Kingsman: The Secret Service

I started Proust’s The Guermantes Way a few months ago, still have some five hundred pages to go. So if I have two hours to spare, why do I not get back to it and make some headway, instead of going to the theatre to see Kingsman: The Secret Service on the first day of its screening?

For pure escape, of course. And then there’s the CF factor.

Yes, if the Colin Firth you have in mind is Mr. Darcy doing his graceful dive into the pond, you’re in for a big cognitive dissonance. Indeed, you can call this a paradigm shift for Colin Firth. He’s still a gentleman, mind you, dapper and poised, but he is one suave, choreographed fighting and killing machine, six month in the training, as he admitted in (real life) interviews.

British director Matthew Vaughn, who brought us Kick-Ass (2010) and X-Men: First Class (2011), had taken on adapting the Marvel comics created by Dave Gibbons and Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) by mashing fantasy and realism into one big action-packed, stylish, fun and at times farcical British spy adventure. The production is like an homage to Ian Fleming’s James Bond and all those in the secret intelligence service MI6, from Q to M.

But to evoke an even deeper root, The Kingsman is Arthur (Michael Caine) and his knights, Galahad (Colin Firth), Lancelot (Jack Davenport), and the mastermind Merlin (Mark Strong). A pure fantasy. Behind the facade of a tailor shop in London is the  organization’s high tech base, and rightly so, for a gentleman’s suit is his armour, and the Kingsmen are the new knights.

Firth’s dapper presence is a prime model showing off the bespoke tailoring. What you see on screen you can also get, a collaboration of the film’s costume designer Arianne Phillips and the online retailer Mr. Porter. A Kingsman brand of wardrobe and accessories is the exclusive product spinoffs. Fantasy meets reality.


Not just a fashion statement though. What Galahad Harry Hart tells the young recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who comes from a seedy part of London, records of petty crimes under his belt, raised by a single mother with an abusive boyfriend, all subsequent to the early death of his father, a former Kingsman: “Being a Kingsman has nothing to do with the circumstances of one’s birth; if you’re prepared to adapt and learn, you can transform.” After thinking a bit, Eggsy responds, “Like My Fair Lady.” If there’s any mindful lesson one can glean from watching this seemingly mindless entertainment, here it is.

Back to the task at hand. The dual plot lines are tightly woven as we see Eggsy going through a demanding training and screening process, at the same time Hart has to deal with the high tech villain cum philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). Valentine sees mankind as a virus. He has developed the means to eradicate the pests, from a mind-controlling implant to a free-for-all SIM card through which he can activate, gleefully watching people kill off each other.

Comic book clarity, black and white, no shades of grey. While the plot may be formulaic, there are special effects and production designs that are fresh and captivating. I particularly like the tailor shop cum secret organization lair, with its underground passageways, and yes, the neat arrays of wardrobe accessories that are lethal weapons in disguise.

As an R-rated movie, some scenes are demanding of the viewers, and in the genre of action/adventure/comedy, graphic violence is prolific. The church scene may not sit well with some, albeit the explanation of the carnage is offered only after the very long and deadly sequence. Valentine is playing God to control their minds and impulses. Despite its flaws, which are easily covered by the quick change of scenes, overall it is a well-paced, well-acted, and stylish production.

Music is prominent in conveying the spectacle and thrills, as well as humour. I chuckle when I hear the British composer Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance accompanying one of the explosive, climatic sequence at the end, the extravaganza of human heads turned fireworks, a good reminder and celebration of where all the fantasy of the gentleman spy originates.

As with a genre of this kind, the movie is not for everyone. If you can’t stand the sight of blood, or graphic violence, or hear the F word prolifically uttered, or are reluctant to let farcical surrealism override a rational mind, then maybe you’d like to stay home and attack your TBR pile of reads. Don’t bother flipping through the comic book either. As the bookstore clerk warned me when I asked about it, “It’s very graphic.”

And yet, the two hours of pure escapism has proven to be invigorating. I’m just about ready to get back to Proust.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Before I Go To Sleep (2014): Movie or Book?

Spoiler Alert: This post may contain information that one could deem spoilers, and, not just for this movie but for the other one, yes, you guessed it, Gone Girl

Before I Go To Sleep

If as some say Gone Girl is misogynist, then Before I Go to Sleep is the counter argument. Why of course, there’s a 50/50 chance that the villain is the female or the male character, and in some cases, both. And if it’s both, does that make the movie misanthropic?

So much about our humanity, which is what these crime suspense thrillers are all depicting, albeit in a more exaggerated way. Here is the movie adaptation of the very popular debut novel written by British writer S. J. Watson. Again, allow me to answer a question up front, book or movie first?

I know, there’s a likely chance that you have no intention to touch either, but here’s just an interesting thought, especially with the Gone Girl phenom still rippling. For this one, I’d say read the book first, mainly because if one goes to the movie unprepared, one would likely find the premise preposterous. A woman waking up every morning with no memory? But actually there are real-life cases which the author mentions in the epilogue of the book.

On the last page Watson notes that his novel, though totally fictitious, is inspired by actual medical cases, particularly that of Clive Wearing‘s, the British musicologist, conductor and BBC music producer, who has the same amnesiac condition, albeit his is an even shorter memory span, just a short minute or so.

Before I Go To Sleep is about a woman Christine (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up every morning with a total blank, forgetting who or where she is, and not knowing the person lying beside her in bed. He happens to be her husband Ben (Colin Firth), who has to explain to her every morning and reminds her who she is, and that an accident occurred fifteen years ago when she was 25 had left her in a state of amnesia with just a day’s memory span, but no matter, he tells her that he loves her.

Actually quite an interesting premise for a suspense thriller, the amnesiac as a vulnerable, ready victim. To add to the mystery, Christine receives a phone call from a Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong) every morning after Ben leaves the house for work. He tells her he has been helping her and gets her to look for a camera in a shoe box hidden inside her closet. In there she can replay what she has recorded the night before, bits and pieces of her memories.

The movie is a graphic and more suspenseful enactment of the novel, directed by Rowan Joffe, who had written the screenplay and directed Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (2010). But I had found impressive his screenplay for The American (2010) which, under the direction of Anton Corbijn (A Most Wanted Man, 2014), is one of the rare spy thriller that is soulful. Come to think of it, I can’t help but think such a collaboration, Joffe screenplay, Corbijn directs could have made Before I Go To Sleep a better movie.

As I had mentioned in my review of the novel Before I Go To Sleep, the major flaw of the book is that the author forgets that it’s his character who has amnesia, not his readers. So every chapter starts off with her reading more or less the same journal entry she wrote the night before is a bit too tedious.

Such a condition has been improved in the movie by Joffe, and with the convincing performance by Kidman, we are made sympathetic observers instead of being bored by the repetition. A video camera to jot her memory is also a better way to capture visual anguish than reading from a journal. Making the film more interesting than the novel are the flashbacks Christine has, the bits and pieces that she remembers. But then again, are those real memories or fragments of her imagination?

Colin Firth has shattered his Mr. Darcy persona for good. It is still a pleasure to watch him, albeit Darcy devotees and purists may find some scenes uncomfortable, faced with the revelation that O, Colin Firth is an actor, an impressive one yes, but not the real Mr. Darcy they love to keep in their memory.

This is a second partnership between Firth and Kidman, shortly after The Railway Man (2013). Their next collaboration will be the upcoming film Genius (2015), another book to movie adaptation to watch for.

Mark Strong is probably one of the most underrated actors today. He has been in so many movies, delivering strong performance… Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), plus many others and dating back to 1997, with Colin Firth in the first Fever Pitch (1997). Further, he’s my favourite Mr. Knightley in Emma (TV, 1996). His upcoming work is on my must-see list: The Imitation Game (2014).

Book to movie, here’s one that I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the movie more than the book, albeit it’s nothing more than leading and misleading, and slow revealing until the climatic end. Again I note, as with others of the crime and suspense genre, it’s not for everyone. But like Gone Girl, it has shoved to the forefront, domestic violence or violence of any sort involving the betrayal of trust, manipulation and self-gratification in dominance. Fortunately, this movie has a happier ending.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples


Related Reviews on Ripple Effects:

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson Book Review

Gone Girl The Movie (2014)

The Railway Man Movie Review (2013)

The Railway Man Book Review 

Magic In The Moonlight (2014) Enchants Despite Flaws

Let me guess. To see or not to see, that is the question on your mind. No? You’ve decided to skip it, heeding critics’ view that it is a ‘minor’ Woody Allen?

Magic In The Moonlight Poster 1

Well, here’s my take. To begin with, a director’s repertoire has to be large and significant enough to be categorized into ‘major’ and ‘minor’. I’ve enjoyed Allen’s previous ‘minor’ works like Match Point (2005), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), or his noir dealing with magic and the circus Shadows and Fog (1991). Or, is that a ‘major’?

For some reasons, even a ‘minor’ Allen work piques my interest. Further, a new Woody Allen movie is like the perennials shooting up in the summer garden. Going to see one has been on my summer to-do list in recent years.

This 47th directorial feature of Allen’s uses magic as the storyline, a reprise of his well-known preoccupation. Instead of casting himself as a magician like he did in Scoop (2006), Allen has Colin Firth play the role of the renowned Wei Ling-soo, master of illusions who specializes in disappearing and reappearing acts shrouded in oriental mystique. Just a reflection of the time, 1928 Berlin.

After a successful show, Stanley Crawford, Wei Ling-soo’s real-life persona, is recruited by his childhood friend and fellow magician Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) to go with him to the Côte d’Azur in France to debunk a fake clairvoyant, played by Emma Stone.

Stanley is pleased to take up the challenge, for in his rational mind, the spirit world does not exist. He will be doing everyone a favour to expose the trickery of this young, self-proclaimed spiritualist Sophie Baker, whom he firmly believes to be a crook. Stanley tells Howard, ‘she can’t fool me’. In his mind, Sophie and her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) are out to hoodwink the heir of a rich family, Brice (Hamish Linklater) and his mother Grace (Jacki Weaver), a fraudulent scheme that must be thwarted.

You might have read about the mismatch of Firth and Stone starring together. If there is anything that seems incompatible, it is Stone playing a medium with the expertise of contacting the dead in a séance. No matter, Stone’s appearance can only substantiate the magic.

Sure enough, the ‘minor’ notion applies with the film’s simple, stretched-out, single plot line. A subplot could add more texture to the film, and giving some talented actors more story and character development. Further, there are moments and dialogues that look tedious and unnecessary. Thanks to the cast of fine actors, we can see their concerted effort in making the film more interesting than the simple plot can offer.


And there are scenes we have seen before. The Gatsby-esque ball, the observatory moment as in Manhattan (1979), as well as reminiscence of other sources. But then again, are fairy tales not meant to be retold?

You might want to add in one more familiarity. France. This is the second time in four years Allen makes a movie in France. Following the successful Midnight In Paris (2011), cinematographer Darius Khondji reframes the country with idyllic French Riviera through a golden filter. I would not argue against that ‘repeat’.

And the music, how often we hear them in movies depicting the 1920’s, in particular, Allen’s own. From Cole Porter’s “You Do Something To Me” (opening credits, sets the mood right away) to Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy’s “I’m Always Chasing Rainbow” (Brice serenading Sophie), from Beethoven to Ravel, music only adds in the magic.

Stanley takes Sophie along for a ride to Provence to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins). The veteran, low-keyed but always reliable Atkins as the wise and knowing Aunt Vanessa plays a pivotal role in the story. While Sophie has the chance to demonstrate her extraordinary gift by revealing Aunt Vanessa’s past, Aunt Vanessa has also shown that she knows her nephew Stanley much more than he knows himself.

And (possible) spoilers coming up...

One of my favourite scenes is in the third act, when the seemingly oblivious Aunt Vanessa while playing a card game of solitaire is subtly prodding her nephew to clearer self-understanding, to act upon his heart rather than relying only on his rationale. This one reminds me of a nuanced and endearing scene in another movie, exactly with these two actors, Atkins and Firth, playing mother and son and engaging in a similar kind of dialogue. Yes, the two of them are charming together in both. That movie? What A Girl Wants (2003).

But what’s interesting is Colin Firth here shines as a chatty Darcy. He plays the role with such an amusing familiarity as if he has just changed costume from an Austen set to the 1920’s. Stanley feels superior, thinks Sophie beneath him. He is arrogant and smug at the start, challenging and badgering Sophie at every turn, full of pride and prejudice. Why of course, Sophie, from small town America, has not heard of Nietzsche, or Bora Bora, can’t tell Dickens from Shakespeare. A ready target for Stanley’s jest.

And Stanley is such an expert in alienating people. Sophie’s mom Mrs. Baker could not have agreed more with Lizzy’s mom Mrs. Bennet, this guy is an obnoxious snob. From Darcy to Stanley, two sides of the same coin. Firth knows how to play this one by heart.

Quite like Darcy, Stanley is such a poor (first-time) marriage proposer. Take her under his wings? No rational reason for doing this? Against his better judgement? Haven’t we heard such a marriage proposal before when Darcy first messed up his in front of an incredulous and fuming Lizzy Bennet?

Not to aspire to his ‘major’ endeavours, Magic in the Moonlight is a lighter piece in Allen’s humungous directorial repertoire. He deals with it like bringing work on his vacation, emphasis on the vacation. Don’t we all need a break every now and then? And isn’t the French Riviera an ideal spot?

~ ~ ~ Ripples


I’m linking this review to Paulita’s Dreaming of France Monday Meme. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.


Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

Midnight In Paris (2011)

Blue Jasmine (2013)

To Rome With Love (2012)



The Railway Man (2013) Movie Review

Premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, ‘The Railway Man’ has only recently made its way into North American theatres, a slow train considering the story dates back to a chapter in World War II history that has generally been ignored. It had taken Eric Lomax decades to open up and tell his story as a Japanese prisoner of war. His autobiography The Railway Man was published in 1995, half a century after his ordeal.

The Railway Man


Noting the demographics of the audience in the theatre I was in, it is likely that the passing of a generation could mean the eventual silencing of eyewitnesses and victims, or those who have heard from them first-hand. While a movie adaptation of Eric Lomax’s autobiography is important for raising awareness of the events in the Pacific theatre during the War, the real difficulty is to attract younger viewers today to go into a movie theatre to watch it.

Of the numerous full-length features on WWII, only David Lean’s 1957 “The Bridge on the River Kwai” comes to mind for a movie that deals with this chapter in history. Eric Lomax was a young signals officer in Singapore when the British surrendered to the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942. He and other British soldiers were transported to Thailand to work on the Thailand-Burma Railway as slave laborers. Notoriously known as The Death Railway, the conditions there were horrendous. Many POW’s died and others were tortured. Lomax was one of them.

Having read his memoir, I find ‘The Railway Man’ a more realistic depiction of the POW’s conditions. Lean’s film where the men are portrayed in top physical shape marching to the famous whistling tune looks like a summer camp when compared to the atrocities Lomax and others had suffered. The war ended in 1945, but not the psychological torments of former POW’s.

‘The Railway Man’ begins with Lomax (Colin Firth) in 1980, a middle-aged veteran, still a railway enthusiast, encountering Patti Wallace (Nicole Kidman) while travelling on a train. This first part of the movie is the most enjoyable in that we see Colin Firth in his most natural and easiest demeanor, romantic yet reserved, with a dash of quirkiness. Nicole Kidman, with minimal make-up, gives an admirable understated performance. The two make good screen chemistry. Viewers will have more of their partnership in some upcoming productions.

Colin Firth & Nicole Kidman

As they chat on the train, David Lean’s ‘Brief Encounter’ is mentioned, a life imitating art experience thus ensues except this one leads to a long-term relationship. Eric and Patti soon get married. On their honeymoon, the nightmares of Lomax’s traumatic past begin to expose. He drops on the floor wrenching from fearful flashbacks.

Observing in anguish, Patti seeks to find out more from Lomax’s fellow veteran Finlay (Stellan Skarsgård) who cautions her of the scars of war and the never-ending torments. Thus leads to the second act where we see flashbacks into Lomax’s horrific POW experiences.

Jeremy Irvine puts forth an impressive effort in his portrayal of a courageous and decent young Lomax. After the radio he has made and his hand-drawn map of the railway line are discovered by his Japanese captors, the young Lomax bravely steps out to admit his involvement in order to spare his fellow soldiers the punishment. He is beaten, interrogated as a spy, and repeatedly tortured. Throughout, the young Japanese officer Nagase (Tanroh Ishida) is in full command.

Jeremy IrvineThe film goes back and forth in time during the bulk of the story, not roughly, but in an unbalanced way. The WWII sequences are intense, but the present day scenes exude a lethargic sense of inaction. While the talents of both Firth and Kidman can readily be tapped, the screenplay allows no further development other than the close-ups of a repressed and traumatically disturbed Lomax and a loving but exasperated Patti watching from the sideline. Here is a time when you would wish the director (Jonathan Teplitzky) and screenwriters (Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson) had exerted more artistic freedom and creative energy into the film.

The plot turns a new direction as Finlay finds out that the Japanese officer Nagase (now played by Hiroyuki Sanada) who was involved in Lomax’s torture is still alive. Adding to Lomax’s burden, Finlay has pressured him to take revenge. Indeed, it is with a vengeful resolve that Lomax seeks Nagase out in a war museum in Thailand, where Nagase is a tour guide by the River Kwai, showing visitors the same prison camp wherein Lomax was once a captive.

As the torturer and the victim confront, tension rises. In the most critical moment, the murderous vengeance that Lomax has harbored is snapped. Nagase expresses genuine remorse and offers his apology to Lomax. Vengeance is thus dissolved into forgiveness.

This third act is supposedly the most moving section. Unfortunately it drags on too long, losing the power of the cathartic punch. While Firth’s performance is riveting as he enters the torture room and relives the past, the verbal exchanges between the adversaries and their ultimate reconciliation look contrived. As in the book, which leaves readers little explanation as to Lomax’s change of heart, I assume therein lies the difficulty for the screenwriters to invent a realistic and dramatic scenario.

Nonetheless, stories like this ought to be told for the understanding of historic truths and of the human heart. It just may sound like an over-simplification, but maybe the long road to reconciliation does start with a word of apology.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

CLICK HERE To read my book review of The Railway Man by Eric Lomax.


This movie review was published in the May 10 issue of Asian American Press.

Upcoming Book to Movie Adaptations

2012 has been a great year for movie adaptations based on or loosely tied to books. Argo, Beast of the Southern Wild, Les Misérables, Anna Karenina, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook are all from adapted screenplays.

Now that the Award Season is behind us, time to move forward to see what some of the upcoming movie adaptations are in the works. The following is a list of films in various stages of development, with some scheduled to be released in 2013. Time to read or reread the books before your see the movies.


A Most Wanted Man 

A Most Wated Man

Philip Seymour Hoffman stars in John le Carré’s thriller (2008) with a contemporary theme of international war on terror. Hopefully it will reprise the depth of the star-studded Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Robert Wright, Rachel McAdams, and Willem Dafoe are in.

A Wrinkle In Time

A Wrinkle in Time

After the success of LOTRNarnia, The Hobbit, some think it’s time to remake Madeleine L’Engle’s YA Sci-Fi classic A Wrinkle In Time. Disney it is, together with Bedrock with Jeff Stockwell (A Bridge to Terabithia, 2007) writing the script. Let’s hope it’s a production worthy of its literary source.

Before I Go To Sleep 

Before I Go to Sleep

Adapted from S. J. Watson’s popular and intriguing novel about a woman having bouts of amnesia every morning she wakes up. If your memory or enthusiasm needs a little prodding, here’s this cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong. Nobody can forget Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (TV 1995), but do you remember Mark Strong as Mr. Knightley in Emma (TV 1996)? Both were in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) and Mark Strong in the recent Zero Dark Thirty (2012). I can’t wait for this one. Will have to read the book first.

The Book Thief

The Book Thief

The popular and acclaimed YA book by Markus Zusak with setting in WWII Nazi Germany. YA or not, it’s been on the NYT Bestseller List for over 4 years. Interesting fact is, Downton Abbey director Brian Percival will helm the production, which will star Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech, 2010) and Emily Watson (Anna Karenina, 2012). The young Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse who’s brilliant in the Oscar nominated Monsieur Lazhar (Canadian entry for Best Foreign Language Film, 2011) will play young Liesel.

Devil’s Knot

Devil's Knot

Based on Mara Leveritt’s book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Threethe true case of the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of three teenaged boys for eighteen years for the murder of three children in West Memphis, Arkansas. Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon star. Acclaimed Canadian director Atom Egoyan helms, with music score by the recent Oscar winning Canadian composer for Life of Pi Mychael Danna. Yes, sounds like an international joint effort. The film has a 2013 release date in the U.S.

The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

Completed in 2012, but delayed its release until May 2013. Just as well, considering all the mighty rivals of last year’s movies. The trailer looks unsettling, and in 3D, I’m afraid the Baz Luhrmann version may focus on the loud and glitzy but ignore the true colours of Jay Gatsby. Of course, innocent until proven guilty. My eyes are peeled. Leo DiCaprio is Jay, Carey Mulligan Daisy, Isla Fisher Myrtle, Tobey Maguire Nick. Quite a cast.

The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman

Claire Tomalin’s account of Charles Dickens’ affair with the young writer Nelly Ternan will be brought to screen with script from Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) to be directed by Ralph Fiennes, who will play Dickens himself. To add to the rave, Kristin Scott Thomas is also on board. Felicity Jones will be playing Nelly Ternan. Fiennes never ceases to amaze us with his versatility, after directing Shakespeare’s Coriolanus in postmodern style, now comes Dickens.

The Piano Tuner

The Piano Tuner

It has been reported that the iconic German director Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, 2010) is directing the movie adaptation of this 2002 book by Daniel Mason. Set in 1890’s Burma where the British Empire was having its glorious era, the chords of harmony and dissonance ring. Not a lot of info on it, but as I read a few book reviews, which are all careful not to reveal any spoilers, I can see this can be a colourful and thought-provoking cinematic offering in the hands of an auteur whose career has spanned half a century.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Don’t rant about Jane Austen’s novels being turned into just too many movies. Shakespeare probably holds the record. This time, a 21st C. version of Romeo and Juliet will be written by none other than Julian Fellowes, who has brought us the wildly and globally popular Downton Abbey, something Shakespeare just might approve. The new pair of star-crossed lovers? Douglas Booth (Great Expectations, TV 2011) and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, 2010), with a cast of prominent US and British actors.

The Sea

The Sea

Irish writer John Banville adapts his own Booker-winning novel (2005) of the same title. Ciaran Hind (Persuasion, 1995) stars. Banville has also written the screenplay of the Oscar nominated movie Albert Kobbs with Glenn Close. I was planning to read The Sea last year for the Ireland Reading Challenge but later made another choice. Now knowing there will be a movie, I should get back to it.

Suite Française

Suite Française

The heart-wrenching novel by Irène Némirovsky with setting in German occupied WWII Paris. Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long, 2008) and Michelle Williams star with Rust and Bone actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Glad to know screen adaptation is written by the Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood, who has given us such memorable films like The Browning Version (1994), The Pianist (Oscar win 2002), Being Julia (2004), The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Oscar nom, 2007), and the recent Dustin Hoffman directorial debut Quartet (2012). I’m reading this book together with the Bonhoeffer bio. Can’t wait to see the film.

The Taming of the Shrew

Taming of the Shrew

Yes, another Shakespeare’s play in the works. This one will be adapted by the screenwriter who has brought us The Iron Lady (2011), the movie Meryle Streep won an Oscar for playing Magaret Thatcher. Coincident? This time, the iron lady is Katharina, and she’ll be played by recent Oscar winner Anne Hathaway. From Fantine to the Shrew? She’ll need a lot of method acting and we’ll need a lot of forgetting to see her in that new role. As for Petruchio? Let me know who you think should be the one. No, I’m not the casting director, but I’ll put in a good word for you.


Do you know of any other literary titles to be adapted into films in the coming year? Let me know in a comment.

Thanks for your input, here are the titles some of you have added to my list:



Mr. Morgan’s Last Love

August: Osage County

Much Ado About Nothing


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.

When Did You Last See Your Father?


I have the chance to soak in the frenzy of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) these past few days in the big TO. The largest film fest in the world, this year TIFF offers over 300 films from 60 countries from September 6 to 15, a delectable smorgasbord for movie lovers . On Saturday, Sept. 8th at 7:00 pm, while the enthusiastic crowd gathered along the barricades outside the Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street, hoping to get a glimpse of Brad Pitt on the red carpet, I lined up patiently with a less boisterous group of ticket holders outside the same building an hour early to get into the Winter Garden Theatre for the premiere screening of When Did You Last See Your Father?

Based on the award-winning and highly acclaimed memoir written by British author Blake Morrison, WDYLSYF is a fine piece of artistry crafted by some of today’s top British talents. Director Anand Tucker’s work includes the Oscar nominated and BAFTA winning Hilary and Jackie (1998), and co-producing Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), another Oscar nominee and numerous European film award winner. The stellar cast of WDYLSYF is led by Jim Broadbent and Colin Firth, playing father Arthur and son Blake Morrison, with strong supporting roles from Juliet Stevenson as the mother and newcomer Matthew Beard, who plays the teenage Blake.

When Did You Last See Your Father

The words “A True Story” in the opening credits prepared the audience for something real and meaningful. We were led to explore a multi-layered and poignant story about a fragile father-son relationship that is brought to the forefront at the father’s imminent death from cancer. Jim Broadbrent could well deserve an acting nomination as the ailing father, headstrong, overbearing, and ever the victor in whatever circumstances, even in the face of terminal illness. Colin Firth aptly portrays the middle-aged Blake, already an acclaimed writer and poet, yet still waiting to hear from his father the two precious words he has longed for all his life: “well done”.

Intense but not draining, the director effectively sprinkles enough comic relief at the right moments to move the story along with poignancy but steers the viewers away from sentimentality. I always think that Colin Firth excels in subtle, understated acting, his every gaze speaks volume. Here again he has shown once more that he is a master of this craft.

However, I must admit that Matthew Beard, a first time film actor who plays the teenage Blake shines with his natural and superb performance, bringing out the love/hate sentiments he has harboured towards his father from the various situations he has been pushed into, such as the reluctant camping trip, the impromptu driving lesson, the numerous embarrassment and even public humiliation he has suffered from his father’s brash and insensitive comments…but above all, from the burden he has to bear as a witness to the wrongs of his own parent.

The restrained acting by the stellar cast effectively conveys the pathos and conflicting family relationships as well as the ambivalence of a son trying to come to terms with resentment towards a callous, egotistic, and dying father. Firth’s subtle characterization of the adult Blake poignantly portrays the crux of his torments. It is a painful relief at the end of the movie when he realizes that sometimes one has to resolve anger and disappointment on one’s own, unilaterally, including the most difficult discipline, forgiveness and the letting go. If the victim has forgiven, should the witness keeps on holding grudges? There’s no simple answer, and the film has successfully dealt with such conflicts through the multi-layered characterization and the reflective shots through mirrors in many scenes.

Filmed mostly on location in beautiful Derbyshire, England, the movie’s inspiring cinematography works like a soothing balm, together with the light-hearted and nostalgic childhood scenes, the film is an enjoyable visual treat. Again, such is the real portrayal of the issues we face, natural beauty can sometimes offset the darker side of human nature. Humour and pathos can co-exist.

A bonus in going to film festival screening is the chance to hear the makers of the movie reflect on their work. The audience was pleasantly surprised to see the director Anand Tucker and actor Jim Broadbent come on stage to answer questions after the movie. Listening to them, I felt that I’d only discovered the outer layer of a very complex and pleasurable artifact that I wanted to see the movie all over again.

And so I did two days later.

~ ~ ~ Ripples



To read my review of the book And When Did You Last See Your Father? Click here.