San Francisco Weekend

Spent the past weekend in SF.  The whole Sunday evening was wasted in the airport, couldn’t see the SAG Awards, nor Masterpiece Theatre’s Mansfield Park.  But from what I’ve read in some of your blogs, I didn’t miss much on the PBS’s third installment of The Complete Jane Austen.

I did have an enjoyable time in SF.  For some reasons, maybe because of the rain, I found SF, some parts of it at least, to resemble Bath, England. I know, by rational thinking, the two places cannot be more different, historic Bath and modern day SF?  But here are some of the pictures of both places:

Gay Street Bath Gay Street, Bath

Union Street SF  Union Street, SF

The Guild Hall, Bath  Guild Hall, Bath

Union Street Bldg, SF Union St. Bldg., SF

The Empire, Bath The Empire, Bath

 

 Downtown Hotel, SF

Of course, there are sights and sounds that are uniquely SF:

Fisherman’s Wharf

Crabs

 SF Streetcar

And UC Berkeley, in the rain:

UC Berkeley

Sproul Hall UC Berkeley

Broken Plates Wall

Away From Her Movie Review

Update March 4: Away From Her won 7 Genie Awards last night in Toronto, Canada.  Among them are Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

In light of all the awards Julie Christie is garnering in this Awards Season, first winning the Best Actress Golden Globe, then getting an Oscar nod, and just now winning the Screen Actors Guild’s Best Actress Award all for her role in Away From Her, plus director Sarah Polley’s Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, I’m re-posting here my review of the movie I wrote 8 months ago in May, 2007.  For those who missed the movie released in theatres last year, it’s timely to read the review and watch the DVD of this beautiful Canadian film, in preparation for the Oscars coming up February 24, 2008.

Away From Her

Away From Her (2006)–How can you turn a good short story onto the screen without compromising its quality? … By turning it into a screenplay written by an equally sensitive and passionate writer, and then, through her own talented, interpretive eye, re-creates it into a visual narrative. Along the way, throw in a few veteran actors who are so passionate about what the script is trying to convey that they themselves embody the message. Such ‘coincidents’ are all happening in the movie Away From Her.

Sarah Polley has made her directorial debut with a most impressive and memorable feat that I’m sure things will go even better down her career path. What she has composed on screen speaks much more poignantly than words on a page, calling forth sentiments that we didn’t even know we had. As Alzheimer’s begins to take control over Fiona, what can a loving husband do? Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent stir up thoughts in us that we’d rather bury: how much are we willing to give up for love, or, how would we face the imminence of our loved ones’ and our own mental and physical demise.

Based on the story by Alice Munro, ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’, Polley brings out the theme of unconditional love not with your typical Hollywood’s hot, young, and sexy on screen, but aging actors in their 60’s and 70’s. It may not be as pleasurable to watch wrinkled faces hugging and kissing, or a man and a woman in bed, bearing age spots and all, but such scenes effectively beg the question: why feel uncomfortable?

Why does love has to be synonymous with youth, beauty, and romance? It is even more agonizing to watch how far Grant is willing to go solely for love of Fiona. Lucky for us, both writers spare us the truly painful at the end. It is through persistent, selfless giving that one ultimately receives; and however meager and fleeting that reward may seem, it is permanence in the eyes of love. And it is through the lucid vision of a youthful 27-year-old writer/director that such ageless love is vividly portrayed….Oh, the paradoxes in life.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

***

The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)

DivingBellAndTheButterfly

Update Feb. 23: Julian Schnabel just won the Best Director Trophy and Janusz Kaminski the Best Cinematographer at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica today.

Update Feb. 11: Ronald Harwood just won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards in London last night.

Director Julian Schnabel is an established New York artist/painter. Adhering to the ‘neo-expressionist’ style, his work has been exhibited at galleries around the world.  In The Diving Bell And The Butterfly,  Schnabel has turned into a master of realism as he vividly captures the traumatic experience of Jean-Dominique Bauby, not with a paintbrush, but with the potent use of the camera.

Jean-Do Bauby was the Editor-In-Chief of Elle magazine in France. At the age of 43 he suffered a stroke. His whole body was paralyzed except his left eye. He became a sufferer of a rare condition of “locked-in syndrome”: while he was able to comprehend what others were saying to him, he could not communicate with them. As if trapped inside a diving bell deep in the ocean tethered to life by a single chord, he was encased in his own body, completely isolated from the outside world.

With the help of his speech therapist Henriette in the hospital, Bauby learned to use what was left in his ability: the blinking of his left eye. With this minimal movement, he opened up a portal of his inner world. By painstakingly blinking to select the letters of the alphabet, Bauby was able to dictate to his therapist his memoir, completed a few days before his death. This film is the visualization of the book.  To read my review and excerpts of the book, click here.

Imagine watching a movie with blurry camera work, frames cutting off the full head of people, and sometimes camera angle so close-up to a face you feel suffocated, …blurry shots, indefinitive dialogues…This is the realism of Julian Schnabel, the film director. He wants the viewer to look out from the left eye of Jean-Do Bauby.

Fortunately viewers are spared lengthy display of such realism, because in the memory of Bauby’s past experiences and in his imagination, we are able to see sharply focused and beautiful scenes… reality may be blurry and shaky, memories and dreams are clear as crystal.

From the artist eye of Julian Schnabel, to the blinking eye movement of Jean-Do Bauby, the film captures the poignant struggle of a human striving to live every single minute of everyday. It depicts the power of the mind and spirit, the humor that sustains, the painful yearning for love and intimacy, the daily human condition magnified a thousand times due to debilitation, the whole physical being tethered on the blinking of an eye and the inner searching of a soul alive.

Mathieu Amalric has a demanding role to play as the paralyzed Bauby, for his whole acting is confined to his one left eye. I must say he has done a remarkably engrossing and convincing feat.

Marie-Josée Croze (Best Actress at Cannes for The Barbarian Invasions, 2003), by taking up the role as therapist Henriette Durand, has the equally demanding task of looking into the camera and reciting the French alphabets numerous times, and each time, with passion, pathos, and persistence, each time transmitting a new beginning, a new hope.

Max von Sydow (with film credits too numerous to mention), the veteran actor playing the role of Bauby’s 92 year-old father, equally shut-in, yet ever alive in spirit, the only character seeping sentiments, however restrained. It is exactly because of such restraints that pathos gets through.

And Emmanuelle Seigner, the ex-wife of Bauby, the mother of his three children, the keeper of memory, creator of new experiences, and the butterfly for the soul trapped in the diving bell. A marvellous character.

Very poignant acting, a very dynamic and powerful movie, and, despite its subject matter, an uplifting film for every living, breathing, and feeling soul.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. For the full list of Oscar Nominees, click here.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

Canadian Content at the Oscars

Ellen Page Ellen Page

sarah-polley-on-the-set-of-away-from-her

Sarah Polley


Update Feb. 25: Diablo Cody won the Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars last night. To read my Oscar Results post, click here.

Update Feb. 23: Juno just won the Best Feature trophy at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica today. Ellen Page won the Best Actress Award and Diablo Cody won the Best First Screenplay Award. To read my Independent Spirit Awards post, click here.

I’m glad to see some significant Canadian representation in this year’s Oscars Nominations:

  • Toronto’s Sarah Polley, the now 29 year-old director of Away From Her, getting the nod for Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Ellen Page, the 20 year-old Juno star from Halifax, Nova Scotia, for Best Actress.
  • Jason Reitman, Montreal-born director of Juno for Best Director.
  • The film Juno, directed by a Canadian, starring two young Canadians Ellen Page and Michael Cera, and filmed in B.C. getting a Best Motion Picture nomination. (Even though it isn’t classified as a Canadian film due to its American producer Fox Searchlight)
  • Of course, others like directors David Cronenberg (Eastern Promises) and Paul Haggis (In The Valley of Elah) both have Canadian roots.

To read my review of Juno and Away From Her, just click on the movie title. (Update: To read my review on Ellen Page’s new movie Smart People ( 2008 ), click on the title.)

Also, while some call 2007 “Oscar’s Year of the Man”, it is all the more exhilarating to see the two young Canadian females Ellen Page and Sarah Polley acknowledged in a very male-dominated industry in the U.S.

Who cares what country they’re from, you may ask. Well, I do, because I once had to correct someone who strongly believed that Michael Ondaatje, the writer of The English Patient (1996), was an American author. And for that matter, just for clarification, Sarah Polley’s screenplay of Away from Her is adapted from Canadian writer Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over The Mountain”. And, watch for another Canadian literary icon Margaret Laurence’s novel now being turned into film, The Stone Angel (2007), also with Ellen Page.

Just a little clarification, Canada is more than just Margaret Atwood.

Andrew Davies Interview

Thanks to a Jane Austen and film fan, I just received a link to an interview with Andrew Davis on CNN dot com.  Davis’ recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) will be shown as the second installment of Masterpiece Theatre’s “The Complete Jane Austen“, to be aired on PBS this Sunday, Feb. 20.

Master of screenplay adaptations of literary classics and especially Jane Austen’s works, Davis has some interesting views to share in this AP article entitled:  Sex, Class, and Exposing the Heart of Jane Austen.  Here’s the link:

 http://edition.cnn.com/2008/SHOWBIZ/TV/01/18/apontv.andrew.davies.ap/index.html

Enjoy!

Congratulations Julie Christie!

Julie Christie

Update Jan. 28: Julie Christie has just won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress for her role in Away From Her last night in L.A.  Congratulations again!  

Update Jan. 22: Julie Christie has just been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Away From Her, and Sarah Polley for Best Adapted Screenplay.  Sarah:  Dreams do come true! For a full list of Oscar Nominees, click here.

A glamourless Globe for Best Actress (Drama) went to Julie Christie, how fitting!  A no-nonsense recognition for some no-nonsense acting for her role as Alzheimer sufferer Fiona in Sarah Polley’s Away From Her.

Once described by Al Pacino as “the most poetic of all actresses” Julie Christie’s movies have been cinematic icons of an era: Darling (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1966), Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), The Go-Between (1970)…Yet, at 66, she has downplayed her achievement and shunned the attraction of fame and celebrity.

Christie has long avoided the glitz and glamour of stardom, appearing in only a selectively few films, evading the limelight that could have been hers.  In an interview with the New York Times last year at the release of Away From Her, she was asked about her name as a legend. Christie responded:  “I have no connection with that person at all…that person has gone.”

The British actress could have it all, if she had embraced such a life, but she chose to devote her time and passion to social activism and political causes.  Living almost reclusively away from the public eye for the past decades, Julie Christie just might not show up at the Golden Globe ceremony even if there were one. 

…but then, she probably would though, for her young Canadian friend Sarah Polley.  Christie wouldn’t want to miss the chance of bringing honor to Polley’s directorial debut, having met her while filming No Such Thing (2000) together.

Polley wrote the screenplay Away From Her, based on Alice Munro’s short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”.  As she was writing, she had in mind Julie Christie and Canadian veteran actor Gordon Pinsent playing Fiona and Grant.  At first, expectedly, Christie turned her down. But finally, Polley’s persistence over the years paid off.  At 28, Polley was inspired enough to pull together two veterans in their 60’s and 70’s to make a film about old age, love, loss, and Alzheimer.

 

Sarah Polley 

 

Sarah Polley once said about Away From Her in an interview:

“I don’t’ think that there’s any chance that I would get nominated. I mean I really hope that the actors have a shot at it …it would be such a dream come true if they were acknowledged…”

In a recent interview with The Toronto Globe and Mail, Polley felt ‘strange’ and ‘surreal’ about the recognition the $4.5 million production has received.

Of course she was delighted with Christie’s win, she also added:

“If there’s any note of reluctance on my part – of not enjoying all of this fully – is that Gordon’s performance is also stunning … and I just don’t want his work in the film to be undervalued.”

Ooh…it’s satisfying seeing the humble exalted…To both Julie Christie and Sarah Polley, Congratulations! I hope to see more nominations and awards coming your way at the Oscars.  

The Kite Runner: Book Into Film

The Book

Kite runner

I read The Kite Runner last summer, and it has remained one of my favorite books. It might as well be called Atonement, because that’s exactly what it’s about.  But this time, the character, Amir, has to deal with the sin of omission.  Just the same, failure to act can lead to devastating consequences, and Amir, just like Briony in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, has to live with his guilt throughout his life.  Unlike Briony, Amir has a chance to redeem himself.   As Amir’s mentor Rahim Khan says: ‘There’s a way to be good again’, despite the tragedies that have already taken place.
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Highly acclaimed as the first Afghan novel written in English, The Kite Runner became an international bestseller, publishing in 40 countries.  Author Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, son of a diplomat. His family sought and received political asylum in the United States as the Soviet invaded Afghanistan, settling in California in 1980 when he was 15.  Hosseini later studied medicine and became an internist practicing until 2004, when he began to devote his time fully to writing.
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The book is neatly divided into three sections, the first narrates the childhood of the socially privileged Amir growing up in Kabul.  His best friend is Hassan, the son of their servant Ali.  The two boys grow up together, freely roaming the streets of Kabul almost as brothers.  Hassan is totally dedicated to Amir.  He has been Amir’s kite runner, retrieving downed rival kites, and defended him from bullies.  During one horrific incident, Amir betrays Hassan.  Deeply troubled by guilt, Amir devises a plan to ultimately rid himself of the source of his torments, indirectly driving Ali and Hassan out of their household.
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Upon the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Amir flees to America with his father.  The second part of the book chronicles Amir as an adult, his once fragile relationship with his father is forged stronger as the two strive for their new life in a distant land.  Before his father’s death from illness, Amir gets married and realizes his dream as a writer.  The third part of the book depicts Amir’s journey back to the now Taliban controlled Afghanistan to fulfill a mission that would ultimately lead to his personal redemption.
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I was moved as I read the author’s poignant first-person narratives.  This is the power of words in the hand of a sensitive and talented writer, articulating the deepest feelings otherwise hidden beyond reach.  I enjoyed the first part the most.  Through vivid description and deceptively simple language Hosseini depicts poignantly the friendship of Amir and Hassan, the loyalty of Hassan and the betrayal by Amir, and ultimately the separation of the two childhood friends.
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The political upheavals are used as a backdrop, adding texture to the story.  The book is not about the Soviets or the Taliban.  It’s about a father-son relationship, family, friendship, love, and loss.  Above all, it chronicles the life-long haunting consequences of one’s action or inaction, the atonement of wrong done, and the necessary journey in search of redemption.
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And for the kite soaring high in the sky, it may well be a metaphor for freedom and victory, not just politically, but internally, being set free from burden, from guilt.  Despite a relatively weaker second section, overall The Kite Runner is beautifully written, an engrossing and satisfying read.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Movie

The Kite Runner Movie

Update Jan. 22:  The Kite Runner has just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score.

First off, I must state that I’m evaluating the film according to its own genre, as a film.  And to be fair, the movie follows the story quite closely, almost dividing the script into three sections like the book, and telling the story adequately.  Ironically, such direct transfer does not fare well with the film medium.  The transition of scenes are sometimes quite abrupt and choppy.  The same dialogues are there, but the mood is missing. The eagerness of storytelling seems to have overshadowed the artistry of movie making. As a result, the film lacks the power to engage.

I must say though, there are merits that I should acknowledge.  Kudos to Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada for portraying young Hassan so movingly.  He’s probably the most affable and natural actor in the whole movie.  His presence is the appeal of the film, and he well deserves the Critics Choice Award nomination for Best Young Actor.  Unfortunately his role only appears in the first part.

Transferring the story to screen, director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, 2006) has taken advantage of the visual element, bringing to life the excitement of the sport of kite combat.  To North American audiences, such scenes may well be a spectacular eye-opener.  The original score by Alberto Iglesias (Volver, 2006, Constant Gardener, 2005) plays an essential part in the movie, imparting the intended effects where other film elements may be lacking. His composition earns him a nod from the Golden Globes for a Best Original Score nomination.

The movie attempts to present the cultural sights and sounds of Afghan life, albeit on a very small scale. My main disappointment though was to find out, as the end credits rolled, that the Afghan scenes were all shot in Xinjiang and Beijing, China.  Was I too naive to think that a movie about Afghanistan should be shot in Afghanistan?

As I was watching the movie I felt something was missing, but couldn’t pinpoint what.  I felt the acting by the main character, the adult Amir, played by Khalid Abdalla (United 93, 2006) and his wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni), to be distant and detached.  Maybe due to their lack of acting experience, their performance seem to be less intense and expressive than what the story demands.

Now that I’ve given it some thoughts, I think the lack of the intimacy which the book so successfully delivers can be compensated on screen by a narrative voice-over.  The personal narrative of the book is what makes the story poignant and moving.  The film could benefit from a first person narrative to draw viewers closer and to convey more effectively the hidden turmoils that can’t be expressed cinematically, or technically.  A well written narrative voice-over could impact the audience in a more haunting way as the book has achieved.

Overall, the movie is an adequate adaptation of the book, but it only offers a glimpse of what the book entails. As a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Golden Globes this year, hopefully, it can draw viewers’ interest to dig deeper into the profound story by reading the source material first hand.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Globe Without Glamour

So the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has officially cancelled the 65th annual Golden Globe Award ceremony on January 13.  Instead, there will be a press conference at the same time (6 pm pst) to announce the winners of the 2008 Golden Globes.  Click here for the official announcement from HFPA.

To maintain solidarity with striking Hollywood writers, the Screen Actors Guild indicated earlier that all the 72 nominees would not show up for the 65th Golden Globe Award. Click here for more details.

For a change, good movies and TV shows are announced without all the glitz and glamour, no fashion statements, no red carpet photo ops… just no-nonsense recognition of some no-nonsense movie making and TV production. 

With all due respect to the writers, and the HFPA’s financial loss in the cancellation, and all the nominees who deserve recognition, I say…a nice change.  

Atonement: Book Into Film


The Book

Imagine my surprise as I finished Austen’s Northanger Abbey and opened up Ian McEwan’s Atonement to find this epigraph in the beginning of the book:

“Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.  What have you been judging from?  Remember the country and the age in which we live.  Remember that we are English: that we are Christians.  Consult your own understanding, you own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you.  Does our education prepare us for such atrocities?  Do our laws connive at them?  Could they be perpetrated without being known in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads, and newspapers lay everything open?  Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

They had reached the end of the gallery; and with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Henry Tilney’s somber words to Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey sets the stage for the story in Atonement.  Not only that, these words prove to be the most tragic irony as the plot unfolds, turning Austen’s satirical parody into heart wrenching reality.

The story starts off in the 1930’s, on a hot summer day in the idyllic country estate of the upper-class Tallis family.  The misinterpretation of a couple of incidents by imaginative 13 year-old Briony sets off the events that ultimately rip the whole family apart.  Later in the evening, Briony witnesses a crime but falsely accuses the wrong man, who happens to be her older sister Cecilia’s secret lover Robbie, the housekeeper’s son.  Is it merely the misunderstanding of a young girl that drives her to bear false witness? Or is it jealousy…or even revenge?  Maybe even Briony herself, as she recollects at 77, is baffled by her own motive. The heart is indeed an unsearchable deep to fathom.

Regardless of the cause, it is the consequences of her misdeed that has tormented her all her life: the breakdown of family relationships, the innocent sent to jail, and later to a horrific war zone, and a pair of lovers torn apart.  As she cannot undo the past, Briony re-creates in the sanctuary of her own novel writing an alternative ending to a tragic story. Fantasy or realism?  As she reaches old age and dementia sets in, the line between the two has also blurred, and yet her inner torments stay as sharp as ever.

Through Briony’s story, McEwan has poignantly shown that remaining unforgiven is probably the harshest punishment of sin.  No matter how hard one works to be redeemed, the act of forgiveness lies with the one who has been wronged.  In the latter part of the story, we see Briony’s painful strive for peace and atonement, and her realization that redemption comes only when sin is pardoned.  Without the forgiveness of sin, there is no end to guilt.

But the story is not only about Briony’s desparate attempt to come to terms with her past, it is also a love epic.  It is the heart-wrenching chronicle of the perseverance and loyalty between two lovers, Cecilia and Robbie, who, sustained by love, are able to withstand the searing pain of separation and atrocities. It is about the absurdity of war, that in the chaos of a war zone, everyone is guilty, and yet, everyone is a victim. It is also about the essence of a family and the fragility of relationships.  The multi-layered structure of the plot and characterization give rise to the complexity and depth of the story.

Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan has written 11 novels and won numerous literary awards.  The novel Atonement has garnered four since its publication in 2001.  McEwan has shown himself to be a master of descriptive and incisive writing.  His story is riveting.  At times I have to read slowly, going back to re-read a passage several times, in order to capture all the details and savour the intricacies of the description and characterization.  At times I read it quickly to capture the flow of the plot, eager to find out where it would lead me.  The author has my emotions in his grasp.  I have to admit, this is one of the rare occasions that I highlight as I read a novel.  Overall, a very engrossing and satisfying read.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Film

Atonement the movie

Update February 11:  Atonement just won Best Picture and Best Production Design at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards in London yesterday.

Update January 22:  Atonement is nominated for 7 Oscars at the 2008 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Original Score.

Update on January 14:  Atonement won the 2008 Golden Globe Best Picture (Drama) and Best Original Score Awards announced at the HFPA News Conference last night.

With such a masterpiece in their hands, the screenwriter, director, actors …the whole lot, have a tall order to fill in turning the book into film.  I must say they have done an extraordinary job in this adaptation.  The film is nominated for 7 Golden Globe, including Best Picture (Drama), Best Actress and Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score.

Unlike many movies based on literary work, this is one of the rare ones that truly depicts the essence of the book and keeps the integrity of its plot.  Screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Oscar winner for his screenplay of Dangerous Liaison, 1988 ) has gleaned the pivotal episodes and remained loyal to the work, keeping the epic span intact; although the war section can be dealt with more details and depth as the novel has rendered.

Thanks to the great work in film editing, the audience can readily capture the flow of the story and benefit also from the seamless flashbacks to see the same event from another point of view, hence, understanding Briony’s misinterpretation. I’m sure even for those who haven’t read the novel, the storytelling is still clear and equally intense.

Director Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice, 2005) uses the elements of film powerfully to bring to life an excellent script. The music and sound effects (who would imagine the typing sound on an old Corona can be used so effectively in a musical score), the cinematography and the visual flashbacks, the costumes and set all work together to create a masterpiece of cinema artistry worthy of McEwan’s work.  Kudos to Dario Marianelli (The Brave One, 2007; Pride and Prejudice, 2005), who has composed a most riveting score heightening the intensity and poignancy of the film.  I must also stress that, while the music is a powerful element in the movie, the silent moments are equally engrossing.

Young Briony, 13 year-old Irish actress Saoirse Ronan (I’ve read different versions of how her first name should be pronounced so I’m not including any suggestion here) well deserves the Golden Globe nod for a Best Supporting Actress nomination.  Veteran actress and Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave is brilliant and her poignant summing up at the end is both needed and satisfying. I’m afraid to say the weak link is Briony at 18, played by Romola Garai (Amazing Grace, 2006), where she could be more intense and affective.

And for the lovers, Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean, 2007, 2006; Pride and Prejudice, 2005) and James McAvoy (Becoming Jane, 2007; The Last King of Scotland, 2006) as Cecilia and Robbie, may well go down in movie history as a memorable pair of star-crossed lovers. Their acting is superb and their chemistry, charismatic.  The passionate scene in the library just confirms that it doesn’t need nudity to convey love, desire, or sensuality.  I had in mind the movie Lust Caution (Ang Lee, 2007) as I was watching this scene.

Knightley and McAvoy are nominated for a Best Actress and Best Actor award at the Golden Globes.  For their very moving performance in Atonement, I’d like to see them continue the ride all the way to the Oscars, and I wish them well.

Overall, an excellent adaptation of an enthralling novel.  Don’t wait to read the book, go see the movie.  But I’m sure after that, you’ll want to get hold of the novel right away.  This is one of the rare examples of both book and film are worthy of complementing each other.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Juno (2007)

Update Feb. 23:  Juno just won the Best Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica today. Ellen Page won Best Actress and Diablo Cody the Best First Screenplay. 

Update Feb.11:  Diablo Cody just won the Best Original Screenplay for Juno at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards last night in London.

Update Jan. 22:  Juno has just been nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. 

Just 13 days into the New Year and we’ll have the 65th Golden Globe Awards…so little time for so many movies to watch before then.  But, I’m glad I got a glimpse of a few of the nominees and I’ve to say, so far, my time well spent.

By now, Juno is no surprise.  This little indie film has been nominated for Best Picture (Comedy or Musical) by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for a Golden Globe.  Not bad for the young cast led by Canadian actress Ellen Page from Halifax and Michael Cera of Arrested Development fame, to be up against Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts of Charlie Wilson’s War, or for first time screenwriter Diablo Cody getting the Best Screenplay nod.  That she has already won 6 awards for Juno could well lead her way into the Oscars.

The pleasant surprise about Juno is not just the stylish motion graphics in the opening title sequence, the hip music and witty dialogues, the affable characters, or the teenage culture it depicts, but the implicit message this film is getting across.  Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking, 2005) has again created another social commentary, but this time, making a more powerful and affective statement.

Juno is a 16 year-old high school girl, very forthcoming, very lively, very self-assuring, and…very pregnant. What she intends to do about her predicament and how her Dad and stepmom react form the backbone of the story.  And…what a fresh and welcoming perspective the plot brings to the screen in this day and age.  I’d say, a very brave movie indeed.  In the story, the young characters may not have their act together, at least they have the fundamental element to deal with their situation, their genuine humanity, and their respect for life.

In contrast, the character that Jason Reitman (Arrested Development, The Kingdom, 2007) plays shows that adults may still need to grow up, or, that the road to maturity is a life-long journey.  Let’s not judge so quickly…

A heart-warming and pleasant movie for the new year.  No, it’s not promoting teenage pregnancy, but a viable alternative and a very humane solution to the problem. In an imperfect world, a close to perfect scenario.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

To Read or Not To Read: Canadian Version

So here it is, the most recent Canadian statistics on book reading.  According to an Ipsos Reid survey commissioned by CanWest News Service and Global Television, conducted between Dec. 11 and 13, 2007,  31 % of the 1001 respondents of the survey did not read a single book for pleasure in all of 2007, 4% behind the U.S. in an identical poll.

Now, it really hits home…I know, we’ve been through all the discussions about how accurate these polls are, and the causes, and the biases…etc. in my last two posts.  So here, I’d just like to briefly point out a few interesting findings from this one:

  • The 69% of Canadians who were reading in 2007 did so voraciously, averaging 20 books in 2007.
  • According to industry giant Indigo Books, the Canadian market is remaining steady.  The biggest selling day of the year, Dec. 22, saw an average of 570 customers per minute.
  • West Coasters were Canada’s most avid readers in 2007.  B.C. residents devoured an average 33 titles.
  • Fiction was the most popular genre among Canadians, at 56% of books read.

My response remains the same as I wrote in my post on New Year’s Eve.  Again, after visiting your blogs, I was much impressed and humbled by some of your personal reading statistics, and glad to know about still others who have indicated reading resolutions and goals for the New Year, again I say…all is not lost.

So to all, enjoy your reading, whatever genre, whatever modes they may be, and have a rewarding 2008!

To Read or Not To Read: A Personal Response

       

It looks like my last post has stirred up some ripples. I thank you all for your input to a very complex topic.  Your comments certainly make an interesting forum, where there’s the exchange of ideas and the sharing of opposing views.  That this is even possible is basically because we all read and write.  It’s not too late to thank our teachers for this.

Indeed, the issue of reading is a complicated one.  On the outset, and from your comments, we see aspects dealing with the skill, the form, and the content of reading.  While at the same time, underlying are the very values we hold towards this seemingly simple act: What is reading after all?  How should it be taught in our schools and transmitted (or not) in our homes?  And, what should the content be in order to classify the act as such?

As someone who has involved in literacy research, I have seen recent academic studies taken the perspective of re-defining reading and writing not as a skill but a social practice. Our values sustain the act, or transform it. As we see the ubiquitous usage of the internet and digital communication, we are witnessing the power of technology changing our social values, lifestyle, interests, and how we spend our time.

The NEA surely had the effects of our technological age in mind, thus, an update on the reading habits of Americans.  The last one they did was in 2004.  As with any survey, the NEA Study has its limitations and confined by its own perspective and contextual stance.  And, within the parameters of the present study, they did not go into details the causes, but they did present the correlations of variables.  The results can be considered as reflections of our contemporary society.  The correlations of factors and the implications of the findings are significant enough for us to ponder.  Again, you can download the 98-page report in pdf format here (3.32 MB).

I welcome the progress we have made in digital and internet technology, bringing the world closer at the twitch of our finger, feeding us with instant knowledge and information. I congratulate those who attempt to bring the world of print to their readers by more convenient modes of delivery, such as transmitting reading materials in digital mode, and others who attempt to attract young readers through the creation of new kinds of books, such as graphic novels and manga’s. 

And yet…I lament the erosion of a part of our culture and civilization, the form of reading and writing as we still know it.  I’m concerned about the gradual obliteration of the “classics”, or the dying of the literary form. I lament to see the decline of appreciation and comprehension of literature, for I believe the humanity and universality in many of these works still speak in our world today.  I believe there’s an urgent need to create even more literary works in the face of technological domination.  There may not be a golden age of reading, but there has been a heritage of writing.

I worry about our next generation replacing the art and pleasure of book reading with offerings from other media. I’m also concerned about the English language disintegrating into cyber lingos, or replaced by sensational, action-packed anime. It is a phenomenon graver than just seeing the puzzled faces of our young as they look at an analog clock or try to use a dial phone. 

The progress we have made in technology does not mean that we should downplay the loss of a heritage.  That we can artificially make ice should not trivialize the disappearance of glaciers. The ushering in of electronic music should not obliterate the works of Mozart.  The two can co-exist…isn’t that the postmodern promise? 

No doubt, reading and writing will survive, since we still need to look up information, make lists, chat on-line…and blog.  But I regret to see the erosion of literary reading and the appreciation of literature, classic or contemporary, and may it not come to pass, the termination of its creation in the future, near or distant.

As another year draws to a close,  we may need to take stock of both our progress and our loss.  I’m not a doomsayer, but surveys like the NEA’s point to what seems like an irreversible trend.  While some may not see it as a gloomy path but just a shift of social practices and lifestyle, the survey results reflect our priorities and the shifting values in this day and age. 

Or, is it really irreversible? 

Maybe all is not lost.  At the start of a new year, I’d like to remain optimistic.  Maybe it begins with…yes, a New Year’s resolution on reading… 

A Happy New Year to All!