Thursday, May 26, 2011
Monday, May 23, 2011
There is a memorable quote in the Woody Allen movie, The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) which goes, "I just met a wonderful new man. He's fictional, but you can't have everything."
I've always held that with men like Sir Percy Blakeney, Edward Rochester and Fitzwilliam Darcy, real men never stood a chance. Who needs the trouble of relationships with men who will eventually disappoint, when you can just flip to the chapter "Richmond" and live the moment when Blakeney kisses every spot that Marguerite's foot had touched?
And no character is more complex (and therefore attractive) than Edward Rochester. Playing this role was obviously some kind of rite of passage for brooding, talented actors: Orson Welles, Timothy Dalton, William Hurt, Colin Clive, George C. Scott, and most recently, Michael Fassbender (among many others) have all tried to unravel this tormented hurricane of a man.
It always worries me to see a classic book that I adore being adapted to screen. Despite there having been a few dozen adaptations of Jane Eyre, this is the first one I've watched. Sure, BBC got Pride and Prejudice right, but that book seems downright fluffy and romcom-y in comparison to Brontë's dark and meditative passages set in those haunting moors. But putting all trepidation aside, I watched all four episodes and I'm happy to report that BBC's talent for adaptations remains unblemished.
The most noticeable thing about the series is that they've drastically cut short Jane's sojourn in Lowood School and with St. John and his sisters. Instead, the series concentrates on her romance with Rochester, and is a commentary on the situation of classless, educated girls with no means. I was all set to burn BBC effigies when I heard about this, but on watching the series, I have no choice but to applaud their pragmatic decision, because when I now reread the book I find myself impatiently getting through the Lowood bits, and will Jane to hurry up and reach Thornfield Hall already! I can see why there was really no need to spend more time on Lowood. Like Jane says, she discovered herself and was "born" only after she came to Thornfield Hall. Yes, Jane is a lovely heroine, naive but levelheaded, but for me, it is Jane's conversations with Rochester that just light up the book.
However, I was not pleased with the portrayal of young Jane: she seemed a bit too sure of herself. Jane Eyre from the book was downright terrified of the Reeds and was a very unhappy child. Jane from the TV series on the other hand, was cocky, like she was just biding her time. I just could not feel her despair and hopelessness. Also, Brocklehurst was not horrid enough: I mean, the man in the book was an enormous prick, but I suppose the full character got axed in the drive to keep her childhood short. Fair enough.
But the childhood bit is merely the prologue-- the show really begins with Rochester's entry. He is described in the book as, "... a Vulcan— a real blacksmith, brown, broad-shouldered; and blind and lame, into the bargain.” Toby Stephens, starring as Rochester, channels that description into every scene. Oscillating moods, abrasiveness, impetuousness, sudden bursts of affection, familial hatred, sense of duty, --this Rochester, like Vulcan himself, is fiery and unfaltering, and does complete justice to Brontë's description and dialogue. There are moments when he spits out his lines with venom for life and people, like the real Rochester. There are moments when he is childlike in his impatience and stubbornness. There are moments when he is heartbreakingly gentle with little Jane. And these little moments stay with you long after the show is done.
The piece de resistance of the series is of course, Jane's romance with Rochester. I found the affair to be very believable, even though it's a rather unlikely tale about a rich landowner falling in love with a very plain governess. There was sufficient conversation and character growth, so their falling in love doesn't feel like it happened in 15 seconds. Also, they took great pains to portray the peculiar situation of governesses who are not rich enough to be Upstairs and too educated to be Downstairs. On the other hand, they didn't make her out to be a downtrodden Cinderella either. It felt very real and their romance seemed likely.
The portrayal of Mrs. Rochester as a beautiful, free-spirited woman is interesting and seems to have taken inspiration from Wide Sargasso Sea. They've given her a character, a lot more than Brontë ever did. It is hinted that Rochester's hate and fear of her may have stemmed from her independence, open sensuality and vague fears of her mother. Was her insanity actually genetic? Or did Rochester's fears for her sanity make her go mad?
For all its efforts to stay true to the book and depth of its characters, Jane Eyre doesn't quite have that timeless classic feel of Pride and Prejudice (possibly because Jane Eyre did not have Colin Firth in a wet shirt), but it is the perfect thing to watch when you have a hankering for a proper costume drama and a Gothic thriller-love story.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
“If you can’t be famous, be infamous”
I can think of very few movies that feature such shamelessly murderous protagonists who you’re still rooting for, hoping that get away with their crimes. Maybe it’s because of how much fun they seem to be having conniving and manipulating their way through the system, or because, as the ladies in the show-stopping Cell Block Tango number sing about their murdered beloveds, they had it coming. They had it coming all along.
I’ll cut to the chase: Roxie Hart (Renée Zellwegger) is a vaudeville-aspirant-turned-murderess, on trial in the Cook County Jail after she discovers the man she is having an affair with has been lying to her about the one thing that she really cares about - her ticket to the stage - and kills him. In prison, she comes across the matron Mama Morton (a deliciously fun Queen Latifah) and her own inspiration and fellow murderess, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones - also gloriously decadent). They must strive for the fame that will save them from the gallows in 1920s Chicago. Things aren’t looking too good for Roxie, until she chances into Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) - a lawyer with a heart of gold, gold from the five thousand dollar fee he charges for ensuring an acquittal. And so begins the circus.
Queen Latifah gives us a saucy little take on When You’re Good to Mama, an introduction to her tit-for-tat policy that Roxie will later learn to exploit. The aforementioned Cell Block Tango is an impressively written succession of monologues (“We parted on artistic differences - he saw himself as alive - and I saw him dead”) in a grand ode to murders that ought not be called crimes. Richard Gere shines in his introduction as the lawyer who really just cares about love, then literally strings a charmed media along in another brilliantly visualised sequence in They Both Reached For The Gun.
The breakneck pacing is allowed to breathe with a series of numbers throwing some more light on our leading ladies, with Velma trying to convince Roxie to get on with her act, while the true extent of Roxie’s own showbiz mania comes through in a faux stand up performance-of-her-dreams. Before you know it though, the movie is back to its breakneck showmanship, with the grand centrepiece, at least as far as I’m concerned - Give ‘em The ol’ Razzle Dazzle. The nature of the charade Billy Flynn’s spinning for the entire system is masterfully executed here, with the courtroom standing transformed into aBarnum and Bailey creation for Flynn’s ringmaster. Swift cuts juxtapose the theatre our lawyer’s trying to create, simultaneously merging it with the reality of the courtroom until the two are virtually indistinguishable. The cheering crowd would be just as at home in an auditorium, and the way Roxie poses coyly at the camera, you would think she’s on the red carpet.
Renée Zellwegger, who plays Roxie in Chicago, poses coyly at the camera on the red carpet.
Image above and on article thumbnail from Wikimedia Commons here.
And look, if you want a message movie, go watch Taare Zameen Par.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
George R.R. Martin may not believe in deadlines, but I am glad that HBO executives do. True to their word, the HBO original series, Game of Thrones released on April 17th and is already 3 episodes old. So far, the show has exceeded every expectation and has already been renewed for season 2.
Based on the still incomplete fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire written by the reigning world champion in procrastination, George R.R. Martin (who, yawn, has announced ANOTHER release date for the fifth book), this TV series follows the lives of several ruling families in the land of Westeros and their many political and bedroom intrigues.
If you have not read the books, let that not deter you from watching the series. That is, assuming you’re into medieval sword-and-sorcery tales of violence, sex, re-animated corpses and other terribly exciting things. Oh, and dragons. However, you should stop reading this post as there may be some spoilers ahead.
Now that we’ve shaken off the philistines and barbarians, let me answer the question that has been plaguing us since they announced the making of the TV series, “HOW IS THE CASTING ARE THE CHARACTERS ANYTHING LIKE I IMAGINED THEM OH GOD THEY’VE RUINED IT HAVEN’T THEY?” You may now rest easy knowing that the casting is perfect and the show is e p i c. That should not be surprising considering the fact that GRRM retained a degree of control over the casting and since the story is supposed to be in POV format, a good cast should’ve been their top priority. Even I could not have done a better job and I’ve spent countless hours pondering this very question.
The Starks are the obvious favourites: they don’t wear pretty garments and decorative armour. They’re grim, tough and mean business. Ned Stark (played by Boromir) is just as I’d imagined him– dutiful, honourable and weary (does anyone else see the startling similarities between him and Duke Leto Atreides I from the Dune universe?). Catelyn is more matronly than expected but the meatiest part of her role is yet to come. Bran is sometimes a darling little boy and often a solemn man. Arya is a spitfire, and Sansa is prissy. My favourite character, Jon Snow was a bit… healthier than expected but the actor has done a great job of portraying his resentment and love for the Starks and determination to make something of himself.
So far, Daenerys Targaryen only looks wistful and wears diaphanous garments. As for Khal Drogo, unfortunately I can only picture him running across a beach in slow motion wearing red swimming trunks. But that’s my problem, not Jason Momoa’s.
As for the Lannisters, the “the things I do for love” scene is so chilling and beautifully executed, that in those 15 seconds, the true natures of Jaime and Cersei are laid bare. And yes, Jaime is suave, irreverent and awesome. But the award has to go to Peter Dinklage (playing Tyrion), who brings the character alive in a way that makes all the others look two dimensional. It helps that he got the cheekiest dialogue (“Go celibate? The whores would go begging from Casterly Rock.”) and Dinklage delivers them so much better than the voice in my head ever did.
Coming now to the plot itself, many were afraid that they would not be able to do justice to the seemingly weighty tomes, but, if you think about it, GRRM devoted reams to describing sigils, mottos and symbols, that when translated to live action, they’re able to devote enough and more time for the characters. Also, despite being told in POV, the books are highly plot-centric. Characters have fixed personalities and are slow to evolve. Varys oozes around the place, Viserys is a horrible beast, Robb Stark is Lord Noble McDutiful, and are slaves to the plot. Few of them change without a major event happening to them, so I doubt a TV adaptation could do much injustice to the characters. A commendable thing about the show is that they’ve spent far less time on back story than expected with no lazy voice overs, and yet have managed to keep the story coherent.
At the end of the day, A Song of Ice and Fire is “The Bold and the Beautiful” of the fantasy book world with suspense, family feuds and amorous affairs. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy them; on the contrary I’ve subscribed to every blog that may have information on the fifth book’s release date. But it does not change the fact that all the women are Vixens, Xenas or Barbies, the plot can be predictable, the descriptions clunky and dialogue cringe-worthy on occasion. That said, this is a great series to be adapted to the screen.
While staying true to the books, the show is not shackled to them. It could’ve descended into a mess of clashing story arcs or become another easily replaceable period piece, but instead, they’ve distilled the characters, retained their best dialogues and scenes and given it a Sopranos (if they had swords and wore cloaks instead of guns and ill-fitted suits) feel, with graphic scenes and grittiness tempered with witty conversations and some beautiful cinematography that lingers instead of sprinting through the story just to hit all the check points (like the seventh movie about a certain boy wizard with a peculiar scar). Often, deeply intimate moments like a father watching his daughter learn fencing betray more about Westeros and its political climate than the plot exposition.
Now is it too much to hope that they won’t scrimp on the CGI budget and the dragons Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon won’t look like the love children of the dragons from Dungeons & Dragons (2000) and Dragonheart(1996)?
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
In the comic book series, “The Mighty Thor” (debuting in 1962), Thor is stripped off his divinity and his mighty hammer and exiled to Earth by his father, Odin to teach him a lesson in humility. He lives as a doctor, Donald Blake till he re-acquires his powers and once again becomes a God. In the meanwhile, he is constantly thwarted by his evil stepbrother Loki. He also joins Captain America, Iron Man, Spider Man and others to form the “Avengers” who fight evil and are called the “poor man’s Justice League” by DC Comics fans.
Retaining pretty much the same concept for the movie, Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth) is an immortal of Asgard (a world in a different dimension) and heir to the throne after his father, Odin, but he is headstrong, arrogant and impetuous. He is punished by Odin for his pride by sending him to Earth, to live as a mortal. There he meets the very pretty Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman) who is some kind of space-time scientist, all sorts of adorably whacky hijincks happen, he become all human-y and decides to confront his evil stepbrother Loki and reclaim Asgard, but in a humble fashion.
The idea that Gods walk among us in the guise of broad shouldered, beautiful, invincible, celestial giants is an intriguing thought. It tickles us to think that Gods, who are omniscient and powerful, could actually learn from the experience of being a mortal. It is even funnier when a God walks into a café and asks for coffee by smashing the mug and yelling, “This drink, I like it. More!” or when He walks into a pet store and says, “Quickly man, I need a horse.”
But that does not mean that a movie actually set in the mythical Asgard/Jotunheimr is a good idea. Especially when “Asgard” ends up looking like the cover illustration of a cyberpunk penny dreadful. Since about 4/5ths of this movie is not set on Earth, but in CGI-gard and CGI-heimr, 4/5ths of this movie looks fake, tacky and has people dressed in very Shiny outfits who speak in Fantasy English (you know, living in realms, slaying fell beasts, riding noble steeds and calling each other ‘Sire’). Which is sad, because the 1/5th bit of the movie set on Earth was extremely funny and well-executed. I get that Asgard was supposed to evoke a feeling of fantasy and otherworldliness, but the only amazing thing about it was realizing that most of the actors in the movie performed their entire role before a green screen.
Even though Thor’s stint as a mortal was the central event in the movie, considering the fact that it changed him and helped him achieve his potential, surprisingly little time is devoted to this period. He cries in one scene and has a 5 minute discussion with Jane Foster about stars and science and that’s it. He becomes Thor the God Who Is Sympathetic to Humans. No doubt they decided to get their priorities straight and focus on the fight scenes (which were not exactly jaw-dropping), but everybody knew and expected this movie to be an origin story and was resigned to lots of character growth and dialogue. Then again, if they’d done that, I’m sure many would’ve complained about the insufficiency of cool action scenes. There’s just no pleasing fanboys.
As for the other characters, there was Odin was played by Anthony Hopkins who just used his script and costume from Beowulf (2007). Actually, I don’t think he even noticed that he was in a different movie. But he’s Anthony Hopkins; he’s earned the right to phone it in for the next 800 films. Loki on the other hand, was a somewhat well-developed character who is tormented by his demons, is resentful of Thor and yearns for Odin’s love. This is quite a departure from the Nordic legend where Loki screws around with the other gods merely because he can. In the movie on the other hand, Loki is a tragic character, which I suppose was a necessary change because audience find it very difficult to accept a character whose motivations are not clear. Finally, there was Lady Sif and the Warriors Three, i.e. Thor’s cronies who are aptly described by a character in the movie as “Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood” (you can add Tall Gimli to that). Little jokes like that remind you that the movie-makers are aware that they are dealing with slightly clichéd characters, but then, who wants to invest more time developing supporting characters when there are Frost Giant fight sequences waiting to be shot?
A common complaint is that Jane Foster fell for Thor within 4 seconds of meeting him and spends the rest of the movie drooling all over him. In her defence, Chris Hemsworth is 3 parts dreamboat, 1 part hawt and has shoulders broad enough to bridge Asgard and Earth, so one really can’t blame her. Besides, it has always been the hallmark of Godhood that women rarely refused you, and if they did, you got to turn them into plants.
All in all, it was definitely an enjoyable movie, but with a generous heap of salt.