> Chapter1-Take1: January 2015

Blast from the past: "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" Title Sequence

Once upon a time, let's say early 1989, I worked in the offices of Joel Silver, a big-timey producer with a big list of credits, a big presence and a big booming voice that I mostly tried to stay clear of. My job? Keep the fridge stocked with Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink, the incoming scripts filed, and the phones answered. And to make sure if Shane Black called, to put him through.

Black was the writer of the moment; he was the guy who'd written Lethal Weapon, the 1987 mega-hit that spawned a franchise and kept Joel Silver sitting financially pretty in his Frank Lloyd Wright house on a hill. Shane Black was a 26 year old hot shot who could do no wrong. I put him through.

Black become one of Hollywood's lasting success stories; in 2005 he made his directorial debut with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and True Detective's Michelle Monaghan. Also produced by Joel Silver among others, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the comic screen adaptation of — very loosely —  Bodies Are Where You Find Them, a pulpy 1940's mystery written by Brett Halliday. Right now Black is back in his writer/director chair helming The Nice Guys starring Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Kim Bassinger, Matt Bomer and Jack Killmer — a dead ringer for his dad— another Joel Silver-produced thriller set in the seedy world of the 1970's porn industry.

Preamble over, I just wanted to share the title sequence to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Love how they used pages from the pulpy novel in this stunning and stylish opening! 

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang — Opening Title Sequence

Intrigued? Here's the trailer to whet your whistle. You know how to whistle don't you?

First Trailer for Child 44 starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace

Child 44 directed by Daniel Espinoza: A disgraced member of the military police investigates a series of nasty child murders during the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

Last week I shared the first poster for Child 44 starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace, along with a couple of images. Remember Tom Hardy's nasty looking scar? The first trailers for the movie based on the Tom Rob Smith thriller were just released; one US trailer and one for the international market — let's take a look.
  Don't forget to adjust the youtube settings so you're seeing the trailer in the best quality.

What'd you think? Gary Oldman is always impressive but Tom Hardy really surprised me, not just with his power, but with his excellent Russian accent. And that's coming from someone who brought down the house when I had to do a Russian accent for my acting class back in the 80's. Oh yeah, I know my Soviet sounds, my friends. I can't remember what the scene was from — some Russian female athlete in a locker room — but I loved doing it because I had such a blast learning how to talk like a Ruski! Here in Hollywood when actors need to nail an accent whether it's Russian or cockney, they head to Samuel French and pick up an Acting with an Accent dialect CD which goes over all the various sounds and patterns. Back in my day it was tapes, but these days you don't even have to leave the house to nail an accent or dialect, YouTube has a lesson for everything, Russian accents, included. Of course for an actor working on a film, like Tom Hardy here in Child 44, the production would likely pick up the tab for a dialect coach.  But I digress ... 

Presuming the score to the trailer is from the film, I thought it was pretty impressive sounding work, both thrilling and suspenseful, by Jon Ekstrand, a Swedish composer who seems to have worked primarily in Swedish television. 

The cinematography by Oliver Wood (the Bourne movies) felt both lush and cinematic in the old fashioned sense of the word; wide shots and sweeping vistas, giving us plenty of context, combined with closeups when a character's dramatic response called for it. The images at times seemed imbued with a hint of a sepia tint, at others like a rich, color enhanced postcard. 

While Child 44 is set in the Soviet Union in the 1950's the movie was shot in beautiful Prague and Ostrava, in the Czech Republic.
Child 44 is due out in April in both the states and the UK on the 17th.

Dear Mr. Redford

Redford and Streisand/The Way We Were

I have a Hollywood inspired piece of memoir up on In My Write Mind 
Dear Mr. Redford; about the one and only fan letter I've ever written.

The Girl on the Train: Paula Hawkins thriller is a runaway hit ... and speeding to the movies

Have you got on board the love train for The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins? A very catchy, if overused title: The Girl in the Train is a short story by Agatha Christie, with The Girl on the Train being the title of at least three additional novels, by Jean-Luc Cherie, William Spires and Thomas Weaver. This The Girl on the Trail though, is being called the new Gone Girl. Just published on January 13th, it was an instant #1 on the NY Times Best Seller list. Among its many fans is Stephen King who sent out this pretty nifty tweet:
He's right, of course. I've only read the first 35 pages, the free sample from Barnes and Noble, and got hooked from the opening paragraph, a kind of prologue before the book starts in earnest, telling its tale from the point of view of three women: Rachel, Megan, Anna, in alternating, but not uniformly so, chapters.
"She's buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn. Not more than a little pile of stones, really. I didn't want to draw attention to her resting place, but I couldn't leave her without remembrance. She'll sleep peacefully there, no one to disturb her, no sounds but birdsong and the rumble of passing trains."
I'm especially psyched because film AND stage producer Mark Platt (Wicked, Into the Woods, Drive to name a few) picked it up before the thriller even hit the shelves. He's just hired Erin Cressida Wilson to adapt; Wilson is known for Secretary a 2002 adaptation of a short story by Mary Gaitskill and the screenplay for last year's Men, Women and Children from the novel by Chad Kultgen. So it's a fantastic book en route to the big screen, potentially for release this year, but that's if they move super fast. What could make me happier? I've been too busy getting my Wolf Hall Wednesday stuff together to get out to a bookstore — and since this is a page turner, I've decided I want to turn actual pages — so in the meantime, here's how the booksellers sum it up:
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.
“Gripping, enthralling—a top-notch thriller and a compulsive read.”—S. J. Watson, New York Times–bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Have you got your copy yet? Are you loving it too?

Wolf Hall Wednesday: The first one hundred pages

"So now, get up."
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. his head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.
So begins Wolf Hall. The "he" who has fallen is Thomas Cromwell. In the next paragraph we learn just who has knocked him 'full length on the cobbles'.
"Blood from the gash on his head —which was his father's first effort — is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father's boot is unraveling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut."               
Before we can really register the brutality of Cromwell's father's actions, he's at it again —
 "So now get up!" Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next."                                    
Urggh! That bold and shocking beginning really drew me in. The language, while it doesn't aim to be contemporary, somehow is. And the scene is utterly cinematic, we can't help but see every kick as Thomas sees it coming at him. No wonder it was so quickly optioned for the screen!

Poor Cromwell, bullied by his brute of a father, somehow manages to get away, finding his way to his sister Kat's tavern Pegasus the Flying Horse. She calls for her husband and when one of the serving girls tells her he's gone to town —
"She thrusts the tray at the girl. "If you leave them where the cats can get at them, I'll box your ears till you see stars."                           
Nothing dull about this particular historical fiction! Nothing staid, no long introductory setup, no flowery description of Cromwell's background. Mantel's writing crackles in its directness; it's as if she knew she has to draw us in deeply right at the beginning — because otherwise, ew, history, boringggg! — and she wastes no time getting to it. Instead of staying with his sister and bringing their father's wrath down on her, Thomas, still bruised and bloodied, runs away, travels to France where he hopes to find a war and join the fighting.
"He walks around the docks saying to people, do you know where there's a war just now?
Each man he asks stares at his face, steps back and says, "You tell me!"
They are so pleased with this, they laugh at their own wit so much, that he continues asking, just to give people pleasure"

The next time we meet him, he's a forty year old man, back in England, married to Elizabeth "Liz" Wysyk. Their meeting, unromantic, pragmatic but funny, not unlike the 'meet cute' trope in a romantic comedy. Cromwell indicates his interest to her father who calls her downstairs, and talks to her bluntly. She answers just as directly.
"You want a new husband. Will he do?"
She stood and looked him up and down. "Well, Father. You didn't pick him for his looks." To him, her eyebrows raised, she said, "Do you want a wife?"
The writing style was just so surprising to me; I haven't read historical fiction for awhile, fearing the heaviness of writers working hard to capture a period, filling it with a lot of thou's and thee's and what not. But Mantel, while using vocabulary long out of fashion, like 'bawling' in the following passage, never makes us feel like we're wading through the mire. When they have their first child, Gregory, she paints Cromwell as a thoughtful and doting father  -
"Bawling, strong, one hour old, plucked from the cradle: he kissed the infant's fluffy skull and said, I shall be as tender to you as my father was not to me. For what's the point of breeding children, if each generation does not improve on what went before?"                                    
 p. 49

By this time Cromwell is in the service of the king, working under Cardinal Wolsey. He's learned a thing or two about power and politics, and Wolsey trusts him to be his spy in the court, to determine how seriously Henry wants to be free of Katherine of Aragon, and what they'll need to do to make it happen, with the approval of the catholic church.

Mantel's magic is how she humanizes these characters, these bigger-than-life men of history.

"The cardinals chin rests on his hand; with finger and thumb, he rubs his eyes. "The king called me this morning," he says, "exceptionally early."
"What did he want?"
"Pity. And at such an hour. I heard a dawn mass with him, and he talked all through it. I love the king. God knows how I love him. But sometimes my faculty of commiseration is strained."
 p. 30

I love Mantel's writing style, the freshness and immediacy of it. The story is told from Cromwell's point of view, and since Mantel never identifies him as Thomas or Cromwell but only as 'he', there are times when it can be a bit tricky on the occasion that there's more than one 'he'  in the room! Or more than one Thomas! Cardinal Wolsey, the Archbishop of York is a Thomas, as is the Lord Chancellor Thomas More who takes over after the cardinal falls. Anne Boleyn's father is also Thomas as is her uncle. That's a whole lot of Thomas's to keep track of!

Mantel has provided a Tudor family tree, along with that of the Yorkist claimants and a full and helpful cast of characters at the start of the book, a tool I'm sure I'll need going forward but in these early chapters I muddled through. I say muddled as there were times when the history got a little dense and I fess up to skimming just a wee little bit. Mostly it's a fascinating and lively look at this man who is mostly known as a historical figure, a label, an important player in anything we've seen or read about Henry VIII but not a man we usually get to see outside his function: the hugely powerful personage who helped King Henry VIII get rid of Katherine of Aragon so he could wed that tart Ann Boleyn.  Ruthless, unemotional, logical. A lawyer in fact. That's the shorthand view we have anyway. In Mantel's version we see his sharpness, his manipulative side but we see his softer side — even ruthless power mongers have softer sides, wives they love, children they tuck in and kiss goodnight.

We get to know him through his relationships with his wife who he calls Liz and Lizzie, and with Cardinal Wolsey with whom he shares a long and intimate relationship. Mantel creates such depth, by the physical life she imbues them with, as well as the human charms and foibles, the small details, petty complaints and jealousies that make us human. Pure villain? Cromwell doesn't come off like that at all; he's much more interesting.

Within the first hundred pages we've seen young Cromwell grow from a 13 or 14 year old boy abused by his father to a powerful man within the court. We've seen him tragically lose his wife to the 'sweating sickness'. We've seen him rise to power, furious and combative, while Wolsey is stripped of his. A warning from the king. He wants that annulment, damn it! (I must warn you, while we hear of the king's desire, I've not seen any sex yet. Not sure how that plays out in the miniseries) We've also seen the beginnings of his interest in the writings of Martin Luther, which he reads secretly, and what will lead to the dissolution of the catholic church in England, as a way to serve the king's pleasure.

I'm enjoying the reading, and as I announced last Wednesday, still hope to lure some of you to join me before the program — a distillation of both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies — debuts here in the states on April 7th on Masterpiece. The reading commitment is pretty light, about a hundred pages per week. No takers, so far. Oh well. I'll have to "Stay Calm and Read On" but if you care to join me, add your thoughts and/or your Wolf Hall related blog link — it doesn't have to be current so long as it's relevant — in the comments section below. If even one of you indicates a desire, I'll do the work to add Mr. Linky.

BBC has been airing the program for the past couple of weeks in the UK, so I'm pinching pictures from the television show. I've also found this reading guide which will likely come in handy as I move beyond these beginning chapters.

Wolf Hall stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey, Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn. Natalia Little plays Liz, poor Lizzie she barely stays alive for the first episode. Ditto for Christopher Fairbank who appears as Cromwell's absusive father, Walter, a blacksmith and brewer. Still from what I've read so far, I can't wait. In addition to complaints that it's too dark, and the men don't bulge in their codpieces, I've heard it's a bit confusing. Yeah, I can imagine. Which is why I'm reading the book. Join me?

Wolf Hall Wednesday: Week #2

Wolf Hall Wednesday: Week #3

Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan: The reviewers are swept away! #book2movies [review]

Happy Day! If you love period films — and I do — and if you especially loved Colm Toibin's beautiful novel, Brooklyn, the Nick Horby scripted adaptation has made its debut at Sundance to a trio of glowing reviews.

Brooklyn, starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson is one of the Ten Books I Can't Wait to See Onscreen so I'm relieved to hear they seem — if we can judge by this first lot of reviews — to have got it right! Now, if we could just see a trailer please, perhaps a poster, while we wait for the film to actually open.

In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Eilis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.
Here's a few snippets of the warm, fuzzy feelings that heated up a chilly night in Utah:

From Gregory Ellwood at HitFix
After 20 minutes I'd written the not-so positive words "earnest" and "cutesy" in my notebook. Almost an hour and a half later I was so moved by what had transpired I was fighting back the tears.
The film has a gorgeous, almost classic postcard look thanks to Crowley's collaborations with cinematographer Yves Bélanger ("Dallas Buyers Club," "Wild") and production designer François Séguin. And if we're heaping praise on below-the-line talent, costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux ("An Education") deserves a ton of credit for chronicling Eilis' arc through increasingly bright and modern dresses as she begins to win over New York and come into her own. 

From Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter

Colm Toibin’s superior novel about a young woman torn between life and love in her native Ireland and her new home in New York has been turned into a beautiful and moving film in Brooklyn. Classily and classically crafted in the best sense by director John Crowley and screenwriter Nick Hornby, this superbly acted romantic drama is set in the early 1950s and provides the feeling of being lifted into a different world altogether, so transporting is the film’s sense of time and place and social mores. Older audiences will appreciate the film’s rare virtues and, if younger viewers can be convinced to check out this period piece, it could develop into a nice performer in specialized release. 

From Brian Tallerico at Roger Ebert

With its melodramatic score and sumptuously photographed imagery of a snow-covered ‘50s New York City, I fought against John Crowley’s “Brooklyn” for about twenty minutes. Words like sentimental and maudlin crossed my mind and made it to my notebook. I'm not sure where it turned me. It could have been a look in Saoirse Ronan's eyes or a musical cue or just the right image, but I was helpless. It worked its magic. And, yes, this movie is magical. 
Its real comparative cinematic brethren is the great “In America,” another film that wore its heart on its sleeve and dared the most cynical to remain cold-hearted. Like Jim Sheridan's movie, this is a beautiful film from top to bottom, a piece that worked the kind of old-fashioned, romantic movie magic on me in ways that are all too rare.  
One thing you'll notice, these are all guys doing the gushing. Men. So let's not call it a chick flick or any other such foolishness. It's a story about a woman to be sure — and Saoirse Ronan clearly carries the movie like a star —but it sounds like it's a classic love story that gets you in the gut no matter whether you tick the box M or F. Interesting to note, just as in a love story plot or too, these reviewers — who happen to be men — tried to resist, but ultimately were swept away by the charms of Brooklyn!

I can't wait for the chance to do so too.

The Hollywood Reporter 
The Hit Fix

PADDINGTON ... in Paris?

I searched for a French trailer with English subtitles to no avail.
Here's the French trailer —the bande-annonce—sans English subtitles. 
Perhaps Paddington needs no translation?

Love French films, french food, french culture? Love France?
Connect to the weekly Dreaming of France meme.

Ethan Hawkes in 'Ten Thousand Saints' at Sundance: "A Thrilling Moment to Be Making Art"

It's Slacker Sunday but it's also Sundance time so I've got two videos for you.
They're both itty bitty Q+A's with some of the stars of Ten Thousand Saints, the 'straight edge' movie based on Eleanor Henderson's book. It's one of the books to read before you see the movie — especially if the 80's were your time. The book takes you right there, and it sounds like the movie nailed that aspect of the story. They even had to dirty up NYC!

The first Q+A is with The Hollywood Reporter, the second is with the Wrap at the IndieGoGo Lounge.

Ethan Hawkes who plays the father to Jude (Asa Butterfield)  in the movie, and who hit Sundance with Boyhood last year at this time, and acknowledges that while it's never been easier to make independent movies, it's never been harder to get them distributed, still calls it "A thrilling moment to be making art."

Ten Thousand Saints set in New York during the straight edge punk rock music scene of the 1980's stars Hailee Steinfeld as Eliza, Asa Butterfield as Jude (MIA), Emile Hirsch as Johnny, Avan Jorgia as Teddy. Ethan Hawkes plays Jude's dad Les, with Emily Mortimer as Diane. It's being called a coming of age movie where everyone, even the adults, are forced to grow up.

Take a look and a listen.

Saoirse Ronan is in 'Brooklyn' and in 'Stockholm, Pennsylvania'. Now she's at Sundance, in Utah, too. #book2movies

Sundance is underway so that's taken a bit of the wind out of the chatter about Oscar snubs and the American Sniper debate at least for the moment. It's as though someone came along and opened a window, letting a great big gust of cooling North wind in, ruffling everything up a little, putting fresh exciting new indie films into the conversation. The best films of 2014 after all, are so last year.

You might have guessed because I've posted and posted about it, the movie I'm most excited about coming out of Sundance is Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson and Emory Cohen. BBC Culture included it among their Ten Films to Watch from the Sundance Film Festival.

We have yet to see a trailer or a poster but Eric Hynes sat down with the star of Brooklyn, as well as Stockholm, Pennsylvania, also screening at Sundance, and had a little chat. Both films sound intriguing and Stockholm, Pennsylvania is directed by a woman, Nicole Beckwith, making her directorial debut so I've captured the entire article for you.

Saoirse Ronan is ready for the second act of her career. Over a decade after first appearing on Irish television, and eight years after her take-notice performance in Atonement garnered Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations, Ronan is already a veteran movie actress. Yet somehow she’s also just 20 years old. With two new films in this year’s Festival, she’s leaving behind precocious child roles and embracing the knotty, less certain terrain of early womanhood. Rather than flip the script to present a familiarly confident, butterfly sexy, fully-formed new Saoirse, she’s instead exploring characters in transition – characters that to some degree shadow her own attentive emergence.
In Nikole Beckwith’s Stockholm, Pennsylvania, she plays Leia, a woman who’s returned to her parents and childhood home two decades after being abducted and raised by a kidnapper. She’s effectively an alien to her parents – she hasn’t been outside of a basement bunker in years, doesn’t know how to engage in public or social settings, and espouses a hippie apocalyptic belief system – but she’s also a smart, fully formed young adult. Hard as her parents try to re-raise her, to train her into being a dependent child again, she’s grown into her own, albeit disoriented, person. And in John Crowley’s Brooklyn, Ronan is Ellis, a young Irish woman who immigrates to America to start a new life in Brooklyn. From starting a new job in a department store to adapting to the new climate, culture, and crushing loneliness, Ellis’s days are trials, but also opportunities for growth, for adventure, and for love. When tragedy brings her back to her homeland, she’s caught between who she’s most comfortable being and who she might become. In both films, Ronan does far more than bank on the power of her famously translucent eyes – she freights the full weight of expressing emotions great and small, of embodying and representing complications of living that are perennially incomprehensible. 
In advance of this year’s Festival, we talked to Saoirse Ronan about her enthusiasm for these two films, why she especially related to these two characters at this time in her life, and the type of career she’d like to pursue going forward.

So this is your first trip to Sundance?
Saoirse Ronan: It is my first time. I didn’t even realize it snowed in Utah. So that just shows you how much of a novice I am. 
Well be careful – it’s way up in the mountains, and the altitude can be a real factor. Make sure you drink a lot of water, and don’t get too drunk on your first night. 
Someone said to me – you’re going to get a lot of headaches, you’re going to feel really tired, you might get sick, you’re going to get really drunk, and I was like, “And then we’re going to die!” But I’m sure I’ll be fine, I’ll drink plenty of water.

Stockholm, Pennsylvania : A young woman, kidnapped when she was a child, returns home to the family she barely remembers and struggles to feel at home.

This seems like a real turning point for you as an actress, and that these two unique films, with two very distinct characters for you to play, have begun a new chapter for you.
I did them back-to-back last year, and they’re both important to me, mainly because they’re so centered around women, and so focused on a woman’s story. And one, Stockholm, Pennsylvania, was written and directed by one of the most amazing women I know, Nikole Beckwith.
What was it like working with her, considering it was her first feature? 
Nikole gained an awful lot of respect immediately from everyone. What struck me is that she’s so clear and dead-set about what she wants, and she won’t veer away from that. I didn’t feel that I was necessarily tied down to anything, but that she was so clear on what this story was and what she needed, and my role was very clear too. And the fact that it was such a short shoot, and that the story itself was so incredibly intimate between just a handful of characters, really set the atmosphere from the off [that the character was something] we could work on together.
Your character, Leia, is something of an alien to people, and likely to the audience as well. And yet, despite her incredibly strange situation and upbringing, she seems to know herself quite well, and isn’t at all alienated from herself. 
She’s very clear on who she is. Her captor has given her so much, and helped her to grow in some senses in a very mature way. She’s very smart and in touch with how she feels about things. He instills a lot of positive elements to her personality. She’s fully within her wits, she’s really smart, she’s really clever. But then at the same time when we see her arrive at her parents house, she’s been told her entire life that the world is a horrible terrible place, and she’s never seen the sunlight, never seen a tree. It’s such a shock for her, because she’s literally been kept in a box for her entire life. So there’s a mixture of her being incredibly sure of who she is, and then at the same time being thrown into this world of uncertainty. 
I kind of like the idea that the audience is going to look at this and maybe be frustrated with her a little bit, that she’s not giving everything away to them. There’s not an inner monologue all the time that explains exactly how this captive child is feeling now that she’s out in the big bad world for the first time. It’s something that’s left for them to figure out on their own. That’s kind of the beauty of her character. I remember saying to Nikole, from the off, that there isn’t really an arc with this character. She doesn’t really change that much, and that’s the first time I’ve played someone who for the whole way through has stayed pretty much the same, and it’s the situation around her that has changed.
Did you find it psychologically taxing to play her, considering all of that, and considering it was such a short, intense, 19-day shoot?
I wouldn’t say I found it taxing, but there were times when you want the character to progress a bit, you want her to have some sort of eureka moment, and what I needed to remember, and what Nikole was great at reminding me of, was that she doesn’t change. She’s who she is, and that’s the way she needs to stay. And I think a lot of the time, as humans and as audience members, we want a character to change. And when that doesn’t happen it can become quite frustrating, either for us to watch on a screen or in real life. So it’s an interesting experiment to see how people will react.

Brooklyn : In 1950s Ireland and New York, young Ellis Lacey has to choose between two men and two countries.

And that’s so different from your character in Brooklyn.
Yeah, she goes through a bunch of changes.
I would imagine that for you, at least superficially, she might be easier to relate to – since, like Ellis, you had a transatlantic youth, calling both New York and Ireland home, and since you’re a person in her early 20s for whom life changes are frequent and inevitable.
I’ve never been so affected by a film before. I really haven’t. When I did this film last year, pretty much every single thing that Ellis was going through within the story I was going through right at that moment. It was really fresh for me. I’d never had that before. At the moment I suppose career-wise, it’s a transitional time for me, moving from being a teenager or child to a young woman. And this was so perfect, because it tackles real relationships, grown up relationships. About seven months before [making the film] I had moved out of my family home and relocated to London. And I found it hard. I was homesick and I missed the people at home and I missed my family, missed having dinner at a set time every day, simple things like that. You can have a bunch of people around you and it can still be a very lonely experience until you get used to it. And that’s such a huge focus point for the film – when you’ve moved away from home and established yourself in a new place as a young adult, and you’ve developed relationships with people and have your first job. Then to go home and have people treat you the same way they did before you left. Or still treat you like you’re still living in Carlow – or the opposite, treat you as this kind of exotic bird that you’ve never seen yourself as. It’s a huge turning point for anyone.
And like Ellis, your parents moved to New York to make a go of it – was that heavy on your mind as well?
The relationship I have as an Irish-American with New York is one that’s a huge part of who I am. I was born [in New York], and my mom and dad pretty much made that exact journey except that they took a plane instead of a boat. They went over there in the 1980s, and they found it hard to get jobs. They literally did everything they could to make money. They stuck it out for 12 years, and they had me there. My mom in particular is a strong and independent person, and New York made her who she is. I don’t know if any other city could have done that the way New York did that for her. Because of that I feel that it’s always been a huge part of my identity.
Because of your particular beauty, your performances have often been called “ethereal” or “otherworldly.”
Yeah, I’ve heard that one before.
Yet here you’re playing a fully grounded person, and a person for whom your Irishness isn’t at all exotic but normal. 
It’s true, the kind of characters I’ve been known for have been described as ethereal or otherworldly, and as much as I loved doing those roles [it was great] to play somebody who is just normal, somebody who just speaks in a similar way to me. This was the first time that I’ve played a real Irish girl, the type of girl that if I was around in the 1950s I’d have bumped into. The town where we shot in, Enniscorthy, is about 25 minutes away from the town that I grew up in. So there were a lot of kids who were extras in the dance hall scene, or the church scene, that, like, I did basketball practice with, that I had birthdays with. So it was the first time ever that my personal life, and my home life, and my childhood – which I’m still kind of mourning a little bit – crossed over. And something that [screenwriter] Nick Hornby does so beautifully is just taking the simple hurdles that we go through in our everyday life – like overcoming a fear, or making somebody proud, or grief or love or choosing the right place to live – and having that be your story. It was lovely working on something that was just very normal.
Since though you grew up 25 miles from Enniscorthy, did you feel extra pressure to get the accent just right?
It’s almost like your accent becomes a character when you’re Irish – it’s very melodic and it really influences how you play [things] – but it’s a natural thing for me, I’ve grown up around people who speak like that. Well, I used to go to Enniscorthy all the time when I was a kid – it had the closest cinema to us. Well actually, we had a cinema that was about 20 minutes away but it only had one screen, so if a film we didn’t want to see was playing there we’d go to Enniscorthy, so I heard their accent all the time. Though I never had a country accent – I always had a Dublin accent – so that was something I was quite nervous about. I felt a huge responsibility to get the accent right, as well as the little idiosyncrasies that make us Irish.
How would you say you’ve changed and evolved as an actor as you’ve grown older?
You can’t help that once you start to have your own life experiences that they will play into what you’re doing a little bit. Though I try to control that because it needs to be very much about the character. But as you go on, just like when you read a good book or listen to a great song, you’re always going to find something that parallels your own life. And I think it’s helped for certain things to come a bit more naturally to me as I’ve gotten older. When you’re in your early 20s you’re going through a lot of changes in so many different ways, and even my control over my emotions, and how I tap into my emotions, has changed a lot. I feel like I have a lot more access to different emotions, because I’ve felt them a bit more in different situations. It makes sense that the best actors, I suppose, are kids – because they don’t know what’s going on, and they have no inhibitions and they have nothing to draw from – and the oldest actors, because they have everything to draw from.
So you’re feeling things out as anyone would, but you’ve also been doing this long enough that I’d imagine you have some sense of where you’d like to be going in your career.
Yeah, I guess so. I never wanted to churn out work. I never wanted to just go from one thing to the next thing just for the sake of working. So I still very much have the attitude that it has to be the right thing, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. Because if you’re in the situation where you don’t fully 100% believe in something that you’re supposed to be emotionally invested in, it’s the worst position to be in. You want to love going to work every morning. And for women in particular, there can be a pressure to go one way or another. Like, if you want to be [more] edgy, maybe play a drug addict or take your clothes off – there’s a certain thing you can do to get there. But I wouldn’t want anything to be too extreme. I’m trying to balance doing the work I want to do and still be able to change in the process.
Have you worked with any actors, or are there actors you’ve observed, who’ve been guides for how you’d like things to go for yourself? 
She’s older, but I really love Cate Blanchett so much. And I’ve been looking at some of Meryl Streep’s earlier performances, learning about her when she was younger. To look at somebody like that who’s been so brave from the very start, it’s very admirable. There are brilliant people like Jennifer Lawrence, actors a bit older than me, who’ve made really interesting and brave choices. But in general I suppose I look at the older women that are around, people like Cate and Meryl.
Even from the beginning, those two never played “youth” – they were playing characters.
Absolutely. There’s a lot of young female characters where their goal is to get the guy, or to be the most popular girl or to become prettier. Whereas when you look at these actors, they’re very much looking at [their character] as a person. It’s not about being pigeonholed. They’re not just one thing.
The reviews for Stockholm, Pennsylvania are already coming in.  Erm, I will only say that just one of Saoirse Ronan's Sundance movies made that BBC list, and that's Brooklyn.

Wolf Hall: Read Along with Me?

Damian Lewis as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall made its debut this week on BBC to cries of More Candles and Bigger Codpieces please!

Based on both Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and her Man Booker Prize winning Bring Up the Bodies, the first hour long episode of the 6 part BBC adaptation was a huge success in the ratings department. And it seems most critics and tv viewers thought it was close to brilliant. It's being called 'dazzlingly restrained' and 'event television, sumptuous, intelligent and serious, meticulous in the detail, but not humourless or po-faced.' We're told not to expect The Tudors, this is much deeper, less showy, more insightful fare.

The focus is on Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), the son of a blacksmith, and his rise to power

Along with the praise, there were complaints that the attention to authenticity, right down to the use of natural lighting, made it difficult at times to see what was going on. I'm really not a fan of 'natural' lighting; I think it's the director's job to work with his cinematographer and gaffer to light the program so that it feels like it's period-accurate without sacrificing the audience's clarity of vision. I'll wait to see the actual show, for now all I've seen are images like the one above, and a few in the trailer (below). Based on those, the darkness, illuminated only by candlelight looks quite beautiful, a lovely Chiaroscuro effect. As to fans kvetching that the codpieces are too small? Ahem, no comment.

The first of the 6 part Wolf Hall comes to Masterpiece here in the US on April 5th. That's just over ten weeks away and while I posted the Wolf Hall casting news that Homeland's Damian Lewis was playing Henry VIII last spring, I've done bugger all myself to prepare. Which means I've got to get a move on and start reading now. The two books are a total of 1072 pages which means a little over 100 pages a week. Easy does it. Still, I better get to it. Read along with me?

I'll plan on posting about the reading on Wednesdays —so we'll have our Wolf Hall Wednesdays if any of you are interested— with photos from the series and as much as I can dig up on the cast and crew, costumes (those codpieces!) production design, locations, the writers, your reviews, etc. I've never done this kind of read-along thing before so feel free to let me know I'm doing it all wrong. And, hopefully, how to do it right.

I've posted an excerpt from the novel ...

Across the Narrow Sea 
PUTNEY, 1500  
"So now get up."  
Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.  
Blood from the gash on his head— which was his father’s first effort— is trickling across his face. Add to this, his left eye is blinded; but if he squints sideways, with his right eye he can see that the stitching of his father’s boot is unraveling. The twine has sprung clear of the leather, and a hard knot in it has caught his eyebrow and opened another cut.  
"So now get up!" Walter is roaring down at him, working out where to kick him next. He lifts his head an inch or two, and moves forward, on his belly, trying to do it without exposing his hands, on which Walter enjoys stamping. "What are you, an eel?" his parent asks. He trots backward, gathers pace, and aims another kick.  
It knocks the last breath out of him; he thinks it may be his last. His forehead returns to the ground; he lies waiting, for Walter to jump on him. The dog, Bella, is barking, shut away in an out house. I’ll miss my dog, he thinks. The yard smells of beer and blood. Someone is shouting, down on the riverbank. Nothing hurts, or perhaps it’s that everything hurts, because there is no separate pain that he can pick out. But the cold strikes him, just in one place: just through his cheekbone as it rests on the cobbles.  
"Look now, look now," Walter bellows. He hops on one foot, as if he’s dancing. "Look what I’ve done. Burst my boot, kicking your head."  
Inch by inch. Inch by inch forward. Never mind if he calls you an eel or a worm or a snake. Head down, don’t provoke him. His nose is clotted with blood and he has to open his mouth to breathe. His father’s momentary distraction at the loss of his good boot allows him the leisure to vomit. "That’s right," Walter yells. "Spew everywhere." Spew everywhere, on my good cobbles. "Come on, boy, get up. Let’s see you get up. By the blood of creeping Christ, stand on your feet."  
Creeping Christ? he thinks. What does he mean? His head turns sideways, his hair rests in his own vomit, the dog barks, Walter roars, and bells peal out across the water. He feels a sensation of movement, as if the filthy ground has become the Thames. It gives and sways beneath him; he lets out his breath, one great final gasp. You’ve done it this time, a voice tells Walter. But he closes his ears, or God closes them for him. He is pulled downstream, on a deep black tide.  
The next thing he knows, it is almost noon, and he is propped in the doorway of Pegasus the Flying Horse. His sister Kat is coming from the kitchen with a rack of hot pies in her hands. When she sees him she almost drops them. Her mouth opens in astonishment. "Look at you!" 
"Kat, don’t shout, it hurts me."  
She bawls for her husband: "Morgan Williams!" She rotates on the spot, eyes wild, face flushed from the oven’s heat. "Take this tray, body of God, where are you all?"
He is shivering from head to foot, exactly like Bella did when she fell off the boat that time.  
A girl runs in. "The master’s gone to town." 

"I know that, fool." The sight of her brother had panicked the knowledge out of her. She thrusts the tray at the girl. "If you leave them where the cats can get at them, I’ll box your ears till you see stars." Her hands empty, she clasps them for a moment in violent prayer. "Fighting again, or was it your father?" 
Yes, he says, vigorously nodding, making his nose drop gouts of blood: yes, he indicates himself, as if to say, Walter was here. Kat calls for a basin, for water, for water in a basin, for a cloth, for the devil to rise up, right now, and take away Walter his servant. "Sit down before you fall down." He tries to explain that he has just got up. Out of the yard. It could be an hour ago, it could even be a day, and for all he knows, today might be tomorrow; except that if he had lain there for a day, surely either Walter would have come and killed him, for being in the way, or his wounds would have clotted a bit, and by now he would be hurting all over and almost too stiff to move; from deep experience of Walter’s fists and boots, he knows that the second day can be worse than the first. "Sit. Don’t talk," Kat says. 
So begins Wolf Hall. You can finish reading the excerpt at BookBrowse, then come back and let me know if you'll be joining me in my quest to finish the books in time for the air date.

Excerpted from Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Copyright © 2009 by Hilary Mantel. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

'Half of a Yellow Sun' Title Sequence: Where in the world is Nigeria?

I know you guys go in for interesting looking title sequences as much as I do. After all how much of  the fun of a good Bond movie is all the groovy titles and credits that set up the tone, getting us ready for what's to come? Like foreplay, a good title sequence gets us in the mood. True Detective was a spectacular television show but I'd wager you were mesmerized long before McConaughey or Harrelson spoke their first line of dialogue, knowing you were about to see something dark and special by the chilling tone of the opening titles.

I guess that's why one of my most popular posts is about how the guys at The Morrison Studio created the title sequence to The Two Faces of January, the recent adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith thriller starring Viggo Mortenson, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaacs. While the movie was a bit of a bust, you regularly check out that post anyway, intrigued by the back story of creating those titles. By the way, The Two Faces of January is available on Amazon now; at this point I'll wait to stream it free when it comes to Netflix in February.

Since you like creative title credits and I like creative title credits —and since I just happened to have read a new story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adachi, the author of Half of a Yellow Sun today, I thought I'd share the opening title sequence from the movie based on the novel.  As luck would have it, they were done by The Morrison Studio, the same title design house behind The Two Faces of January. Set during a period of civil war in 1960's Nigeria, the designers felt, for starters, it was extremely important that audiences watching the film know where in Africa, Nigeria was. I think it does that job beautifully.

Following the title sequence is the trailer for Half of a Yellow Sun starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton.

Ah, yes. Title sequences. A sexy way to start something intriguing.

Half of a Yellow Sun, Trailer

Child 44: First poster for the movie starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace

How Do You Find A Killer Who Doesn't Exist?

One of the titles on my list of Books to Read BEFORE You See the Movie is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. Besides the fact that the novel is loosely based on a real world horrible serial child killer operating in the Soviet Union during the Stalin Era, I know nothing except that Tom Hardy plays Leo Demidov, a policeman —who has a couple of freaky looking scars marring the left side of his face — assigned to the case. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I have NOT read the book, but I bet some of you have. Would love to know what you think of the upcoming adaptation costarring Noomi Rapace as his wife,  Gary Oldman as one of his superior officers, Joel Kinnaman (The Killing), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones, The Imitation Game, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby) and Dev Patel (rumored). Child 44 is directed by Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Easy Money) from a script by major Hollywood writer Richard Price (Clockers, Ransom, Shaft, The Color of Money, and The Wire). That's a lot of major league talent, very familiar with the genre, and tone.

Here's a brief description of Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 via Barnes and Noble:
In a country ruled by fear, no one is innocent.
Stalin's Soviet Union is an official paradise, where citizens live free from crime and fear only one thing: the all-powerful state. Defending this system is idealistic security officer Leo Demidov, a war hero who believes in the iron fist of the law. But when a murderer starts to kill at will and Leo dares to investigate, the State's obedient servant finds himself demoted and exiled. Now, with only his wife at his side, Leo must fight to uncover shocking truths about a killer-and a country where "crime" doesn't exist.
They've just released this first poster, all moody grey tones. Child 44 is set to hit theaters April 17th; hopefully the poster release means a trailer is on the way.

White Bird in a Blizzard: My Slow Take on the Book

Laura Kasischke's novel White Bird In a Blizzard came out in 1999 but I only got around to reading it this week. That's one of the best by-products of screen adaptations as I've harped on about more than once or twice. Movies — even mediocre movies — based on books, get those books read. That's an especially good thing when the book is as beautifully written as this, Kasischke's second novel. If I hadn't known there was a film starring Shailene Woodley as Kat, Christopher Meloni as her father, and Eva Green as the mother who vanishes one wintry day, I might have missed the book completely. Which would have been a shame because I enjoyed it tremendously.

If you've not read White Bird in a Blizzard, here's the rundown from B&N:
"I am sixteen when my mother steps out of her skin one frozen January afternoon—pure self, atoms twinkling like microscopic diamond chips around her perhaps the chiming of a clock, or a few bright flute notes in the distance—and disappears. No one sees her leave, but she is gone."
Laura Kasischke's first novel Suspicious River was hailed by the critics as "extremely powerful" (The Los Angeles Times), "amazing" (The Boston Globe), and "a novel of depth, beauty, and insight" (The Seattle Times). Now Kasischke follows up her auspicious debut with a spellbinding and erotic tale of marriage, secrets, and self-deception.
When Katrina Connors' mother walks out on her family one frigid January day, Kat is surprised but not shocked; the whole year she has been "becoming sixteen"—falling in love with the boy next door, shedding her baby fat, discovering sex—her mother has slowly been withdrawing. As Kat and her father pick up the pieces of their daily life, she finds herself curiously unaffected by her mother's absence. But in dreams that become too real to ignore, she's haunted by her mother's cries for help. . . .
Like Suspicious River, which The New Yorker described as "by turns terrifying and ravishingly lyrical," White Bird in a Blizzard evokes the works of Kathryn Harrison and Joyce Carol Oates—and confirms Kasischke's arrival as a major talent.
While the story is told from Kat's point of view, we learn a lot about married life and those tricky parental unit type relationships from hearing what Kat thinks of her own mother and father. 'Thinks' might be the key word in why the film seems to have flopped; for so much of the story we are right inside Kat's head, which signals endless voice overs in film structure. While there's some action, particularly coming of age sexual shenanigans, that's not the magic of this novel. It wasn't for me anyway. The magic comes from Kasischke's pen, her very writerly way of working. While for some authors—Suzanne Collins, for example in The Hunger Games — the story and the characters are everything, without using a lot of technique, they just want to get their story told, as if they know we're flying in on their heels, turning the pages fast behind them. It's all pretty straightforward. Exciting, yes but not magical or lyrical in any sense.

White Bird in a Blizzard is not that type of book. It's a novel where the writer is constantly striving to find new textures with which to embroider her tale, new ways of looking at the same old thing so that the imagery is ever fresh and unconventional. I know some readers complain Kasischke has a tendency to cram and jam metaphors into every sentence, and while she may overdo it a tad, for the most part I was swept away but the pictures she painted, much like I was reading Mark Helprin's beautifully evocative Winters Tale.  (It occurs to me now, that some of my appreciation for that novel may have something to do with all the sparkling snow and ice of the season, something I'm all too familiar with having spent the formative years of my childhood from age five to fourteen in Canada, where winter bathed everything in white, where the sky was drained of color like blue had flown south for the winter too. )

Here's Kasischke's first couple of chapters so you'll get the drift.
I am sixteen when my mother steps out of her skin one frozen January afternoon—pure self, atoms twinkling like microscopic diamond chips around her, perhaps the chiming of a clock, or a few bright flute notes in the distance—and disappears.                                  
          No one sees her leave but she is gone.
Only the morning before, my mother was a housewife—a housewife who, for twenty years,  kept our house as swept up and sterile as the mind of the winter instelf, so perhaps she finally just whisk-broomed herself out, a luminous cloud of her drifting through the bedroom window as soft as talcum powder, mingling with the snowflakes as they fell, and the stardust and the lunar ash out there.
Later on that same opening page she compares a toxic household cleaner dyed a beautiful ocean blue to disguise its deadly powers:
The blue of a child's eyes, the blue of a robin's egg— But swallow a teaspoon of that and it will turn your insides to lace.
So that's the style of the book, and as I say, I enjoyed it BUT I can see there's not much there to make into a movie. Pages and pages of description can take about half a second to translate to film, fantastic spot on descriptions of characters, rich and lengthy, can be relayed instantly, like a polaroid picture.

A movie needs more than that, it needs a story that 'moves'. Action that takes you places. I'm not sure that White Bird in a Blizzard does much of that. Mostly Kat doesn't miss her mother, and doesn't flail around frantically wondering what happened to her or where she could be. She shares her indifference with her therapist and a couple of best friends. Her boyfriend, not college bound as she is, is a big sexy jock who caught her mother's eye. Her mother, beautiful and bored, is dismissive of her father who she clearly holds in disdain. Her father seems to be oblivious. After she disappears the two of them soldier on. It's not much of a whodunit in that regard; I had my suspicions right from the start but Kasischke doesn't bother building a case because that's not the point. White Bird in a Blizzard is more a coming of age story wrapped up as a thriller than a true crime story;  the novel looks at how mothers and daughters relate to each other, and the messages they give each other about the people they can be if they allow themselves to unlock their cages and fly free.

I'm going to watch the movie — available on Amazon — with very low expectations; so low I'll probably be happily surprised!
I'll let you know. In the meantime, let's watch the trailer:

The Composer's Roundtable: It ain't music to my ears without Alexandre Desplat but I'll listen if I must ...

I don't know how they can call this a Composer's Roundtable without including Monsieur Desplat! Ridiculous. (Or is that me?!) But, it's Slacker Sunday and I guess some of you might want to hear what composers like Danny Elfman (Big Eyes) Marco Beltrami (The Homesman), Trent Reznor (Gone Girl), Hans Zimmer (Interstellar) and John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon 2) have to say on the subject of writing film scores. Below they sit down with THR's International news editor Kevin Cassidy to discuss their 'awards-worthy' films.

Awards-worthy but not necessarily nominated. I thought Gone Girl was fantastic but I'm not at all surprised it's not really in the awards season conversation — except for Rosamund Pike nominated as best actress primarily because as always there's a dearth of female lead roles —Fincher, that youngish know-it-all is just not their kind of guy. I'm happy to hear what Trent Reznor has to say about his musical collaboration and his Golden Globe nominated score. And my son keeps telling me I really do need to see The Homesman for which Hilary Swank probably deserved a nomination, so hearing what the composer, the two time Oscar nominee Marco Beltrami (for Hurt Locker and 3:10 to Yuma) has to say about scoring and working with Tommy Lee Jones should be interesting. And of course the legendary Danny Elfman whose music graces The Simpsons plus loftier fare like Good Will Hunting, Milk, Big Fish and Men in Black, all of which were Oscar nominees for Best Original Music Written for A Motion Picture. John Powell counts How to Train Your Dragon, Happy Feet and Shrek amongst  his mostly animated movie credits which includes popular film titles like Rio and Kung Fu Panda and Ice Age, but also — and oddly to my thinking — The Bourne movies, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Two Weeks Notice. Add Hans Zimmer, nominated this year for Interstellar who already has eight nominations to his name plus the win for Lion King. What else has the slacker done? Let's see: Inception, Sherlock Holmes, Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, As Good as It Gets, The Preacher's Wife and Rain Man. And that's just the Academy Award nominated projects. He has an outrageously long list including movies we love like Thelma and Louise, Crimson Tide, The Rock, As Good as it Gets, The Ring, all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, the Batman flicks, and on and on and on so  I surely can't deny him a seat at the table!

Sigh. I guess Alexandre Desplat the eight time Oscar nominee was too busy to join his fellow composers; he's nominated this year for both The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel and is currently hard at work on The Light Between Oceans which stars Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Wiezs plus the upcoming Sarah Gavron project Suffragette starring Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan. Something to look forward to ladies! But I digress ... here then, the composers' roundtable, sadly sans Monsieur Desplat.

Since he can't be there, I'm digging up a snippet from Desplat's Oscar-nominated score to The Imitation Game, which frankly I much prefer, music-wise to The Grand Budapest Hotel, so you can have a listen. You're right, that's a flat out lie. I'm digging it up so I can have a listen. Enjoy! You know I will.

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