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.

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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?

A brief blog post about time

Just a quick blog post today to say that yesterday I went to see the film The Theory of Everything – the story of Jane and Stephen Hawking.

IT WAS BLOODY BRILLIANT!

Its two young stars – Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones were exceptionally good.

Theory-of-Everything_612x381Redmayne’s transformation as Hawking’s disease took hold was masterly, but Jones’ steely determination to make the best of their lives together, then later frustrations shone out of the screen too. Both have been nominated for Oscars – my fingers are crossed.

The film was well structured and beautifully shot with a great supporting cast including David Thewlis and Emily Watson amongst a group of other younger actors I am less familiar with.

I took my 14yr old daughter and she was transfixed throughout the whole film too. My eyes did brim with tears at several moments, but did manage to hold them in.

GO AND SEE IT IF YOU CAN!

Travelling to InfinityIt so happens, and not coincidentally, that I’m about quarter of the way through reading the new edition of Jane Hawking’s book Travelling to Infinity, which the film is based on.

Jane’s book is quite a chunkster at just under 500 pages, and carries on beyond the film, which stops in 1987 when Stephen was made a Companion of Honour. Originally published in 2007, this new edition published to tie in with the film has been abridged and added to.

I’m enjoying it so far, and can recognise many of the stories within from the film, which although having to compress things seems true to Jane’s life story. I hope the book continues to hold up.

Have you read the book or seen the film?

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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:
Travelling to Infinity: The True Story Behind the Theory of Everything by Jane Hawking. Abridged edition pub Dec 2014 by Alma Books, paperback 490 pages.

Romance in a Paris Cinema – a feelgood recipe for success?

The Secret Paris Cinema Club by Nicholas Barreau

untitledAlthough I rarely read full-on romance novels, I couldn’t resist this one. It has all the feelgood ingredients one could ask for – an old cinema, a beautiful woman in a red coat, a classic boy meets girl/loses girl/finds girl (one hopes) romance – and it is set in Paris. Will this be a recipe for success?  Or just too cheesy?

Alain Bonnard is an old, but young romantic. He is the owner of a small arthouse cinema in Paris that he inherited from his beloved uncle. Working there is a labour of love, but Alain does love the Cinéma Paradis. He runs it as a traditional picturehouse showing no Hollywood blockbusters, there is no popcorn either.

Every Wednesday evening he shows a classic film about love – Les Amour au Paradis as he calls this slot in the cinema’s programme. Each week a beautiful woman in a red coat comes to watch the romantic movie and always sits in row 17.

Alain is talking about her with his best friend Robert…

“You mean to tell me that this girl you fancy so much has been coming to the cinema for four months and you still haven’t even spoken to her?” …
… I nodded again and thought back to the time the girl with the red coat had first appeared at the box office. I always called her ‘the girl,’ but in fact she was a young woman, somewhere around twenty-five to twenty-eight, with shoulder-length caramel hair, which she parted at the side, a delicate heart-shaped face with a scattering of freckles, and shiny dark eyes. To me, she always seemed a little lost – in her thoughts, or in the world – and had a habit of nervously tucking her hair behind her ear with her right hand as she waited for me to tear a ticket off for her. But when she smiled the whole place seemed to fill with light, and her expression became a bit roguish. And yes, she had a lovely mouth and wonderful teeth.

Eventually Alain plucks up courage, and he and Mélanie go out for a late supper after the film one night. At the end he walks her home and they kiss and agree to meet next week. Alain is head over heels in love, and it seems the feeling is reciprocated. In the classic romantic plot, Alain must now lose Mélanie and find her again after much angst and searching.

This is where the American indie film director Allan Wood (yes, you read it right, and yes, this is a very thinly disguised character based upon the celebrated American film director) comes in with the star of his next film, Solange Avril. They are looking for a location to film some cinema scenes. Solange used to come to the Cinéma Paradis as a girl, and Alain, once approached can only say yes – it’ll be a huge financial boost for him.

He finds himself invited to dinner with Wood and Solange, and whilst having a post-prandial cigarette outside with the actress who is ‘available’ – he turns her down – she does a Gallic shrug and puts her arm through his, when Flash! the paparazzi are there, and he finds himself on the front pages of the tabloids touted as Solange’s new boyfriend. Naturally Mélanie doesn’t turn up the next week. What is Alain to do?

There will be complications and twists aplenty for Alain in his journey to regain his new love, aided and abetted by Wood and Solange.

I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book – and yes it was incredibly cheesy – which rather added to its allure.  The character of Allan Wood was funny and irritating in his transparent characterisation at the same time – but he spouted plenty of Allen-esque lines that made me smile…  Solange and Mélanie were just too good to be true, but you did want the lovelorn Alain to win her back. It was the perfect light-hearted palate-cleanser after getting stuck into the heavyweight literary novels I’d been reading before.

Then I went to look up the author, as he has written another novel – The Ingredients of Love, and the mystery deepens. Nicholas Barreau, so the blurb goes, is an acclaimed Parisian writer of mixed parentage who went to the Sorbonne, and worked in a bookshop on the Rive Gauche – but his name is a pseudonym and his identity is known only by his editor.

Another reclusive author like Elena Ferrante…  but, it seems, the truth is not so romantic – and it has put me off wanting to read the other book. Outed in Germany, Barreau is apparently a collective pseudonym for a series of authors writing romances to order to meet market preferences – just like the Daisy Meadows fairy books for little girls.

I must admit that I feel a bit cheated by that discovery, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for this particular book – whomever its real author is – it was great page-turning fun! (7.5/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you!

To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Secret Paris Cinema Clubby Nicholas Barreau, pub September 2014 by Quercus, 336 pages, paperback original.

The Art of the Comb-over & American Hustle

American Hustle (15)

It is a brave film that spends its opening minutes with its overweight paunchy, balding superstar acting lead perfecting his comb-over.  Christian Bale put on 40 lbs to play Irving Rosenfeld, a small-time Bronx hustler who gets caught by the feds and offered immunity if he helps them in a big scam down in Atlantic City in the late 1970s.

american-hustle-poster-2Bale’s partner in crime is Sydney Prosser played by Amy Adams, who perfects a cut-glass accent as a British aristo with access to a good line of credit to haul in the marks on their get rich quick scheme. Amazingly Sydney falls for Irving – obviously not for his body, but his brain and ability to talk himself out of nearly anything.

The pair get trapped by agent DiMaso – Bradley Cooper in a poodle perm. Together the plan is to take on all the crooked politicians in Atlantic City, led by the likeable Robin-Hood of a Major (Jeremy Renner).

However the scheme gets out of hand when a) the Mafia get involved, and then later when b) Irving’s wife Rosalyn, (Jennifer Lawrence in blonde bombshell mode) can’t keep her mouth shut.

It gets good and twisty, and Irving has to work harder than he has ever done before to tread water and keep the sting alive. There is a magnificent uncredited cameo in the Mafia boss from Miami by … well I’m not going to spill the beans!

Adams and Lawrence are both magnificent – but Lawrence in the smaller part gets the amazing scene in which she is angrily cleaning her house in yellow gloves whilst singing along to Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die.

If hairdos are the main recurring visual (hair-rollers also feature big-time), the soundtrack is to die for – from Steely Dan’s Dirty Work over the opening credits, to Elton John, ELO, David Bowie, plus Horse with no name, White Rabbit, Delilah and I feel love and plenty of jazz too, I was singing along all the way through (I went to the afternoon showing this afternoon which had about 30 people in the big screen).

At 138 minutes it is a little long, and a little self-reverent,  but I revelled in the sheer late 1970s-ness of it, the level of detail was phenomenal, as was the on-going homage to Marty Scorsese. I never thought I’d want a fat, balding guy with a comb-over to survive what I thought would be the inevitable ending either, but by the end of it I did, Bale made Irving almost loveable.

For fans of the late 1970s and Scorsese, American Hustle was fab, and will doubtless get Oscar nominations for its stars.  I really, really enjoyed it.

I’d go ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…’ if I could.

Well! Our (that’s the way I think of him, born 1960 like me, and comes from Belfast like my late Mum) Ken has done it again!

branagh macbethI wish I’d been able to go up to Manchester to see his take on the Scottish Play but tickets had sold out back in February in about ten minutes.  So, unlike my friend Fiona who did get tickets, I had to settle for the next best thing – a live screening streamed to my local cinema from NT Live.  We were in one of the bigger screens – and it was absolutely packed – loads of serious types – and not much popcorn in evidence!

To Macbeth then – co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, and co-starring River Song, the luminous Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth, and using a deconsecrated church as a venue, this was theatre staged in the long.  By this I mean, the performance area was the length of the aisle plus the altar.  The small audience sat either side of the aisle, and the action charged up and down it – in the mud and the rain. Yes after meeting the weird sisters, the company fought in battle with real, yes real, rain falling onto the earthen ground.  It must have been thrilling to be in the audience with the fighting coming that close.

The use of the church adds layers of symbolism to the text – Macbeth’s dagger that he sees before him is a projection of a cross, Duncan is slain on what would have been the altar, meanwhile the witches are like writhing young mud-caked Maenads (female followers of Dionysus).  All the colours are muted, heathery faded tartans, and muddy of course – except for Lady Macbeth’s pure white nightdress, and blood-red gown.

Photo by Johan Persson

Photo by Johan Persson

Branagh’s speaking of the text is so natural – I saw his full Hamlet at the RSC back in the 1990s and felt that I understood the whole thing properly for the first time. He completely inhabits the rôle, and wears all of Macbeth’s emotions on his face. Kingston and Branagh had good chemistry, and here was the really annoying thing! The cinema lost the signal for a few minutes – just as the two of them were about to meet again after the initial battle – and we missed the sexy bit!  Her mad scene later was great though.

The leads were ably supported by some RSC/Renaissance Theatre Co stalwarts – John Shrapnel as Duncan, Jimmy Yuill as Banquo, and Ray Fearon as Macduff. Fights were by master fight director Terry King and the music was by Patrick Doyle.  So the pedigree of the entire production was absolutely top class.

The camera work for the cinema screening was also brilliant – we didn’t miss a thing, and it seemed very unobtrusive – it must have been choreographed just like the fights. However, the fact that the action was so close-up with bloody battle scenes inches from the audience’s faces (you could see them flinch), it was impossible to feel as if you were actually there with them, whereas when I saw a screening of Frankenstein last year from the National Theatre with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, you could actually place yourself in the stalls for much of it.

However it was still two hours of bloody, bloody brilliant theatre, and I am totally in awe of our Ken, (who is ageing very nicely too).

Next on my list of these live screenings will be Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear in Othello on Sept 26 from the National Theatre, directed by Nicholas Hytner.

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.

A family drama with a Hollywood backdrop

Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

A novel set during the golden age of Hollywood has an instant allure, promising old-fashioned glamour and a look behind the scenes of the movies, plus possibly a whiff of scandal. That’s not what this novel is really about though, despite its title and monochrome cover …

Elsa Emerson’s family own a theatre in Wisconsin, and she grows up amongst the summer stock theatre crowd. Elsa is the youngest of three sisters and idolises Hildy her oldest sister who is beautiful and has potential as an actress.  When Elsa is still only eight, Hildy commits suicide after getting pregnant by the leading actor that summer who then abandons her.

When Elsa is old enough, it’s not a surprise when she falls for that season’s leading man, but ends up marrying him. They head for Hollywood where Gordon has high hopes, and Elsa is soon pregnant. Gordon does get a contract for small parts with a studio, but it is Elsa that will soon eclipse him when she is spotted at a party by a studio boss.

He nodded. ‘Here’s what you should do. Do you mind if I tell you?’ Irving didn’t wait for her to respond. ‘Have the baby. Take a few months, lose thirty pounds. Not so much that you lose the milkmaid look, though. It’s your trademark – Miss Wisconsin, all sweetness and light. And Elsa Pitts isn’t gonna cut it, is it?’ Irving looked at her hard. Elsa blushed. He stared for so long that Elsa began to sweat even more. She reflexively put her hands around her belly, as if to protect the child from whatever was to come. Then Irving snapped his fingers so loudly that it echoed through the room, over all the chatting and flirting. Elsa was surprised that such a sharp, loud noise could come out of such a small person. ‘Laura Lamont,’ he said. ‘You want it? It’s yours. Come see me when you’re ready.’

Irving makes good on his promise, Elsa becomes Laura, and within a few years she’s a star – with two children already. Gordon can’t cope with this or being a father, and falls by the wayside, leaving Irving to become Laura’s husband number two. They have a near perfect relationship, which is cemented by Laura winning an Oscar, and finally providing Irving with a son.

By then we’re not quite halfway through the novel, and already Laura’s best years are behind her, which was a shame, for I’d enjoyed it a lot up until then. The second half is taken up with family matters, Irving’s poor health, Laura’s descent into addiction to pills, and an attempt at a comeback.

Elsa/Laura remains a girl from Wisconsin throughout really, and this holds the narrative back from really getting under the skin of the Hollywood studio system, which is what I’d hoped for more of. Straub doesn’t overglamorise the life of being a contract actor, fading star, or come to think of it, a major player.

This book is really about family though, not Hollywood. Wisconsin and LA really are physically so far apart, there’s little possibility of going home for the holidays. Elsa’s relationships with her parents are very different too – Elsa was very close to her father, and he has followed her career from afar; her mother though can’t forgive her for taking Hildy’s place, and this shows when her parents come to the Academy Awards and meet their grandchildren and Irving for the first time…

… Laura felt wretched next to her mother, because it should have been Hildy here in Hollywood, and she – still Elsa, always Elsa – should have been at home, back in Door County, her entire world only as wide as the peninsula. It was all wrong; Laura knew that. She was a body double, and her mother was the only one who saw it.

Many of the characters appeared to be inspired by real life actors and actresses – Laura’s best friend Ginger was a shoe-in for Lucille Ball for instance.  I also gather that Laura herself has many parallels in her life with the actress Jennifer Jones, (thanks Red Rock Bookworm on Amazon).

A competent début and easy to read – I enjoyed this book. I did, however, wish that the first half had been longer, and the second shorter – a bit more Hollywood glamour and a bit less of real life butting in.  (7.5/10)

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I received my review copy courtesy of Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures by Emma Straub, pub Oct 11th, 2012 by Picador, hardback, 256 pages.

Frankenstein – National Theatre Live

I’m having a break from Beryl today, as I’m dying to tell you about the film I went to see last night, because if I delayed and you wanted to go, you might have missed it…

Last summer one of the biggest critical smashes in the theatre was Danny Boyle’s production of a new play version of Frankenstein by Nick Dear. It starred Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller in the lead roles of Victor and the Creature – however they alternated which was a huge success – bringing two slightly different interpretations to the roles.

The National Theatre filmed it and beamed it live (both versions) to cinemas, which was again a bit hit.  I missed it then, but this June – there is a limited season of encore screenings and I saw it at my local multiplex (yes!) yesterday – and it was FANTASTIC!  It’s only on for a little while, so if you’re interested, go to the NT Live homepage where you can find a screening near you.

I saw the version with Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature and Cumberbatch as Victor Frankenstein, which is, I feel the more natural casting, (although I understand it was also brilliant the other way around).

For a near bare stage production, it was totally visually stunning – from the opening moments in which the Creature was born and lay on the stage, twitching and panting, and trying to work out how to stand up, to the shores of Lake Geneva, represented by wooden jetties that came down from the roof – and up in the sky were thousands of light bulbs twinkling. Both leads were stunningly good, but Miller was amazing – all twitching, lurching, spasming, drooling, yet eloquent – having been taught by a old blind man played brilliantly by veteran Karl Johnson, (who I remember seeing years ago as Jacques with Fiona Shaw in As You Like It at the Old Vic).

Sometimes theatrical productions don’t work so well when filmed straight, but the camera positions had been planned with precision so the cinema audience was able to buy in to the performance. It was only when they came out for their bows at the end that you realised you were in a cinema again.  I can’t recommend this production enough!  (10/10)

When I lived close to London, I went to the theatre about once a month – to the RSC, NT and Old Vic primarily, and I do miss those trips.  However, the NT Live is pretty much the next best thing.  I see they are going to broadcast Timon of Athens starring Simon Russell Beale in the late autumn …

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Back to Beryl tomorrow, but don’t forget to leave Beryl comments or links – here or on any of the previous Beryl posts.

Book v Movie: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

I went to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen this afternoon based on the brilliant 2006 book by Paul Torday.

I read the book last year and loved it, (review here), so I was crossing my fingers that the film would also be good.

The film stars Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt and Kristin Scott-Thomas, with the rather gorgeous Egyptian actor Amr Waked as the Shiekh.  It was directed by Lasse Hallström from a script adapted by Slumdog Oscar-winner Simon Beaufoy.

A great cast and crew, but I had read that the film wasn’t as good as the book, so I kept my fingers crossed…  I’m not going to dwell on the plot.  For the first three-quarters of the film, it stayed faithful to the book, and I even recognised some of the dialogue.

The one major change was that the PM’s spin doctor changed sex for the film – Peter became Patricia Maxwell and gave Scott-Thomas the chance to play a prize-bitch.

Being a very British film, the makers undoubtedly wanted to have a character that wasn’t a remake of the foul Malcolm Tucker from the BBC’s brilliant political satire In the thick of it.  This worked in that KS-T was perfectly cast, but she didn’t really get enough to get her teeth into.  That was the fault of the screenplay which often emulated the format of the novel also, which is largely written as e-mails, letters, memos, reportage, and then later diary entries. So KS-T was always on the phone, or typing at her laptop, and was reacting against the ether rather than real people most of the time, which rather wasted her.

Which brings me to Ewan McGregor.  He’s so youthful and normally full of joie de vivre, that it was hard to see him as a hen-pecked boffin type.  However, he is now forty-one, and nearing the age I envisaged for Fred; dressed down in tweedy jackets and pullovers he actually fitted the rôle well.  Then, when he did his voiceovers for the memos and e-mails, his sardonic delivery and his character’s inability to tell a joke won me over, and I loved him as Dr Jones.  He handled the light comedy and Fred’s emotional confusion equally well.

I sat back and was enjoying the film: having a good chuckle, being amazed by Emily Blunt’s beauty, admiring the Scottish and Yemeni scenery, laughing at Fred and his wife Mary miming playing musical instruments in a baroque quartet, and all along rooting for Fred of course.  Then we reached the last reels, and a departure from the book…

Yes, this is a rom-com. It can’t get too dark or satiric, especially in the last reels. Rom-coms have a formula, and you can guess where I’m going – I won’t spell it out for you.  The formula successfully diluted the book’s central message of having faith and following your dream, but acknowledging that dreams can be shattered.

It was intermittently funny and romantic and had charming leads in McGregor and Blunt (plus the gorgeous Sheikh).  It lacked bite though, and being partly a BBC film, did feel slightly TV-movie-ish at times.

If I hadn’t read the novel, I’d have thoroughly enjoyed the film. Then I’d have been inspired to get the book.

It wasn’t a bad film at all, but it was a movie first, book later one.

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To explore on Amazon UK (affiliate link), do click below:
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday
The Thick Of It – Complete Box Set [DVD]

Moviewatch – Moon

I saw Moon the other night on DVD and was absolutely blown away by this brilliant and clever little movie.

Sam Rockwell plays an astronaut, also called Sam, who is reaching the end of his three year contract manning a mining station on the moon. He lives all alone there with just the robot GERTY for company, and occasional messages from his wife and daughter back home. When one of the drilling machines develops a fault, he goes out in one of the rovers to fix it, but crashes. He wakes up back in the station’s sick bay, and GERTY is asking him to do some tests to check that he’s alright. Sam is suspicious and tries to get up and find out what happened… That’s all you’re getting of the plot, to tell you any more would spoil things completely, but it’s a real thriller!

It’s the film debut of the former Zowie Bowie, who now goes by the name of Duncan Jones; he also wrote the story. The look and feel of the film crosses 2001: a space odyssey with hints of Dark Star, and even light touches from Red Dwarf and the Alien movies – due homage is paid in style. The suspense is upped by the wonderful ambient soundtrack by Clint Mansell which never gets in the way, just this little menacing two note motif that builds the tension nicely. Also, thanks to the wonderful voice talent that plays the voice of GERTY, you’re never quite sure whose side the robot is on, (no I’m not letting on who). Most of all, Rockwell proves his versatility as an actor – it would be wonderful if he got an Oscar nomination.