Love and Friendship and Other Prospects

Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” (review coming soon on Ripples) opens up a whole new world of Jane Austen for modern day readers and viewers. All we’ve been familiar with are Austen’s six novels, with 60 plus adaptations of full features and TV series according to IMDb.

Based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan written likely when she was only 18 or 19, “Love & Friendship” is a first time movie adaptation of this lesser-known work. Director Stillman got the name from one of Austen’s short stories with one major alteration: &. The film was a big hit. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this January to critical acclaims. Everywhere since, “Love & Friendship” has left audience fully entertained for 90 minutes. Surprising, or not, for it’s Whit Stillman’s work that’s a long time coming. A specialist in comedy of manners in our modern time, Stillman wrote the screenplay himself, even has it published as a new novel together with Austen’s original work, 2 in 1. Now that’s a must read. And as Stillman said in an interview :”I vastly prefer the kind of collaboration I had with Jane Austen to those living authors… She has no complaints! I can assure you she has no complaints. I know that for a fact.”

After the world was awakened to this relatively ‘unknown’ Austen work being brought to the big screen, now comes another one: “Sanditon”, Austen’s unfinished novel when she died in 1817. So much the better, with an unfinished novel, a screenwriter and director can have the freedom to use their creative flair to boundless possibilities.  (Note: in 1975, a ‘completed Sanditon’ was published, authored by ‘Another Lady’, a writer who chose to follow Jane’s step of anonymity.) This upcoming film adaptation, however, is written by a known name, British playwright / producer/ director Simon Reade, who has many titles adapted on the British stage. Of note is his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a sell out run at The Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Oscar nominated Charlotte Rampling will play dowager Lady Denham in a production helmed by Jim O’Hanlon, who directed the 2009 BBC TV version of Emma.

If Lady Susan and Sanditon can be adapted to the big screen, lots more can come. A treasure trove of unfilmed works await in Austen’s bibliography. The Watsons, short stories, even letters can be put into good use as movie ideas. Lots of prospects lining up:

Frederic and Elfrida
Jack and Alice
Edgar and Emma
Henry and Eliza
Love and Friendship
A History of England
The Three Sisters
Lesley Castle
Evelyn
Catherine, or the Bower
The Watsons

“Love & Friendship” could be kicking off a Jane Austen revival in the coming years.

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Just posted a new list of Books to Movie Adaptations coming out this year or in development on Shiny New Books Issue #10. CLICK HERE to read.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All

Wonder Book Cover

I woke up this morning thinking about Auggie. I missed him.

His extraordinary face with the unevenly positioned eyes, one half-shut all the time, the cleft lip and misshapen ears, abnormal features (I’ve learned not to use the word ‘deformed’ now) indelibly imprinted would elicit fear from those who see him the first time, especially unexpectedly. The shock may send out an uncontrolled gasp or even a scream. And if one is  maliciously driven, tiny-framed Auggie is a ready and easy target for bullying, especially in the setting he’s in now, middle school, the breeding ground for raw emotions and unchecked cruelty in both words and deeds. The ten year old has had twenty-seven surgeries big and small so far in his life. Homeschooled until now, Auggie is stepping out into 5th grade with unimaginable trepidation, mustering a courage no less than that required for all the surgeries he’d faced in his life.

Auggie, or, August Pullman, is a fictional character from R. J. Palacio’s book for 9-12 year olds, but he’s as real as my neighbor’s son, or even, my own. That’s the power of Palacio’s nuanced and realistic writing. This is a book for all ages, a required reading for every human being if I have my way, for Palacio has painted a perfect world.

In a perfect world, there are still babies born with facial abnormality. But that little life is still wrapped with warmth and cuddled with love and acceptance.

In a perfect world, that child will grow up not thinking himself ‘different’ or deficient, but as normal as any other kid his age. He can still enjoy reading his comics, be read to and tugged in at bedtime, master video games, watch Star War movies, play with his light saber, hug his doggie, and all those he loves: mom, dad and older sis. The child knows no deficiency.

In a perfect world, even after that child steps out of his well protected, comfort zone and ventures precariously into the reality of middle school, he can still find friends, however few at the beginning.

In a perfect world, there are still bullies and jerks. The child will still have to face incredulous challenges and learn to ignore horrible remarks more distorted than his facial features. In a perfect world, even in this seemingly cruel microcosm of the human society, this child can still find love, support, acceptance, and life-sustaining kindness.

In a perfect world, that child is considered a gift and a blessing, a challenge for us to be better human beings.

In a perfect world, good will overcome evil.

Seldom does a children’s book has such power over me. Actually, seldom do I read a children’s book, haven’t for a long, long while. But glad I’ve discovered Wonder. Auggie will live in my mind for a while even now that I’ve finished the book. I wish author R. J. Palacio’s Choose Kind anti-bullying movement will continue to flourish.

A book like this deserves a good movie adaptation. A recent announcement has given me hope that a worthy one might be on the drawing board. Well, just with the two being cast so far. Jacob Tremblay, the wonder boy who plays Jack in the acclaimed movie adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s Room is to play Auggie. His mom? Julia Roberts. As a mother of 10 and 8 year-olds, Roberts would have some insights to instill into her role.

 

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Books Before Films 2016

There are several books on my shelf and in my TBR box that will be turning into films coming out in 2016. I must get to them soon. How time flies, one day’s gone already.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

The Light bet OceansOften it’s the cast of an upcoming movie that prods me to read a book. This one has been on the New York Times Bestseller List for years since its publication. No matter how popular it is, I’m motivated only now mainly because of the first rate cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender, Rachel Weisz, directed by Derek Cianfrance. Instead of a place beyond the pines (his last work) we have an island off the Australian coast, with the story about a lighthouse keeper and his wife bringing up a baby they found in a boat washed up onshore.

 

Silence by Shûsaku Endô

SilenceThis one is just the opposite. I want to read it regardless of whether it will be made into a film or not. But what a bonus it is to know the adaptation is a Martin Scorsese’s work with Liam Neeson, Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, and Ciarán Hinds. I highly anticipate this film, albeit I expect the viewing experience won’t be pleasant. I’ve read it before but want to reread it before watching. The book is heart-wrenching as Endô describes the persecutions and tortures Christians and Jesuit missionaries suffered in 17th century Japan. How Scorsese, a Catholic himself, handles the subject matter – the choice between apostasy vs. martyrdom – and have these character actors interpret the internal and physical torments will be intriguing to see. Scorsese wrote the forward of this edition of the book (image here).

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman

The Zookeeper's WifeThis is a worthy, true story to be made into film. Jan and Antonina Zabinski were keepers of the reputable Warsaw Zoo. During the Holocaust, Jan smuggled Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto into their facility, saving hundreds. Antonina did the day-to-day chores of protecting them, hiding them in the cages, feeding them and keeping their spirits up. The parallel and irony of men and beasts are obvious. Acclaimed nature writer Diane Ackerman drew from Antonina’s diary to write her non-fiction work, a historical account of a heroic rescue mission. Screenplay by Angela Workerman, a scribe to note. Jessica Chastain and Daniel Brühl play the altruistic Zabinski couple.

 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Lady Susan Book CoverThis has been in my iBooks for a long while, so long that I’d deleted it and now reloaded it again as the film adaptation is coming out. Entitled Love and Friendship, screenplay is based on Austen’s early novella Lady Susan, with Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon. It will be interesting to see how the epistle form is translated onto screen. It will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival Jan. 23. Whether we will actually see it in our movie theatres is another matter. I hope it will be screened in the not too distant future.

 

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

RemainderI bought this book at Harvard Book Store – the independent book store in Harvard Square since 1932 – during my New England Road Trip last fall. I’d read McCarthy’s 2015 Booker shortlisted Satin Island and knew Remainder had been adapted into film before I went on the trip. So it was a title I’d intended to get at that bookstore. Remainder is McCarthy’s debut work (2006). An unnamed Londoner is struck by a falling object and lapse into a coma. As he awakes, he has lost all memory and needs to re-enact his past to find his identity and authenticity of being. The Telegraph had called McCarthy “a Kafka for the Google Age”. Interesting to see how that translates onto screen. The film premiered at the BFI London Film Festival last October. Will screen at Berlin International Film Festival in February, 2016.

 

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

the_secret_scripture_bookcover The film adaptation of Booker short-listed and multiple award winning novel by Irish writer Sebastian Barry has already been completed, but has yet come up with a release date. So, I’ve plenty of time to read the book. The narrator is a 100 year-old mental hospital patient recalling her life. The old and the young are played by Vanessa Redgrave and Rooney Mara respectively. Directed by Jim Sheridan, the Oscar nominated director who introduced us to Daniel Day-Lewis in the excellent productions first in My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown and later In the Name of the Father.

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Top Ripples 2015

Here are the books and movies, experiences and encounters that I’d rated 4 Ripples this year. Click on the links to read my reviews.

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~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 2015 Movies

The Assassin 

Brooklyn 

Clouds of Sils Maria

Ex Machina

Mustang (Review upcoming)

Spotlight

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Worthy mentions  ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Bridge of Spies

The End of the Tour

Jafar Panahi’s Taxi

Leviathan

The Martian

Room 

Suffragette

Testament of Youth

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At the Cineplex, I’d also enjoyed four National Theatre Live performances on screen direct from the London stage. All of these are memorable. CLICK HERE to read my post on the first three, and HERE for Hamlet:

The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard

The View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller

Man and Superman by Bernard Shaw

Hamlet by William Shakespeare (with Benedict Cumberbatch)

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As in years past, the number of books I’ve read is only about half of the films I’ve seen, a stat that I’d like to improve in the future. Here are the Top Ripples in books I’ve read in 2015, not all published in this year obviously.

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig

The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig

Terrapin: Poems by Wendell Berry

Leavings by Wendell Berry

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

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Here, I must mention my 4 Ripple Experience: Fall Foliage Road Trip across four New England States two weeks in Sept/Oct., prompting me to write 10 blog posts when I came back. Starting here.

Kancamagus Hwy

Another 4 Ripple Encounter is attending the Merchant Ivory Retrospective in December. I’d never thought I could actually see director James Ivory in person. And so I did. It was fascinating listening to the 87 year-old, legendary director who’d brought us A Room with a View (1985), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), and many other literary to film adaptations talk about the working dynamics of Ismael Merchant, writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and himself in the creative process.

Here’s a photo of the occasion, a Q & A session with film critic Katherine Monk after the screening of Heat and Dust, adaptation of the Man Booker winning novel (1983) by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala:

James Ivory1

 

And that’s a wrap for 2015.

 

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Related posts you might like to read:

Howards End by E. M. Forster

The Merchant Ivory Dialogues 

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: A Tribute to Rootlessness

Can a Movie Adaptation Ever be as Good as the Book

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Brooklyn: From Book to Film

Director John Crowley’s movie adaptation of Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín has aptly answered my query (last post): what elements in the book make movie materials? Potentially, a lot. The trick is not to turn them into cliché moments on screen, for this isn’t an unusual story: a young woman leaving home and finding independence and love in a new land. While the film has its flaws, Crowley has crafted a beautiful and stylish transposition.

Author Nick Hornby has done it again following his Oscar nominated screenplay for An Education (2009) adapted from Lynn Barber’s memoir, a film that launched Carey Mulligan’s breakout role and Oscar nod, also a coming-of-age story.

Here in Brooklyn, Hornby tells his story by linking up succinct scenes that just about cover all key episodes in the book. They are short, to the point, and well-paced. The editing too is seamless, driving the film on without delay. After all, they only have about 120 minutes, and they’ve done a smooth job doing that.

Brooklyn Movie Poster

Tóibín’s seemingly simple narration of young Eilis Lacey’s journey of emigration from Ireland to America in the 1950’s is transposed onto film with sensitivity and nuance. The ‘mundaneness’ of daily living – working in a department store, dinner back at the boarding house, night class several days in the week – is transformed into vivid scenes by a lively cast of actors. To their credits, the already animated dinner table banters at Mrs. Kehoe’s (Julie Walters) rooming house as described by Tóibín have now come to life. Indeed, Julie Walters embodies Mrs. Kehoe, and Jim Broadbent as Father Flood is well cast.

Crowley, or is it Hornby, had softened Tóibín’s shrewd descriptions of some of his characters, presenting them in a sympathetic light, making them more likeable. The mood is less serious than the book but evoking empathy just the same. Although two weak spots I find. First is the glamorous and confident older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) is not depicted as such, lessening the effect that is to come later. Secondly, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) is absent at the beginning but appears only in the last part of the film, hence there is not much for character contrast or development.

While most of the supporting characters are well played, the film belongs to Saoirse Ronan, the young Irish actor who first drew notice from Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2007). Her performance as 13 year-old Briony sent chills up my spine. With that role Ronan became one of the youngest Academy Awards nominees. In the most recent Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) she sends out very different vibes. As of now for Brooklyn, Ronan has a Golden Globe Best Actress nom. I anticipate she will go all the way to the Oscars.

Cinematographer Yves Bélanger is apt to let the camera linger on Ronan close-up many times, for she acts without speaking. Her facial expressions representing the spectrum of Eilis’s emotions and thoughts are spot on. It is a delight to watch her.

Another animated scene is dinner at Tony’s (Emory Cohen) Italian family home. Here, we see the characters jump out of the book, especially the kid brother, 8 year-old Frankie (James DiGiacomo), whose infamous line is “We don’t like Irish people.” But of course, the whole family welcomes Eilis and supports Tony, who has interpreted his literary version well: respectful, authentic and transparent, as Tóibín writes,”he was as he appeared to her; there was no other side to him.”

Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell has a hard role to play for its very short appearance in the last part. He has not much material to work from but just hangs around with Nancy (Eileen O’Higgins) and George (Peter Campion) who try to set him up with Eilis. Not much to launch a lightning courtship.

Colours play a major role in the film, albeit I feel a pinch of contrivance; watching the colourful 1950’s costumes is like looking into the window of a candy shop with all kinds of macaroons. However, the colours may well set the mood and setting for the film: The overall greenish tone of the first part in Ireland, to the stark green coat Eilis wears as she leaves home on board the ocean liner to the cheery bright yellow cardigan after she has met Tony. Towards the last part, it’s back to the greenish hue of Enniscorthy, only the newly returned Irish/American gal wearing her bright colours. Too explicit a visual translation? Maybe, but I like macaroons, and I won’t hold a Ripple against the colour treatment.

Another visual imagery is at the beginning, right after Eilis has landed in America and gone past the immigration line, she opens the door to head out. We see her step out into an overwhelming brightness of white. Too heavenly? Or maybe just the right sign to boost the confidence of our seasick and insecure heroine?

How do you translate Tóibín’s quiet descriptions on screen? His signature depictions of a calm surface that hides tumultuous billows of emotions? Crowley gives us silence. Indeed, there are cinematic moments that are devoid of sound; the most memorable one is close to the ending when Eilis reveals her secret to her mother (Jane Brennan), sending shock waves and despondence on her face. Yet she restrained her emotions. Mother and daughter embrace in utter silence with tears flowing, saying possibly a last goodbye to each other in their lives and releasing a determined letting go for both.

Brooklyn is a beautiful adaptation worthy of its literary source, among one of the best films I’ve seen in 2015.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples 

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Update Jan. 14, 2016:
3 Oscar Nominations – Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay

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Related Review Posts:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín Book Review

Atonement: Book Into Film

The Budapest Hotel: A Grand Escape

Ex Machina (2015) 

Serendipity on Route 7

My drive continued south from Bennington, Vermont, via RT 7 to Williamstown, Massachusetts. There I stayed for the night. I knew Williams College was located there. But while exploring the town, I came to this building and saw the huge banner. Upon further investigation, I was excited to discover the campus of Shakespeare & Company:

The Miller BldgDSC_0337 (1)Later I found out that the actor Christopher Reeve met his future wife Dana in Williamstown where they later married. Reeve began as an apprentice at age 15 with the Wiliamstown Theater Festival right in those venues and eventually performed there for fourteen more seasons.

I had the chance to talk to a woman who was working on the grounds and learned that, lo and behold, she was born in Alberta, Canada, my home province! Imagine a chance encounter with an Alberta born American thousands of miles away.

The Berkshires region is beautiful and cultural. I made a mental note to come back to Williamstown for its annual Theater Festival.

My original plan was just to drive south on RT 7 from Williamstown to Lenox to see the Edith Wharton House at The Mount, when another serendipitous find came upon me: Tanglewood Music Center. So here I was at the famous summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on my way to Edith Wharton House.

The Koussevitzky Music Shed was named after the Russian-born conductor, composer and double-bassist, long-time music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1924 to 1949:

TanglewoodI lingered at Tanglewood for quite some time, for the grounds were beautiful and offered magnificent views. Another mental note: I must come back for the Tanglewood Festival in the summer. :

viewAcross the road from Tanglewood, fall foliage began to emerge. That was October 7. I can imagine how beautiful it is now:

across from TanglewoodAnd finally, to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home from 1902 – 1911. I knew she was a prolific novelist and short-story writer, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize (The Age of Innocence, 1921); later I learned too that she had been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times.

So I was a little surprised to find out from the tour guide at The Mount that she was also a house and landscape designer in her own right. Her book The Decoration of Houses is still used today by architects and designers.

Built as a writers retreat, The Mount reflects Wharton’s fondness of symmetry:

SymmetryWhat happened to the left side of the building? That makes it not symmetrical, you might ask. That’s the servants quarter which Wharton was willing to compromise her design principle.

Here’s another view why it’s called The Mount:

The MountI took a tour of both the inside as well as her gardens. Here’s one wall of her library:

One wallWell read in several languages since she was young, Wharton left these books behind  when she moved away to live in Paris the latter part of her life after the demise of her marriage. Her husband Edward had fallen into a state of dementia after lengthy bouts of depression and mental illness. The writer’s years at The Mount had not been as happy as its surroundings could offer her.

The Drawing Room:

The Drawing RoomDining Room, where Henry James was one of several usual guests:

Dining RoomBut where did she write? Not in the library, or at the desk in her room, but right in her bed. She had an assistant who would take her handwritten pages and type them up after her six hours of continuous writing every morning before she got out of bed. I’m sure Wharton would love to have a laptop:

Writing bed (1)And these other items I found interesting. Downton images conjured up in my mind. Typewriter, telephone, telegram:

DSC_0347
An original 1902 ice box, Daisy would love it but maybe not Mrs. Patmore. Give her some time to warm up:

Ice Box
A luggage lift. Definitely would be a fave among the footmen:

Luggage lift

And only after the tour did I find out, The Mount had given a Life Time Achievement Award to Julian Fellowes. The Downton creator had attributed Wharton as a major influence on his works, first Gosford Park (Oscar Best Original Screenplay, 2002) and then Downton Abbey. Speaking upon receiving the Award at the Harvard Club, Fellowes noted that he was particularly inspired by Wharton’s “… ability to judge without feeling the need to condemn.”

I bought the book The Custom of the Country in the gift shop and only just now did I learn that it is being adapted into a TV mini-series, with Scarlett Johansson playing the anti-heroine, Undine Spragg. This will mark Johansson’s first TV role.

As for Julian Fellowes’ new work? I eagerly await. After visiting The Mount, I can see what a natural shift it is for him to create an American version of Downton. The Gilded Age should be a smooth sequel.

From Lenox, I began the last leg of my New England Road Trip. I headed east on I90, a breezy 2.5 hrs. drive back to Wayland, the suburb outside Boston, thus completing the loop and a memorable journey. An item checked off my bucket list.

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