May 30, 2006

Brief Critiques

Took in two films this weekend which may or may not prove of any interest to readers of this blog. One featured the offspring of Mary Magdalene and one featured an angelic Virginia Madsen. One included French accents and one included Minnesota accents. One had a freaky albino and one had Lindsay Lohan, whom some may argue is just as scary.

First, The DaVinci Code. I thought it did not suck, which was surprising since critics seemed to pan it. While Hanks would not have been my first casting choice and the mullet was downright egregious, I otherwise felt that the movie unfolded exactly as it had in my mind while I read the Dan Brown book. Thanks to my short-term memory, I had forgotten many of the plot points (besides the final "ta-da") so all the revelations along the way made me "ooh" and "aah" all over again. I won't go into a thorough review as they are a dime a dozen. All I'll say is that I was entertained and did not feel as though I had been robbed of my $10 when all was said and done. If you were on the fence about seeing it, I'd give it the green light or at least sanction a rental when it's out on DVD. (Except for you, Meg, ye hater of "The Hanks.")

As for the second film, A Prairie Home Companion, it seemed like something I should have liked, especially since I saw it for free. Nevertheless, Robert Altman is hit-or-miss in my book: Dr. T and the Women = bad. Gosford Park = good. A Prairie Home Companion, in the end, equalled "eh." Granted, I wasn't too familiar with the long-running public radio program which the film lovingly depicts. The movie was basically a real-time (or almost) staging of the live, old-timey show, helmed by writer Garrison Keillor (who plays himself) and a host of colorful characters who take the stage and sing sweet ditties. The whole thing is charming and poignant, given that it's supposed to be the show's last night before the historic St. Paul theater is bought up -- and shut down -- by some corporate meanie played by Tommy Lee Jones. Woody Harrelson and William C. Reilly are great as the singing cowboys Lefty and Dusty, and Meryl Streep, as always, is quintessential Meryl Streep (that's a good thing). Lindsay Lohan broods as an angst-ridden teen and angel Virginia Madsen saunters around interacting with the stage hands in moments that are supposed to add a bit of gravity to the over-arching bungling and quirkiness of the show. There wasn't much of a plot beyond what was laid out between the many, MANY musical, Stephen-Fostereque interludes. And while my inner Girl Scout will always enjoy a rousing rendition of "Tavern In The Town," after two hours of it, I was starting to side with Tommy Lee Jones. The movie was a nice fat slice of Americana, but perhaps I only needed a sliver. That said, if you need an activity for grandma, this is is it. -- Amy

May 27, 2006

Parasol Pretty has some pics posted of Keira Knightley on the set of Silk in Rome. Based on Allesandro Baricco's novel, the film recently wrapped and is scheduled for release late next year. In January, Knightley will begin work on "The Best Time of Our Lives," playing the wife of Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas. Incidentally, the screenplay was written by Knightley's mother, Sharman, an award-winning playwright. -- Amy

May 25, 2006

Can Oprah Save Masterpiece Theater?

You know how you have certain groups of friends that you'd prefer to not introduce to other groups of friends? You like them both but feel that they just wouldn't hit it off with one another if you were to attempt to make an introduction? That's sort of the feeling that developed in the pit of my stomach when I stumbled across this blog posting from earlier this year in my attempts to find out if Masterpiece Theater has yet been taken off financial life support. Yes, I've been known to watch Oprah (although it's usually more of the train-wreck mentality than anything else...), and yes, it's cool that she loves books and all, but I REALLY don't want her hands mixed up in my Masterpiece Theater, even if she's willing to throw in some big bucks. I want to help save MT, but in the immortal works of Meatloaf, "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that." Is anyone with me? -- Amy

P.S. My biggest fear is that she will start mandating that John Travolta be cast in all leading male roles...

Which literary heroine are you?

Take this quiz to find out...

(Let's hope you're not a Becky Sharpe.) Turns out I'm a practical Elizabeth Bennet while Kim is an easily-swooning Marianne Dashwood. -- Amy

Disappointing news....

...coming out of Cannes. Apparently Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette not only didn't delight, it garnered boos.,,1782628,00.html

Are the French just meanies, or should we be worried? Oh well, we'll still go see it for the eye candy, if nothing else. -- Amy

May 22, 2006

Loaded For Bear

Since A&E refuses to indulge us with any new installments in the Hornblower series, fans of those movies might enjoy tuning in to BBC America every Saturday night this summer (starting May 27 at 9 p.m.) for installments of "Sharpe's Rifles." Based on novels by Bernard Cornwell, these movies will fill your Brits-in-uniform quota, although actor Sean Bean is no Ioan Gruffud when comparing Napoleonic war heros. (FYI, Bean was Boramir in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) Here's our review from last year of the first film in the Sharpe's series. -- Amy

Trailer Park

Check out the trailers for two star-studded adaptations: All The King's Men, based on the Robert Penn Warren novel and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford based on the novel by Ron Hansen. Wonder if Brad Pitt's nude scenes made the final edit in the latter, as promised by Us Weekly? -- Amy

Lohan Gone Wilde

Lindsay Lohan, Annette Bening, and Sean Bean will star in an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play "A Woman of No Importance." (

C.S.I. London

Never trust to general impressions, my boy, but concentrate yourself upon details. My first glance is always at a woman's sleeve. In a man, it is perhaps better to take the knee of the trouser. -- Sherlock Holmes

Happy birthday to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle! Test your knowledge about the super sleuth here.

And, spend a night with the Speckled Band, courtesy of NPR-- Amy

May 21, 2006

Belated Review: Everything Is Illuminated

From the better-late-than-never files, I got around to watching the Liev Schreiber adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated" last night. I'd say it's a faithful re-telling of the book (at least in part. The film doesn't even attempt to delve into the whimsical, magical-realist history of Trachimbrod, which was probably a wise decision because the whole thing would have gotten too watered down and convoluted.)

I didn't hear rave reviews when the film came out last year, and if you weren't already familiar with the book, you may not have been wowed. But having loved the novel, I thought the film perfectly captured Safran Foer's oyssey to discover his Ukrainian roots, with assistance from English-mangling tour-guide Alex, Alex's so-called blind grandfather and his mangy "seeing eye bitch," Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Elijah "creepy eyes" Wood proved a little distracting in the film (and not quite what I had imagined from the book), but the rest of the characters were a delight. The laugh-out-loud moments of the first half of the film are nicely offset by the sobering "illumination" towards the end, (although the revelation wasn't made completely clear -- one of my few gripes with the film.) Regardless, the whole thing is quirky, entertaining and greatly exceeded my expectations. Add it to your Netflix queue (and, of course, read the book first if you haven't). -- Amy

May 18, 2006

Broken Code Spawns Reflection on Book-to-Film Adaptations

Susan King of The LA Times writes a piece on book to film adaptations, inspired by all the press swirling around that Tom Hanks movie you may have heard about. (Early word from Cannes is that the film isn't very good, which is hardly a surpise, now is it?) Anyway, she takes a look at some adaptations that have worked, among them Jaws and Rosemary's Baby. For more on the adaptations that haven't worked, check out our October 2005 guest post on Romancing the Tome fave The Happy Booker. Further reading: Our essay "Dusting Off the Classics" for the January issue of Void Magazine explores the never-ending allure of the adaptation. --Kim

May 17, 2006

Davies' Adaptation of Line of Beauty Turns Up "Sex and Humour"

"I defer to no heterosexual in my admiration of Henry James nor to any critic of any orientation in my appreciation of the veteran screenwriter Andrew Davies. The idea, however, of Davies getting his mitts on, say, The Portrait of a Lady makes my palms sweat even as I type the words. His method as an adaptor of classic literature is journalistic: first simplify, then exaggerate, usually by turning up the volume on the sex and the humour. It tends to work a treat. But not, please, on the filigree prose of Henry James. Fortunately, The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst is not a Jamesian work; it just thinks that it is." (Andrew Billen for The New Statesman)

The BBC website for the miniseries is here. --Kim

Get a Whiff of This

Given that Kim and I splurged this weekend on some new perfume at Venice's swanky "perfume bar," Strange Invisible, it only seems appropriate to include some early reviews (courtesy of Ain't It Cool News) of Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: Story of a Murder," adapted from Patrick Suskind's novel. Sounds like Tykwer (of Run, Lola, Run fame) really manages to capture a cinematic sense of smell, which is an integral -- make that THE integral -- part of the tale. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product when it's officially released in December. -- Amy

May 16, 2006

The Way We Live Now: In Bed with Matthew Mcfadyen & Cillian Murphy

This week I spent some time recovering from my recent travels by lolling in bed with the first DVD of Andrew Davies' adaptation The Way We Live Now on my laptop. The always timely subjects known as greed and obsession are at the heart of Anthony Trollope's novel which centers around British speculators and a railroad to be built between Salt Lake City and Vera Cruz. Watching the characters get caught in a web of deceit reminded me of this recent New Yorker article, this, and of course this.

Davies, whose recent Bleak House mini-series earned rave reviews from anyone who's anyone among people who care about that sort of thing, does an excellent job of escalating tension as the drama unfolds. The cast includes P&P's Matthew Mcfadyen, who is in fact so excellent as the louche baronet Sir Felix Carbury that I hardly recognized him, as well as the very pretty Cillian Murphy pictured above, Miranda Otto, and Shirley Henderson. Can't wait to watch the rest. Also, I still have yet to see The Reckoning even though it is a well know fact that I love movies about cute, conflicted priests (even the presence of Shannyn Sossaman can't spoil that for me). But Matthew Mcfadyen apparently co-stars--another reason to finally see it. --Kim

May 13, 2006

Brokeback Star Goes Bronte

Michelle Williams and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers will star in a film about Jane Eyre author Charlotte Bronte, says Production Weekly. --Kim

May 11, 2006

Serving Up a Feast

The Book Standard says Morgan Freeman is in talks to star as philosophy professor Harry Scott in an adaptation of Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love, described as an exploration of the magical, mysterious, sometimes painful incarnations of love. I never read it, but predict my friend Meg, who named her cat after the author, will be intrigued. (P.S. Meg's got a witty new blog...check it out.) The film will be directed by the guy who did Kramer Vs. Kramer, so that's got to bode well. -- Amy

"C'est Versailles!"

The clothes, the shoes, the cake! A new French Marie Antoinette trailer is up. (via Goldenfiddle)

New Casting Addition for Girls' Guide

Lost's Maggie Grace (before her character was killed off she played spoiled step-brother seductress Shannon) may join Sarah Michelle Gellar and Alec Baldwin in an adaptation of Melissa Bank's bestseller, The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. According to Cinema Confidential, "Grace will play Chloe, a grounded, down-to-earth swimsuit designer and best friend of Gellar's character. Marc Klein is directing from a screenplay he penned." [my italics] --Kim

May 7, 2006

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

I rented A&E's 1998 two-part adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles last night, starring Justine Waddell (a terrific actress whom I personally think should have been cast as Jane Austen in Becoming Jane....but I digress.) Although the film has more emotional downs than ups (Hardy might have been a perfect candidate for Zoloft), I enjoyed every minute of it......bonus points for making a pasture full of cows the backdrop for priceless romantic moments between Tess (a down-at-heel dairy maid with a shameful past) and the well-born object of her affection, Angel Claire (played by the dashing, and somewhat "Prince William"-looking Oliver Milburn.) If you judge a movie by its number of swoon-worthy moments, there are plenty to be found in this one, but there's plenty of angst, too, and occasionally, some random voiceover moments that don't really work. Neverthless, Waddell and Milburn have SERIOUS chemistry, and the gorgeous pastoral cinematography is just as stirring as the plotline. When I first read the book, I was sucked in, and the movie version kept me equally captivated. Don't forget the Kleenex. -- Amy

May 5, 2006

Whereabouts: Matthew Macfadyen

Wondering what Keira's version of Mr. Darcy is up to these days?

This month, he begins work on an adaptation of Ian McEwan's best-selling novel, Atonement, (also starring Keira, incidentally, along with James McAvoy...and....Rue McClanahan??????!!!! You GO, Golden Girl!)

Matthew will also play Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (with co-stars Minnie Driver and Sarah Polley) in Nightwatching, which IMDB describes as "an extravagant, exotic and moving look at Rembrandt's romantic and professional life, and the controversy he created by the identification of a murderer in the painting THE NIGHT WATCH." -- Amy

Great Gatsby Hip Hop Stizz

Ralph Lauren's son, who co-produced Squid and the Whale, premiered his film G, a hip hop version of The Great Gatsby at the Tribeca Film Festival and has also optioned Cast of Shadows. More here. (via TMN) --Kim

May 1, 2006

A Confession

Can I just say how terribly conflicted I've felt in recent weeks, rolling my eyes at The DaVinci Code billboards everywhere, scoffing at Tom Hanks' intolerable mullet haircut (WHO ALLOWED THAT?), annoyed by every media outlet hopping on the religious conspiracy bandwagons ("60 Minutes" did a segment on the Priory of Sion last night...) and yet still not being able to stifle my strange anticipation for the film, which premieres this month? I know I have friends out there -- reading this blog-- who will be ashamed and annoyed by my confession. I know the book has all the telltale markings of mainstream schlock, and yet, I humbly admit that I read it in one sitting (on a plane, mind you....I was sort of a captive audience. But still.) I feel like my degree in English literature should be revoked and stomped on for allowing myself to be sucked in to the hype. I can only hope I hate the film so that I can at last quit beating myself up and can feel some sense of cultural superiority again (imagined, not real, mind you....after all, this is the girl who told a good friend she'd go see "Stick It.") -- Amy

Brutal Bess

While I've so far only managed to catch Part I of HBO's Elizabeth I, I came away from the first two hours with a new appreciation for our modern ban on "cruel and unusual punishment." From watching an outspoken critic of her highness have his hand chopped off to seeing the queen's would-be assassins disembowled in a particularly gruesome fashion, I ended up having to watch parts of the movie through my fingers. (Don't even get me started on Mary, Queen of Scots and her botched exucution....Not even Quentin Tarantino himself could have done a better job grossing me out.) Still, Hugh Dancy's pretty face was antidote enough for all the gore, and Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons kept me captivated, though I was surprised at how semi-psycho and petulant (In a Joan Crawford, "Mommie Dearest" way) Elizabeth appears at times in this telling. Quite a different version than the strong and stoic Liz Cate Blanchett gave us. Does anyone agree? -- Amy