Oscar Winners 2011

The beginning clip was an interesting opening, with Anne Hathaway and James Franco appearing in all the nominated Best Pictures. After that, what was promoted as an Oscars with the youngest co-hosts to bring about a youthful makeover had shown to be one of the most uneventful, ok, boring, in years. The preview videos of James Franco and Anne Hathaway rehearsing were much livelier than their actual act. Franco looked like he had a term paper due the next day… or was the deadpan, sleepy look a part of the performance. If it was, then he had chosen the wrong mask. I must give credits to Hathaway for trying to compensate with so much enthusiasm. When Kirk Douglas, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law came up to present, and later, previous Oscar host Billy Crystal made his appearance, I could see some wisdom in ‘age before beauty’. Hopefully a lesson learned: Avoid the trap of ageism.

(Photo Source: Toronto Sun)

So here are the major results. For a full list CLICK HERE to the Oscars Official Site.

The King’s Speech: Best Picture, Best Director Tom Hooper, Best Actor Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay David Seidler.

The Social Network: Best Adapted Screenplay Aaron Sorkin, Best editing, Best Original Score.

Black Swan: Best Actress Natalie Portman

The Fighter: Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale, Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo

Inception: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects

Toy Story 3: Best Animated Feature

Inside Job: Best Documentary Feature

(Photo Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershom)

All the best speeches came from The King’s Speech gang.

David Seidler At 73, Seidler’s win is an inspiration:

“I say this on behalf of all the stutterers in the world. We have a voice. We have been heard… My father always said to me I’d be a late bloomer. I believe I’m the oldest person to win this award. I hope that record is broken quickly and often.”
Definitely a boost to all would-be late bloomers in the world… just gives us hope.

CLICK HERE to view David Seidler’s Oscar Acceptance Speech.

Tom Hooper

“My mum was invited to a fringe theater play reading of an unproduced, unrehearsed play called The King’s Speech in 2007. She almost didn’t go. But thank God she did, because she came home, rang me up and said, ‘Tom, I think I found your next movie.’ So with this tonight, I honour you. And the moral of the story is: listen to your mother.”

.

Colin Firth

“I have a feeling my career’s just peaked.”

That’s the beginning of a speech expressing gratitude to many, all from memory, no cheat sheet. Those mentioned included:

“… Harvey (Weinstein, producer) who first took me on 20 years ago when I was a mere child sensation … and Livia, for putting up with my fleeting delusions as royalty…”

You must see it if you’ve missed it. For those of us who were glued to the TV screen the last 10 minutes of the Awards Show last night,  CLICK HERE to watch Colin Firth’s Oscar Acceptance Speech again.

***

Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Forget About Tiger Mothering, Try Inspirational Parenting

The King’s Speech (2010): Movie Review

The King’s Speech: Fact And Fiction

 

The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction

The line “Based On a True Story” at the bottom of the movie poster apparently is not enough as a disclaimer. Some point out the twisted historicity in the movie “The King’s Speech”. In particular, it has altered the fact that Churchill had adamantly supported the reign of Edward VIII even after he had stated his intention to marry Wallis Simpson, and evaded the early appeasement of Hitler by the British monarchy.

My view is this: The King’s Speech is not a documentary, nor even a biopic. It is a film based on a true struggle in the life of King George VI before he became King to shortly afterwards.  It spans from the closing of the Wembley Empire Exhibition in 1925 to the beginning of WWII in 1939. The focus is on a personal angle. It has taken some steps to dramatize the sequences which I must say are effective. While I agree the Churchill character in the movie could well be inconsistent with historical facts, I don’t see the production is making a political statement at all nor its intention to rewrite history. The climatic Speech at the end is a historical fact. By every measure, it is an exploration of one man’s internal conflicts and struggles, and how a trusting friendship between therapist and patient, and the support of a loving wife had helped him overcome insurmountable odds. Towards these ends, I think screenwriter David Seidler has done a marvellous job.

Further, as an ‘ex-colonial’, I don’t see the film as unfurling the Empire flag to flaunt past glory. If that was the intention, the Queen Mother would not have guarded her husband’s impediment as a painful secret all her life.

After watching the film, I came across the book. Yes, there’s a book called The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy, written by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi. Mark Logue is the son of Lionel’s youngest child, Anthony. He is custodian of the Logue Archive. Conradi is an author and journalist.

The book is based on a treasure trove of family papers and diaries, letters between the King and Logue, and Lionel’s own notes on the therapy sessions, as well as photos, an invaluable source of background information for the film and a bridge of events therein. Mark Logue acted as the Logue Family Consultant for the production.

Overall, the film follows closely the facts found in Logue’s book when depicting the relationship of Logue and Bertie. Here are some facts:

It was to prepare for his Australian tour in 1927 that Bertie first went to Logue for help. The high point of the six-month world tour would be to open the new Commonwealth Parliament House in Canberra. Bertie diligently went to every appointment and practiced everyday the exercises assigned by Logue. Just between October 1926 to December 1927, the two had had eighty-two sessions.  Many more would follow in the years ahead.

Here are some quotes from several who had contact with the pre-therapy Bertie. As a navel cadet, Bertie, or Johnson to secure secrecy as mentioned in the film, was ‘plagued by shyness’. Here’s an account:

One, Lieutenant F. J. Lambert, described the Prince as a ‘small’ red-faced youth with a stutter’, and adding ‘when he reported his boat to me he gave a sort of stutter and an explosion. I had no idea who he was and very nearly cursed him for spluttering at me.’ Another, Sub Lieutenant Hamilton, wrote of his charge: ‘Johnson is very well full of young life and gladness, but I can’t get a word out of him.’ (p. 55)

And the Duchess of York had her share of distress. Helena Bonham Carter had portrayed vividly scenes such as this:

According to one contemporary account, whenever he rose from the table to respond to a toast, she would grip the edge of the table until her knuckles were white for fear he would stutter and be unable to get a word out.  This also further contributed to his nervousness which, in turn, led to outbursts of temper that only his wife was able to still. (p. 60)

And the disastrous Wembley speech at the beginning of the movie is a painful fact, an event witnessed by Logue and his son Laurie, who were among the spectators coincidentally. The closing ceremony of the Empire Exhibition in May 1925 was a live broadcast around the world. Before the event, Bertie wrote to the King his father apologetically:

I do hope I shall do it well. But I shall be very frightened as you have never heard me speak & the loudspeakers are apt to put one off as well. So I hope you will understand that I am bound to be more nervous than I usually am (p. 61)

The humiliation after that we can all see from Colin Firth’s realistic enactment. Here’s how the father put it, more generously than his usual harsher dealing with his son, nonetheless still biting:

Bertie got through his speech all right, but there were some long pauses. (p. 61)

Further, Bertie’s ill health and an operation on his ulcer had contributed to his physical and psychological torments for years to come. Logue knew it was a complex case and not merely simple speech impediment.

Bertie had problems pronouncing words beginning with ‘k’, ‘g’ or with repeated consonants. Logue’s system was to go through every one of the King’s speeches and if possible, replacing those with some other words.  He would then:

mark up the text with suggested breathing points, and the King would start practising, again and again, until he got it right — often becoming extremely frustrated in the process.

By the time of his Coronation in May 1937, King George VI had greatly improved. All the war time speeches were evidence of the benefits of Logue’s therapy. I mention this just to quench the query of some who might think that the film had grossly exaggerated the speech impediment.

Actually, the King had delivered many speeches, and for everyone of them except those overseas, Logue was beside him, giving valuable support and pointers. To the credit of screenwriter Seidler, only three occasions are highlighted: The Wembley Empire Exhibition, the coronation preparation and the call to war, from which the film title aptly derived. Here I can see the choice of a writer skillful at his craft. As always, there is much more information out there that the sheer volume could clog, drag or smother. Seidler has wisely sifted and chosen the pivotal moments and built his script around them. As a result, we have fluency and the economy of words, or word pictures in this case.

Here’s a must-see BBC news clipof an interview with David Seidler, in which we can get a glimpse of an actual recording of KGVI pausing during his speech.

Lionel George Logue was born on February 26, 1880, in Adelaide, South Australia. His grandfather came to settle in Adelaide from Dublin, Ireland, in 1850, and opened up Logue’s Brewery. Since childhood, Lionel had been a prize-winner in elocution and excelled in ‘recitals’, the recitations of literary passages, a “popular form of entertainment in an era before television, radio or the cinema.”

Lionel, his wife Mertyle and their three boys Laurie, Valentine, and Anthony moved to England in February, 1924 after forty-one days at sea. First settled in modest lodgings, Lionel soon leased a place to begin his speech therapy consultation in 146 Harley Street, an address synonymous with medicine. However, it was still a major social and class barrier to overcome for the Duke of York to personally go over there for his treatment sessions:

Gernerally speaking, the lower the number and further south towads Cavendish Square, the more prestigious the address. Logue’s building was right up towards its northern end… (p.39)

Lionel’s wife, Mertyl Gruenert, had an ‘imposing’ physique and was several inches taller than Lionel. She was German. As the children grew up in England, they had all involved in the war effort, Laurie and Tony having served in the British army over in Africa. Now to those who challenge that German music is used in the climatic call to war speech and its subsequent scene, they could just as well say the Logue children fought against their mother’s countrymen. Nationalities diminish when the overall picture is one of atrocity and aggression.

And lastly, a fact that can be turned into fiction: Logue’s method remains a mystery.  He had left no notes as to what exactly went on during his therapy sessions with Bertie. Such missing data have proven to be advantageous to Seidler, who has taken the liberty to create some lively montage in the film. Thanks to the lack of fact, we are entertained.

And, here’s one of the possible secrets: Logue’s tongue twisters. The next time you prepare for a public speaking engagement, warm up with this one:

“She sifted seven thick-stalked thistles through a strong thick sieve.”

***

The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, published by Penguin Canada, 2010, 242 pages.

To read my review of the movie The King’s Speech, CLICK HERE.

To read my post Oscar Winners 2011 CLICK HERE.

CLICK HERE to view CBS 60 Minutes Overtime’s The Hidden Letters Behind “The King’s Speech”: Interview with Mark Logue and Colin Firth on the Logue Archive: the actual King’s Speech on Buckingham Palace letterhead, with Logue’s markings, handwritten letters between the King and Logue, and other personal papers and photos.

CLICK HERE to view CBS 60 Minutes’ The Story Behind “The King’s Speech”: Interview with Colin Firth, including his hometown in Hampshire, his career, his portrayal of KGVI, Geoffrey Rush, and the possible Oscar.

Big Movies, small films

‘Big’ and ‘small’ are relative terms.

According to Box Office Mojo, the production budgets for this year’s Oscar Best Picture nominees are as follows (in million of dollars):

Toy Story 3:  200

Inception:  160

The Social Network:  40

True Grit:  38

The Fighter:  25

127 Hours:  18

The King’s Speech:  15

The Black Swan:   13

The Kids Are All Right:  4

Winter’s Bone:  2

Strange that we call some motion pictures ‘movies’, and others ‘films’.  Other than the generic meaning which is used interchangeably, they sometimes denote certain inherent differences. The money that goes into making them just might be a factor: The higher the cost, the more likely it’s a movie… the lower, a film.  A movie is likely a Hollywood studio production, with better-known stars, big budget marketing, and aims at popularity among a wider spectrum of viewers.  A film is more or less associated with indie, art-house, and caters to a much smaller range of audience.

Such was the dichotomy between last year’s Oscars’ David and Goliath scenario: Avatar and The Hurt Locker.  And I was glad to see the little guy win.

But this year is a bit different.  Many of the Best Picture nominees are small budget productions.  They draw big buzz because of the pictures themselves, the quality of their productions, their subject matter, and the characters that drive the story.  They all depict little persons achieving big, however reluctantly.

Here’s a small glimpse of what’s big in some of these stories:

127 Hours:  The real life, harrowing ordeal of Aron Ralston, who is caught in a small crack of a big boulder and how he used a penknife to cut his arm off to free himself.  James Franco nominated for Best Actor.

True Grit:  A small, 14 year-old girl by sheer guts and determination, ventures out in the big, wild West to seek justice for her father’s death. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Winter’s Bone: A teenaged Ozark Mountain girl trying to keep her family intact in utter poverty, and save the shack they call home by finding her father who has fled bail for drug dealing, an act that threatens the big crystal meth economy of the area. 20 year-old Jennifer Lawrence nominated for Best Actress.

The Fighter:  A down and out boxer with a small name like Micky Ward from a dysfunctional home in a drug-infested neighbourhood bounces back to win the WBU champion.

The Social Network:  A college student called Mark Zuckerberg in his little dorm room launching a big business by changing the way people in the whole wide world connect and socialize. Jesse Eisenberg nominated for Best Actor.

The King’s Speech:  A big role of a king being filled by a small, shy man hampered by a debilitating stammer big as cancer.  It could be all psychological, sure, that’s why it’s insurmountable… and overcoming it takes big courage.  Colin Firth nominated for Best Actor.

A small person overcoming big obstacles one small step at a time always makes a good story. It is so with the little character, true also with the little film.

Oscar Nominations 2011

Here are the ten movies you might like to watch before the 83rd Academy Awards on Feb. 27:

Best Picture Nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • Inception
  • The Kids Are All Right
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network
  • Toy Story 3
  • True Grit
  • Winter’s Bone

For a complete list of nominees and to watch the announcement from this morning in case you missed it at 5:30 am (PT) or 8:30 am (ET), CLICK HERE.

The nominations count are as follows: King’s Speech = 12, True Grit = 10, Social Network = 8, Inception = 8, The Fighter = 7, 127 Hours = 6

The King leads the pack.  A royal flush they say, hope that’s the hand on Oscar night.  Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, and director Tom Hooper all get nods. Other categories include Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Original Score, Sound Mixing, Screenplay.  To read my review of The King’s Speech, CLICK HERE.

The surprise here is True Grit.  The Coen brothers’ film got snubbed at the Golden Globes and comes back with a vengeance.  Two years in a row they get the nod for Best Picture, after last year’s A Serious Man (my review here).   True Grit is a remake of the 1969 Western for which John Wayne got his Oscar.  Here we have a distinct Coen style film with smart dialogues and great acting.  “Nothing is free except the grace of God,” the beginning voice-over says, matched with the tune of the old hymn ‘Leaning on the Ever Lasting Arms’… I was amused to see how these two notions echo at the end of the film. At 13, Hailee Steinfeld beat out 15,000 other girls in the audition to get the role of tough and articulate Mattie Ross, seeking justice for her daddy’s death.  Now one year later, she has landed at the Oscars. Amazing. Also, Jeff Bridges gets the nom again, after snatching the Best Actor Oscar from Colin Firth last year.  It’s interesting to note that, while Colin Firth can act with half a voice, Jeff Bridges here shows us he can act with just one eye.

I’m excited to see Mike Leigh finally getting recognition for his poignant original screenplay for Another Year.  Unfortunately, the film does not get any more Oscar nods.  Veteran British actors Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, and Lesley Manville give a performance of deep resonance.  Lesley Manville is no less deserving than anyone on the list of Best Actress nominees.  This is one of the most neglected movies of 2010.  I saw it at the Calgary Film Festivals last year.  I know some cities are just showing it now. Don’t miss it.  CLICK HERE to read my review.

Toy Story 3.  The animated feature that gets into the major league, following the only two other animations ever to be nominated in a Best Motion Picture category, Up (2009) and Beauty and the Beast (1991).  The theme of growing up and parting with your beloved and familiar finds its way into a touching animation that may well appeal to parents more than kids.  The idea of a child leaving home for college has been used in several movies in recent years, most notably, The Blind Side (2009) and The Kids Are All Right (2010).  I’ve watched all of this year’s ten Best Picture nominees. But, don’t laugh, Toy Story 3 was the only time I’d shed a few tears.

For Best Documentary Feature, I’m glad to see our notorious graffiti artist Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop has not evaded the Academy.  To read my review CLICK HERE.

The Academy Awards will take place on Sunday, Feb. 27.  This time Anne Hathaway and James Franco (a Best Actor nominee himself for 127 Hours), the youngest of Oscar hosts, are set to offer a fresh new look.  Hathaway had proven her versatility dancing and singing with Hugh Jackman two Oscars ago, and Franco has been hailed as the new Renaissance Man…  Just hope they will live up to expectations.

The Golden Globe Speeches

While I was all eager to watch the 68th Annual Golden Globes last night, I was feeling bored from the beginning, after the first award of Best Supporting Actor was handed out. With Geoffrey Rush (The King’s speech therapist) losing the award, I will always miss the acceptance speech from him. I’m sure he had prepared something brilliant and witty to say. That would be the speech I had hoped for, but now, will never get to hear.

Most of the speeches last night were banal and uninspiring, exceptions were few. Even Robert De Niro’s for winning the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award was lacklustre.  What sounded like self-deprecating humor could well have de-mythicized the acting profession and brought it down to the level of just another job to feed the kids.

Annette Bening had a sweet ending to her acceptance speech for Best Actress, comedy or musical, for The Kids Are All Right. After thanking the cast, she acknowledged “the 1962 winner of the Golden Globes for Most Promising Actor, my husband Warren Beatty.” They looked wonderful together, after all these years.

Canadian viewers must be delighted to hear Paul Giamatti, Best Actor, comedy or musical for Barney’s Version, as he acknowledged Canadian author Mordecai Richler and his family, and the film’s shooting location “up in an incredible, beautiful city, Montreal, which I dream about, an incredible place in a great nation, Canada. I salute the great nation of Canada.”

The audience stood and cheered as Michael Douglas came on stage at the end, making his first public appearance in Hollywood after receiving treatments for throat cancer: “That’s got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation,”  he quipped.  He presented the Best Movie Award to The Social Network, which won four Golden Globes last night.

.

.

The best speech of the night came from Colin Firth. Just like his role in The King’s Speech, reflecting his persona and style, his speech was an exemplar of finesse and character.

Here is Colin Firth’s acceptance speech for Best Actor, Drama, for The King’s Speech:

“Getting through the mid stage of your life with your dignity and judgement in tact can be somewhat precarious and sometimes all you need is a bit of gentle reassurance to keep on track. I don’t know if this qualifies as gentle reassurance, but right now this is all that stands between me and a Harley Davidson. I owe a very great debt to my supernaturally talented fellow cast members, my exquisite no-nonsense Queen, Helena and my wayward Royal older brother Guy [Pierce]. Geoffrey Rush and Tom Hooper, my two other sides of a surprisingly robust triangle of man love, somehow moved forward in perfect formation for the last year and a half or so… Tom with his scorching intelligence and Geoffrey who has now become my true friend and geisha girl. David Seidler, I know something of what you went through to create this…. at a time in my life when I truly appreciate the value of longevity in my relationships, Harvey Weinstein has made an improbably number of good films. We have had 20 years together, which is not bad going for a showbiz marriage. Thank you, Harvey. But the very best thing of all has been Livia [his wife] and all the beautiful things she’s given me and I think I can cope with just about any age as long as I can still see her.”

Who can be more deserving to win?

***

For a full list of Golden Globes nominees and winners, CLICK HERE to the official Golden Globe Site of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

To read my review of The King’s Speech, CLICK HERE.

Colin Firth’s Speech quoted from The Telegraph.

Photo source: The Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/8260914/Golden-Globes-2011-Colin-Firth-wins-Best-Actor-as-The-Social-Network-takes-four-awards.html

 

The King’s Speech (2010)

CLICK HERE to read my new post ‘Oscar Winners 2011’

Update Feb. 27, 2011: The King’s Speech just won 4 OSCARS: Best Picture, Best Director Tom Hooper, Best Actor Colin Firth, Best Original Screenplay David Seidler.

Update Feb. 13, 2011: The King’s Speech just won 7 BAFTA’s: Best Film, British Film of the Year, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor & Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Music.

Update Jan. 30, 2011: The King’s Speech just won the Best Cast in a motion picture and Colin Firth Best Actor at the Screen Actors Guild Awards tonight.

Update Jan. 30, 2011: Tom Hooper just won the Directors Guild Award.

Update Jan. 17, 2011: Colin Firth just won the Best Actor Golden Globe last night. To read his acceptance speech, click here.

Colin Firth must be feeling the pressure now.  I don’t mean the likely Oscar contention.  I mean, how is he going to surpass himself in his next film?  That’s the trouble with having reached your career best, so far.

But that is not going to be an issue at this point, because it is in celebratory mode right now, yes, even before the Oscars.

The King’s Speech first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2010, and won the audience award.  Since then, it has seen more and more accolades.  At present, the film has been nominated for seven Golden Globes and four SAG Awards on this side of the Atlantic.  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter have all won their acting categories at the British Independent Film Awards in December, with David Seidler seizing Best Screenplay, and the movie garnered the Best British Independent Film Award.

A moving real life story about the struggle of King George VI (Colin Firth) to overcome a life-long stammer, as he was reluctantly crowned king after his older brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicated the throne in 1936 for love of an American divorcee.  Bertie, as his family called him, was fortunate to have a devoted and loving wife (Helena Bonham Carter), who found him an unconventional speech therapist from Australia, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  The film builds on the development of their friendship leading to the exhilarating climax at the end, when the King gives his first war-time speech to his nation, rousing up their support against Germany.

It all began with screenwriter David Seidler being evacuated out of Britain to America upon an imminent Nazi attack at the brink of WWII.  To the then three-year-old Seidler, the treacherous trans Atlantic ordeal was so devastating that in his subsequent childhood years after arriving America, he had to struggle with a debilitating stammer.  During the war years, he had listened on the radio to the speeches by King George VI, whom he learned was a fellow stutterer.  With the King as a model, Seidler was motivated to overcome his own stammer.

The idea of telling the true story of his personal hero remained with Steidler for decades. He had been doing research on the King and found the son of his speech therapist Lionel Logue, Valentine, who had preserved his father’s notes.  As a loyal ex-subject, Steidler wrote the Queen Mother requesting her approval to use her late husband’s story for a movie.  The following was the reply from Clarence House, the official residence of the Prince of Wales:

“Dear Mr. Seidler, thank you very much for your letter, but, please, not during my lifetime.  The memory of those events is still too painful”

The Queen Mother passed away in 2002, at the age of 101.  Seidler could now publicly work on a story that had captivated him all his life.  But the Royal Family needs not worry.  The screenplay that Seidler has written, and the film that ultimately comes out from director Tom Hooper is every bit dignified, respectful and artistically executed.  What more, the very human suffering and the exhilaration of overcoming an impediment are movingly told.  Overall, the film is a poignant portrayal of a courageous man, a beautiful friendship, and a loving family.

Colin Firth has presented to us a reluctant hero, won us over from the start with his vulnerability and insignificance, and kept us on his side with his perseverance and loyalty.  As the Queen Mother had put it, it is painful to watch him struggle to be heard.  The walk to the microphone, then an advancement in technology, is as grim as the dead man walking to his execution. No wonder there is the Brahms’ Requiem.

In an interview, Seidler mentions how Firth had asked him for specifics on the stuttering experience, and strived to live it in his performance. Powerful method acting indeed as Firth found himself so involved in the role that he had experienced tongue-tied episodes at public speaking.  Click here to listen to the in-depth interview with David Seidler at Stutter Talk. For a pre-Oscar interview with Seidler, Click Here to find the link to a BBC news clip.

Geoffrey Rush is the crucial partner in the bromance.  Without his devotion and humour, the relationship between therapist and client could not have risen to the level of trusting friendship necessary for effective treatment.  It is not a cure, but the breaking down of barriers, psychological and social.  Herein lies one important element of the film’s success, humour.  We are treated with lighthearted moments in the midst of struggles, unleashing the humanity to shine through.

As for the music. First off, I must say I’ve enjoyed the original music by Alexandre Desplat.  The timing and editing is particularly effective, an example is the rehearsal scene.  But the reverberations have been the selections of German music, in particular, Beethoven’s 7th second movement the Allegretto being used at the climatic King’s speech.  My view is that the war was against Nazism, the tyranny and atrocity committed by Hitler and his regime.  Considering Beethoven’s struggles with his own hearing loss, and his vision of freedom and brotherhood, he could well be a universal symbol of resistance and resilience, significant beyond national boundaries. And who can protest against the lofty and hauntingly moving Allegretto.  I’d say, good choice of music for the climax.  And after that, the mutual look between the two friends into each other’s eyes with the warm, soothing slow movement of the Emperor Concerto, what better way to end the movie.

What better way to start the new year.

~~~ 1/2 Ripples

***

To read my post Oscar Winners 2011 CLICK HERE

To read my post on the book The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved The British Monarchy by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, CLICK HERE To “The King’s Speech: Fact and Fiction”

To listen to the historical archive of the actual speech by King George VI, click here.

For a review and critique of the music in The King’s Speech:

‘The Music of The King’s Speech’

Movie Music UK: Alexandre Desplat

Mary Kunz Goldman, music critic

To read a detailed Colin Firth Interview

To see a video clip of Colin Firth interviewed at TIFF

Upcoming Books Into Films

Looking for book suggestions for yourself or your book group in the coming year? The following is a list of books being planned for a movie adaptation. Books turning into movies always generate a lot of debates and discussions.  Better still, read the book then watch the movie together… I’m sure more debates will ensue.

Hope the following list can furnish you or your group with some ideas. Do note that these titles are in various stages of development, meaning some may come out in the next year or two, some may take longer if they get started at all.  Click on titles (links) for more details.

***

1984 by George Orwell

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Adjustment Team (short story) by Philip K. Dick (Film: The Adjustment Bureau)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn by Hergé

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (Daniel Radcliffe)

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Keira Knightly)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant (short story)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Carey Mulligan, Leonardo DiCaprio)

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Ivan the Fool by Leo Tolstoy

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Middlemarch by George Eliot

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

One Day by David Nicholls

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (A new take: Jane Austen Handheld)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw (My Fair Lady, Carey Mulligan, Emma Thompson script)

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (A Latina spin: From Prada to Nada)

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Matt Damon, Keira Knightly)

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

The Tiger by John Vaillant

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré (Colin Firth)

Water for Elephant by Sara Gruen

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

***

For a more updated list, click here to “More Upcoming Books Into Movies”.

If you know of any other titles, you are welcome to add to this list by leaving the info in the comment section.

CLICK HERE for WordPress Tag: Book Into Film.


Easy Virtue (2008)

Easy Virtue posterCan we all get along?  That poignant plea is ever applicable,  from L.A to all corners of the world, today or years past.   And when it comes to families, which one doesn’t have its ups and downs?  So, since the answer is obvious, might as well make comedies out of the situation.

Based on the play by Noel Coward, and lavishly adorned with his songs, credits to the Easy Virtue Orchestra, the film is otherwise re-written to appeal to a contemporary audience.

The story takes place some years after the First World War, in the 1920’s.   The eldest son of an English aristocratic family, John Whittaker (Ben Barnes, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian), comes home from abroad and brings back his new wife Larita, a race car driver (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist).  What ensue are battles on the home front between the audacious new bride and the stuffy and snobby matriarch of the family, Mrs. Whittaker (Kristin Scott Thomas, I’ve Loved You So Long).  The main spark of their explosive confrontations:  Larita is American.  And Larita does not disappoint.  She is exactly what Mrs. Whittaler expects her to be, and some more:  a gale of forbidden ideas and scandalous history.  For her performance, Kristin Scott Thomas received two Best Actress nominations.

The most intriguing character is Mr. Whittaker, played by Colin Firth (When Did You Last See Your Father, The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Pride and Prejudice).  A veteran of the Great War, Mr. Whittaker is a disillusioned man, aloof, perceptive, and cynical all at the same time.   He is the only one in the family extending a welcoming hand to Larita, and stands by his new found comrade in the domestic clash of cultures.   The climax of the story comes near the end in an enthralling scene of the two tango dancing.  Naturally, what follows is just anti-climatic.

Easy Virtue 1

The Whittakers live in a humongous mansion on acres of lush grounds for generations, reminiscence of Darcy’s Pemberley (yes, Colin Firth again), and for Mrs. Whittaker especially, no short supplies of pride or prejudice.  Whether it’s intentional of the director or not, at one scene in the Whittakers ballroom, I see Darcy, poised and tall.  But director Stephan Elliott and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins are no Jane Austen.  This comedy of manners may appear to be a burlesque of the traditional upper-class English family, but it lacks the depth of characterization and cathartic effect of an Austen work.

And that’s alright.

Easy Virtue may be frothy, loud, and ephemeral, but it is effective in delivering some witty lines, great comedic timing, some cool cinematography, and fine performance not just from the main characters, but the supporting roles.  I must mention the butler Furber (Kris Marshall), and the two Whittaker sisters Hilda (Kimberley Nixon) and Marion (Katherine Parkinson).  They have added much delight to the film.  A fun ride all the way.

I have not seen Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas together in a movie since The English Patient (1996).  And truth be told, they are the reason for me to see this one.

Easy Virtue is currently released on limited screens across North America.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Girl With A Pearl Earring

The Painting (1665)

Girl With A Pearl Earring

Not much is known about this girl looking back at the artist with her soulful glance.  The pearl earring, the focal point of the painting, is obviously incompatible with her humble attire.  Vermeer has captured a mystery open to anyone’s imagination.  But it takes a master storyteller to create a believable and poignant narrative that can move modern readers three hundred some years later.

**

The Novel (1999)

Vermeer taught me that Less Is More, and I have been practicing that aesthetic principle in my writing ever since.”     — Tracy Chevalier

You can see it coming… it’s almost like reflex that after seeing a Vermeer exhibition I’d go back to the book Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, and re-watch the DVD of the movie based on it.  Well, especially when I didn’t get the chance to see the painting itself in the exhibition.

GWAPE Book CoverIt was this book that first sparked curiosity in me about Vermeer and his works.  Tracy Chevalier has done a superb job in creating out of her imagination the story behind the girl with the pearl earring, within the realistic social and historical contexts.  She has brought to the surface layers of possible subtexts hidden in this seemingly simple portrait.

I’ve appreciated that she has chosen the social segregation and hierarchical class structure of 17th century Delft as the backdrop of her novel.  So, instead of a sweet little tale or melodramatic story,  Chevalier highlights the complex social reality of power relations between servant and master, artist and patron.  She has masterfully created a scenario whereby the social distance between the servant girl, Griet,  and her master Vermeer, is drawn closer by her quiet understanding and appreciation of aesthetics.  With the same sharpness and sensitivity,  Chevalier has also shown how a wealthy patron can exploit art with his despicable, self-serving lust.

Chevalier’s ingenuity tugs at our heartstrings as we see the innocent and powerless being played as pawns,  no more than flies caught in the web of the rich and powerful.  The struggle between survival and artistic freedom is poignantly painted as irreconcilable subjects on the canvas of financial reality.  And fate teases all.  Yet among all these, the natural light that comes from art and beauty silently seeps through, brushing us warmly with a tender glow.

Do try to get hold of the Deluxe Edition.  It includes 9 full-color Vermeer paintings, which are cleverly incorporated into the story by the author.

Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, Deluxe Edition, published by PLUME, Penguin Group, 2005, 233 pages.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

**

The Movie (2003)

.

GirlWithPearEarring1

Watching the movie Girl With A Pearl Earring is the closest to actually seeing a Vermeer exhibition.  Every frame is like a Vermeer painting with its extensive use of natural light from windows, contrasting the shadows in the interior of the Delft household.  The film was nominated for three Oscars in 2004, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.  In other words, it’s a pleasure to watch… it has to be because dialogues are sparingly used throughout.  Herein lies the strength of acting and the effectiveness of sound and visual communication.

The restrained performance of Colin Firth as Vermeer and Scarlett Johansson as Griet brings out the reality of the social order of the day.  A servant is not supposed to speak unless spoken to.  And what does a master has to say to an uneducated maid, unless he sees in her the appreciation of art and the clear understanding of aesthetics, of light and shadows, of beauty in the mundane.

Vermeer’s asking Griet to be his assistant and ultimately putting her in one of his works, albeit reluctantly for both, sparks off repugnant reverberation in town, and of course, the fierce jealousy of the painter’s wife Catherine (Essie Davis).  But as flies caught in the web of patron Van Ruijven (Tom Wilkinson), with debts to pay and a full household of mouths to feed, the artist has to bow to reality, and the even lower-ranked servant has to yield to her fate.

The visuals and music are the key to revealing the internal.  Beautifully shot in Luxembourg to simulate 17th Century Delft, the movie is a work of art in itself.  Colin Firth’s usual reticent persona on film fits him perfectly this time.  His taciturn portrayal of the ambivalent artist betrays the struggles within.  Scarlett Johansson delivers a convincing performance as pure and innocent Griet, and her gradual growth on the path of experience, albeit the book, as usual, depicts the inner turmoil more effectively.

The special feature on the DVD is enjoyable as well, chronicling the making of the movie.  I hope though that a Blu-ray version will come out one of these days, for that will indeed do justice to the cinematography and to the original artist, the master painter Johannes Vermeer himself.

~~~ Ripples

CLICK on the following links to go to related posts on Ripple Effects:

Inspired By Vermeer

Books and the Gender Issue


**

Natasha Richardson: Nell and The White Countess

natasha-richardson1

I’m shocked and saddened to learn of Natasha Richardson’s sudden passing.  I followed the news all day yesterday.  She had a minor fall on a beginners ski slope at the Quebec resort Mont Tremblant not far from Montreal while vacationing with her sons Michael and Daniel.  It turned out that she had sustained a serious head injury which was not noticeable at first.  But an hour later she started to have headaches and rapidly deteriorated.  She was rushed to Montreal’s Sacré-Coeur hospital and later transported to NYC Lenox Hill Hospital.  Her husband Liam Neeson (Taken, 2008, Schindler’s List, 1993) flew to Montreal to be with her from his Toronto set of Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, and had not left her side.

Natasha Richardson was a shining actor on the London stage and on Broadway, winning a Tony Award in 1998 for her lead role as Sally Bowles in the revival of the musical ‘Cabaret’, directed by Sam Mendes (Revolutionary Road, 2008 ).  Acting was in her genes as she was privileged to be born into a family of astounding theatre talents, her grandfather being Sir Michael Redgrave, one of England’s finest tragedians according to The New York Times, her mother Vanessa Redgrave (Oscar Best Actress, Julia, 1977; Howards End, 1992Atonement, 2007), her father the director/producer Tony Richardson, her sister Joely Richardson (Nip/Tuck).  Natasha Richardson died March 18, 2009.  She was only 45.

The highly acclaimed actress had left an impressive body of work from Shakespeare to the silver screen.  Her long filmography spans from comedies like The Parent Trap (1998) to the futuristic fable by Margaret Atwood The Handmaid’s Tale (1990).  One of her earlier film is A Month in the Country (1987) with Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh.  But these two are most memorable to me:  Nell (1994) and The White Countess (2005).

NELL (1994)

nell1Natasha Richardson met Liam Neeson on the set, and married him that year.   Jodie Foster is Nell, who grows up in the wild forest of N. Carolina, far away from human civilization.  She knows no language, well, none that other human can understand.  The only two people she has seen are her mother and her twin sister, whom she communicates with a language of their own.  After they die, Nell is left alone to deal with her loss and survival, until one day, she is discovered by Dr. Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson) and Dr. Paula Olson (Natasha Richardson).  From an initial academic interest, Lovell has grown to appreciate Nell as a person, and wants to bring her back to human society.  While both doctors have good intentions, others do not.  Herein lie the conflicts in the plot, the wild child versus the modern world, the experimental object versus the human being.  All three main characters put forth an impressive performance.  If you can still get hold of the DVD, now may be the poignant time to reminisce.

THE WHITE COUNTESS (2005)

the-white-countessA lesser known film by Natasha Richardson, The White Countess (2005)  is a Merchant Ivory production (Merchant’s last film), its screenplay by the talented writer Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day).  The story takes place in the exotic setting of Shanghai, China, shortly before WWII.  Slightly resembling Casablanca (1942), the movie excels in its mood and atmosphere.  Ralph Fiennes is Todd Jackson, a blind, former American diplomat who meets a Russian refugee Sofia (Natasha Richardson) in a night club.  Sofia belongs to a family of nobility, a White Russian countess herself, but now has to work in the lowliest line to support her family.  The Japanese invasion sets the stage for suspense, and the plot thickens.  Vanessa Redgrave plays Sofia’s aunt, and has delivered some moving moments performing with her daughter.  Natasha’s aunt Lynn Redgrave is also in the movie.  Now those scenes are ever more memorable.  The behind-the-scenes interviews with the three of them, together with Ralph Fiennes, commentary with Natasha Richardson and director James Ivory in the Special Features are just priceless now.  I purchased the DVD a while back, and have seen it several times.  I know I’ll treasure it even more now.

*****

Photo Sources:

Natasha Richardson: mirror.co.uk, Nell: Amazon.com, The White Countess:  cbc.ca

Lost in Austen Episode 4 (2008, TV): Lost and Found

After trudging through a slow and a tad too serious Episode 3, the production has redeemed itself by finishing up with a grand finale. Episode 4 has found its original pace with its fast sequences to wrap things up, offering unexpected and entertaining twists and turns.

One thing that screenwriter Guy Andrews remains consistent with is his attempt to mix things up as much as he can, like Lydia eloping with Bingley, Wickham turning wicked schemes into timely rescues, Mrs. Bennet coming to her senses and confronts Lady Catherine de Bourg, and ultimately, the big ultimate, Elizabeth Bennet swaps places with Amanda Price not for a moment, but for good. The laughs and fun derived from these “post-modern moments” are all based on juxtaposing time and mixing up of characters and story lines. The whole production is an effective deconstruction of an all-time classic and its adaptations.

gemma-arterton-as-elizabeth-bennet

The most fun of them all, of course, is Amanda coming back through the portal and see Elizabeth Bennet in 21st Century London, with a new pixie hairdo, working as a nanny, computer savvy, environmentally conscious, and fully liberated. What more, she enjoys modern, post-modern rather, life so much that she intends to stay for good. And once she sees Darcy, who follows Amanda to the modern world, Lizzy right away knows who he is, thanks, as we all do nowadays, to all the webpages about Colin Firth’s wet shirt scene.

Darcy on the other hand is totally lost in the future. Here the scene is almost a replication of the one from Kate and Leopold (2001), where Hugh Jackman portrays a late 19th Century English nobleman travelling through a time portal and lands in modern day NYC. Darcy is even wearing a similar long, blue coat like Leopold, mesmerized by the tele and the busy urban traffic. And the ending too, a similar twist as Meg Ryan’s ultimate choice at the end of the movie.

What would Jane Austen think? “Turns in her grave” as Amanda puts it? As a satirist and a fan of the burlesque, Jane might have a good laugh too I think. I’m sure she was confident and self-assured enough to know that parodies of her work, at best, remain only as they are, spin-offs and re-makes of something that is inimitable. No matter how you deconstruct Jane Austen, you would always come out admiring the ingenuity of the brilliant mind behind that original creation.

*****

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

 

Lost In Austen: Episode 3 (2008, TV)

Japanese man petitions to marry comic-book character“, thus says the headline. Taichi Takashita has launched an online petition to the Japanese government for the legalizing of marriages between human and cartoon characters. He’s aiming for a million signatures, as of the end of October, he’s got a thousand. In this day and age, I’ve more or less braced myself for any type of shocking news.

Now, back to fiction. I’m not surprised to see Amanda Price falling in love with a fictional character, especially one like Fitzwilliam Darcy, but I am quite unwilling to accept Darcy to be ardently in love with her. But of course, this is a parody, albeit in this episode, the humor has gone from LOL to subtle satire.

wet-shirt-scene-in-lost-in-austenI suppose the wet shirt scene in which Darcy heeding Amanda’s request to dip into the pool is meant to be the most notable moment, or maybe even the climax, of the whole production. This scene just confirms my view that Lost In Austen is more a parody on Pride and Prejudice adaptations, rather than the novel of Jane Austen’s. There never is a wet shirt scene in the book. The parody could well be on Andrew Davis’ imaginary take on wooing modern female viewers, or a satire on the cult following of Colin Firth’s role as Darcy since the 1995 BBC production.

The scene also offers another Firth moment when Amanda asks Darcy whether he loves her because of her change from the spikey and vulgar modern female to the simpering klutz trying to fit into the Regency mold. Well, truth be told, Darcy finds her character, both before and after, equally disagreeable, but he still loves her with all his heart. Isn’t that the Mark Darcy line to Bridget Jones, “I like you very much, just as you are.”

Anyway, there really isn’t much else to be excited about in this episode. The director seems to be indecisive as to where he wants to take us, and in what form. The lively and fresh beginning of Episode 1 has subsided and the production has turned into another TV drama, one that has taken itself a little too seriously.

So now, another week, another episode…oh, the ennui and the ambivalence.

Yet, I shall conquer this, I shall.

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 4