to move as we could.” 

Just as Room had the skylight, The Danish Girl utilized big lights outside building windows, “to create a sort of northern light, where the sun is quite low in the horizon,” Cohen says by way of explaining how the actors were side-lit.  “Tom has got a great eye,” he says. “I know he’s always going to push me  to find something interesting with the camera.” 

For Room, Cohen referenced a large selection of photographs for color and framing, whereas on The Danish Girl the singular reference was Danish painter Vilhem Hammershoi, “who had a very particular way of framing.” 
 Thanks for that! Now I’m obsessed with Vilhelm Hammershoi! When am I going to finish my shopping?!

Obsessed too? Check out Michael Palin’s hour long look at Hammershoi’s work here. I think I’ll save it to watch as my own personal Christmas present to myself. Can’t wait!

The Danish Girl: My take on the movie

Michael Fassbender, by the book

Michael Fassbender, looking for a book

Michael Fassbender, looking good with a book 
Reading Jean Genet. Photographed by Bruce Weber for NY Times Style Magazine

Last week, under the The Best Actors Read Between the Lines  heading,  I started gathering images of actors reading (or acting like it). The poor souls, we never truly trust them! Here’s a few more from recent tweets.

James Norton waltzes Lily James off her feet in War and Peace

Last week I learned that Diana Scrivener was the choreographer for the upcoming BBC television mini-series. Based on Tolstoy’s monumental classic War and Peace, the production stars Lily James, James Norton and Paul Dano. Scrivener has an impressive body of work including the choreography of a dance between Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes, Upstairs Downstairs and  several episodes of Downton Abbey where she would have worked with Lily James. Ive found Ms. Scriveners resume of sorts, a variety of clips from her various productions, available on Vimeo. My favorite from the video is the super sexy dance between Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe in 2010Robin Hood. That dance alone makes me want to watch the film!

What a joyous job she has! Getting people together on a dance floor, putting them through their paces until they can glide—or gyrate, depending on the dance—with ease. 

Her task in War and Peace is the waltz between Natasha and Prince Andrei. Can a waltz be sexy? I think it probably can —it’s all about the chemistry—but frankly, while the waltz in 1956’ War and Peace starring Audrey Hepburn as Natasha and Mel Ferrar as Prince Andrei (below) is beautifully executed, it is completely lacking in the deep and sensual connection that dance provides.

Watch Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer dance

I cant wait to see how Lily James as Natasha and James Norton as Andrei come together on the dance floor in St. Petersberg. Did I ask if a waltz can be sexy? Clearly, it can. Look at that eye contact! 

Here in the states we’ll be watch #WarandPeace on Lifetime, A&E and the History Channel on January 18th.

The Girl on the Train: Let’s look at the upstate New York locations for the film

lot of you shared my fury when we learned that The Girl on the Train was being transported to the USA. Author Paula Hawkins supposedly didnt share our feelings—she told the London Times "I'm not really concerned about the repositioning as I think it is the type of story that could take place in any commuter town Thats true, of course—jealousy, lust, alcoholism, murder most foul are universal—but it was the general Britishy vibe we bemoaned the loss of. Especially as we were swapping the author’s London journey on the tube to what I assumed was going to be the Long Island Railroad. Nothing wrong with that railroad—I have a friend who has a summer place out on the island near Cold Springs Harbor and it’s a lovely trip—but in my particular case, I was looking forward to going somewhere I haven’t been quite so often, both in real life and on film. 

In a brief bit of good news it looks like instead of a train side community in Long Island, the film will take us to upstate New York instead. They’ve been filming in Irvington, New York—yes, named after Washington Irving—and some other towns in what’s known as the Rivertown area. The Hudson Independent reports that filming sites include “the Ardsley on Hudson train station (a favorite for film and ad makers over the years), the tunnel on Station Road, Village Hall (which will be transformed cinematographically into a police station), the library, and the woods behind the reservoir (where exciting and terrible things will happen).” 

Suddenly I’m a tiny bit excited again!  Let’s take a look, shall we? 

 Ardsley-on-Hudson train station

Tunnel on Station Road 

Village Hall (police station)


Irvington Reservoir 

The Irvington Woods

Okay. Now I’m excited. The town of Irvington has a rich and somewhat ancient heritage by American standards. The area has maintained many of its’ old riverside town buildings—like the factory that is now the public library—preserving an architectural heritage that is difficult to find. The fairly upscale area may not mirror the more grounded British location, it’s at least a place I’d like to visit. As with all towns bordering railroads, there’s an up and downside; there’s no mention in The Hudson Independent’s reporting of where the actual homes backing the train tracks are, the group of homes our Rachel (Emily Blunt) passes on that train everyday. That location has to be just a touch downmarket and will be critical to the success of the relocation. 

One thing I do know, it’s a beautiful part of the American  landscape, one I’d like to revisit. Interested? Check out Rivertowns.org and The Irvington Woods 

The Girl on the Train, based on Paula Hawkin’s best seller stars Emily Blunt (Rachel) Rebecca Ferguson (Anna) Haley Bennett (Megan) Jared Leto (Scott) and Justin Theroux as Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. The release date has been set for October 7, 2016.

I’ve written several posts about the book and the movie, currently in the works. Use the search feature or check out my take on the book for more info. So, where are you at? Can you live with the new locale or are you firmly in the true Brit group, insisting it can only be a great adaptation of The Girl on the Train if the station remains in England?

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