April 30, 2009

Paradise Lost...Twice!

As we eke out the last day of National Poetry Month, The Hollywood Reporter says that at least one classic poem is getting the film treatment...in two different versions. (Sorry, Kim, it's not The Faerie Queene or The Rape of the Lock, which I'd actually much rather see)...Instead, it's John Milton's Paradise Lost. Two unknown actors, David Dunham and Patricia Li Bryan have been cast as Adam and Eve in the indie version from Granite Entertainment and STV Networks. Meanwhile, Legendary Pictures is also supposed to be doing a big-budget version of the famous verses with a project they're calling "Paradise." Not sure we need two, frankly, but maybe the indie version will put an interesting new spin on things.

April 28, 2009


Who do you love? We love Liz (of the fab blog Today's Special)! She will receive a copy of the Because I Love Her anthology, edited by Nicki Richesin and featuring essays by a host of wonderful writers, including Karen Joy Fowler, Joyce Maynard, and Jacquelyn Mitchard. Read Liz's entry and the other great entries here. --Kim

April 22, 2009

Giveaway: Win a Copy of the "Because I Love Her" Anthology

Just in time for Mother's Day we're giving away a copy of Nicki Richesin's new anthology Because I Love Her: 34 Women Writers Reflect on the Mother-Daughter Bond. The collection features thought-provoking essays by Karen Joy Fowler, Joyce Maynard, and Jacquelyn Mitchard, among many other talented contributors.

To enter, simply comment and answer the question: Who is your favorite mother in literature? To get it started, Nicki, Amy, and I will share our picks. We'll choose our favorite comment by end of day Monday the 27th so we can ship you the book in time for Mother's Day.

Rumer Godden
When considering mothers in literature, the most obvious choice for Mother Superior seems to be Marmee from Little Women. She was devoted, loving, and let’s face it, too perfect. The past few years, I’ve been inspired by the work of Rumer Godden. I’ve particularly enjoyed her memoirs in which she movingly recounts her adventures living alone with her daughters Jane and Paula in Kashmir. She writes beautifully of growing her own food and creating a rich life with very little money. I couldn’t resist jotting down notes from her books like how to be happy when you are miserable: she suggests planting Japanese poppies with cornflowers and having Jane paint a really good picture. What I found most incredible is that she was able to write many, many books, care for her daughters, and live a life on her own terms during the forties and fifties. Ms. Godden was truly a woman ahead of her time. I highly recommend her memoirs A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep and A House With Four Rooms. --Nicki


Ma Joad
The most famous mothers in literature aren’t always the good ones: Anna Karenina, Daisy Buchanan, Edna Pontellier, Becky Sharpe... Truth be told, these depictions of motherhood are generally more intriguing than the sugary-sweet variety that’s usually a default in too many classic novels. But these desperate economic times call for a desperate economic Mama, so I’m selecting Ma Joad from Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as the most stalwart and determined of matriarchs in seriously tragic circumstances. As the backbone of her clan, she calmly and selflessly keeps the family together during their harrowing and humiliating struggles for survival, always restoring order and somehow managing to whip up a skillet of biscuits out of seemingly thin air to feed her family. Sometimes you just do what you’ve got to do to make it through, and while I might not go so far as young Rose of Sharon’s breastfeeding feat at the end of the saga, the women in The Grapes of Wrath are a testament to those women everywhere who know the true meaning of sacrificial love. --Amy


While good mothers do exist in fiction, it's the wicked mammas that make for the best stories. After all, what would Beowulf be without Grendel's vengeful mother and Snow White without the wicked stepmother? But the queen of all notorious mothers has to be Gertrude, for without her Hamlet and his oedipal frustration wouldn't exist. She married Claudius too quickly after the death of her husband (and possibly had an adulterous relationship with Claudius before Hamlet's father was murdered). However, when Hamlet violently accuses Gertrude, her response reveals she's more complex than a one-dimensional femme fatale:

O Hamlet, speak no more:
Thou turn'st my very eyes into my soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct (III.iv.88-91)
...O speak to me no more;
these words like daggars enter my ears;
No more, sweet Hamlet!

By the time her lips touch the poisoned goblet during the play's tragic conclusion, she's become human and pitiable. --Kim

Historical Reality TV Poll

It's been way too long since they did another installment of those PBS series where they take ordinary people and plop them down into another era for a few weeks. "1900 House," (who can forget the darling Bowler family?) "1940 House," "Colonial House," "Regency House," "Frontier House"... Maybe they're running out of ideas? Which historical era would you like to see next? (Or, if you have a better idea, let us know in Comments.)

April 21, 2009

Russell Goes Medieval

USA Today has a photo of Russell Crowe all bad-assed out on the set of Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, and I have to say, the ol' chap is looking good! I don't know what all that fuss was about him being too corpulent for the role. He strikes quite a dashing figure in this picture (and R.C. doesn't usually break into my Top Ten Sexpots of All Time list, either....but that's for another post.) This is definitely more "Gladiator" Russell than "State of Play" Russell, praise be to Jesus.

In Fair Chicago Where We Lay Our Scene

I had to double check that it wasn't actually April 1st when I read this blurb: In honor of Shakespeare's supposed birthday (Thursday), Mayor Richard M. Daly has proclaimed the day "Talk Like Shakespeare Day" in the city.

April 20, 2009

Good Luck with That...

Eighty-eight year old Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens is just a little obsessed with proving that Shakespeare's work was really written by the 17th earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere. Read the full story here.

In other news, researchers look into the "connection between storytelling and the evolved human mind" as they try to understand the popularity of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. You too can become a Literary Darwinist. Find out how. --Kim

Tomb Raiders

She hath pursued conclusions infinite
Of easy ways to die. Take up her bed,
And bear her women from the monument.
She shall be buried by her Antony.
No grave upon the earth shall clip in it
A pair so famous.

-- Antony and Cleopatra, William Shakespeare

In what's predicted to be an even bigger find than the discovery of King Tut's tomb in the 1970s (cue the Steve Martin skit), archaeologists believe they are on the verge of excavating the graves of Cleopatra and her lover, Mark Antony, who committed suicide after their defeat in the battle of Actium in 31 B.C.

See story in L.A. Times

April 17, 2009

The Complete Austen, Dickens, ---?

So if Masterpiece Theater continues its recent tradition of devoting an entire season to one author exclusively, I'm wondering who they'll opt to focus on next? I'm assuming next year we'll get to see the new BBC production of Emma in the works, but at some point, the Jane Austen well is going to run dry.

That said, which author do you think they should devote a season to next?

April 10, 2009

The REAL Shakespeare?

Scholars have come across this portrait they think might be the only accurate rendering of the Bard, painted during his lifetime. Check out the story.

April 9, 2009

Pacino Does Aging Napoleon

Al Pacino's set to star in an adaptation of the Staton Rabin children's book Betsy and the Emperor, about a 14-year-old girl who meets the aging Little Corporal after his exile on the island of St. Helena.

Source: Variety

They Did Dickens?

Recently pondering all the Dickens adaptations I've seen in my lifetime, I thought I'd post about some of the bigger-name celebs who have tried their hand at portraying one of Boz's beloved characters. Here are a few who immediately come to mind, for better or for worse.

Michael Richards (Mr. Micawber: David Copperfield)
If anyone was born to play a Dickens character, it's the guy who brought us Cosmo Kramer. (This was back before his caught-on-tape racist rant which sort of spelled his stardom's demise.) Sally Field was also in this 2000 adaptation for the TNT network playing Aunt Betsy Trotwood. Hugh Dancy was David.

GOOP (Estella, Great Expectations)
I know Estella is supposed to be kind of hateable, and in that case, Gwyneth succeeeded ten-fold. I can never block this terrible move poster from my memory, but fortunately, I have mostly banished from my mind her cold-fish performance in this film. I think this marks the moment Gywnnie first started to bug (as I actually tolerated her in Emma — I know many others didn't.) Robert DeNiro and Anne Bancroft played Magwitch and Havisham types, but even with hottie Ethan Hawke as Pip, this one was pretty bad. For a far superior telling, you must see the version with Ioan Gruffudd and Justine Waddell. Watch the clip:

Christopher Plummer (Ralph Nickleby: Nicholas Nickleby,)
So perfect as mean Uncle Ralph, although I will always love him as my Georg. Anne Hathaway was in this one (I'd completely forgotten!) as Madeline Bray.

Gillian Anderson (Lady Dedlock: Bleak House)

I'm still not convinced she can offer up more than two facial expressions, but for this portrayal, it really worked. This might be my favorite Dickens adaptation to date, and Scully nailed it. No offense to Laura Linney, but I still kind of wish Gillian was doing the intros to Masterpiece Theater (if we can't have Russell Baker, that is.)

Alec Guinness (William Dorrit: Little Dorrit; Fagan: Oliver Twist; Magwitch: Great Expectations)
I've not seen any of these, but Obi-Wan got nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Little Dorrit (1988). Take a good look at the clip below and tell me we aren't lucky to get Matthew Macfadyen as Arthur Clennam? (Spoiler alert in case you haven't figured out what happens this Sunday on LD.)

April 6, 2009

Three Imaginary Poem-to-Film Adaptations

In honor of National Poetry Month, I'm proposing the following poems be adapted for the big screen:

Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, directed by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as the narrator, Amy Adams as the ghost of Lenore, and Dave Navarro as the voice of the raven.

Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, directed by Woody Allen and starring Louis Garrel as the Baron and Scarlett Johansson as Belinda.

Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queen, directed by Peter Jackson with James Franco as Knight Red Crosse, Cate Blanchett as Gloriana, Michelle Williams as Una, and Emily Blunt as Duessa.

What poems would you like to see adapted for film?

April 2, 2009

Much Ado About Shakespeare Adaptations

I started to title this "My 5 Favorite Shakespeare Adaptations," but soon discovered there was no way I could narrow it down that much--even ten was too difficult. I still have this sneaking suspicion I'm missing a few. As for the plays, Romeo and Juliet was my Rosaline and then I read Hamlet and that was it for me. I was head over heels--I've even dated a few Hamlets, unfortunately. Henry V and Macbeth take third place. If I'm forgetting any or you disagree with my choices, take me to task in the comments. --Kim

12. The Taming of the Shrew dir. Franco Zeffirelli with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton

11. Tempest (1982) with John Cassavetes, Susan Sarandon, Gena Rowlands, Raul Julia, and Molly Ringwald

10. Henry V (1989) with Kenneth Branagh (Love the St. Crispin's Day speech in the video below.)

9. The Merchant of Venice (2004) with Al Pacino and Joseph Fiennes

8. Hamlet (1948) with Laurence Olivier

7. Hamlet (1996) with Kenneth Branagh and Kate Winslet

6. Romeo + Juliet (1996) dir. Baz Luhrmann, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes

5. Throne of Blood (1957) dir. Akira Kurosawa

4. Shakespeare In Love (1998) with Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth (meh) Paltrow, co-written by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, which is a combination of Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night

3. Much Ado About Nothing (1993) with Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Keanu Reeves, and Denzel Washington

1. Romeo and Juliet (1968) dir. Franco Zeffirelli

And I have to add Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1990) written and dir. by Tom Stoppard, starring Gary Oldman and Tim Roth, which is more of a spin-off than an adaptation, although the play Hamlet co-exists within the movie and drives the plot.

Long Live the King

First off, how HOT is this trailer for Season 3 of The Tudors, premiering Sunday? I so wish I had Showtime.

Second off, if you're in New York, you should check out this Vivat Rex! exhibit on Henry VIII's literary artifacts at the Grolier Club of New York, now through May 2. (It travels to Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library next fall, FYI.)

April 1, 2009

And Speaking of "Alice..."

...Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland (featuring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, sweet Jesus!) will get an IMAX 3D release next March 5th! I'm already tripping out.

Alice & Louisa

Today's Publishers Lunch announces two books centered around two famous literary women: one an author, and one a muse.

First, Kelly O'Connor McNees' The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott supposes a romance that might have tempted the writer in the summer of 1855 when her family moved to a New Hampshire Village. (to Amy Einhorn Books)

Next, Melanie Benjamin's Alice Have I Been will see an 80-year-old Alice Liddell reflecting on her life, including her childhood days spent with Charles Dodson, a.k.a., Lewis Carroll, who was inspired by the little girl to write Alice In Wonderland. I'm extra intrigued by this one, since there are so many theories as to whether Dodson's interest in the girl was innocent or not. (to Bantam Dell)