Wednesday, October 7, 2015

First Look: James Norton, Lily James and Paul Dano in War and Peace

I first shared these images from the BBC production of War & Peace this past August. Now I’ve learned that instead of watching the ‘limited series’ on PBS/Masterpiece as you might have expected (I did!) here in the states we’ll be seeing it on Lifetime, A&E and/or the History channel in January of 2016. I’m not sure how that works, pick one? Simulcast? Lily James, as we English period drama fans know, hails from Downton Abbey and is one of the newer next big things. James Norton is the handsome Brit you might have watched in Grantchester; he was phenomenal as a psycho in Happy Valley. Paul Dano was most recently the young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy; I first noticed him as the suicidal son in Little Miss Sunshine.

 Prince Andrei (James Norton) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

Looking good

The BBC recently released the first images of the three stars of the upcoming series based on Tolstoy's War & Peace:  James Norton—fresh from the pages of Grantchester as Prince Bolkonsky, Lily James out of the Abbey at Downton as Natasha Rostov and Paul Dano, in a surprising casting move that takes him from playing Beach Boy Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy to Bezukhov. Gillian Anderson, Jim Broadbent, Stephen Rea and Rebecca Front also star.

Natasha Rostov (Lily James) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

You can always use it as a doorstop

I know some of you are out there busily rereading Tolstoy’s classic. The BBC series hits BBC-1 this winter, arriving in the US sometime shortly thereafter. The book is 1273 pages, plus or minus, depending on what edition you're reading. One thousand, two hundred and seventy three pages. Just scrolling through the chapter headings on the Guttenberg project gives me a headache, but yes, the good news is that Tolstoy's classic is available to read for free there. Page for page, that's great value!

Natasha Rostov (Lily James) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

Or you can read it online

Here's the link, should you be so inclined. Call me intellectually lazy if you will, but I just don't think I can do it. Although I do admit reading these opening paragraphs does increase my desire to see Gillian Anderson as Anna Pavlovna as well as Stephen Rea as Prince Vassily Kuragin! Go ahead, give this opening section a read, how does it grab you? Let me know in the comments section below.

Pierre Bezukhov (Paul Dano) in War and Peace. Photograph: Laurie Sparham/BBC/Laurie Sparham

A classic beginning ...

BOOK ONE: 1805

"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don't tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist—I really believe he is Antichrist—I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my 'faithful slave,' as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you—sit down and tell me all the news."
It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.
All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:
"If you have nothing better to do, Count (or Prince), and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10—Annette Scherer."
"Heavens! what a virulent attack!" replied the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald, scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the sofa.
"First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend's mind at rest," said he without altering his tone, beneath the politeness and affected sympathy of which indifference and even irony could be discerned.
"Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?" said Anna Pavlovna. "You are staying the whole evening, I hope?"
"And the fete at the English ambassador's? Today is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there," said the prince. "My daughter is coming for me to take me there."
"I thought today's fete had been canceled. I confess all these festivities and fireworks are becoming wearisome."
"If they had known that you wished it, the entertainment would have been put off," said the prince, who, like a wound-up clock, by force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed.
"Don't tease! Well, and what has been decided about Novosiltsev's dispatch? You know everything."
"What can one say about it?" replied the prince in a cold, listless tone. "What has been decided? They have decided that Buonaparte has burnt his boats, and I believe that we are ready to burn ours."
Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part. Anna Pavlovna Scherer on the contrary, despite her forty years, overflowed with animation and impulsiveness. To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation and, sometimes even when she did not feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her. The subdued smile which, though it did not suit her faded features, always played round her lips expressed, as in a spoiled child, a continual consciousness of her charming defect, which she neither wished, nor could, nor considered it necessary, to correct.
So? Are you going to read —re-read— Tolstoys classic first?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

After You: Why JoJo Moyes wrote the sequel to her best-selling Me Before You

I’m currently in the middle of JoJo Moye’s After You, the author’s follow-up to Me Before You, the best-selling love story between a suicidal paraplegic and his caregiver slated to hit our movie screens next summer with Game of Thrones Emilia Clarke as Louisa and The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin as the paraplegic Will. The book answers the question, and then what happened to Louisa? Moyes, who also wrote the script, talked with Hannah Beckerman at The Guardian about the new novel.

“ Sequels can be tricky beasts. What prompted you to write a sequel to Me Before You?
Lou’s voice just never left me in the way that other characters’ voices tend to; partly because readers wanted to talk to me about her and how she related to their own experiences. And then writing the [film] script meant that she was in my head daily. Finally, I found myself asking the question that other people were asking, which was: “What happened next?”

Your novels feature characters who are outsiders: the “leftovers”, as one character describes them. Why are you drawn to people living on the periphery, whether emotionally, physically or economically?
Because I think a lot of us feel that way. There’s not much interesting to me about people who fit happily into a group and whose life is fulfilled. I’m much more fascinated by the tension that comes from people not quite fitting with their surroundings. And I think most of us will spend some part of our lives feeling that we don’t.

Is that why so many of your female characters are often very ordinary, quite troubled, and in unglamorous jobs?
I feel like I’ve lived lots of different lives. Some of those lives involved doing some of those bottom-of-the-rung jobs and you learn an awful lot about human nature when you’re working in a minicab office late at night or serving drinks in a bar. 
I’m not intrigued by gilded lives at all. I’m curious about what happens to those people struggling to get somewhere in a society that increasingly tells them they can’t succeed, where the odds are stacked against them.

There’s a grief therapy group in After You that’s both moving and funny, and feels very authentic. Is that something you’ve had experience of?
I had a couple of years of therapy in my 30s and I would say it changed the way I thought about myself in an absolutely fundamental way. I’m fascinated by people’s inability to recognise what is going wrong in their own lives or to analyse their own behaviour. The joy of writing fiction is that most people are self-deluding to an extent and I find that a rich source of inspiration.

Contemporary fiction by women is often perceived as less substantial than that by men. Is that something you find frustrating?
Just because a book is classified by that dreaded term “women’s commercial fiction” doesn’t mean that it can’t take a look at societal issues or address things that are going on in the world, whether it’s extremes in wealth or opportunity, or what happens when you’re working for a company that puts you on a zero-hours contract. If I can make people think while also being accessible, and possibly make them laugh and cry a bit at the same time, then, frankly, I don’t care what they call me. I’d like to be the Puccini of fiction. I’m unembarrassed by the joy of making people feel something.

Me Before You was your eighth novel. Has its success changed you as a writer?
I think it’s probably made me more confident. Because after seven books that didn’t sell terribly well you really do start to question whether yours are the books people actually want to read. And then Me Before You was such a success that people turned to the backlist – having those sales suddenly take off made me feel vindicated.

Recently you joined Patrick Ness and other authors in donating £10,000 to Save the Children for Syrian refugees. What made you get involved?
It was just a gut reaction. I felt the situation was unbearable. I’m a big follower of the “do as you would be done by” school, and I thought if we were subject to an invasion here and I had to pack up with my children and undertake a horrific journey, then what would I hope for from my fellow citizens? It would be kindness and generosity.” 

PS: Moyes told the Wall Street Journal that she delivered a script for an adaptation of One Plus One. Have you read it? What do you think?

Monday, October 5, 2015

That Thing We Did; My son and I worked as background actors on Tom Hank’s 1995 directorial debut That Thing You Do

Autumn. 1995. My husband was working on That Thing You Do, a film that Tom Hanks not only wrote and co-starred in, it was also his directorial debut. Did I want to bring our son down to the set one day and be extras, my husband wanted to know. It could be fun. He might even be able to join us for lunch. We just had to get fitted first. 

Read the rest at Past Tense, Perfect/Imperfect. Id love for you to follow me over there.

The Martian in French: Seul Sur Mars

There’s no violence, no sex, nothing but a dramatic man vs. nature story that grips you from start to finish. I can’t imagine anyone not loving The Martian starring everyones favorite Everyman, Matt Damon.That includes those watching the French-dubbed version although Im more and more curious about how the actual actors, talented actors like Matt Damon, feel about their roles being dubbed by an actor in a foreign language. The French actor, no matter how skilled, surely cant replicate Matt Damons performance, can he? Its an art weve looked at before, but for me the question remains. What do you think? Can a dubbed film equal the original or would it be preferable to release English language movies with French (Italian, Spanish, Japanese etc) subtitles instead? Check out the trailer for The Martian AKA Seul Sur Mars and let me know what you think. 

Fan of all things French? Visit the Dreaming of France meme at An Accidental Blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Author of ‘The Martian’ Wanted McGyver on Mars

I was just really focused on it being a plot driven story ... I wanted MacGyver on Mars. Andy Weir
Fantastic. The Martian was just fantastic. Out of this world, crazy good. I saw it Saturday, at a crowded matinee, with my son and my husband and we were all simply blown away. I’ll try and gather my thoughts or round up some reviews for you for tomorrow but it was three big thumbs up from us. With our arms held high in the air. Critics are, as they say, raving, about how good this movie is.

Today though, it’s Slacker Sunday and the focus is on Andy Weir, author of the sci fi best seller. Weir is a computer program who had previously tried unsuccessfully to publish two books. Deciding he was never going to be a published writer, but enjoying the writing process, he originally published the book on his own site, one chapter at a time, every few months. Then at the request of his 3000 subscribers, Weir put the book on an E-reader so they could download it easily, then at the request of readers who didn’t know how to download to an e-reader, self-published it on Amazon Kindle where it became a top seller, then sold it to Random House (who asked that he take the book down from his website) while selling the film rights to Twentieth Century Fox.

For this week’s Slacker Sunday video, I found what I think is a fascinating talk from Weir about his process, the science he got right, and the science he didn’t, followed by an audience Q&A. 

Asked who he based astronaut Mark Watney on, Weir emphatically states “Me. He’s me.” Watching Weir on stage and Watney on film, that’s pretty clear. They’re both, as Weir says, smart-asses. Weir also says Watney is the best part of him, without the things about himself he doesn’t like. That he’s the man he’d like to be. Matt Damon captures that personality perfectly. He’s Everyman, but better. No superhero powers, he’s just super-smart with a bit of a smart-ass attitude and super-determined to live. And he will knock your socks off.

I would say the 45 minute video will be much more meaningful to you if you’ve:
a) read the book or 
b) seen the movie 
so if it’s  
c) none of the above, skip this and go right to the movie theater and watch The Martian. And buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The Martian trailer

Did you get out to a theater to see The Martian this weekend? And...?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Saturday Matinee: The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews

There’s a reason you cant escape having to see your local high schools production of The Sound of Music. And that has nothing to do with Carrie Underwoods portrayal of  a problem like Maria  in NBCs live show.

The show is immensely popular for one reason and one reason only. And that’s the inimitable Julie Andrews. It was the iconic singer/actress’ 80th birthday this week—I celebrated by sharing some stills and the vintage trailer for Mary Poppins—which makes the Academy Award-winning The Sound of Music de rigeur viewing for today’s Saturday Matinee. Sentimental? Yes. Schmaltzy? You betcha! Wholesome? And how! But on film, without the claustrophobic artifice of the stage and the really horrendous sound issues most high schools have to deal with, the show is pretty high up in the feel good category. And man, that Julie Andrews can sing.

What I can’t figure is why Julie Andrews, nominated for Best Actress, didn’t take it home. Unless it’s because she won the year before for Mary Poppins? Instead the gold man went home with Julie Christie for Darling. The Sound of Music did win Best Picture of 1965 along with Best Director, editing, sound and naturally, score. Besides Julie Andrews’  Oscar nom, Peggy Woods received one for playing Mother Abyss, and the movie was also nominated for art direction, cinematography, and costume design. 

Which is simply to say as sappy as The Sound of Music is, it’s also stirring, and worth introducing to your kids. Based on Maria Von Trapp’s memoir The Trapp Family Singers, and originally a Broadway show starring Peter Pan’s Mary Martin, it was Julie Andrews who made the role and the show iconic. Oh, and I don’t suppose her dazzlingly handsome co-star, Christopher Plummer, still handsome and hard at work in 2015 at the age of eighty five, hurt.  

The Sound of Music is available to stream this Saturday afternoon on Amazon, Google-Play, YouTube and Vudu. If you’re devoted to Netflix, you’ll have to order the disc. 

Will you be watching? 
I confess, I won’t be. I worked on the costumes of my own son’s high school production of The Sound of Music —blonde and a non-singer, he played the Nazi, Hans Zellerand even though it’s been five or so years now, if I never see another set of curtain-patterned play clothes or lederhosen again, it’s fine by me. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll go into detail over on Sim Carter: Past Tense, Perfect/Imperfect one of these days. That’s where I go when I want to write in a more personal vein.

Friday, October 2, 2015

CAROL starring Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara: Image Gallery

Carol got everyone in a flutter when the film, based on Patricia Highsmiths The Price of Salt, made its debut at Cannes last spring. So what’s new now that the scheduled release date of the Todd Haynes directed love story between two women is just over a month away? A batch of stunning new stills rocking that 1950’s New York vibe created by production designer Judy Becker (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, We Need to Talk About Kevin) and costume designer Sandy Powell. If Cate Blanchett is a shoe-in for best actress, and many are saying she is, so is costume designer Sandy Powell who pulled the vintage looks together. Powell and Blanchett make a great pair. She’s dressed Cate in Disneys Cinderella, and both women won the Oscar for their work in The Aviator.

And the trailer … 

Carol comes out November 20th in the U.S. Will you be watching it?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Happy Birthday Julie Andrews: 80 Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Years!

My sister could have her Barbie with her wisp of a waist and oversized breasts, all I wanted for Christmas was a Mary Poppins doll. That Mary Poppins doll—my desire fanned by the magical movie starring Julie Andrews—turned out to be my last doll. The movie came out in 1964; I was eleven years old, clutching onto childhood and innocence while puberty was pushing its way into my world. It seemed much safer to stay in a place where a spoonful of sugar could help the medicine go down rather than grow up and have to compete with the likes of Barbie. As much as I lived in my own imagination, I couldn’t imagine I would ever have what Barbie had. But Mary Poppins as delivered via the twinkling eyes and smiling face of Julie Andrews was a different story. All I needed was a carpetbag and a big black umbrella to fly away and live happily ever after. 

Happy Birthday Julie Andrews! 

Thanks for keeping the little girl me safe and warm just a little bit longer.

#ThrowbackThursday Mary Poppins Trailer
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