December 31, 2012

Chris Askew on Withnail and I

My sister, Chris, recently watched Romancing the Tome favorite Withnail and I for the first time. Here are her thoughts on this cult flick, which happens to be a perfect accompaniment to any mid-winter ennui one might be feeling. --Kim

When I sat down to write this little love letter for Withnail and I, it was, of course, mandatory to quote at least a few of those wonderfully memorable lines. The trouble came when trying to settle on which ones to use. It's all so brilliantly written. Line after line of hilarious, witty, and unique dialogue. When Uncle Monty discusses his fondness for (ahem...) gardening: "I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees." I cracked up when Withnail and Marwood approached the farmer in a desperate attempt to obtain food and warmth after they've come to the country cottage completely unprepared "We've come on holiday by mistake!" "We're not from London!" but although I laughed from beginning to end, the film is as heartbreaking as it is funny. Along with all the wit and fun is a moving coming-of-age story about outgrowing a lifestyle and outgrowing a friendship. We see throughout the film that Withnail is a self-serving coward "It's you he wants! Offer yourself to him!," but we like him still. We are laughing and loving watching Withnail drink the lighter fluid and the both of them digging in the sink:
  "Something's floating up!!" 
  "What is it?"
  "It's MATTER!"
We are laughing and loving it but we know it can't last. We know their lifestyle is robbing them of ever fulfilling their hopes and dreams... and it is clear that although Marwood is prepared to take the risk of leaving the comfortably familiar for the challenges of the unknown when he takes a job in Manchester, Withnail will stay behind, continue to deteriorate and very likely lose what little of a life he has left. And so it is bittersweet when we watch them say goodbye knowing somehow that they will never see one another again. In reality, that is exactly what happened to the writer/director Bruce Robinson and his Camden flatmate and close friend Vivian MacKerrell who was indeed the inspiration for Withnail. The two parted ways when Robinson realized he had to end their friendship or he wouldn't survive to tell the tale. Apparently the lighter fluid scene was based on a very real incident which left MacKerrell blind for days! --Chris Askew

December 27, 2012

Little Women's New Year's Eve for Introverts

In Chapter 3: The Laurence Boy, Jo officially meets Laurie for the first time at a New Year's Eve party at the home of Meg's friend Sallie Gardner, where Jo is hiding behind a curtain. Best wishes for a Happy New Year to you all! --Kim 

Meg knew Sallie and was at her ease very soon, but Jo, who didn't care much for girls or girlish gossip, stood about, with her back carefully against the wall, and felt as much out of place as a colt in a flower garden. Half a dozen jovial lads were talking about skates in another part of the room, and she longed to go and join them, for skating was one of the joys of her life. She telegraphed her wish to Meg, but the eyebrows went up so alarmingly that she dared not stir. No one came to talk to her, and one by one the group dwindled away till she was left alone. She could not roam about and amuse herself, for the burned breadth would show, so she stared at people rather forlornly till the dancing began. Meg was asked at once, and the tight slippers tripped about so briskly that none would have guessed the pain their wearer suffered smilingly. Jo saw a big red headed youth approaching her corner, and fearing he meant to engage her, she slipped into a curtained recess, intending to peep and enjoy herself in peace. Unfortunately, another bashful person had chosen the same refuge, for, as the curtain fell behind her, she found herself face to face with the 'Laurence boy'. Keep reading.

December 21, 2012

The Leopard & Sofia Coppola’s Redemption by Robert Fay

To celebrate the launch of Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series, we're featuring guest bloggers all week. Today's guest is writer Robert Fay who recently completed his memoir and is a monthly contributor to Full Stop Magazine. (He's also responsible for introducing me to Javier Marias's superb trilogy Your Face Tomorrow.) Thanks so much, Robert, for helping us fête our book launch! --Kim

Francis Ford Coppola has apparently become nostalgic for his big-studio 1970s self. News reports indicate he plans to mothball his art-house sensibility and begin working on a big-budget generational saga set in New York.  Now, as much I love Coppola’s small, personal films—his 2009 film Tetro is a minor classic—I miss the man who could work with the competing star power of Pacino, Brando, Keaton, Duvall, and Cann, all-the-while telling a grand, sweeping story of America during the first half of the 20th century.

I have a particular fondness for the scenes in The Godfather where Michael Corleone is exiled to rural Sicily. The heat and parched hills of Sicily—the cacti, bougainvillea, and ancient vendettas—contrast brilliantly with wintery 1940s New York with its post-war cheer and burgeoning materialism. I love the scene where Michael strolls along a rutted stone path with his new love Appolonia, and a few paces behind them is half the village, chaperoning them, as Michael seems to time travel back to traditional, Catholic Sicily where his father and ancestors lived and died for centuries.

If I was the secret film investor with “infinite money” as Coppola describes this mysterious individual, I would persuade Coppola that the generational saga he needed to make was not to be set in New York, but back in Sicily. I’d tell him he had to make a movie based on the novel The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (1958). The Leopard is the only novel Giuseppe di Lampedusa ever wrote, but few writers have ever written as sublime a book. The novel is set in the 1860s in both Palermo and rural Sicily, where we witnesses the festering decay of an old aristocratic family from the perspective of the  patriarch, the Prince of Salina, Fabrizio Corbera. Amid the background chaos of Italian independence movements and wars, the seemingly eternal world and influence of the European aristocracy begins to crumble before the face of modernity.

Coppola, being the student of film history that he is, would remind me that The Leopard had been filmed in 1963 with Burt Lancaster as the Prince. I would reply, “Yes Francis, that’s true. But you’ve been away from the real Hollywood far too long. It’s all remakes these days. Get this: they made a Spider Man movie in 2002: and then they remade it—AGAIN—this year! Look Francis, no one except you, and maybe that film geek Martin Scorsese will recall the original Leopard. So let’s do it.” I’m not sure if Coppola would buy that line of reasoning, but then again, I’d be the one with the suitcases full of cash.

Once I had Coppola’s attention, I’d explain that we had to cast the movie a little differently than Luchino Visconti did back in the 1960s. Casting an A-list leading-man type like Burt Lancaster was fine during the Kennedy Administration, but in our self-conscious age, we need a little more irony and snarikiness in our protagonists. I’d push for casting funnyman Bill Murray in the lead. Not any Bill Murray mind you, but specifically the deflated CEO Murray of Rushmore fame. “Francis listen,” I’d say “In a modern American context, what is the difference between the head of a bankrupt aristocratic family, and the semi-depressed chief executive of a steel mill?” But I wouldn’t wait for him to answer. I’d immediately move straight on to my real agenda: the full-blown redemption of his daughter Sofia Coppola’s acting legacy.

In 1990 Sofia Coppola appeared in The Godfather III. She was 18 and had never studied acting, but the film press decided to ridicule her performance without mercy. I’d advise him to cast Sofia in his remake of The Leopard. I’d explain to Coppola that this was their opportunity to strike back at the hacks who laughed at her when she was an unknown. “Don’t make a big deal out of it Francis,” I’d say. “Perhaps write her in as Maria Stella, the Prince’s wife. Just give her a few lines and let the critics stew on how brilliant she is now: how she was nominated for an Oscar as best director, how she is beautiful and chic beyond belief, and that she had the good sense to settle in Paris and marry the lead singer of Phoenix.” 

Francis, being the sweet soul he is, would initially object: “It sounds petty. I don’t know, she has nothing to prove to anyone.”  I’d nod sympathetically, but then I’d add: “But an on-screen fall requires something of cinematic redemption, wouldn’t you agree Francis?” And that’s how I’d get him. That’s how I’d sink the hook in real good.

“And The Leopard is fundamentally about redemption as I recall,” Coppola would blurt out, babbling now a mile-a-minute as if he were back on the set of Apocalypse Now, rapping with Dennis Hopper. I’d slap him on the back and I’d say, “Francis, let’s knock back a few espressos and start drafting a script, what do you say?” And so my work will have been done: another soul won for the enduring greatness of The Leopard—hallelujah. --Robert Fay

December 20, 2012

Edward Champion on Ironweed

To celebrate the launch of Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series, we're featuring guest bloggers all week. Today's guest is the inimitable Edward Champion of Return of the Reluctant and The Bat Segundo Show, the celebrated literary podcast on which he's interviewed Martin Amis, Kate Christensen, David Mitchell, Michelle Richmond, China Mieville, and Joyce Carol Oates, to name but a few. Thanks so much, Ed, for stopping! 

It's criminal enough that the great William Kennedy doesn't get talked up nearly as often as he should by the highfalutin dopes who ignore regular Joes for the dry literary dregs in the tea room.  Even so, I've always wondered why nobody mentions the 1987 film adaptation of Ironweed.  I've been just as guilty as the next guy in ignoring this flick for such questionable allure as Eric Roberts's oeuvre.  (You'll have to corner me in a bar to learn just how many times I've seen the Best of the Best movies.)  So when Kim asked me to gab wise about literary flicks in a guest post, I decided to take it on.

The book is a tough and taut portrait of the invisible souls who seek shelter from a cold world while holding as hard as they can to their fragile dollars.  They try to redeem their failed lives through singing and toiling and laughing and drinking, but they are as dead to genteel eyes as the souls buried beneath the ground at Saint Agnes Cemetery.

The movie sounds like a golden trumpet on paper.  Get Bill Kennedy to adapt his plucky masterpiece.  Have Jack Nicholson star as gritty drifter Francis Phelan, with Meryl Streep as his sidekick Helen, and the prestige picture would sail its way into a peninsula of golden statues. (It came within spitting distance.  Nicholson and Streep were both nominated for Oscars.) 

There was just one problem: Héctor Babenco was a fairly toothless director.  Maybe Babenco could not grasp the rough feel of American transicence.  Perhaps he was intimidated by his star power.  He is too fixated on the new high-speed film stocks of the time for the night scenes and his awkward Steadicam shuffles don't make this film crackle with the vital life Kennedy established in his screenplay.  Nicholson delivers an early grief-stricken monologue kneeling before a grave, but without Kennedy's prose capturing the cemetery's souls receiving his words.  Babenco doesn't know how to block Nicholson's niceties with a soft touch, and the moment feels needlessly inert, as does another pivotal scene in which Helen sings at a bar. 

Nor does Francis lose “two thirds of a right index finger with a cleaver,” which neuters Kennedy's efforts to present the savage truths of the street.  And don't get me started on the way Babenco handles the dead people who haunt Francis, who are all dressed in white and are photographed in that chalky and stitled manner that was a visual cliche in low-budget television anthology series during that decade.  For those who like to track the careers of minor actors, Ironweed contains some oddball casting: a young Nathan Lane cast as the scab Francis killed years before, a pre-Roseanne Michael O'Keefe as Billy Phelan, and Tom Waits as Francis's fellow laborer, Rudy.

On the other hand, there's energy in the 1901 trolley strike that recalls John Sayles's deft hand in Matewan.  And if Rosskam does not quite sprout to life with his judgmental modifiers (“tidy,” “impatient,” “insensitive”) as Francis toils for him, he is given some heart and heft by character actor Hy Anzell.  It's astonishing to recall that there was once a time in which movies about the homeless and labor were actually bankrolled and released.  These days, our hefty films involve the anticlimactic novelty of Bill Murray as Roosevelt and Spielberg establishing a preprogrammed reaction in which all leave the theater with the same conclusion. 

Ironweed reminded me of Fielder Cook's surprisingly edgy 1986 adaptation of Saul Bellow's Seize the Day.  You know pretty early on that it's not going to work and that the director is overcompensating.  Yet there's a bare minimum in which the scripts are trying to make the source material come alive.  Presumably, it was this life that attracted stars like Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams.  Did hacky directors tend to become attached to the low-key literary adaptations of the 1980s because the producers couldn't find any other people to direct them?  It was certainly a weird and soulless decade, but you have to hand it to American cinema: there were more heartfelt efforts back then to realize literature than today.  --Edward Champion

December 19, 2012

Top Five Adaptations Starring Katharine Hepburn by Nicki Richesin

To celebrate the launch of Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series, we're featuring guest bloggers all week. Today's guest is my dearest friend Nicki Richesin, a talented writer, editor, and anthologist. (She's also the fairy godmother who introduced us to Merit Press's Editor-in-Chief, Jackie Mitchard!) --Kim

It’s hard to believe Katharine Hepburn died almost ten years ago. It often astonishes me that the media continues to refer to her glamorous sensibility. Flip through almost any fashion magazine and you’ll find a reference to some young starlet pronounced the new Katharine Hepburn. Her uniform, a classic suit with wide trousers was considered risqué in her day, but her remarkable style led the Council of Fashion Designers of America to award her a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1986. Kate was named the top female screen legend of the 20th century by the American Film Institute in 1999. I grew up admiring her and watching her movies again and again hoping some of her magic would rub off on me. For me, these five films demonstrate her incredible range over many decades and how her indomitable personality could shine through every role she assumed. 

Little Women (1933 RKO)
Kate was a natural as the headstrong Jo March in Little Women. Her most cherished ally George Cukor directed her as the feisty daughter who sacrificed her one beauty (a long wig in the film) to help her injured father return home from the Civil War. With her New England upbringing, she perfectly embodied a young girl who would leave her cozy transcendentalist family to create a new life for herself in New York.

The Philadelphia Story (1940 M-G-M)
After a string of flops, Hepburn was labeled “box-office poison” and returned to her family home in Connecticut. Never one to give up, she triumphed once again on the stage in a high society farce called The Philadelphia Story written expressly for her. She bought the rights from playwright Philip Barry, returned to Hollywood to star as the lead and the film went on to break box office records. With her co-star Cary Grant, she made a number of winning romantic comedies including Bringing Up Baby and Holiday. In this scene, she toys with Jimmy Stewart. It’s yare…

The African Queen (1951 Romulus Films)
Kate traveled to the Belgian Congo to film The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart. She played a straitlaced missionary, who convinces Bogey, as a scallywag sea captain, to ambush an enemy WWI warship in his boat the African Queen. While on safari, Kate was almost stampeded by a herd of elephants, attacked by an army of ants, and saw hippos and crocodiles swimming in the Ruiki River. Despite the intense heat, sickness, and having to haul the African Queen from the bottom of the river after it sank, she was so thrilled by it all she wrote a book about their wild jungle adventures entitled The Making of the African Queen.

The Lion in Winter (1968 Haworth Productions)
Although she believed awards were “a bunch of hooey,” she was nominated for twelve and collected a record four Academy Awards for Acting, more than in any other actor. Kate’s most brilliant film roles came to her much later in her life. She won a third award for her portrayal of Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter with Peter O’Toole as Henry II and a young Anthony Hopkins as Richard.

On Golden Pond (1981 IPC Films)
At the age of 73, Kate won her fourth and final Academy Award for her portrayal of Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond. Her co-star Henry Fonda also won for his performance as her crotchety husband suffering with dementia. Together they made screen magic as an elderly couple spending one last summer at their vacation cottage in Maine. She memorably said to him in her trademark quavering voice, “You’re my knight in shining armor!” Here’s that famous scene:

Kate’s philosophy handed down from her bold suffragette mother always remained, “Don’t give in. Fight for your future. Women are just as good as men. Make your own trail. Don’t moan. Think positively.” After her death in Old Saybrook on June 29, 2003, they dimmed the lights on Broadway in her honor. --Nicki Richesin

December 18, 2012

Small Demons' Richard Nash Connects the Dots

To celebrate the launch of Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series, we'll be featuring guest bloggers all week. Today's guest is indie publishing entrepreneur Richard Nash, VP of Content and Community over at one of our favorite bookish sites, Small Demons. Thank you for stopping by, Richard! 

The film Sunset Boulevard is mentioned in 87 books.

When we talk about the new culture discovery website Small Demons at which I now work, the CEO Valla Vakili and I both like to offer some broader cultural context. Before talking about what it is we do, we talk about what it is we see others doing, about the kind of engagement with culture we see out there in the world. We see a project like Infinite Atlas, which identifies on a Google Map every location mentioned in David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. We see the YouTube playlist of every song referenced in Neil Gaiman's American Gods. We see cosplay. And we see Romancing the Tome, connecting books and movies before there was even a YouTube to offer clips.

So we see a world where people want to be active and eclectic participants in their culture, to flit in the space of a day from oak to pine to ash to redwood regardless of which is a song, which is a book, which is a movie. Small Demons is of, by, and for people who live their lives immersed in the romance of story and character and voice and event and we're honored this week to be part of the celebrations for a book inspired by a play on a site about movies inspired by books to talk about a website inspired by all of it… 

And after you're done buying Kim and Amy's book, come check out their Small Demons Collections of things that inspired their books. --Richard Nash

December 17, 2012

Shakespeare Retold, #Twitter Style

Amy and I had fun retelling Shakespeare's greatest plays in 140 characters or less for Huffington Post Books. --Kim

Three, The One That Gets Away by Lauren Cerand

To celebrate tomorrow's pub date of Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series, we'll be featuring guest bloggers all week. Our first guest is genius publicist Lauren Cerand, whose elegant blog, Lux Lotus, has long been a source of inspiration.  --Kim

After I read James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime, the novel of an erotic, short-lived affair between a carefree Yale dropout and a French shop clerk in 1950s provincial France, I embarked on the course that I am sure that so many of his readers have, to devour every word the man has ever written. This led to me to his wonderful memoir, Burning the Days, which touches on his career in film. His first and only directing project was the adaptation of a story, “Then We Were Three,” by Irwin Shaw into Three, a 1969 film starring Charlotte Rampling, Robie Porter, and Sam Waterston. I have only seen (incredibly stylish) stills and despite some dissatisfaction with the project on his part, and an easily searchable online trail of admiration and mystique that never actually leads to the film itself, am perplexed that it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere, and was not ever issued as a DVD. As for Salter, Three may have had its silver lining, in that it inspired a lifelong friendship with another writer that began with a fanletter. I’m sure I’d have one to send, too.  - Lauren Cerand

December 11, 2012

The Book Trailer for Our Twisted Lit Series

Who doesn't love adorable toddlers lisping lines from Shakespeare? Here's the new trailer for our Twisted Lit series. Thanks to all the little ones (and their parents) who collaborated with us on this!

December 10, 2012

Our Fave Links This Week: Stephanie LaCava, Largehearted Boy, and Ada Lovelace

We've been busy doing interviews and writing guest posts in anticipation of next week's pub date for Tempestuous, the first book in our Twisted Lit series. It's left little time to write an actual post to kickoff the week, so I thought I'd do a quick rundown of my favorite of-the-moment links. --Kim

A Stylish Book Adaptation
Street style pinup girl Stephanie LaCava's hotly anticipated memoir An Extraordinary Theory of Objects launched last week. To coincide with the launch, Marc Jacobs's Bookmarc is selling a limited edition collection of accessories inspired by the book.

A Largehearted List of Favorite 2012 Novels
Books and music are equally fascinating to generous blogger David Gutowski (known more widely as Largehearted Boy). I have yet to read anything on his list of favorite 2012 novels, but I will now.

Bad Girls Are the Best
Celebrate Ada Lovelace's birthday with Graphic Designer Ann Shen's zine Bad Girls Throughout History, which includes Nellie Bly, Marie Antoinette, and Ada Lovelace (Lord Byron's daughter and the world's first computer programmer). (Ann, also my friend and colleague, has designed a postcard collection, too.)

Congrats to  all the YA authors featured in Atlantic Monthly's "Y.A./Middle Grade Book Awards, 2012 Edition."

December 5, 2012

To the Castle Born: Royal Babies Get Their Due (Date)

With all the word atwitter (literally) over Will and Kate's baby news, it seemed as good a time as any to reflect on a few of our favorite films honoring young royal families. These are just a smattering: let us know your faves!

Young Victoria: So many stories of royal families are depressing. Loveless marriages, babies stashed in towers... How refreshing to see a monarch who actually had a happy family life, for as long as it lasted.

Marie Antoinette: It's hard to forget the birthing scene in this movie. The queen delivered her child in front of a standing-room only audience of looky-loos. They were on hand to make sure the baby presented was the genuine article, so to speak. We assume Kate will get a tad more, uh, privacy.

The Duchess: Lady Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, faced an impossible choice: Give up her lovechild, the product of an affair, or surrender any future interaction with her older children. Heartbreaking! (Incidentally, Georgiana is an ancestor of Prince William's mother, Diana, through the Spencer lineage.)

The Lost Prince: This film tells the bittersweet story of Prince John, the youngest child of George V and Queen Mary, who, because of epilepsy and a developmental disorder, was kept apart from the rest of the family and out of the public eye. (He was raised primarily by a nanny, played in the film by Gina McKee.)

The Princes in the Tower: Not every royal baby has it lucky. Ask young Edward V and Richard, sons of Edward IV. They were confined to the Tower of London after their father's death by Richard III, who presumably had them murdered. Okay, (sigh) let's move on to more happy stories!... 

Sleeping Beauty: ...An animated movie should do the trick! Princess Aurora was cursed by Maleficent at birth to prick her needle on a spinning wheel at the age of 16. Three fairies and a handsome prince helped undo the spell, and they all lived happily ever's wishing the same for England's expected bundle of joy!

December 4, 2012

Our Holiday Gift Guide for Book Lovers

We thought we'd share some our favorite holiday gift giving ideas for the bibliophiles on your list. Enjoy! --Kim & Amy

Will In the World: Shakespeare’s Britain Poster
This gorgeous map (tested and approved by Kim) has all the Great Britain hot spots mentioned in The Bard’s plays, from Macbeth’s Scottish castle to the various battlefields and abbeys.

The Write Stuff: Love Text Print Tights
Fashionable bookworms are sure to warm to these unique literary tights featuring text pulled from wikipedia and printed in a romantic scripted font.

A Red Letter Day: J Herbin Rouge Caroubier Red Dip Pen and Calligraphy Ink
If you know a writer who prefers a fountain pen and paper to a laptop and mouse, look no further than the original “Jewel of Ink” created by M. Herbin in Paris, circa 1700.

Join the Club: The NYRB Classics Book of the Month Club
This is a bit of splurge at $150 for a year or $85 for six months, but the serious book lover on your list will adore you indefinitely (or at least for as long as they receive a monthly title hand selected by New York Review of Book editors). Plus, the giver receives a copy of The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

A Date with Downton: The Downton Abbey Calendar
Is your bff/mother/sister/aunt counting down the days to the Season 3 premiere? If so, they should be doing it on the official PBS Downton Abbey 2013 calendar.

Flames of Inspiration: Jardins d’Ecrivains Candles
Described on their website as “candles to be used for reading or writing,” these gorgeous luminaries are named after and inspired by famous writers like Colette, Tolstoy, Sand, Kipling and Casanova. (They also have bath products named for Edith Wharton!)

Pen to Paper: Pineider Stationery
This luxury Florentine stationer has been providing paper products for European bourgeoisie for centuries and was the epistolary product of choice for such writers as Stendhal, Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Charles Dickens.

Bookish Bling: Jezebel Charms
One of our favorite Etsy shops for unique and beautiful literary jewelry. We especially love the brass cuffs that can are simultaneously elegant and funky.

Altruistic Apparel for the Lit-Minded: Out Of Print
For each of these cool literary tees sold, a book is donated to a community in need through the company’s partnership with Books For Africa. Sizes available in women’s, men’s and children’s (as young as two).

Book Decoy: Leanne Shapton Wooden Block Books
We all know book covers are works of art, but Shapton, an artist and graphic novelist, takes that theory quite literally with her painted, hand-lettered books on novel-sized pieces of wood. On sale at John Derrion Company, in New York.

December 3, 2012

Hoping to See Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

This adaptation of Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding looks absolutely divine, and I love the interview with the film's screenwriter over at A Bloomsbury Life. I have yet to read the novel, but it's definitely going on my list. --Kim

November 30, 2012

Role Playing with A Familiar Beast

Earlier this week, I noted this sentence in Hilton Als's recent New Yorker theatre review: "'Cyrano de Bergerac' is a big play that wears its importance lightly; its title character has been a paradigm for many of the conflicted, self-effacing yet principled heroes of our own time." It's been tumbling around in my head alongside A Familiar Beast, the wonderfully taut new novella by Panio Gianopoulos, which has me asking: What constitutes a romantic hero in our time? Does a society (or a generation) get the heroes and heroines it deserves? Do overblown expectations of perfection in relationships, continually fed by advertising and subliminally destructive rom coms, require so much of men to satisfy a search for the romantic hero--and defy expectations of betrayal--that they are often doomed to fail from the get go? And then I wonder how much if any of these problems will dissipate with Generation Y; this in spite of the continued Disneyfication of our society. These are questions I don't know the answers to, and they require more time and reflection than this blog post allows for. But I do heartily recommend A Familiar Beast, so without further ado, here are my picks for a book-to-film adaptation: You Can Count on Me and Margaret's Kenneth Lonergan to direct, Mark Ruffalo as Marcus who is running away from a failed marriage, Jeremy Renner as his deer hunting friend Edgar, with Greta Gerwig and Rutina Wesley as the two women they meet in a pathetic attempt at a night on the town. Can't you see it picking up an Indie Spirit award for Best Film? --Kim

November 28, 2012

After Karenina: Amy's Take

When this movie concluded, I wanted to walk back to the projection booth and re-start the whole thing. I could have easily spent another two hours and ten minutes watching this elegant masterpiece all over again. Confession: For about the first 15 minutes of the movie, I kept thinking to myself, "I hate this." The uber-stylized rendition made it initially hard to immerse myself in a story I know practically like the back of my hand. Then suddenly, a magic switch flipped in my head and I was thoroughly bowled over. Director Joe Wright is kind of a genius, and this movie — the imagery, the painstaking attention to detail, the perfect use of symbolism — proved as much. Keira Knightley as Anna was enthralling and ironically her onetime "lover" Matthew MacFadyen (Pride & Prejudice) plays her slightly buffoonish brother, Oblonsky, which was a very surreal change-up. My only quibbles with the movie come with the two men in Anna's life. I know I'm very likely to be in the minority on this, but Aaron Taylor as Vronsky was just wrong, wrong, wrong. Casting him for this role was an insult to dashing men the world over, and as such, I found it very hard to understand why Anna was throwing away everything for this cheezy-looking-and-acting Lothario. In that sense, I guess I identified with Karenin, who clearly felt the same way. Speaking of, Jude Law didn't sit quite right with me as Anna's kind-but-cold husband, Karenin. (He didn't seem distant or problematic enough to make the scandalous affair believable, but that's just me.) Levin and Kitty = ADORABLE. Their love story is always feel-good, and this case proved no exception. I wish I'd connected more with the main love story, but for the sheer innovation and clever conceit of staging the entire production in an old theater, this film is a must-see. (Incidentally, here's an interesting interview in the L.A. Times with Joe Wright explaining his interesting rationale for doing so.)

After Karenina: Kim's Take

Swoon factor: 5/5. Visual: 5/5. Casting: 4/5. From start to finish, I was utterly enchanted by this gorgeous adaptation of Tolstoy's novel. The casting was just fab (although I suppose I wondered for a moment why Keira gets all the great roles in British productions. Oh well...) As my friend Jessica remarked afterward, "That was a Downton Abbey reunion," thanks to all the cast members from DA who appeared in the film (including Lady Mary Crawley as Anna's truest friend, Princess Myagkaya). It was great to see Ruth Wilson from Luther. She was perfect as the gossipy Princess Betsy. (BTW: I had to look up all the character's names before writing this post, so don't give me any special props for throwing down names as though I could actually keep track of them.) During the movie I was all #teamVronsky, but I thought better of it later and switched to #teamLevin. Which perfectly segues into my #1 takeaway (SPOILER ALERT!): Thank god women living in this time and place don't have to throw themselves under a train for choosing to love the wrong man (more than once sometimes) or, for that matter, making any mistakes in love. (As a sensitive soul with passion to spare, I've certainly made my fair share, so I would've been in BIG trouble had I lived among nineteenth century Russian aristocracy... but oh, those gowns and that decor!) I plan on trying to see this movie again while it's in theaters. Stay tuned for Amy's take on the film.

Kim's Yo Ho Ho Hot Toddy Recipe

Speaking of Horatio Hornblower (which we are always doing around here--it's part of our blog's raison d'être), I thought I'd share a hot toddy recipe for those chilly winter evenings spent snuggled under a Pendleton blanket re-watching old episodes of our favorite series

Recipe: Add 1/4 cup of appropriately seaworthy rum (like Kraken, pictured above) and  1/4 water to a small pot. Squeeze in a tablespoon of honey and about a teaspoon of lemon. Peel or grate some lemon rind, and add that in too. Mix it up and heat on the stovetop. Makes 1 serving.  Enjoy!

November 27, 2012

Whereabouts: Ioan Gruffudd

In our last Ioan "Whereabouts," the Horatio Hornblower hottie and Royal Academy alum was set to star in a biopic of the Wind in the Willows author. A quick glance at his IMDB page reveals... nothing much. He appears to be playing the dad in some children's adventure movie. This is a travesty. Someone (A&E?!), somewhere (BBC?!), please step in and give our dreamboat (pun intended) Welshman the juicy role he deserves. He should at least be guest starring on Doctor Who! --Kim

November 19, 2012

Turner Classics "Great Adaptations" Viewing Guide

We're a little late to this one (I don't have cable), but Turner Classics is featuring 24 hours of "Great Adaptations" all month long. There are still plenty of must-sees in the two weeks remaining. Our top picks:

Monday/Tuesday, 19th-20th

Doctor Zhivago (1965), 8 p.m. EST
This is the classic adaptation of Boris Pasternak's novel about a married physician and poet (played by a smoldering Omar Sharif) during the Bolshevik Revolution who falls in love with the wife (played by Julie Christie) of a political activist.

Anna Karenina (1948), 11:30 p.m. EST
This is the version of Tolstoy's novel with Vivien Leigh in the titular role. See Amy's overview of all the Anna Karenina adaptations here. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), 1:30 a.m. EST
Charles Laughton stars in this adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel. According to IMDB: "At a cost of $1.8 million, this was one of the most expensive films ever made by RKO Pictures. The Notre Dame replica alone cost $250,000."

The Brothers Karamazov (1958), 11 a.m. EST
Yul Brenner is eldest brother Dmitri Karamazov in the adaptation of Dostoevsky's epic novel. It also marks the debut of living legend William Shatner.

Wednesday/Thursday, 21st-22nd

Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter are absolutely must-sees, but you already knew that! We're going to point out two other choices that I can't wait to watch with my little niece:

Anne of Green Gables (1934), 8:45 a.m. (22nd)
We must've read this book a gazillion times, and how often do we thank our lucky stars that we've found kindred spirits like adopted orphan Anne found Diana?

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938), 10:15 a.m.
I fell asleep with this book under my pillow when I was five. Shirley Temple is Rebecca in this ultra-sweet version of the book.

Monday/Tuesday, 26th-27th

Yes, you might want to watch all the forties-era adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations, but we're going to recommend an '80s classic:

A Room with a View (1985), 2:00 a.m.
This Merchant Ivory production starring Julian Sands, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith, and Judi Dench is one of our most favorite adaptations ever. We watch it and read E.M. Forster's novel at least once a year.

You can see the full schedule here.

November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving Edition: Films & TV Set in the Colonial Era

Happy Turkey Day, Romancing the Tome readers! In honor of the holiday, we've pulled together some Colonial-related film and TV picks, plus one suggestion for an adaptation that's yet to be made.

The Scarlet Letter
There are a few adaptations of this Nathanial Hawthorne historical novel about Puritans in Boston, Massachusetts during the years 1642 to 1649. Perhaps the most notorious is Demi Moore's steamy 1995 turn as Hester Prynne with Gary Oldman as her illicit lover Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale. Lillian Gish starred in the 1926 version pictured above. 

The Last of the Mohicans
James Fenimore Cooper's novel takes place in 1757 in upstate New York during the French and Indian wars. Daniel Day-Lewis (currently in theaters as Lincoln) famously played a super-hot, Mohican-reared Nathanial Poe (aka Hawkeye) in a 1992 (wow, it's been that long?) adaptation directed by Michael Mann. 

The Crucible
Winona Ryder starred with a somewhat scrawnier Daniel Day-Lewis in the 1996 film adaption of Arthur Miller's 1953 play about the Salem witch trials (symbolic of McCarthy's communist blacklisting). 

Colonial House
Our favorite kind of reality show, and one we sorely miss! Contestants of Colonial House (like Regency House and 1900 House) must survive in the living environment of a particular historical period and location. Historians and archaeologists were on hand to ensure historical accuracy. We still don't understand why no one has taken us up on our offer to create and star in another spinoff of the "House" series: Versailles House...


And, finally, our suggested adaptation: The Refugees: A Tale of Two Continents 
Arthur Conan Doyle's novel spans two continents and tells the story of a French Huguenot family's flight to the New World from the court of Louis XIV. Once they arrive, they must travel through hundreds of miles of untamed wilderness, evading Indians as they flee a malevolent Jesuit priest.

November 16, 2012

The Many Faces of Anna Karenina

Even though the Wall Street Journal 's Joe Morgenstern said this morning that it "suffers from the malady of hyperenchantment," we're practically having heart palpitations over the release of Joe Wright's Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley. But since we couldn't work a screening into our schedules for another week-and-a-half, we decided to bide our time by recollecting some of the most notable previous adaptations of Tolstoy's classic. (And fyi, you'll find enough fur in the following clips to launch a PETA protest.)

1935: Here's a trailer for the Oscar-winning 1935 screen adaptation starring Greta Garbo, Frederic March, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Basil Rathbone. Perfection in black-and-white.

1948: Vivien Leigh stars in this version. (Dubbed here in Russian for a note of Tolstoy-esque authenticity! LOL.)

1967: A Russian-language version. (Dig the CRAZY techno editing of this clip!)

1977: Awesome Oblonsky facial hair and some rather jaunty Mazurka moves in this BBC miniseries version starring Nicola Pagett.

1985: We *heart* Christopher Reeve! This is the first film version I (Amy) ever saw in my high school English class, so I have a soft spot for it. (Jacqueline Bisset was Anna.)

1997: Sean Bean plays Vronsky to the gorgeous Sophie Marceau's Anna, with Alfred Molina an unusual casting choice for Levin.  (*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT in this video clip.)

2000: Helen McCrory nailed Anna's feisty (well, unhinged) personality in this miniseries, as you'll see here.

November 13, 2012

Why Greenblatt's Non-Fiction "Thriller" Swerve Should be Adapted for Film

Sean Connery and Christian Slater in the adaptation of Eco's The Name of the Rose

On a long road trip this weekend, I listened to the audiobook of Stephen Greenblatt's Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Swerve tells the enthralling story of papal secretary and Humanist Poggio Bracciolini's fifteenth-century book hunt through Europe's monasteries, where he uncovered Lucretius's ancient philosophical poem, On the Nature of Things. The poem influenced practically all the great thinkers and artists of the Renaissance, including Moliere, Shakespeare, and Montaigne, just to name a few. The poem was translated into English in the seventeenth century by, of all people, a Puritan woman named Lucy Hutchinson. The story would make a great thriller--along the lines of The Name of the Rose, the adaptation of Umberto Eco's Medieval murder mystery.

Here are my casting picks for Swerve: Mark Ruffalo as Poggio, Adrien Brody as friend and fellow Humanist Niccolò Niccoli, Parkour-inventor and District 13B actor David Belle as Poggio's friend and book hunting rival, Louis Garrel as the monk/librarian at Fulda (Yes, I made up that role. I'd kill to see Garrel as a monk/librarian), and Javier Bardem as evil Baldasarre Cossa (aka Pope John). If the film moved back and forth in time, Carey Mulligan could portray the supposedly conflicted translator Lucy Hutchinson. --Kim

November 9, 2012

Under the Radar: A Royal Affair

With so many promising period films to check out in the coming months (Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights, and Les Mis, to name a few), you might not have heard of the Danish historical drama A Royal Affair. The film tells the story of the mentally ill King of Denmark, King Christian VII, and his queen, Caroline Mathilde, who falls for the royal court's trusted doctor friend (played by the striking Mads Mikkelsen). Sumptuous costumes...scandalous affairs...sanity-skirting monarchs...count me in!

Here's a sneak peek:

November 5, 2012

Henry James's "What Maisie Knew" Gets Modernized with Stellar Cast

How perfect is this cast? Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan (yes!) play feuding exes, while my True Blood obsession, Alexander Skarsgård, is mom's new boyfriend in this modern-day adaptation of the novel by Henry James. Here's a thorough review from the Guardian UK. And here's another review from NPR. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, but I'm not sure what the U.S. release date is.

Julianne Moore and Onata Aprile (Maisie)

November 1, 2012

In The Huffington Post: Our Advice from Shakespeare for Romney and Obama

Amy and I have plundered the works of Shakespeare once again--This time for our article "Sage Political Advice from Shakespeare's Plays," which you can read in The Huffington Post's Book section: 
From the adage-filled tragedy Hamlet to the pastoral comedy As You Like It, the Bard's plays are veritable gold mines of advice for politicians -- and the body politic. 

With only a few days left for would-be electoral winners to wow the voting public, they might consider these words of wisdom for office seekers of every stripe, taken straight from Shakespeare himself. Read on.....

October 31, 2012

The Top 5 Scariest Book-to-Film Adaptations

I've pulled together a list of my five favorite Scariest Book-to-Film adaptations. There are numerous Stephen King adaptations that will scare you silly (Cujo!), but I had to narrow it down somehow. What are your picks? Happy Halloween! --Kim

5. Robert Bloch's Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock
That haunting Man Ray-reminiscent shower scene with Janet Leigh. Anthony Perkins as a genial psychopath. And the Bates Motel: "You can check in anytime you like, but you can never leave." Hitchcock films are always thrilling, but this one is truly terrifying.

4.  Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs, directed by Jonathan Demme
Anthony Hopkins is brilliantly psychotic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster is FBI agent Clarice Starling. Clarice needs Dr. Lecter to help her track another killer, but he isn't going to make it easy for her. "Claaariiiiice."

3. Stephen King's Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma
Apparently nothing is more terrifying than a teen girl hitting puberty. There are so many iconic scenes in this 1976 horror flick starring Sissy Spacek in the title role as a teen with telekinetic powers. (Also, watch for an appearance by a young John Travolta.)

2. Peter Benchley's Jaws, by Steven Spielberg
I saw this again recently on the big screen, and it holds up so well (unlike Nightmare on Elm Street, which, when I saw it again this year at a Hollywood Forever Cemetery screening, had me giggling rather than screaming).

1. Stephen King's The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick
It wasn't hard to choose the top scariest adaption--There's nothing quite like this fantastically creepy tale of what happens when a writer, his wife, and their small son spend the winter as caretakers of an old, snowbound lodge. Watch the video clip below with Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance interviewing for the job as caretaker. It's guaranteed to give you the chills. Notoriously, King never really liked this adaptation.

October 26, 2012

Theatre Review: Shakespeare's Cymbeline at A Noise Within

Mix together in a blender a whole bunch of Shakespeare plays (Othello, Romeo and Juliet and a couple of the cross-dressing comedies) with a dash of fairy tale (wicked stepmother, idyllic forest setting and sleeping potion) and you end up with one of Shakespeare's less widely-known plays, Cymbeline.

I'd never read or seen Cymbeline before attending last night's performance at A Noise Within, and was expecting something dry and forgettable. To my surprise, it was actually a very colorful and engrossing play, full of laughs and quintessentially Shakespearean plot twists. I suspect this particular staging and its charismatic players helped take The Bard's romance from good to great. Especially memorable were two of the laugh-out-loud villains, Iachimo (played by Andrew Elvis Miller) and Cloten (played by Adam Haas Hunter). The costumes were stunning, and the various wigs on stage were practically characters unto themselves.

Since I rather enjoyed the show, I left wondering why we so rarely see it performed on stage or film. I think the fault is with the play itself. It's too derivative of Shakespeare's other works, comes to a ridiculously happy conclusion (which, granted, many of his plays do, but this one o'erleapt all suspension of disbelief), and frankly feels like something the Bard was kind of "phoning in" toward the end of his career. Nevertheless, even an okay Shakespeare play is a great play in my estimation, and when performed with the showmanship of a great repertory theater, it doesn't disappoint.

For comparison, I'm eager to check out the BBC film version from the 1980s starring Helen Mirren as the young heroine, Imogen and Robert Lindsay as the troublemaking Iachimo.

October 23, 2012

New Movie Stoker Inspired by Classic Lit?

The talented Erin Cressida Wilson (a fellow contributor to The May Queen anthology) worked on the upcoming movie Stoker (March 2013), which, though apparently not a vampire movie, is inspired by Bram Stoker's Dracula. Having just watched the trailer (below), it seems pretty obvious that the story was also inspired by Hamlet.

The film stars Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, and Mia Wasikowska, all three of whom look seriously spooky. Cressida Wilson, who wrote the screenplays for Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Secretary, collaborated with writer Wentworth Miller on the screenplay. Stoker is directed by Park Chan-wook of Oldboy fame.  --Kim

October 12, 2012

Costume Design for The Metropolitan Opera's Production of The Tempest

A fairy costume from The Tempest.

Costume Designer Kim Barrett's gorgeous costumes for The Metropolitan Opera's upcoming production of The Tempest are featured in The New York Times's inspiration issue. Barrett also designed the costumes for The Matrix. --Kim

October 11, 2012

Autographed Galley Giveaway of Our New Book Tempestuous: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare's The Tempest

Amy and I are thrilled to officially announce that the first two books in our YA series Twisted Lit will be published by Merit Press very soon! Tempestuous: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare's The Tempest will be available on December 18 and Exposure: A Modern-Day Spin on Shakespeare's Macbeth will be available on January 18. To celebrate this exciting news, we're giving away autographed copies of our galleys over at Goodreads throughout the next couple of months. Our first giveaway is for Tempestuous.

Here's more info on the books: 


Coming in January 2013: The 2nd book in the Twisted Lit Series. Pre-Order Exposure via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s.

Double, double, toil and trouble. Sometimes, the quest for high school royalty can be deadly! In this emotionally-charged twist on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a self-conscious shutterbug named Skye Kingston navigates a treacherous school year in Alaska fraught with unspoken secrets and tragic twists of fate. Along the way she encounters three strangely prophetic BFFs; one social-climbing, sociopathic cheerleader; and a heart-stopping hottie named Craig McKenzie: the man who would be Prom King. Can Skye save the boy she loves — and herself — before they get caught in the crosshairs?

Coming in December from Merit Press. Available for pre-order at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell’s.

Recently banished, unfairly, by the school’s popular crowd, former “it girl,” Miranda Prospero, finds herself in a brave new world: holding dominion amongst a rag-tag crew of geeks and misfits where she works at the Hot-Dog Kabob in the food court of her local mall. When the worst winter storm of the season causes mall workers and last-minute shoppers to be snowed-in for the night, Miranda seizes the opportunity to get revenge against the catty clique behind her social exile. With help from her delightfully dweeby coworker, Ariel, and a sullen loner named Caleb who works at the mall’s nearby gaming and magic shop, Miranda uses charm and trickery to set things to right during this spirited take on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.