November 21, 2009

Louisa May Alcott, The Movie

PBS will air Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women on December 28. It would be hard to make a boring film about the woman--After all, she spent time on a commune as a child, was tutored by some very well-known contemporaries, and served as an army nurse during the civil war. That's only the beginning... Can't wait to see this biopic which Elle, Vogue, and The Wall Street Journal have lauded. --Kim

November 19, 2009

Whereabouts: Ioan Gruffudd

Decided to check up on what our favorite sailor in the British navy (a.k.a. Horatio Hornblower) is up to these days and was happy to learn he's starring in a biopic of The Wind in the Willows author, Kenneth Grahame. Banking on Mr. Toad also stars Samantha Morton (I LOVE her) as the author's wife, Elspeth, and explores the couple's relationship with their autistic son as well as Grahame's time as the secretary of the Bank of England.

In other Gruffudd news, he and wife Alice Evans welcomed daughter Ella to the world in early September after 40 hours of labor. (FORTY HOURS? Yikes, but congrats!) That picture, by the way, is cuteness personified.

C'mon, Get "Happy"

"Joy to the World?" Easier said than done. But if you want to REALLY spread glad tidings, good will toward men (and women), and holiday cheer, wrap up some copies of The Happy Book for friends and family this year.

Written by Meg Leder and Rachel Kempster, this charmingly quirky interactive guide is aimed at helping you suss out the secrets to your own personal bliss by prompting you keep a tally of things (both mundane and mind-blowing) that put a smile on your face: In my case, this might include a cold rainy day curled on the couch watching the Ehle/Firth "Pride & Prejudice" miniseries, preferably with fireplace lit; consuming dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa) or bacon; Bollywood dance lessons; "Masterpiece: Classics;" a fruitful trip to the local library; a husband who vacuums without prompting; the merchandise at Anthropologie; laughing so hard my stomach actually physically hurts; the imminent arrival of my baby daughter; raindrops on roses, whiskers on get the idea.

Unlike "The Secret," which encourages you to greedily make lists of things that you WANT (Shut it, Oprah), The Happy Book reminds you of all the wonderful things you already have to feel grateful for. That's something we ought to be doing way more often than just the fourth Thursday in November, yes?

Austen Truths "Universally Acknowledged"

What do Somerset Maugham, Virginia Woolf, and C.S. Lewis think about Jane Austen's novels? Find out in Susannah Carson's newly published anthology, A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen.

Here's the product description from Amazon:
For so many of us a Jane Austen novel is much more than the epitome of a great read. It is a delight and a solace, a challenge and a reward, and perhaps even an obsession. For two centuries Austen has enthralled readers. Few other authors can claim as many fans or as much devotion. So why are we so fascinated with her novels? What is it about her prose that has made Jane Austen so universally beloved?

In essays culled from the last one hundred years of criticism juxtaposed with new pieces by some of today’s most popular novelists and essayists, Jane Austen’s writing is examined and discussed, from her witty dialogue to the arc and sweep of her story lines. Great authors and literary critics of the past offer insights into the timelessness of her moral truths while highlighting the unique confines of the society in which she composed her novels. Virginia Woolf examines Austen’s maturation as an artist and speculates on how her writing would have changed if she’d lived twenty more years, while C. S. Lewis celebrates Austen’s mirthful, ironic take on traditional values.

Modern voices celebrate Austen’s amazing legacy with an equal amount of eloquence and enthusiasm. Fay Weldon reads Mansfield Park as an interpretation of Austen’s own struggle to be as “good” as Fanny Price. Anna Quindlen examines the enduring issues of social pressure and gender politics that make Pride and Prejudice as vital today as ever. Alain de Botton praises Mansfield Park for the way it turns Austen’s societal hierarchy on its head. Amy Bloom finds parallels between the world of Persuasion and Austen’s own life. And Amy Heckerling reveals how she transformed the characters of Emma into denizens of 1990s Beverly Hills for her comedy Clueless. From Harold Bloom to Martin Amis, Somerset Maugham to Jay McInerney, Eudora Welty to Margot Livesey, each writer here reflects on Austen’s place in both the literary canon and our cultural imagination.

We read, and then reread, our favorite Austen novels to connect with both her world and our own. Because, as A Truth Universally Acknowledged so eloquently demonstrates, the only thing better than reading a Jane Austen novel is finding in our own lives her humor, emotion, and love.

Here's an adapted excerpt from James Collins that ran in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week.

November 10, 2009

Easy Virtue

If you blinked, you probably missed seeing this whimsical adaptation of a Noel Coward play when it was in theaters. Kim and I watched it this weekend on On Demand and thoroughly enjoyed being transported back to the era of the Lost Generation with the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Jessica Biel, Ben Barnes and an always-scrumptuous Colin Firth.

The premise: Stodgy British family with dysfunction as sizable as their sprawling estate grudgingly welcomes their spirited, scandalous siren of a daughter-in-law to the fold when prodigal son (Barnes) returns married to a gorgeous American race car driver (Biel).

What we loved: Firth and Thomas were naturally top-notch, and Jessica Biel managed to hold her own as the quirky-but-beautiful fish out of water. Her clothes alone are worth moving this one to the top of your Netflix queue. We also got a kick out of the soundtrack, which re-spun modern pop songs like Tom Jones' "Sex Bomb" and Billy Ocean's "When the Going Gets Tough" as breezy 1920s jazz tunes. Too clever.

"Errrllll Cannnnn!"

Like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz finally getting de-rustified with a little help from Dorothy, Kim and I are determined to blog here again on a regular basis after a brief hiatus called life.

Maybe our kick in the pants was spurned on by recently partaking of afternoon tea at the High Tea Cottage in Woodland Hills. It's an unassuming little house off Ventura Blvd. and while it perhaps suffers from a bit of the teddy-bear-and-doily effect, we were pleasantly surprised by the proprietess's insanely thorough offerings of loose-leaf tea. We thought we'd died and gone to heaven when a rolling cart packed with tea varieties was brought to our table, from which we could smell any variety that piqued our interest before settling on our order. From fruity to chocolate-flavored and with names like Crime of Passion and Bourbon Street Vanilla, it was hard to narrow down our options. Kim chose a marzipan-flavor while I opted for the decisively caramel Mocha Rocca. Both were equally unique and amazing. Getting to smell the teas in their little jars ahead of time was a major plus and made the whole experience feel a bit like wine-tasting or hanging out at a perfume counter sampling the wares. I only wish there'd been time to try more.

After devouring our tea sandwiches, the rolling cart returned. This time we got to choose from several different jams to accompany fresh-from-the-oven apple-cinnamon scones. By the time we finished our assortment of decadent desserts, we were in a sugar coma and thankful that we'd chosen decaf teas. If you live in the L.A. area and enjoy afternoon tea, this place is worth the pilgrimage.

November 4, 2009

Jane Campion on The Treatment

Excellent interview with director Jane Campion about her stunningly gorgeous new film Bright Star on KCRW's The Treatment.