Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cuaron's Children of Men: A grimly beautiful cinematic feast (REVIEW)

I posted a longer version of this review on my Blog some time ago but with the film's recent launch into the US market I thought an 'edited' revision was timely ....

Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, based on the dark and chilling PD James novel, focuses on a tragically apocalyptic world set in 2027. This is a world dogged by a fertility crisis which has meant there has not been a new baby born at all, in over eighteen years. Wars have ravaged the planet, the environment is in a funk from decades of prolonged pollution and mankind is in freefall, offered suicide packs by the government which promise a quiet and painless demise. A totalitarian British government herds all foreigners ('fugees) into concentration camps and multiple terrorist groups seemingly stage bombings for fun.

And yet, miraculously, amidst this angst and mayhem, a young woman, Kee, has fallen pregnant. The story charts Kee's desperate attempt to escape to a new life, accompanied by her protector Theo, one of fiction's unsuspecting heroes - a man who suddenly finds himself at the crossroads of history and rises to the occasion.

I should say for starters that I am a huge fan of Cuaron's work. He directed, in my opinion, the best Harry Potter film so far - by a country mile I might add. His work on Great Expectations and A Little Princess was eye-catching. And Y Tu Mama Tambien was one of my favourite films of 2001. He does not disappoint with Children of Men. Cuaron has an astonishing feel for the cinematic medium. Every single frame is crammed with visual delights. More than most directors he succinctly moves and moulds narrative with cinematographic brilliance and has a talent for deploying colour, or lack of it, when necessary. He genuinely paints a story for us with a magically illustrative visual vocabulary.

Here we are presented with a dank, rain-strewn world; a bleak, grey landscape, scarred by numerous power-stations belching thick smoke. The city streets are dirty, clostraphobic and crowded and buildings are graffiti-ed and fallen into disrepair. After all, what is the point of rebuilding a world which no-one soon will be able to enjoy?

Cuaron has elicited strong acting performances from his cast here. Amongst the minor characters, Michael Caine is simply fantastic as genial hippy Jasper - a real scene-stealer. As indeed is Peter Mullan, an unsung hero of British filmmaking, who takes on the minor rumbustious role of Sid, the corrupt border official. Claire Hope-Ashitey is fine as Kee, the first woman in eighteen years to give birth, (her name is a little too heavyhanded symbolically), and Pam Ferris as her anxious guardian Miriam is passable, but this is not her best work by any means. Julianne Moore is one of Hollywood's greatest actresses but is really rather ordinary here - although her early death is shocking and raw. Chiwetel Ejiofor is always good value but a little under-used here as the idealistic Luke.

However, most eye-catching (and heart-tugging too, if truth be told) is Clive Owen's searing, brave performance as the film's 'hero' Theo - a sourfaced, cynical everyman, who takes it upon himself to escort poor Kee to the sanctity of a ship headed for the much-fabled 'Human Project', a quasi-mythical settlement on the Azores, far away from the grime and misery of mainland Britain. To do so requires a perilous journey, avoiding trigger-happy terrorists and murderous thug-like British police officers. Their journey takes them to 'Bexhill' - a town turned notorious refugee camp, enmired in filth and despair, where a minor civil uprising is being quashed most violently by the authorities.

There is an unmistakeable, probably unavoidable messianic overtone to the piece at times, given the nature of the material. And of course there are blood-sacrifices. We know they're coming. But that doesn't make them any less powerful when they do.

There is alot to love in this film, including random but touching acts of human heroism ... and a lot to worry over. Most affecting, perhaps, was the news that Theo and Julian had lost their young child in 2008 to a flu pandemic - a death that clearly haunted and destroyed their relationship - though probably not their love.

There is a very moving moment when Jasper recounts the sorry story of their loss to Kee and Miriam - not knowing that Theo is in earshot. The camera slowly closes in on Theo's face which is stricken at the memory. Saving Kee and her child thus gives him a second chance to save a child when he could not save his own.

This is one of the best films of 2006. It confirms, yet again, Cuaron as one of the supreme directing talents working today. I rather doubt Children of Men will garner much Oscars attention - it's a little too dystopic and bleak perhaps - but Cuaron deserves recognition.

Bond's no Bourne ... problem is, Bond's not Bond either (REVIEW)


The latest Bond outing, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig in the leading role, is over-hyped rubbish. Sorry. I know it has plentiful fans and appears to have garnered critical support too, but I was thoroughly unimpressed, and even a little depressed, by the whole experience.

Let's be upfront about this: I had high hopes for this film. I really wanted Craig to succeed as the new Bond. And after the crashing disappointment which was Die Another Day, the last Brosnan Bond pic, with its absurd invisible car and cut-price CGi, I couldn't see any other direction for the franchise to go, but up. How wrong I was.

The key problem, as far as I can tell is this: the Bourne franchise, with Matt Damon as the super-cool tough guy Jason Bourne, fighting against the worst excesses of the US secret services, has knocked Bond for six. The dark, gritty froideur of Bourne and the imaginative direction from first Doug Liman and then Paul Greengrass (one of our very best directors working today in my opinion) ensured Bond looked kitsch and laboured in comparison. Bond producers were rightly concerned. Their solution, it seemed, was to emulate the success of Bourne. Big mistake!

Bond and Bourne are based on entirely different premises. James Bond is an insider, he works for Mi6, and according to Fleming, Bond's originator, Bond is Eton-educated, a man born out of British imperialist traditions. (Although in this new version of Casino Royale, it is hammered home that the new Bond is strictly State-school).Jason Bourne is an outsider of uncertain origin. He is a CIA-trained killing machine who is now intent on recovering his identity - the identity they stole from him. Thus, however maverick or disobedient he may be, Bond is ultimately on government pay, whereas Bourne is a social outcast, unearthing the dark and sinister secrets underpinning the State - and are the primary source of the best paranoid conspiracy theories, which epitomise the uncertain, fearful world we live in today. From this point of view, Bond is pretty much stuffed.

Casino Royale is even further hampered by the producers' inability to string together a decent plot-line. Yes, yes, we know this is now post 9/11 ... Judi Dench's M tells us this in the starkest terms possible. But this has little effect on plot detail it seems. Even the rise of extremist Islamic terrorism hasn't informed the new look Bond, in spite of being viewed world over as the major terrorist force of our times. This is remarkable when one considers how terrorism is not shied away from in similar spy franchises. Take the BBC's impressive Spooks for example: in Series Five the Mi5 crew tackled Islamic terrorists, radical Christian terrorists, pro-environmental terrorists, Mossad (twice), a genocidal African leader, a Serbian Mi6 plant and foiled an ultra-right corporate coup of the British government.

So what do we get with Casino Royale? A muddled narrative which focuses on financial fraud - namely fixing stock prices by means of sponsoring terrorist actions. Which terrorists? Well, we never learn this vital piece of information.

Our 'Bond Villain' is the money-man for these unnamed forces of evil - played here by Mads Mikkelson, complete with a creepy bleeding tear-duct and a Ventolin inhaler - who has lost $150m and needs to recoup it in a poker game, staged at a luxury hotel in Montenegro. Wow whoopee .... edge of the seat stuff ... I was almost crying with boredom. The plot revolved, seemingly, around this $150m, and Bond's sharpest card-playing tactics to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. Now I hate to be flippant - but let's face it, $150m is diddly-squat in the arena of global terrorism and the 'war' on terror.

OK, so we have a poor storyline - but can the direction, the character development, the action sequences at least ensure an entertaining, gripping ride of a movie? Can it heck! Casino Royale lacked suspense, lacked passion, lacked interest. Well, to be fair. The opening scenes, Bond's first kills, were fantastic. And then there was an exciting high wire crane-chase with Bond hunting down a bomb-maker in Madagascar. All good stuff.

But it went dramatically downhill from there.

We had a mildly riveting action sequence at Miami airport with Bond trying to save a new Skyfleet super-plane from being blown up by the bad guys. And then Bond was dispatched to Montenegro and the interminable poker game at the heart of the film, which was punctuated, mercifully, by an occasional welcome bout of unbridled violence.

This casino equence culminated in a much-hyped torture scene which was a bit of a snore really, and then there was an endless coda in Venice, when Bond discovers the true perfidy of Vesper Lynd, the slink Missy he has fallen for. Vesper Lynd was played by the stylish French actress Eva Green, whose plummy British vowels sounded like she was gobbling clumps of broken china and had a bad cold to boot, poor dear. Her natural good looks were swamped by swathes of makeup, lashings of thick black kohl, as though she was auditioning for a role as vampish temptress in a 1950s Film Noir. I was wholly unmoved by the Bond/Lynd romance.

As for Bond himself. This was the million dollar question. Could Daniel Craig overcome his critics? In a word, no ... Except, yes. The critics have positively wet themselves with surprised glee, admiration and probably contrition at Craig's Bond. This universal acclaim has declared him to be the best Bond since Connery. How can this be??

I seriously wonder if I am living on an alternative planet ... Craig's Bond was mediocre, at best (and believe me, I so, so wanted this to work and was pretty cheesed-off at the whiny media Craig-bashing pre-Casino Royale). His primary facial expression was a strangely screwed-up, pursed-lip 'thing' which riled me throughout. His voice is, well, deep, male ... but almost entirely flat and toneless. The man, as depicted here, is devoid of personal charisma. Worst of all, he is humourless.

OK so we know the famous Bond 'quips' were a non-starter in this all-new, oh-so-serious Bond ... well Bond producers, scriptwriters et al, get over yourselves! We need a Bond with a 'twinkle' - even while dispatching the villains with calculated, sociopathic violence. Bond's wit is an essential ingredient of 'BOND'. Jason Bourne, of course, does not need to be funny. That is not his style, which is born out of anguish, pain, a sense of loss. But then again, this is not Bourne. I'll just repeat that. THIS IS NOT BOURNE.

Craig, in fairness, was given precious little to work with. He is a very fine actor. I would never dispute that. But in Casino Royale, the script is risible. During the interminable poker-game we actually get 'commentary' from one of the secondary characters, Mathis (Giancarlo Gianninni). And still, the game doesn't make sense.

On the plus side, the locations are magnificent. Montenegro is a combination here of the Czech Republic and Italy's spectacular Lake Como, and the Bahamas look fabulous. As a deluxe tourist brochure Casino Royale is at its very best.

In sum this is a disappointing film. I am now extremely disheartened and alarmed for the future of the Bond series. I realise my take on this film is completely out of step with the general concensus, but I strongly suspect that there will be more naysayers over time, once the dust has settled and the film hits renewed scrutiny when the DVD is released.

I was surprised to see that Martin Campbell had directed this film so very poorly - I loved his Goldeneye. That film was outlandish, silly, replete with some remarkably hammy acting, (yes, I'm speaking of Sean Bean), but boy, was it thrilling! And it had characters we cared about (Izabella Scorupco as Natalya), laughed at (Alan Cummings as Boris, Robbie Coltrane as Zukovosky) and loved to hate (Famke Janssen as the inimitable thigh-crusher assassin Xenia Onatopp). And how ridiculous but cool was it to see Pierce Brosnan driving that huge great tank through the streets of St Petersburg?

But this seems far too much like good, old-fashioned audience-pleasing fun for the new look po-faced Bond.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rupert Everett ups the star factor in his chilly rendition of Sherlock Holmes - (REVIEW)


Continuing my trawl through past adaptations ....

In 2004 the BBC aired a tele-film, ;">Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking, starring Rupert Everett as the lugubrious detective and Ian Hart as his avuncular sidekick Dr Watson. The production was directed by Simon Cellan Jones with a script from Alan Cubitt.

Overall this is an enjoyable tele-film, although it sadly wilts a little in the closing stages. It's a small wonder this was not re-commissioned, most especially given its sprinkling of genuine stardust through the spindly, handsome form and patrician features of Rupert Everett in the title role. Rupert Everett, to my mind, is one of the UK's best quality celebrity actor exports. The BBC should have coddled him, treasured him, and ensured he signed on for a longer contract than a single tele-film.

His Holmes is tall, angular, slickly feline with a cool demeanour. His pallid complexion and weary, crinkled eyelids denote his perpetual state of ennui - and, more importantly, his drug addiction. This Holmes rarely eats, rarely sleeps ... he is a quasi-mythological being, a thing of the spirits, of darkness, of inner stillness, of strange, unseen fluxes in mood and moment. On the outside he is acid-tongued and bitchy, and, one suspects, misogynistic too. His sometime companion Dr Watson, played here by Ian Hart, is remarkably patient, stoically enduring all sorts of ill-treatment from Holmes, who singlemindedly pursues his detective work with obsessive zeal.

Cellan Jones's London is an evocative place; mysterious, haunting, sinister, wreathed in thick white fog for most of the action. A serial killer stalks, abducts, and kills his prey amidst these murky conditions. His victims are the teenage daughters of the great and good of the land; the aristocracy. And the killer is revealed to be driven by deviant sexual fetishism. His mode of murder is distinctive and telling. He strangles his victims with a silk stocking, having forced the other stocking down the poor girl's gullet. Cellan Jones depicts these abductions with their dire consequences and the effects of the anguish which they understandably engender with assurance and panache.

Similarly effective are the early scenes showing Holmes to regularly haunt the Chinese opium dens of London. This is a cold, grey world, a fuggy dream-state, riddled with uncertainties, fears, paranoid insecurities. The ambience is amplified by the tele-film's hugely effective musical score, which is both thrilling and chilling throughout.

It is unfortunate then that after a lengthy period of atmospheric eeriness, this tele-film eventually falls victim to the rather clunky mechanics of its own plot resolution. Holmes is at his best when acting by instinct, as he creeps cat-like around London's lofty rooftops, tracing his killer's footsteps. But once the police force is involved, once a suspect is found, there is a harsh rupturing of the mood Cellan Jones, and perhaps more crucially, Everett's portrayal of Holmes have skillfully brewed.

Everett's best 'interactions' are with Helen McCrory, one of Britain's finest yet sadly underrated actresses, who plays Watson's American psychoanalyst fiancee. Holmes is determined to be disdainful of her, but succumbs to her stinging wit and powerful intellect. Their exchanges, especially when first meeting, are electric, almost cerebrally 'sexual.'

(Spoilers coming up). The climactic scenes are played out in a candle-lit basement, the murderer's lair, where one young girl Roberta (Perdita Byrne), who has been deliberately deployed as 'bait' by Holmes, has been snatched. However, we have recently discovered a strange and rather incredible twist - Holmes's detection work on this case has seemingly been hampered by the murderer having an identical twin, who covers for his dastardly deeds. Somehow, Holmes informs us, he suspected this all along – although just how, we have no idea, which is the obvious downside to his self-contained, pensive persona. Nor do we get any inkling, any time soon, as the plot rushes full steam ahead to its final denouement, which sadly lacks excitement, as one is instead left ruminating the intricate workings of the plot rather than simply succumbing to the dramatic events unfolding on-screen.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ITV to remake Wuthering Heights

ITV's penchant for period drama continues apace with news that Mammoth Productions has been commissioned to make a new three-hour version of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights for ITV1. Peter Bowker who penned the BBC's Blackpool is the screenwriter and Damien Timmer is the producer. ITV produced Wuthering Heights in 1998, starring Sarah Smart and Robery Kavanah. The new Wuthering Heights is due to broadcast in early 2008. There has not been any casting news as yet, but I can see Rebecca Hall or Hayley Atwell making a great Catherine. Rufus Sewell is probably a little too old now to play Heathcliff - such a shame. He would have been awesome.

Big buzz begins on Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix

The Internet is throbbing with buzz on the new Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix teaser trailer, currently attached to theatrical screenings of Happy Feet (you know, the annoying one with the cutesy dancing penguins) which also debuted online at the Happy Feet website earlier this week. More involving perhaps, has been a HBO preview special with stacks of extra film footage and mini 'star' interviews, which can be accessed via HPANA and Mugglenet. Talking of 'mini' stars, I also had a gander at an E! Special, (again see Mugglenet), which had the E!Online reporter on-set at Leavesden Studios interviewing Daniel Radcliffe. Is it my imagination or is Daniel Radcliffe really, really short? I was kind of shocked when he was mentioned as being seventeen years old, most especially as the reporter, who did not seem unduly big I might add, literally TOWERED over Radcliffe.

Anyway, as to the trailer/footage material ... damn, this looks good. Big on atmospherics, some nicely structured scenes, great sets and I actually like Daniel Radcliffe's super-short haircut, which appears to have ignited an odd degree of controversy I've noted on Harry Potter fan-sites. Oh well.

I am a big fan of David Yates so I expect nothing less than excellent from him. And Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is Rowling's second best book in my opinion, after Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (which was also the best Harry Potter film to date). I am looking forward to this one, which is due for release next July.

There does not seem to be any news yet on the next Harry Potter director, although the longer we DON'T know, the more likely it seems to me that Yates has, or is very soon, to sign on to direct. As much as I like Yates, I would be disappointed. I really like how each installment in the franchise is a different director's vision.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Fingersmith 2005: Victorian potboiler a triumph for the BBC (REVIEW)


This weekend I was most impressed with Fingersmith, the 2005 BBC adaptation of Sarah Waters's Victorian drama directed by Aisling Walsh and adapted by Peter Ransley. I didn't see it on the BBC when it first aired so I hired the DVD this weekend. Sally Hawkins and Elaine Cassidy put in excellent performances as Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly respectively, the heroines who fall in love and soon discover that their past, present and future is inextricably linked. Rupert Evans was also a real gem in this production as the charming, chilling and cruel Richard 'Gentleman' Rivers and Charles Dance as Maud's sinister uncle Mr Lilly was good value, as always. Imelda Staunton hammed it up as emotionally over-wrought trickster Mrs Sucksby.

This adaptation benefited from having a truly gripping yarn to tell. There was no slack here; no flabby narrative which could have been trimmed. This was very well-honed throughout. At one point, the narrative is re-told, but from a different character perspective, casting an alternative light on plot proceedings. This was orchestrated well and also proved to be a genuine twisty surprise. It helped in this regard, I guess, that I had never read Fingersmith as a novel - a situation I will be amending, asap.

Locations, sets and costumes - all were serviceable. I particularly enjoyed the compelling scenes set in London. Waters's rendition of London has a strongly Dickensian flavour. This is a city where human misery was plentiful and moral corruption was rife. Waters is meticulous in her historical research, which certainly helps to embellish the plot. Here, the public ceremony and commensurate voracious public interest attached to hanging is highlighted, as is the misogynistic practice of locking away unwanted wives in mental asylums.

The lesbian love-scenes between the two leads attracted a lot of media attention when first aired; much of it lewd and unnecessary. The chemistry between Cassidy and Hawkins is tangible and touching - there is a very real sense that they fall in love, a far cry from some of the more tawdry media comments and reviews at the time. Both are very fine actresses, and I now look forward to seeing Hawkins play Anne Elliott in next year's Persuasion.

Hawkins also starred in Waters's Tipping the Velvet, another BBC adaptation adapted by Andrew Davies in 2002, alongside Rachael Stirling and Keeley Hawes. This drama was also remembered primarily it seemed for its lesbian content, but was another fine BBC period adaptation. However, in terms of plot suspense and gripping narrative, I consider Fingersmith the superior production.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New pics from Persuasion shoot (NEWS)

Austenblog and Hello Magazine are featuring photos taken during the filming of ITV's new production of Persuasion on a wind-swept Cob at Lyme Regis. Rupert Penry Jones looks especially wonderful as Captain Wentworth. I reckon his portrayal of one of Austen's romantic heroes is going to win him a legion of salivating female fans come Spring next year - adding no doubt to his already sizeable fanbase for his exemplary work as Adam in BBC spy series Spooks. I must admit the finale of Series Five last night was less onerous than usual, simply knowing that Rupert would be back on our TV screens in the not too distant future.

Just to add, so far the 'buzz' on these Austen adaptations has mostly focused on Persuasion ... not sure if that is the Rupert factor, but it's possible. Mind you, I expect that once the Billy Piper-in-costume-drama bandwagon gets rolling, there'll be a sharp ramping up of the anticipation factor for Mansfield Park too. This should be sooner rather than later, in view of the 2006 transmission date for her period drama The Ruby in the Smoke, based on the Phillip Pullman novel.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Atonement pics (NEWS)

Keira Knightley fansite is displaying a portfolio of shots from the Joe Wright-directed adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel Atonement, due to hit cinemas in 2007. The film is set to star Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Romola Garai.

In other news, Knightley has been reported by Baz Bamigoye in The Daily Mail as wishing to quite the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, now that she has stopped filmed for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, due to premiere May 2007. There has been neither confirmation or denial of this rumour from Disney - unlike Disney's reaction to Internet gossip that co-star Orlando Bloom was set to drop out from any future films in the series.

Trailer whets appetite for The Painted Veil (NEWS)

Nabbed a look at the trailer for the M. Somerset Maugham filmic adaptation of The Painted Veil, starring the luminous Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. This looks good - highly anticipated. To see the trailer, click here. Early screening reviews look promising too.

Firth makes for a 'super-creepy' Austenian hero in Northanger Abbey (REVIEW)


I had never watched the 1986 BBC adaptation of Austen's Northanger Abbey, so I decided to give it a go last night. I had pretty low expectations to be honest, based on the reactions of some posters on the IMDB message board, which were soon dispelled - at least for the first half hour - after which this adaptation lurched unpleasantly into oddly surreal territory. This was partly due to a horrendous Hammer House of Horror syntho-pop musical score, which constantly thrummed and crescendoed in annoying fashion. But it was also due to an excrutiatingly creepy acting performance from Peter Firth as the romantic lead Henry Tilney.

Now, normally I love Peter Firth, most especially, twenty years on, as Harry in Spooks, the BBC's superb spy series. But I couldn't get on with him at all in this production. For one, he was sporting a nasty, wispy, straw-coloured wig, and the camera kept zooming in on his strangely pale, fleshy lips as he over-enunciated his lines and rolled his rs in full hammy Shakespearean mode. Plus, his characterisation was plain dislikeable - lots of stroking, staring and snidey comments. Of all Jane Austen's romantic heros, Henry Tilney is probably the most in touch with his feminine side, and is also witty and clever to boot. Firth instead played him as acerbic, patronising and super-camp.

The remainder of the Tilney family fared poorly in this production. Henry's sister Eleanor, as played here by Ingrid Lacey, was rendered wooden and stilted and General Tilney (Robert Hardy) was an overblown buffoon, more likely to prompt stifled giggles than inklings of fear from an impressionable young girl.

The wayward, fortune-seeking Thorpe family fared little better. John Thorpe was distinguished by his ludicrous, clownish get-up and seedy leer while his sister Isabella constantly smirked, simpered and smiled to the point where I felt like punching her through the TV screen. A truly ghastly performance.

Katharine Schlesinger is passable as Catherine Morland, the unassuming, naieve heroine, and Googie Withers is convincing as the superficial, fashion-mad Mrs Allen.

The location shots and general mise-en-scene have much to recommend themselves in this production. Specially impressive are the Bath scenes - most particularly the ball-scenes and street scenes, shot at night, where Catherine is able to catch glimpses of revellers preparing for their balls, parties and entertainments. There is a very real sense of excitement engendered through these scene sequences.

Costumes are fine, very much emphasising this as a turn of the century (18th to 19th) production, with most men in breeches and stockings, and cumbersome Georgian wigs still very much the vogue. Ladies' costumes in Bath are ornate and fanciful.

And the hats! Special mention must be made of the hats. Huge, towering, wafting feathers, which never failed to wilt, even during an incongruous public bathing scene, where both men and women, unrealistically, were bathing together, adorned in clinging orange robes - but with hats still sailing aloft. This was one of many bizarre moments in this production - and one of the better ones - certainly in comparison to the Northanger Abbey section of the narrative which verges on the absurd!

But then, this adaptation is riddled with absurdities; some more successful than others. For example, Catherine consistently indulges in extremely bloodthirsty 'damsel in distress' fantasies - the corollary of excessive Gothic novel reading - which are initially an original method to explain the romantic nonsense Catherine has stuffed her head with, but become frankly risible as the narrative progressed further.

Finally a few words on the screenplay from Maggie Wadey, of whom I had fairly high hopes, chiefly based on her work with Edith Wharton's The Buccaneers - and notably she has adapted Austen's Mansfield Park, due to air in 2007. In one respect, Wadey has fared very well to compress the story into a short-ish tele-film, and indeed, one quickly realises how the bare essentials of Austen's narrative are reasonably slight and uncomplicated. In view of this, it is astonishing that this novel has not been more favoured by adaptors to date. Here though, Wadey had often muddied Austen's sparkling dialogue, rendering it clunky and laboured. Plus, there were some bewildering narratological inconsistencies.

For instance, when Catherine meets Isabella Thorpe, she does not seem especially enamoured of her. But lo and behold, the next time they meet (as far as we aware ... there is no hint otherwise, that's for sure), Isabella is embracing Catherine, who is still lying in bed, in a manner which speaks of unbridled and prolonged intimacy. The narrative has speeded up to such an extent and in such a cumbersome manner we are also supposed to believe that Isabella has fallen in love with James Morland - a character we meet only very briefly. There is no building to this moment; no reason it seems for us to care.

By the end of this adaptation of Northanger Abbey I was clock-watching, quite desperate for it to end, even if, as I of course knew would happen, Catherine would become engaged to Firth's 'creepy' Henry Tilney with his air of mild sociopathy. It seemed a sorry fate for such a sweet girl, but by now I didn't care, and virtually applauded when puffy-mouth Firth finally ensnared Catherine with a big, fat kiss.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hoffman NOT directing Harry Potter (NEWS)

Mugglenet is reporting that Michael Hoffman is absolutely NOT in the running to become the next Harry Potter director, as confirmed by Warner Bros. So we are none the wiser - but all will be revealed apparently by Christmas.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Del Toro's absence a pity for Potter (EDITORIAL)

Wow. Saw the trailer for Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro's latest picture. Such a shame he turned down an offer to direct the next Harry Potter movie. He would be ideal. Mind you, in my opinion, the next film in the Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, has the worst source material to work from - although a good director could perhaps render this a far better experience than the overblown, baggy monster which is the novel.

Shooting underway for The Jane Austen Book Club (NEWS)

Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club has been greenlighted and is currently filming in Los Angeles. The novel, which charts the personal lives of a small gathering of Californian Jane Austen fans who meet regularly to discuss the author and her works , is set to be adapted to screen by Robin Swicord, who is also due to direct. Swicord penned the script for the 1994 adaptation of Little Women, directed by Gillian Armstrong, Dahl's Matilda in 1996 and more recently, Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005. Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Hugh Dancy, Lynn Redgrave, Jimmy Smits and Kathy Baker are set to star. Swicord seems a fair choice for this material which was one of the dreariest novels I have read for some years - and as I have been less than impressed with much of Swicord's work to date, (possibly excepting Matilda), I can feel fairly certain this far out that here is a film I will be keen to avoid when it finally hits our cinema screens next year.

Radio Times previews ITVs Austen season (NEWS)

The Radio Times is offering a sneak preview of ITV's Austen's season, due to air in Feb/March 2007. Scans of the article are available at Austenblog. From the pictures featured in the article I must say Billie Piper looks a great Fanny Price, but it's difficult to see how Mansfield Park has been filmed ENTIRELY on location at Newby Hall in Yorkshire, as claimed. How would Fanny's scenes in Portsmouth be recreated? Also there is a photo which lists Joseph 'Mangan' as William Price, but this seems to be a typo; this looks like Joseph 'MORGAN'. I felt pretty sure Morgan would take on the role of Henry Crawford, most particularly as there is no other young male actor listed at IMDB - and surely Henry is a more crucial character than William? Notably there is no mention as yet of actors for Rushworth, Tom Bertram or any of Fanny's family in Portsmouth.

The other photos in the Radio Times preview depict a rain-sodden scene showing Sally Hawkins as Anne Elliott in Persuasion speaking with Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth on Bath's famous Royal Crescent. She is clutching a letter (presumably the letter Wentworth writes for her, recounting his renewed love for her) which indicates perhaps that this scene is close to the end of the tele-film; perhaps even the moment of romantic resolution.

There is also a scene from Northanger Abbey with young Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) aboard a carriage with John Thorpe (William Beck). The article wrongly claims the young man beside her is in fact James Morland (Hugh O'Conor).

As an ardent Austen fan, and with something of a keen academic interest in Austen adaptations, I am very excited about this upcoming season. All new adaptations are welcome, and I genuinely cannot fathom the reluctance of a clutchful of Austen fans to embrace new versions of her work - the IMDB mesage boards bear plentiful witness to this mood. Personally speaking, my most-anticipated Austen tele-film will be Northanger Abbey, as I have never seen this committed to screen, having missed out on the 1986 TV adaptation with Peter Firth.

I loved the 1995 BBC tele-film of Persuasion, more so it seems than numerous other Austen fans, but never warmed to Ciaran Hinds as Wentworth. I have high hopes for Rupert Penry-Jones, best-known currently as Adam in Spooks, as the latest Captain.

Again, unlike most other Austen fans it seems, based on my regular perusals of online fandom and contact with academic and literary communities, I am one of the very few who positively adored Rozema's 1999 Mansfield Park. I loved her radicalisation of aspects of the novel, fleshing out a range of wider, political discourses with pathos and brio, although perhaps her overall realisation was flawed for reasons too numerous to cite in this brief article (another time!). But Rozema's unique(re)vision, which steadfastly refused to perform as a servile paean to Austen's great novel, was brave and unfairly maligned. I don't expect similar treatment from the ITV production, in part because I have generally found ITV adaptations to be less adventurous even than the BBC, which has such a strong suit in this field it can afford to take risks without alienating its core drama audience or inflicting undue damage on its 'heritage TV' brand values. Even so, I can't wait for the ITV's Austen season to get underway, and Spring 2007 feels a long way off.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hoffman to be director for Harry Potter? (NEWS/EDITORIAL)

Dark Horizons is reporting that Warner Brothers is in talks with Michael Hoffman to direct Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, the sixth film in the Potter franchise. Confirmation of the next Harry Potter director is due before Christmas. Other names in the frame include David Yates, currently filming Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and former Potter directors Christopher Columbus and Alfonso Cuaron.

Hoffman's former films include One Fine Day, starring George Clooney and Michelle Pffeifer; A Midsummer Night's Dream with a star-studded cast including Kevin Kline, Michelle Pffeifer, Calista Flockhart and Rupert Everett; and an excellent adaptation of Rose Tremain's Restoration, starring Robert Downey Jr. Based on these efforts alone I am sure Hoffman would fare very well directing Potter, although browsing Potter fandom online, there seems to be a great deal of scorn being poured on the idea, largely on the basis that Hoffman is not seen as a 'big' enough name. Instead Peter Jackson is proclaimed by many to be the best possible Potter helmsman.

Personally I couldn't disagree more with this viewpoint. It might be controversial to say this, in view of the exceedingly high esteem Jackson enjoys, but I never rated the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can admire the hard work, the grandiose effort, the dedication, the special effects (well, some of them) and the sheer panoramic majesty of the enterprise - but, in truth, I felt many other core directorial values were a tad neglected. I thought a lot of the acting performances were hammy beyond belief, literally risible at times, and the narrative flow was sluggish at points. The Return of the King was the greatest offender in my book, with its interminable, sappy ending. And the best film, (and also the least popular by all accounts!), in my view, was The Two Towers.

As for the Potter franchise securing a top-rate director with pretensions to auteur status - no way ... not now at any rate - unless Warner Brothers can tempt Cuaron to return. Cuaron, in my book, was the best of the Potter directors so far, and his Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is leagues ahead of the other films in terms of quality and style. Cuaron is an excellent filmmaker, and Warner Brothers were lucky to have someone of his calibre stepping in to save the franchise.

Having said that, David Yates, currently filming the fifth Potter film, is himself a burgeoning and impressive talent. His skills have not been tested as yet on the mega-budget scale Harry Potter films usually command, but his works to date, such as The Way We Live Now, The Girl in the Cafe and State of Play suggest he has the ability to carry the job off splendidly.

The simple truth is most directors see the Potter franchise as a cookie cutter system - even though Warner Brothers are forever stressing that directors are allowed an independent take on the novels. Terry Gilliam's recent statement that he would never direct a Potter adaptation, might have smacked a little of sour grapes in view of how he was passed over for the first film in favour of Columbus, despite being author Rowling's number one choice - but he did point out how directing Potter is viewed in the industry, describing it as a 'factory job.' Seemingly then directors keen to preserve their own self-conscious sense of creativity will avoid Potter like the plague - Cuaron excepted of course - so that should rule out other perennial favourites amongst Potter fandom such as Tim Burton, with his wholly unique brand of filmmaking, Quentin Tarantino (as if !), Steven Spielberg (refused to direct the first film), and, Guillermo del Toro, who reportedly rejected an offer from Warner Brothers to helm Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Another potential names thrown into the mix is M. Night Shyamalan, famous for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village, who has reportedly expressed an interest in directing Harry Potter. But the lack of critical and audience approval for his latest outest, The Lady in the Water, might well have damaged his chances.

Joss Whedon, best-known for writing and directing the cult TV series Buffy; the short-lived Firefly, which has accrued a vocal and devoted fanbase; and the quirky sci-fi picture Serenity, (based on Firefly), has also suggested himself as director for the final Potter film, to be based on Rowling's seventh and last Potter book - likely to be published in July 2007, according to reports.