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.....