December 15, 2004

5 Favorite Adaptations

In the "spirit of the season," Amy and I are each going to share our favorite literary adaptations. We hope you'll add yours to the comments section as well.

Kim's Picks:
Pride and Prejudice
Obvs. choice. Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) and Elizabeth Bennet struggle over class prejudice and personal pride. Colin Firth famously exits a pond in a wet shirt and gives Jennifer Ehle (as Elizabeth) "the look." Sigh.

The Buccaneers
New money American heiresses travel to England to find aristocratic husbands in this mini series adaptation of Edith Wharton's unfinished novel. Carla Cugino (Spin City, Spy Kids) is wonderful as the naive, high-spirited Nan. Greg Wise (Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility) and Mira Sorvino co-star.

Zefirelli's Romeo and Juliet

This film famously stars Olivia Hussey as the doomed Juliet and boasts a high percentage of handsome gents in tights engaged in witty banter and suspenseful swordfights.

Sense and Sensibility

Ang Lee (Director) and Emma Thompson (Screenplay) partnered to create this lush adaptation of Austen's novel. Starring Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, and my not-so-secret crush, Greg Wise (see The Buccaneers above).

This last one is hard. I thought about The Shining, Emma, Apocalypse Now, The Scarlet Pimpernel (a new favorite), but I'm going to go with My Precious...

Lord of the Rings I, II, and III
If I were stuck on a desert island, I'd want Legolas to keep me distracted (and a DVD Player, of course). If I had to pick one of the three, I'd choose The Fellowship of the Ring. --Kim |

Amy's Picks:
Since there are still tons of adaptations I have yet to see, I'm sure this list won't even begin to measure up. Still, here are my faves not mentioned among Kim's selections.

A Room With A View
Pretty much any E.M. Forster adaptation is brilliant, but this is the best. The romantic embrace in a sea of flowers kills me every time, and the soundtrack is superb.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Strange yet delightful. Weird yet wonderful. Gene Wilder is a genius in this movie, and that twisted ferry ride scene is trippy indeed. I pray Johnny Depp in the new version can measure up, but somehow I doubt it.

Sophie's Choice
I'm pretty stoic during movies, but this one had me heaving, and I mean HEAVING sobs by the end. Go, Meryl Streep!

Doctor Zhivago
Only Julie Christie and Omar Sharif can make marital infidelity seem magical. The stark Russian landscape and haunting theme music only add to its epic appeal.

The Forsyte Saga
Basically a soap opera about stodgy rich Brits at the turn of the 20th century, this is a miniseries you can really sink your teeth into.

December 14, 2004

Pollyanna Charms

Okay, so I admit it took Kim and I a while to get around to watching this Masterpiece Theater presentation, but within the first five minutes, Pollyanna reeled us in hook, line and sinker.

Yes, the young whippersnapper is downright schmaltzy at times. Yes, the ending is a bit unrealistically sap-filled. Still, by the end of the movie, Kim was a weeping willow while I seriously contemplated adopting a precocious ten-year old.

Lovely to watch and well acted, Pollyanna is the film equivalent of a room full of rainbows...(And I mean that with zero sarcasm. Because according to this movie, sarcasm is only for desperately single old ladies.) -- Amy

December 9, 2004

Jane Eyre Attic Discovered

The present owners of the 16th c squire's home that inspired Charlotte Brontë's 19th c novel Jane Eyre discover a hidden attic fitting the author's careful description. ("Mystery of Jane Eyre attic solved,"Guardian UK via Boldtype)--Kim

December 7, 2004

All I Want for Christmas...(Well, Almost)

The Merchant of Venice, starring the extremely talented and attractive Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love), opens at the end of the month. You can watch the gorgeous trailer here.--Kim

December 6, 2004

Regency House Party: Episode IV

Now we know why Jane Austen never married. If her life in any way resembled the folks at the Regency House party, she wouldn't have held her breath about finding a soul mate. And if the men of the Regency period were as uninspired as the blokes on this British special, it would have been slim pickings indeed. Only one member of the house party, Mr. Foxsmith, professed his true love for a lady in the final episode, and she tearfully cast him off, knowing they'd never make it in the real world. Slightly tragic, but we'll get over it. The other men made psuedo-connections with some of the ladies in the group, but we can only suspect that was to please the producers, who wanted some sort of Hollywood ending.

In the end, the most profound farewell occurred when Mr. Gorell-Barnes took leave from his faithful manservant, who couldn't help but sob like a baby (and likely hasn't yet lived it down with his homophobic mates in the modern world.) As for everyone else, we couldn't really care less what's become of them as we determined that this four-part series was a disappointment. (I much preferred some of the other historical reality shows, like "Frontier House," "Manor House," and "Colonial House." Still, if you're curious to learn more about the people in this series, check out their interviews here. -- Amy

November 29, 2004

Because everyone loves a quiz

and the Guardian's are usually especially good: "Do You Know Your Literary Adaptations?" I scored a 9 out of 10 on this, but honestly it was mostly lucky guesses.

You scored 9 out of a possible 10
Pulitzer prize-winner. You loved Anthony Burgess's verse translations for the Cyrano de Bergerac subtitles (though you noticed the caesura was out on one of the lines), and you're always ready to spot where the film differs (inexcusably) from the book. Do you often spend your nights alone? (Whaaaat?? --Kim)

November 24, 2004

Good Knight

Franco Zeffirelli has adapted some of the greatest literary works for the screen, including one of my favorite films, Romeo and Juliet ('68). Tonight he'll be awarded an honarary knighthood for his contribution to British Arts. (Guardian UK)
You can order a poster similar to the one I own here. He's 81, but really shouldn't one be required to affect at minimum a token joust or something in order to receive a knighthood? --Kim

November 23, 2004

Trailer Park

The best-selling French novel A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot is now a film starring wide-eyed waif Audrey Tautou. I saw the trailer before the debacle that was Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason and it looks promising in an epic English Patient way.

You can watch the trailer for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy here. Not much happens but it's still kind of thrilling.

Also, why am I so excited about the new Star Wars movie? --Kim


Who out there DIDN'T bust out bawling when Hayley Mills' version of this eternal optimist fell out of a tree and was paralyzed?

Masterpiece Theater does a remake of the classic Disney film, Pollyanna, this Sunday, Nov. 28 on PBS. Incidentally, the story is based on a 1913 bestseller by Eleanor H. Porter.

Nothing like a cloyingly sweet young child to transform the grump in all of us. -- Amy

November 22, 2004

Regency House Party: Episode III

In this week's installation, we learned that women in the Regency Era were expected to act demure, shy and reserved around the opposite sex. All except for Countess Griaznov apparently, who, desperate for any attention from the men, decided to serve herself up naked on the dining room table! How this was sanctioned by her normally strict chaperone is beyond us, but suffice it to say her coquettish act didn't have its desired effect. The men in the room appeared visibly revolted having to dine with the countess's body sprawled across the table as if she were the centerfold in one of Hefner's mags. Bad form, countess -- bad form. Then again, this is the same woman who invited "doctor death" to dinner and listened in awe as he discussed the plastification of corpses.

With the addition of another lady and a few more gents to the party, we still can't figure out why the only bit of lovin' going on in this house of swingin' singles is between the very dorky Mr. Foxsmith and his middle-aged lover (yes, LOVER!), Lady Devonport. The two scampered off to the stables to spend the night at the end of this week's episode. It would be more scandalicious if it were the hunky host, Mr. Gorell Barnes leading the seduction, but unfortunately, he's too dull to have put any moves on the ladies so far. We've only got one more episode left to see any of the other guys in the house actually make a move. If the REAL men of the Regency Era had been as ineffectual at wooing women as these guys are, the sad trials of childbirth that we learned about in this episode would be a moot point. -- Amy

Hanks, but no thanks...

Tom Hanks already managed to monopolize every adult role in The Polar Express, and now I hear he's been cast as the main character in Dan Brown's literary cash cow, The DaVinci Code. The news irritated me, not only because I envisioned the book's Holy Grail-seeker, Robert Langdon, as someone WAY more sexy, but also because it confirms my suspicions that Tom Hanks has become the Hollywood equivalent of Wal-Mart.

On a more positive note, Newsweek magazine recently suggested a few more favorable casting choices:
Love interst Sophie Neveu: Julie Delpy, from Before Sunrise/Sunset.
Detective Bezu Fache: Jean Reno from The Professional.

(I won't hold my breath as it will probably end up being someone like "Apple's Mom" and Richard Gere in those roles. And since this book is about as commercial as they come, I guess it only makes sense.) -- Amy

November 16, 2004

Regency House Party: Episode II

Did Regency era activities include snogging on the lawn half clothed? That's some of what we witnessed in Part II of PBS's Regency House Party, as Mr. Foxsmith became more deeply (and illogically) enamored with one of the older chaperone women, Lady Davenport. Perhaps he neglected the younger ladies in the party because from what we've seen so far, they are uninteresting and whine a lot. Miss Braund and her chaperone nearly came to blows one evening, leaving our handsome host, Mr. Gorel-Barnes to attempt to restore order. It's unfortunate that Miss Braund suffered such a hissy fit, as Kim and I briefly had cheered when she received a daisy chain on her bed from Mr. Everett. Nevertheless, he simultaneously had the hots for Miss Hopkins and proved to be quite the player. Only the "Colonel Brandon"-like Captain Glover showed himself to be a true gentleman, using bales of hay to arrange the phrase "B Happy" on the lawn outside Miss Braund's window. How utterly romantic! The episode also included insights into the world of gothic entertainment and male vomiting. Truly something for everyone... --Amy

Great Expectations and Then Some

Amy and I watched Part 1 of BBC's 1999 production of Great Expectations last week. Pip is played by the gorgeous Welsh actor Ioan Gruffud (of the fantastic Horatio Hornblower series*), so it's no surprise that it's indeed our favorite adaptation of this novel. In fact, we concluded that really no other leading actor is needed. Ever. Charlotte Rampling is an intriguing Miss Havisham; old enough to be well within spinster-ville but not so old that her former beauty doesn't shine through, giving her character an aura of pitiable wistfulness. I'm withholding my opinion on Justine Waddell's portrayal of Estella until part 2.
*Amy introduced me to the Horatio Hornblower phenomenon two years ago and my life has never been the same since. Thus, much like the origin of Pip's great expectations, the origin of movie night (and eventually Romancing the Tome) can be attibuted to a long ago (though less terrifying!) event. --Kim

November 11, 2004

Afternoon Tea

Here are a few reviews of tea rooms here and abroad. We'll add The Bel Air Hotel, Jin, Casa Del Mar, and a few others sometime soon.


San Francisco being a prime spot for European tourists, there are more than half a dozen places where you can enjoy an afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, scones, and clotted cream. I've been to every single one of them. My favorites are listed here.

St. Francis Hotel, Union Square
The Compass Rose room in the St. Francis is dark, elegant and filled with Oriental treasures. A pianist plays the standards during afternoon tea. Also a great place for an old-fashioned Sidecar with a view of Union Square.

Sheraton Palace, Financial District
A splendid tea is served in the opulent glass-domed Garden Court at the Sheraton Palace. I swear you'll feel like you are in a Jane Austen novel while you're sipping your Earl Grey. This is one of my all-time favorite escapes.


Paddington's Tea Room
This family-owned tea room has scones that will keep me returning again and again. The decor is fussy Victorian with lots of tea cups and, of course, teddy bears.


Four Seasons
I spent the day visiting museum after museum and then I hiked over to the Four Seasons Hotel for tea. What a perfect day. The service is wonderful.


The Shelbourne Hotel
The Shelbourne was built in 1867 and serves afternoon tea in the Edwardian Mayor's Room which oozes history. Quite majestic!

November 9, 2004

Brideshead Revisited...Revisited?

In the works...
Jude Law joins Jennifer Connelly and her real-life hubby, Paul Bettany in an updated version of Brideshead Revisited, based on the novel by Evelyn Waugh.

The original 1981 mini-series was a mega-hit and helped launch the career of its star, Jeremy Irons. I, for one, could barely keep from falling into a coma whilst powering through all 11 episodes earlier this fall with Kim. While it had its bright moments, I can only chalk up the original series' success to the lack of Tivo and good cable at the time. Perhaps if while viewing we'd been drinking as much as the movie's protagonist, Sebastian, we might have had a jolly good time. Since my only real beef with the miniseries is that is was WAY too long, I'll be eager to check out the condensed new version when it eventually hits theaters. (Kim no doubt gives it a preliminary thumbs up for the Jude Law/Paul Bettany dual hottie factor.) -- Amy

November 8, 2004

Henry VIII

Highlights of Masterpiece Theater's Henry VIII:
• Lots of frenzied, galloping, "Got an urgent message, dammit!" horseback footage, and a "Ren-fair"-worthy jousting scene
• Helena Bonham Carter as Anne Boleyn shows that despite "Fight Club," she's not abandoned roles that require a corset
• Close-up shots of Henry Tudor's "Liberace-style" rings as he heaves lovelorn sighs over Anne "I'm a Rules Girl" Boleyn
• Henry frets about going to hell for splitting with the pope; guess those countless affairs and sending subseqent wives to the chopping block are holy misdemeanors?
• Vexed by an itchy hair shirt and a good-for-nothing hubby, Catherine of Aragon gives Anne Boleyn the stink-eye and a few choice words.
• Hank and Annie B. celebrate their marriage by cutting a rug in a scene reminiscent of Captain Von Trapp and Fraulein Maria, followed by a royal roll in the hay.
• Oliver Cromwell appears in desperate need of a visit to Supercuts
• Henry blubbers at the birth of Elizabeth, future kick-ass monarch
• Anne pays the executioner and goes proudly to her death in a true "cover your eyes" gross-out-but-gripping moment.

...Four more wives to go in Part II, airing Sunday, Nov. 14.

Frivolous Bits...

I've also heard the 1971 "MT" miniseries, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, is phenomenal if you ever have nine hours to kill. -- Amy

November 4, 2004

Regency House Party: Episode 1

IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Last night Amy and I eagerly watched "Pride and Prejudice," the first episode of PBS's Regency House Party. This episode introduced the single men and women and their chaperones and quickly plunged them into the strict tradition and lifestyle of the early 1800s. "The Regency period is very sexy," revealed eligible bachelor Mr. Gorell Barnes, who happens to look hot--um, I mean dashing--in a cravat and man tights. On their arrival the men quickly descend into various states of drunkenness offending the uptight hostess, a chaperone "hired" to help the host land a wife. The men are perhaps more smitten with the ladies' bosom-revealing gowns than their financial status. Captain Robinson (who bears a striking resemblance to Tim on The Office) is worried about becoming "too posh," particularly when the men receive training in the art of Pedestrianism, an elegant form of walking. After making and breaking an engagement with a woman who finds the resident hermit more exciting, Robinson decides he'd rather be watching television and departs. Next week we're hoping to see more evidence of the esteem held between one of the gentlemen and (gasp!) a chaperone. And some fencing of course.
Swoon Score: 7. --Kim

Relevant Links:
My review of Colonial House
Take the Quiz: Are You a Regency Catch?
Find out more about the Regency period.

October 30, 2004

Regency House

I was drinking my new tea from Le Palais De Thés (Fleur de Geisha) today, thinking life couldn't get much better, when I realized PBS's new series, Regency House begins airing on Wednesday, Nov. 3. What a fabulous way to recover from this week's elections! Ten modern men and women get to spend nine weeks pretending to live in the early 1800s (that's Jane Austen's era), whilst looking for their own Mr. Knightly or Miss Dashwood. Here's a brief description from the PBS site:

"For nine sunny summer weeks, a group of eligible bucks and buxom ladies takes up residence in a magnificent country estate for a house party exactly like those hosted at the height of the Regency. But will 21st-century folk who are really looking for love manage to navigate the strict social protocols of the day?"

Not sure the "looking for love" Bachelor angle is necessary, but still, I cannot wait. If you loved 1900 House, Manor House, Frontier House and Colonial House, this newest edition of the historical reality series will truly be your cup of tea! -- Amy

October 28, 2004

A Tale Of Two Cities

This 1989 BBC adaptation of the great Dickens classic is neither the best of films nor the worst of films. Kim and I viewed Part I last night, eager to swoon over some British and French hotties in the form of Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. We're not sure if it was the late '80s factor or not, but the actors playing both men are strangely attractive and yet strangely not. (They only barely resembled one another enough to make the final plot twist feasible, incidentally.) Lucie Manette has the porcelain doll look down pat, though her hair is huge (again, late '80s influence?) I found the movie lacked some of the author's wit and charm, but as plotlines go it was very faithful to the text. I'm happy to resume Part II next week, but when it comes to Dickens flicks, I prefer the 1999 version of "Great Expectations," (starring the delicious Ioan Gruffudd) which is scheduled for an upcoming movie night.

Chocolate rating: A new feature of this blog, Kim and I have decided to rate the gourmet chocolate we sample during each film. This week's selection, Sao Tome Reserva Chocolate from Trader Joe's, was too bitter to be enjoyable and we opted not to finish it, which is normally unheard of. We may as well have been eating unsweetened baker's chocolate. I'd give it a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10. What a travesty. -- Amy

October 27, 2004

Bee Season

The screen adaptation of Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season will star Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, and Orlando Bloom's blue crush, Kate Bosworth.

October 21, 2004

Stage Beauty is Semi-Snooze

Disappointed to come away from "Stage Beauty" feeling it was a regular yawn. Billy Crudupp was impressive as one of the last great male actors to play female roles in the English theater. But as the young protegé who steals his career, Claire Danes seemed affected and very "Claire Danes." There's a sort of bizarre love scene between the two (Crudupp's character is gay, then wait — no he isn't?) Heavy-handed with its message on gender roles in society, THESSSSSSPIANS will love this movie, but I'm not sure many others will, despite some decent reviews it's received. If you're a true sucker for Restoration period pieces, check it out. Otherwise, stick with "Shakespeare In Love." -- Amy

Adaptation Updates

Jake Gyllenhaal will star in the screen adaptation of Swofford's Gulf War novel Jarhead.

The Merchant of Venice, starring Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare In Love), Jeremy Irons, and Al Pacinio, opens on December 29. --Kim

October 19, 2004

Everything Is Illuminated

I finally got around to reading Jonathan Safran Foer's debut novel. It started out so funny that I actually couldn't read it in public and yet it became equally devastating. Liev Schreiber is directing the film adaptation which will star Elijah Wood (as Jonathan) and Jason Schwartzman. The scheduled release date is August, 2005. Also, if you've never seen Spring Forward ('99) starring Liev and Ned Beatty, you should add it to your netflix queue. --Kim

The Lost Prince

Kim and I just got our Masterpiece Theater fix watching Part One of "The Lost Prince." Set in Edwardian England just prior to WWI, it brings to light the saga of Prince Johnny, an adorable little pumpkin of a child who is shut away like a prisoner by his parents, King George V and Queen Mary. They are ashamed of his epileptic fits, autistic-like learning difficulties, and penchant for saying true-yet-inappropriate things in front of company. Ironically, the parents themselves seem to have more head troubles than their child. Lovely Gina McKee (Irene from "The Forsyte Saga") is Johnny's beleaguered governess, whose best intentions don't prevent him from being viewed as the freakish Frankenstein child of the royal family. Most heartbreaking of all is the little prince's relationship with his protective brother, Georgie, who kindly vows not to let anyone "send him away." Watching little John (Daniel Williams) scamper off to suffer a seizure in private made Kim and I damn near bawl.

Part II didn't wow us as much, perhaps because Johnny's quirks weren't nearly so cute when he grew older, and Lala's attempts to intercede on the boy's behalf usually only exacerbated a sad situation. Johnny's brilliant musical recital at the end of the movie was about as cliché as they come. Still, this royal outcast's saga lent a unique angle to the historical backdrop of the gathering storm leading up to World War I. -- Amy

October 16, 2004

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Amy and I powered through Parts II and III (A&E miniseries, 1999) last night really because we couldn't turn it off. Richard E. Grant is the dashingly heroic Sir Percy Blakeney and Elizabeth McGovern is his French wife Lady Blakeney, the former actress Madame Marguerite. Grant isn't your typical leading man as far as looks go, but in the same way that Colin Firth IS Darcy, he's absolutely mesmerizing as The Pimpernel. Lady Blakeney is a strong female character who becomes an integral player in The Pimpernel's missions to rescue French aristocrats from the guillotine. The two of them had a fantastic chemistry that overcame the many implausible plot twists. (I won't even go into the whole accent issue except to say that it's so typical of an American production to screw that up.) The Bottom Line: We loved it. --Kim

After Lord of the Rings

Variety reports that New Line Cinema has acquired the film rights to Suzanne Clarke's adult fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I have yet to read the novel, but it's definitely on the list. --Kim