Archives for March 2011

Casting News (or This week in Casting – it’s only TUESDAY)!

Every week news comes out of Hollywood about someone or other being cast in XYZ’s movie. Not saying that I do not pay much attention to the news, but usually it passes over me and is duly noted for reference later on. However this week (and as the title of my post says – it is only Tuesday), my head has been swirling with all of the news – three items in particular – that have crossed my path.

I will have read the articles related to the news but will not pretend to have fully reflected upon what I have read. For this I will rely on you, my readership, for any insight you may have.

 

1. Hey, We Got a Lois …

After much speculation, the role of Lois Lane in the Christopher Nolan/Zack Snyder Superman: Man of Steel has been given to multiple Oscar-nominee Amy Adams. In general, I think that she is an good choice. She is after all a very talented actress who has the ability to take on whatever comes her way. As I stated on Anomalous Material, my main reservation with this selection is whether or not she and Henry Cavill (Kent/Superman) will work well on the screen together. In the end I guess that is why we go to the movies!

 

2. Speaking of Superman …

This week, another big (Oscar-nominated) name was brought up in connection with Man of Steel – Viggo Mortensen (cannot believe he is 52). Anyway, after reports (thanks again for reporting, Anomalous Material) circulated that he dropped out of Snow White and the Huntsman, the internet started buzzing about his possible involvement in the Superman project as a possible villain. This potential casting leaves me a bit perplexed; like I said on the blog, he must be getting a shed-load of moolah for this; based on his recent successes, I assume he is in a position where he can be very selective with respect to movie roles. Maybe upon further reflection, I will come around and see that this could very easily work; that is if the rumors are substatiated. Like I said above, this will be a “watch and see.”

One thing is for certain, a whole lot of talent in being thrown at this “Christopher Nolan-is-involved” production.

 

3. And Finally …

In the most far afield casting news I have heard, Jennifer Garner has been hired as Miss Marple. Of course this is being posited as a re-imaging of what has traditionally be an aged and prim Agatha Christie sleuth.  According to TotalFilm.com, with casting Garner in the title role, Disney is hoping to provide a modern take on the much loved (and frequently adapted if only for television) mystery franchise. It is early days but I have so many questions out of the gate – Will she be British? Will her name still be Marple? What other modern “touches” can we expect?

 

That’s me, now it is your turn; let me know what you think.

An Appreciation of Dame Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

One of the more interesting things that happens when someone with the star power of Elizabeth Taylor passes away is that people from all walks of life start talking about her. What is more fascinating for me is to hear the varied recollections have about her life and work.

Most people seem to remember Elizabeth Taylor as a fearless AIDS campaigner, a peddler of perfumes, friend of Michael Jackson, and much married.  That is all well and good, but when I think of Elizabeth I think of the body of work on the silver that she has left for us to watch and rewatch.

My first cinematic memory of her was her turn as the tragic Helen Burns in the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine version of Jane Eyre (1943). Her part was small but there was something that drew you in – she seemed to be a young girl who was beyond her years. I am pretty sure there were a couple of Lassie pictures sprinkled around that time, but the next film that stands out for me in her filmography is 1944’s National Velvet. Five short years later, she began to make her transition from child star to dazzling adult star.

My favorite films during this period are A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, Giant and the mad Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

It just seems a shame that so many do not immediately remember her these entertaining performances. Hopefully looking back on her life will make many examine in greater detail her work as a performer. I think they will be amazed that she was not just a star who traded on her good looks. Over the course of her long career, she tried to craft screen performances that was emotionally nuanced and multilayered. No performance exemplified this for me than her role as “Maggie the Cat” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She was at one point a sexually charged siren, at others an emotionally vulnerable woman longing for love; most of all she was a survivor.

By all accounts the role of survivor mirrored her triumphs in real life – triumphs, that surmounted all trials and tribulations.

And now let us take time to remember her and allow her to rest in piece.

 

*Programming Note: on April 10th (Sunday) Turner Classic Movies (TCM) is running a 24-hour marathon of her films. Get your DVRs ready!

Video Pick: Heavenly Creatures

On the back of yesterday’s post regarding reading The Hobbit, I decided to take another look at Peter Jackson’s back catalog. Buried deep within the archives of this blog, I have mentioned my “video pick of the day” on more than one occasion but I have not really discussed it at length. Allow me the opportunity to do so now.

For those who may not know, prior to Mr. Jackson’s journeys to Middle Earth, he cut his teeth on comedy-horror films. Since horror is not really a favored genre of mine, I cannot speak too much to many of those films; the noted exception is my passing familiarity with 1999’s The Frighteners (mainly because it features a several American actors including Michael J. Fox).

However 5 years prior to the release of The Frighteners, Mr. Jackson made what I consider at once one of the most visually arresting, terrifying and imaginative films of the past 20 years – Heavenly Creatures. Release in 1994, the film starred a then 18 year old Kate Winlset and (a severely underused) Melanie Lynskey in the title roles of girls who, in real life found themselves at the center of a horrific murder case in 1950s New Zealand.

Thanks to some outstanding visual effects, I as the viewer, really felt like I escaped into the exuberant and disturbing minds of Juliet Hulme (Winslet) and Pauline Parker (Lynskey). My favorite visual sequence features “Orson Wells” as Harry Lime in The Third Man – another favorite film of mine.

The film was critically acclaimed and featured on many a “Top of the Year” lists in 1994.

Of course for many the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the starting point of Peter Jackson’s career in film. But as the saying goes – no success is overnight. At times like this, I think it is always a good idea to revisit the earlier part of an auteur’s filmography. In Heavenly Creatures, the fantastic, and at times terrifying world awaits us.  This is partly where Middle Earth began, if only on a (slightly) smaller budget.

Fan-girls, Sexy Dwarfs and Reading The Hobbit (Finally)

As you may have gathered from previous posts I have made here, I really look forward movie/book tie-ins. In anticipation of the forthcoming release of The Hobbit (2012), I would like how I came about getting to the point where I felt I HAD to read the book.

By reading The Hobbit for the first time at this point of life I clearly passed up the opportunity to read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic as a youth. In fact, I had no desire to read it despite being a nerd growing up. In fact it is not that the world of fantasy and sci-fi was something lost upon me (I was a huge Star Wars fan), but I simply was not a voracious reader.  In fact, for the most part, I found reading to be a taxing process.

Fast-forward several years later and my attitude toward reading changed dramatically. And I have the movies to thank for that. In high school I got into classic films big time. I then started to notice that many movies I was watching were based on works of fiction. As a result, I started to gradually get more into reading. In fact, if not for Alfred Hitchcock, I would have missed out on reading one of my all-time favorite novels, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.

After completing my university studies and entering the workforce, I was able to return to my newfound love of pleasure reading thanks to daily train commutes to work.

Also during this time, the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films were released. Part of me certainly felt like I was missing out on details found in the source material, but I concluded that the time had passed to read the books – they WERE kid’s books after all. Thus, I appreciated the spectacle of LOTR as purely cinematic events.

That all changed with Harry Potter. Until I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (OOTP), I was content to not bother reading J.K. Rowling’s books. However, after watching OOTP, I was left feeling like I was missing a lot of details. This feeling was amplified when I discovered OOTP was not only the LONGEST book but that it had one of SHORTEST running times of the film series.

Armed with that information, I immediately went to the bookstore and started reading all the books. Since completing all of the books in the series, I have been rewarded with a satisfying trip to the movies. At this point it is safe to say that I am on the periphery of fan-girl status. Not sure I am ready for Comic-Con just yet.

With the HP franchise concluding this summer, my “enthusiasm” has naturally gravitated towards the next epic book-to-film adaptation – Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Parts I and II.

I was all the more delighted when I started to hear the casting news coming out of the production. I recognized the names of Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock) as Bilbo Baggins (Richard Armitage (North and South and MI-5) as Thorin Oakenshield and Aidan Turner (Being Human) as Kili.

Remember at this point, I have NOT read The Hobbit so even knowing the names of Thorin and Kili meant nothing to me; the only Hobbit characters that had any resonance with me with Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf. I was not even sure which other characters crossed over from one book to the next.

Aren't we some hot dwarfs?

Imagine my surprise in discovering the characters of Thorin and Kili are DRAWFS! John Rhys Davies was my “Middle Earth” vision of what a dwarf should look like. And with all due respect to Mr. Davies, Armitage and Turner are quite attractive so the thought that they are dwarfs (dwarves), left me a little perplexed.

Apparently many dyed in the wool Tolkien fans were equally perplexed by the casting choices. Simply type in the words “sexy/handsome dwarfs and The Hobbit” into Google to see what I am talking about. I will not elaborate here but I will say I trust Peter Jackson and his team.

So instead of putting me off the idea, I was more interested in The Hobbit than ever. And that is where I am at the moment. I am currently in the thick of the novel and hope to finish the novel by the end of the month. And then the countdown begins – 18 months (or more) and counting!

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! (Jane Eyre)

At the end of Jane Eyre, the house was burnt down by fire (set by Bertha) and Rochester ends up blind.

…..

For me, this climatic “reveal” is about as shocking as the Titanic sinking at the end of Titanic. Yet somehow I found myself in an evening screening of Jane Eyre last night in NYC where upon the revelation that Thornfield Hall was destroyed by fire, the sold out audience let out a very audible and collective GASP. It took everything within my power not to let out a boisterous laughter. I was thinking, “really, did you NOT know what happened?”

Obviously, not everyone has read the source material by Charlotte Brontë – although for most people I know it was mandatory high school reading. The fact that the crowd demographic skewed older and likely from the UWS (Upper West Side), I assumed I was watching the movie with a semi-literate crowd. Maybe I am reading too much into this – maybe it is a credit to the movie that the spectacle of seeing a “great house” in fiery ruins really left an impact on the audience.

Realization and Revelation

But I digress; this is the first movie I have seen in the theater this year! Wow – I really cannot believe that.  From early on I was really looking forward to seeing this adaptation, primarily because I am a fan of Michael Fassbender’s previous work and was curious to see how his portrayal of Edward Rochester would go over. In that I can say I was not surprised he did a very good job.

But for me the revelation was Mia Wasikowska – she was a FANTASTIC Jane. At the risk of sounding superfluous, I find it hard to express in words how much I liked her performance. She just seemed to embody an image of Jane Eyre that was defiant and at the same time vulnerable. It is  delicate balance that can often teeter one way or another but she manages it gracefully.

The adapted screenplay by Moira Buffini was quite impressive as well. Her words were able to breathe life and make more tangible for our modern sensibilities the feelings and frustrations that we all imagined the characters must have experienced on the page.  She was able to inject passions, romantic awakening and a real feeling of Jane/Rochester being 2 parts of 1 whole.

In previous adaptations, the central relationship does not feel too much like a matching of equals as much as coming across as slightly patriarchal on Rochester’s part. In this film, you see the growing attraction and fascination on Rochester’s part and Jane’s subtle, growing attraction to her employer. Again this is a credit to the writing and the actors.

Narrative Structure

The one part of the novel that always gave me pause was in the latter half (SPOILER ALERT) when Jane runs away and finds herself in the company of St. John Rivers and her sisters. While I understood its purpose in the novel, I found it a bit frivolous. I found reading it to be a bit tedious.

In the film, Cary Fukunaga decided to play with the placement of this in the narrative – I really liked the result. This part I will not give away and will leave it up to you to decide how you like it.

How Many is Too Many?

An article in The New York Times last week seemed to pose the question: do we need another Jane Eyre adaptation? My response is a resounding “yes.” I have seen quite a few of the Jane Eyre adaptations in my day, notably the 1944 Joan Fontaine/Orson Welles film and 2007 BBC Miniseries (Ruth Wilson/Toby Stephens). Personally I will never tire of seeing this story which while of a particular time, is timeless in the theme of longing for love in a barren landscape (credit due to D/P Adriano Goldman).

One activity I have created for myself when watching a film adaptation is to play the “clock watching” game – in this game I am challenge the filmmaker to capture the spirit and essence of the film in an allotted time. This is easy to do in a more literal miniseries where the filmmaker has the luxury of extra time to draw out more elements of the story. But in a feature film you really have to work hard at compressing the story and still being able to capture the spirit and essence of the author’s words. Director Cary Fukunaga more than surpassed my expectations in this regard. I left the cinema feeling well satisfied.

 

Back in the Public Domain

Here is a treasure trove of film available for cineastes everywhere.

http://www.archive.org/details/movies

This site contains feature length films as well as animated shorts, home movies, etc.

Here is a sample of some of the films on offer:

Panic In the Streets featuring Richard Widmark and Jack Palance (directed by Elia Kazan)

The Red House (1947) featuring Dame Judth Anderson and Edward G. Robinson

His Girl Friday (1940) featuring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell

Dressed to Kill (1946) featuring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Night of the LivingDead (1968)

Reefer Madness

Nosferatu …. you get my point.

My suggestion would be to take some time and look at all the videos that are available. They are available for download and streaming.

 

Happy Viewing!