Hardy & Me…

I’m madd not to have read more Hardy!

I’m just back from the cinema where I saw Far From the Madding Crowd. For anyone suffering from Poldark withdrawal, it has lots of galloping along clifftops and through fields, and scything! Seriously, it was a wonderful film, with a screenplay by David Nicholls. I’ve come away with a serious crush on this Gabriel Oak (Mattias Schoenaerts, a Belgian), I gasped when his sheep became lemmings, I felt so sorry for poor anguished Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and hoped that Katniss Bathsheba wouldn’t marry Sgt Troy (Tom Sturridge). You see despite being in my mid 50s now (eek!) I’ve never seen the earlier film with Christie, Bates and Stamp – just odd clips, I never knew the whole story. I could hardly bear to look at the screen when she nearly let him get away at the end, and had tears of joy rolling down my cheeks seconds later.

– 

ffm

The thing is I love reading Thomas Hardy but I’ve only read two: Jude the Obscure for book club a couple of years ago and Tess of the D’Urbervilles back in autumn 2008. Should I read FFTMC now so soon after the film, or another of his novels – I have quite a few of my late mum’s copies on the shelves.

Which would you suggest I should read next?

Advertisements

My Les Mis-full day – not glum at all

Les Misérables – On Film and Stage

Over the years, the one musical that didn’t appeal to me was Les Misérables. In fact, I turned down free tickets back in the early 1990s, such was my lack of enthusiasm for it – the very thought of having to sit through it made me feel glum.

But, dear readers, I am cured!  Vivent Les Misérables!

My daughter, for reasons I’ll come to later, was desperate to see it.  I said I’ll book for the summer. ‘No, can’t it be Easter?’ she asked.  ‘I’ll see what’s available.’ I replied, and found us tickets for yesterday evening – good seats at a price, but as an irregular theatre-goer these days, I’m willing to pay out a bit for a good view, (I chose the 2nd priced stalls at £67.50 each!!!).

les mis movie posterHowever, as my daughter likes to understand what’s going on before seeing shows, (something that spoiled seeing War Horse for her with her old school – she hadn’t read the book, and they didn’t explain the play at all) we watched the DVD at the weekend as Les Mis is a complicated story, (I benefitted from that too).

I loved it – especially Hugh Jackman of course, who has a great pedigree in musicals (my late mum saw him in Oklahoma and fell for him). Even Russell Crowe wasn’t so bad, and was suitably brooding, and Hathaway we know can sing and was so brave getting her real hair cut off – and her collarbones made her look skeletal as the dying Fantine. The naturalistic singing, which was live rather than dubbed as I understand, made it seem so much more … miserable.  Sacha Baron Cohen and Helen Bonham Carter (SBC and HBC!) were great comic relief as the money-grabbing Thénardiers. I cried like a baby at the end.  I went through the story with my daughter and we were prepared for our trip down to London.

20140415_192219_resizedWe had a good afternoon shopping in Covent Garden, then a burger and shake at Ed’s Diner in Soho before the theatre.  Our seats were great (no need to pay £20 more for that prime central block).  Queen’s Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue was smaller than I expected, but very plush.

On time, the orchestra struck up and we were transported to 19thC France. The staging was wonderful – using a surprisingly quiet revolving stage and clever lighting which allowed both props and actors to keep the action always moving.  Originally staged by the RSC at the Barbican, you expect the slickness and clever use of backdrops and props. An American party sitting behind me, although they loved the traditional theatre, had been expecting something on a bigger scale ‘like back in Boston’ (yawn!).

My daughter (left) gets Carrie's (middle) autograph

My daughter (left) gets Carrie’s (middle) autograph

None of the cast (except one) were familiar to me, but they were touts merveilleux! I  did have a sniffle when Eponine died, and could see lots of hankies being dabbed to eyes then and at the end.

Eponine was the reason for going at Easter, she was played by Carrie Hope Fletcher (sister of McFly’s Tom) and my daughter follows her on the web. So afterwards, we quickly went round to the stage door and found ourselves in a small cluster of waiting fans and she kindly signed our programme which made my daughter’s day.

Les Mis has now trumped both Oliver! and Matilda as her favourite musical and film. My favourite will always be the original Jesus Christ Superstar, but Les Mis will now vie with Oliver! for my second spot.

Victor Hugo’s story is epic in its scope, I started reading it around two years ago, and ought to resume – I got as far as Jean Valjean being given the silver, i.e. not very far, and paused. Seeing the musical twice has renewed my enthusiasm for it.

Musically, Les Mis is sung-through; there is no dialogue at all, and the score relies on recitative to link the main scenes. I was fascinated by the way there are really only about eight (guessing here) musical themes which get mixed up and reappear throughout the show, most obviously the Thénardiers’ comic song, and Javert’s brooding one, but they all blend together and never appear repetitive at all. This made it feel less of a musical, more an opera.  I loved it.

* * * * *
Here’s links to Les Mis at Amazon UK, in case you’re interested:
Les Misérables [DVD] [2012] starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway etc
Les Miserables 25th Anniversary [DVD] the concert at the RAH with Alfie Boe etc.

Another visual stunner from Luhrmann

The Great Gatsby – directed by Baz Luhrmann

The-Great-Gatsby3

The moment that Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway finally met Gatsby, when Leonardo Dicaprio turned around and smiled that smile, my heart did a little leap, and it confirmed for me that he was perfect for the role, and that this film was going to be totally worth it for me.

The story is framed by a narration by Carraway as his rehab doctor encourages him to write it all down after the end to that summer. Maguire plays the insider-outsider with either constant wide-eyes and goofy smile, or zonked out – still with those wide eyes but staring. Carey Mulligan as Daisy is all doe eyes, shallow and fun-loving, yet trembling and weak, showing us another side to this actress who wowed as the confident young lead of An Education.  Australian actor Joel Edgerton, who looks like a slightly ravaged Guy Pearce here, is suitably boorish as Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan.

Co-starring with the principal actors is Luhrmann’s artistic vision. No-one does parties on film like Luhrmann, and the raves at Gatsby’s mansion are jaw-droppingly amazing, and here the mainly contemporary soundtrack with inclusions from Jay Z and Beyoncé works really well.

the-great-gatsby party

There are no musical set pieces as in Moulin Rouge though.  Here the music comes in little strains throughout, intertwining pop songs with jazz, blues, and notably Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

There was a pervading air of melancholy throughout and even when people were ostensibly happy, it was that kind of brittle happiness – except for the flashback of when Gatsby first met Daisy.  I can’t think of anyone else other than DiCaprio that could have played the title role – it’s his film.

Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby is not subtle – at all!  
It won’t be for everyone – the critics didn’t really like it …
But I did!  

Most importantly, it made me want to re-read the novel – pronto. So, I’m just going to riffle my bookcase …

Benedict, you’re a very baaad man!

star-trek-2-into-darkness-poster

I couldn’t wait! Just back from the first screening (bar last night’s midnight one) at my local cinema of Star Trek: Into Darkness, the second outing for the young classic Trek crew.

I’m not going to tell you any of the story except that Benedict Cumberbatch, with a spectacularly basso profundo voice, was truly wonderful as Kirk’s adversary. However everything else was in place – here are a few slightly cryptic notes:

  • The crew from the previous movie are all present and correct;
  • Kirk breaks the prime directive – again;
  • Uhura and Spock have sparks flying off them!
  • There are plenty of laughs;
  • Simon ‘Fat boy’ Pegg gets to do lots of running as Scotty;
  • The Enterprise gets shot up of course;
  • It’s no tribble at all for Bones;
  • Future adventures are (retrospectively) set up, and references abound;
  • Spock gets to be an action hero – he melds, he pinches … and he cries.

LOVED IT!!!  Want to see it again.

A rather good British gangster movie

Welcome to the Punch

Welcome to the Punch

It’s so nice to go to the pictures to see a thoroughly satisfying contemporary British thriller – they’re few and far between these days, mind you they were never a common thing (IMHO!) – The Long Good Friday and Layer Cake come to mind.

Welcome to the Punch is directed by Evan Creevy who cut his teeth on Layer Cake, and is Exec Produced by Ridley Scott. It’s a relatively simple tale of police corruption, gangsters, and a maverick detective out for revenge. Not always an easy view, (one older couple walked out when I saw it), it’s full of ultraviolence, alternating with long moments of deep stares and reflective hard breathing from its leads.

James McAvoy is the maverick detective, Max Lewinsky, out to get Jacob Sternwood, (Mark Strong) who shot him in the knee while escaping from an audacious heist in the City of London.  A few years on, Sternwood has returned to the UK, as his son has been shot in a deal-gone-wrong of his own. Naturally, this gives Max the ideal opportunity to finally get his man. What he doesn’t reckon on is that Sternwood’s son was part of a larger conspiracy that involved many bent coppers, and that he will be at great personal risk …

Almost the entire film takes part at night; the city’s buildings all lit up look magnificent, contrasting with the seedy dives and night watchmen’s offices. Into this comes Sternwood after his son, and Lewinsky hot on his tail and this film belongs to its two charismatic leads.

Mark Strong is such a great baddie, tall and swarthily handsome, with a firm bestubbled chin and shaven head – but it’s his eyes that grab you, capable of a dark direct stare that holds you in its gaze.  In contrast, James McAvoy as Max is twitchy, emotional and always on the edge, only held back initially by his colleague Sarah (Andrea Risborough).  Strong and McAvoy are ably supported by Peter Mullan as Sternwood’s UK fixer,  and David Morrissey as Max’s boss.

I really enjoyed this intelligent British thriller with its wonderful British cast. Its ultraviolence may owe a lot to Tarantino, but it was all the more thoughtful bits in between that made it different.

In UK cinemas now, cert 15.

Half term movies

I’ve been to the pictures twice this half-term – two very different films and two gooduns.

First, I went with my daughter to see Tim Burton’s new stop-animation film, Frankenweenie.  Inspired by Frankenstein, natch, it’s the story of a boy and his dog, and like all the best classic horror films, it’s in black and white.  Victor’s dog Sparky gets run over and the poor boy is wracked with grief and retires to his attic where he puts a plan into action, inspired by his new science teacher (who looks like Vincent Price and is voiced by Martin Landau), which brings his dog back to life during a thunderstorm. Of course, it’s near impossible to keep the revitalised dog a secret, and havoc ensues…

It was a lovely film, both funny and touching, and it was chock full of references to all the great classic black and white films. At one point, Victor’s parents are actually watching Christopher Lee in the Hammer Horror film as Dracula on the TV.  There are some horrors, and a graveyard scene, but it’s not really scary being a PG family entertainment.

Then this week, I went on my own to see Skyfall – the 23rd James Bond film.  I’m a huge Bond fan, and IMHO this new film is one of the best.

I’m not going to tell you the plot, save to say there is an amazing opening chase, there are exotic locations, there is a beautiful girl or two, a charismatic baddie played by Javier Bardem with weird blonde hair, some brilliant action sequences, plus M and Q of course.

M and Q get to feature more than usual this time. Judi Dench reprises M who is up really up against it as this time it’s personal; the new Q, meanwhile, is the willowy young actor Ben Wishaw and he was perfect scoring points off Bond until they found their mutual admiration for each other.

Daniel Craig was superb in his third film as Bond, and director Sam Mendes makes him more human than in any previous movies – he’s a bit world-weary, and bored with what he does for a living, but comes to life again when the security of the realm is compromised. There’s also a neat look back towards his childhood that I really liked, which was introduced by Fleming in the novel of You Only Live Twice, and continued by Charlie Higson in his Young Bond novels.

Skyfall has its weaknesses, but I was more than happy to overlook them and enjoy every minute of the whole film from its gripping start to the neat epilogue. I think that Craig has finally overtaken Connery as ‘my’ Bond too…

Moviewatch – Arthur Christmas

“So what would you like to see?”, I asked my daughter. “What’s on?”, she replied.
I reeled off the list at the multiplex fully expecting her to pick ‘Alvin & the Chipmunks 3’, but secretly hoping that the one I really wanted to see might be acceptable. (My choice was Martin Scorsese’s ‘Hugo’ – which sounds as good as the book, which I reviewed here.)

She didn’t pick either of those, plumping for the latest creation from the wonderful Aardman stable – Arthur Christmas. A great compromise …

How can Father Christmas deliver everyone’s presents in one night?
What happens if you don’t have a chimney?

These are just two of the questions that every child asks and this fun film shows how it can be done.  The Christmas dynasty has been delivering the presents for hundreds of years.  The current Santa is getting old, and his oldest son Steve masterminds the operation, running things with ultra high-tech military precision from a huge control centre built under the North Pole. There’s no more need for a traditional sleigh, fairy dust and reindeer, instead the S1 spaceship (sled-shaped but straight out of Star Trek) warps around the world, with crack SWAT-like teams of elves delivering the majority of the the presents, leaving Santa as a figurehead who just makes a few symbolic deliveries.

It all goes like clockwork, until one child gets missed – Gasp! Horror!  Steve is unconcerned – his stats are wonderful. But for his younger brother Arthur, who is gawky and clumsy, and works in the letters department, this is unacceptable.  He vows to deliver the present, and together with Grandsanta and a stowaway elf called Bryony, they set out on Grandsanta’s mothballed sleigh for the character-building adventure of a … night-time to save the day.

It was a lovely film. It totally reinforced all the messages about Father Christmas, and that Christmas is for children, that technology isn’t everything and there’s a place for tradition.

It did get lost slightly (literally) in the middle, when Grandsanta took them to Africa with his old maps, but found its way again with ease, only for a silly UFO side-plot to get in the way during the last reel. These are minor quibbles though.

There were tons of in-jokes and references for grown-ups as you’d expect from Aardman, and the British cast of voices was top-notch.  The chameleon voiced James McAvoy was Arthur, Hugh Lawrie was a great Steve, the ever-wonderful Bill Nighy was a brilliant and crotchety Grandsanta, and then there’s Jim Broadbent – well I couldn’t pick anyone better to play Santa.

The whole looked great and the 3D had some good moments, and you left the cinema with a smile.  An ideal family Christmas movie. (7.5/10)