Talk of the Town! 12

kkurman, on the beat.  20 Feb ’12

         As far as movies go, nothing really significant is released during the Award Season. The period between The Golden Globe’s in early January and the Academy Awards at the end of February is traditionally a no-man’s-zone for ‘contenders’. Spring releases are just not remembered when it comes to nomination time in December. its easy to get confused about when something was released when all the focus is on the previous year’s films. Right now people are generally trying to catch up by going to see the movies that were winners of Golden Globes and are nominated for Oscar’s that you may have missed when they were in theatres, like, THE ARTIST, THE DESCENDANTS or DRIVE.

There is a lot happening though. This is the time of new Television roll-outs, which, as we have seen, is not the TV of ten or even five years ago. Pay cable and satellite stations are providing independent production companies with big budgets to launch lavish, serialized productions with big name stars and directors. The paradigm shift is in full swing. Carriers like HBO, Showtime, AMC and Starz are in stiff competition for content. Even Netflix and PBS (Public Broadcasting System) are moving in on the territory, as evidenced by Netfilx’s up-coming HOUSE OF CARDS with Kevin Spacey and Masterpiece Theatre’s DOWNTON ABBEY with Elizabeth McGovern, Maggie Smith and countless Emmy, Golden Globe and BAFTA award’s to their credit. As we gather at friend’s houses to plan our Oscar parties, we’re eagerly anticipating the next episode of HBO‘s LUCK with Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte or rolling on the floor laughing at the new season of SHAMELESS with William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum on Showtime. And the season is just warming up, more on that as they happen…

Between the Globe’s and the Oscar’s come the Grammy’s which this year was marred by the shocking news of the passing of Whitney Huston, so sad. The media coverage has been more like saturation, which begs a comment on our modern tabloid culture. The media today loves to hound celebrities when they’re on top of their game, they pursue them when they struggle with the pressures of fame, ignores them when they’re down and revels in mourning them when they succumb. Its a tragic arc that no one can be proud of. May her soul rest in peace and glory for her gifts that she gave so freely of and kept so little for herself.

Coming up we’re looking forward to the much anticipated epic THE HUNGER GAMES with our beloved Jennifer Lawrence and well, a huge cast including Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley (AMERICAN BEAUTY), award winning Stanly Tucci and none other than rock legend, Lenny Kravitz. Also coming up is the light fantasy tale, MIRROR, MIRROR with Julia Roberts and Armie Hammer and the launch of the new season of MAD MEN for AMC. So stay tuned…

A last word goes to Fredrick Wiseman the intrepid documentary filmmaker who, at 72, just released his latest film, CRAZY HORSE. Wiseman is a filmmaker’s filmmaker. Because he maintains tight control over his output, you pretty much have to go to the theatre to see them, which is very much to his credit. His most famous titles might be, TITICUT FOLLIES (1967), HIGH SCHOOL (1968), CANAL ZONE (1977), the disturbing HOSPITAL (1970) and many, many more… Wiseman is known for his dispassionate observation of human interaction and an almost Dickensonian political conscience. This latest film goes behind the scenes of the legendary Parisian burlesque club, Crazy Horse. Not only do we get to meet the creative team that design and perform the intricate staging and choreography that beguile men and women alike but we are treated to complete numbers in performance. It is a beautiful film that allows the artistry of the subject to dominate over the precise craftsmanship behind the construction of the document. Simply perfection.

That’s it for now, every day brings a new adventure so ’till then, See ya’, Salam, Alikum!

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Talk of the Town! 9

kkurman, on the beat.  13 August ’11

Last Thursday, at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Dr. Aida Takla O’Reilly was duly installed as President of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). The ‘Installation Luncheon’ is a traditional high point in the season around here because it happens in August when most people are out of town and movie releases are at a low ebb so there’s not much else going on.

However, its significance goes far beyond that for two reasons.

The first is that at a time when money is tight, the studios depend ever more on international distribution to make their bottom line revenues. The journalists of the HFPA help to open up the markets abroad, increasing ticket sales in the global market.

The second is that, as a non-profit organization, the profit that the HFPA makes off televising its annual Golden Globes Awards ceremony all goes to charity. That contribution is considerable. This year the HFPA handed out over $1.5 million dollars to schools, arts organizations and disaster relief. Over the last seventeen years, they’ve distributed over $13 million.

Both sides of this equation come together on the Red Carpet that draws “A” list stars and the major behind-the-scenes moguls who drive the industry. Dr. O’Reilly was there to receive Leonardo DiCaprio who would accept $350,000 for the Film Foundation, Taylor Lautner (of the TWILIGHT series) was accepting for The Sundance Institute. Mark Walhberg, Gerard Butler, Lea Michele, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Hugh Dancy and many more joined producers Ryan Kavanaugh (Relativity Media), Nancy Utley (Fox Searchlight) and others to support the cause.

The event, organized by long-time HFPA member, Judy Solomon, moved right along as each receiver introduced the next, making for some fun banter, like when Mark Walhberg introduced Taylor Lautner as being better looking than DiCaprio and in better shape than himself, “…Boogie Nights and Titanic were a long time ago, pal. It’s over.”

Dr. Takla O’Reilly, in case you were wondering, is from Egypt and represents Egypt and Dubai within the Association. She has been a member of the HFPA for many years and was President before, back in the ’90’s. We are very proud of her and congratulate her on stepping up to the challenge of moving the HFPA forward for a new generation of members.

A special shout-out goes to The Beverly Hills Hotel, which provided excellent service and an iconic location for the event, and on a personal note, the food was delicious!

That’s it for now, when a good movie comes out, I’ll let you know! ’till then, See ya’, Salam, Alikum!

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Talk of the Town! 13

This week got off to a good start. We went to a screening of ACT OF VALOR and were blown away! This film is really something refreshingly new. It has elements of every war movie you’ve ever seen however, the directors, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, have constructed a suspenseful and touching story out of the very real, working parts of international espionage and military actions. All the action sequences were shot during real training maneuvers and they used real life, active duty Navy Seals to enact the storyline. They were clearly not ‘actors’ but they gave credible performances that infused the film with a fresh, natural immediacy. It’s difficult to imagine how this film will be received outside the lower 48, but from here, it met its own challenge of solid storytelling with an innovative approach to film making.
At last, the award season is over and there is a general sigh of relief and exhaustion. Its easy to be cynical about The Academy Awards. Maintaining such a venerable Institution in the entertainment business is bound to elicit groans and ridicule from a naturally critical audience. There will always be the shock of which pictures they choose to nominate and who actually wins. It is a political, insider game and everybody knows it, but because it is entertainment, its seen as an innocent enough parody of our times. Safe, hackneyed and star-struck, the Oscars both reflect and absorb the aspirations of millions to achieve excellence in what they do, and for that it can’t, or shouldn’t really be faulted.
I just don’t understand why THE ARTIST won for Best Musical Score. Practically the whole second half of the film was just lifted, note for note, from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO. Kim Novak, Hitch’s inscrutable blond star of VERTIGO, one of his most perfect films, blasted the producers of THE ARTIST writing, “This film could and should have been able to stand on its own without depending upon Bernard Herrmann’s score… to provide it more drama.” and calling “shame” upon them for its appropriation. The director, Michel Hazanavicius, issued a mild, soft-spoken response to her accusation, for whatever that was worth, but the score didn’t deserve the attention such an award affords when there was far better, more deserving original work to choose from, for example Alberto Iglesias s flawless score for TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY.
With the end of the award season, we move from a dry period of new film releases at the opening of the year, into the monsoon season leading up to the summer blockbusters. With an average of 500 films released out of Hollywood each year, that puts us already behind schedule. Easily half of them are hardly worth watching, granted, but that still leaves a lot of movies to fit into the schedule.
In addition to ACT OF VALOR, this week we had MIRROR, MIRROR, the new retelling
of Snow White with Julia Roberts, Lily Collins and Armie Hammer, which was just what it set out to be, a fairytale for kids that their parents could bare to sit through, and THE HUNGER GAMES, which, due to a reporting embargo I can’t say anything about except, perhaps, THE HUNGER GAMES, enough said!
This weekend is the Los Angeles Turkish Film Festival, which is being featured at the venerable Hollywood movie palace, Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre. More on that later….
..oh! did I mention THE HUNGER GAMES?
That’s it for now, every day brings a new adventure so ’till then, See ya’,
salam alikum!, iyi aksamlar!

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Talk of the Town! 4

kkurman, on the beat.  26 May ’11

Its been slow around here this week. I think its mostly about catch-up on movies missed and anticipation of what’s coming up.

HANGOVER II was pretty much as expected, a ribald romp through an unsuspecting Thailand. There were plenty of laughs as ‘The Wolfpack’ try to retrace their steps from a lost night of blackout partying. As in the original, the objective is to be as shocking as possible and for the most part they succeed and again, as in the original, most of the biggest laughs come when they review the pictures of the night before over the final credits. Through the mayhem and hysteria, there’s some good solid, light entertainment for the casual American movie-goer, but I can’t help but wonder how this form of banal humor is perceived abroad. I guess to some extent, boys will be boys, anywhere, and madcap hijinks are what boys, who aren’t ready to grow up, get up to. Box-office will tell, so we’ll be watching how it does this weekend.

Last week I saw a screening of Mike Mills’ new picture BEGINNERS and I gotta say, I loved it. I’m very concerned that its going to be tagged as just a ‘gay’ movie ’cause the main character’s (Ewan McGregor) elderly father (Christopher Plummer) comes out after his wife of forty-some years, passes away. That he happens to be gay, to me, is just a euphemism for someone finally doing what they’ve always wanted to do in life but kept making excuses for not doing it. That is, at least, the lesson I believe McGregor’s character takes from it. I really hope everyone goes to see it because the film is so beautifully made. It hits all its marks. The story is meaningful, substantive and the script is perfect with very real, human characters and a naturally flowing dialogue that captures uncomfortable silences as well as personal expressions of self-awareness. Its funny and relatable with really great performances by all, especially from Cosmo, the Jack Russell Terrier who tags his comedic role as Arthur, the dog.

Upcoming we have more Action-Adventure-SiFi-Comic Book adaptations:

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is due out next week and there’s no reason to suspect that it will be anything but wham-bam! thrilling. Following on that will be TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and the long anticipated GREEN LANTERN with Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and as Sinestro, the bad guy of course, Mark Strong who, as with so many great character actors, is often overlooked because they do their job so well. He’s the guy who disappears into his characters in movies like, SYRIANA, BODY OF LIES, YOUNG VICTORIA, SHERLOCK HOLMES (you know, the one with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law), ROBIN HOOD and most recently THE EAGLE.

            As the TWILIGHT franchise draws to a close, Hollywood is, we hope, growing out of its vampire obsession and banking on a strong futures market in fairytales. That’s right, you got it, fairytales. Apparently, with the success of Disney’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and any number of princess stories, the producer class has been throwing their bets on a more wholesome (?) romantic fantasy genre. There are two Snow White settings, one with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth and another with Julia Roberts as, appropriately, the evil Queen. Both are now competing for release times, which reminds me of the year that THE PRESTIGE and THE ILLUSIONIST came out within months of each other.  Then there is a remake of THE WIZARD OF OZ, called simply, OZ, that’s already in production, cast with James Franco and Mila Kunis. There are probably more, but the one I’ve been most looking forward to, that keeps getting delayed, is MALEFICENT, which is the Sleeping Beauty story told from the perspective of Beauty’s evil nemesis, starring Angelina Jolie. It was to be directed by Tim Burton but that seems not to be happening, shame, that’s the version I most wanted to see…

Ok, That’s it for now…’till next time, See ya’ and Salam Alik!

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Egypt’s Lost Dynasty – Part 1

In 2006 Aida Takla and I embarked on a journey that seemed perfectly innocent at the time but quickly became an adventure of discovery quite beyond what either of us could have imagined.

Aida is originally from Egypt. When we started this project, she was just retiring from her position as President of Trinity College of Graduate Studies in Fullerton. She had already enjoyed a distinguished career in the University of California system as a professor and Dean and had for many years been a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

I was at the time, a gardener with a background in Music and Art history. Starting in High School in the early 70’s, or perhaps earlier (who can remember that far back?), I found myself increasingly drawn to lost cultural causes like Early Music, Performance Art and Landscape Gardening.

We met and become friends through our shared interest in film and our peripheral positions relative to ‘The Industry’. I had moved to Los Angeles in 2001 from Martha’s Vineyard, intending to carry on my career in Landscape Design.

Aida moved here from Egypt in the early ’50’s to attend UCLA as an undergrad. Once here an amazing thing happened. There was at that time a relatively small Egyptian community in Los Angeles that was growing steadily in consequence of the 1952 coup d’etat that overthrew King Farouk and the monarchy in Egypt.

For completely unrelated reasons a branch of the Egyptian Royal Family had already settled here in 1950. At the head of this significant branch of the family was Nazli, Queen Mother of Egypt, being the mother of King Farouk, who had before that been Sultana and Queen of Egypt in her own right since 1918. With her was her daughter, King Farouk’s youngest sister, Princess Fathiya. The Princess had just married a Coptic commoner, Riad Ghali, and they were settling into their lives as newlyweds in a comfortable Beverly Hills mansion.

The substance of their story will come later, the point here is that through this small community of Egyptian emigrants Aida came to know the Royal Family and they became close, intimate friends. As Aida graduated and married, the families merged seamlessly. As children were born, each respectively stood as Godparents and the children were raised together and their lives and personal histories became intertwined.

So it was only natural when Aida or her daughter, Dominique, would have dinner parties or family gatherings Rayed Ghali, Princess Fathiya’s second son, would be in attendance. At these gatherings Aida and Rayed would share with me stories from their past, sensational stuff that had me hanging on every word and pressing for ever more details.

I was aghast! How was it that none of this rich material was known, and what were they going to do with it? Who was Queen Nazli, referred to affectionately as simply, ‘Nana’? Who was this Princess Faiza, Fathiya’s older sister, who was so glamorous and mysterious? How did Princess Shams, the younger sister of the Shah of Iran, figure into all this?

My mind was racing trying to piece it all together. The personal recollections of Aida and Rayed were all event-based, scenes from their lives, beyond that they really couldn’t reconstruct all the context. I was constantly getting confused by all the unfamiliar names and dates and wasn’t getting the whole picture. So it came to a point where I had to stop and say, “ok, if you guys aren’t going to write this, I will.” Ha! …more innocent words were never spoke!

The three of us embarked on a process of trying to map out the timelines and relationships of the main characters. We started collecting any and every book ever published on the family and talking with anyone having any relationship to or knowledge of the subject. Since the Los Angeles branch of the royal family was just the tip of the iceberg and so recently arrived, the bulk of the story was back in Egypt. So we went to Egypt and, with the help of Aida’s family there, met with scholars and government ministers and visited the places where our protagonists had lived and ruled.

It was on this, our first trip to Egypt, that I discovered the answer to my first question; why didn’t anyone know anything about this family and their story? The answer was painfully clear everywhere you went, anywhere you looked or asked questions or even talked about the family.

The government that took power after King Farouk went into exile in Italy in 1952 had systematically and quite literally, chipped the cartouche of Farouk’s family, the Mohamed Ali Dynasty, off the history of the country.

There was no past for Queen Nazli or her kin. There was a wary longing and nostalgia for those times, but any factual knowledge was absent or so closely guarded it would be shared only in whispered tones and furtive looks.

As an American, I found this unimaginable. Once I started to piece the whole picture together, it was much easier for me to understand the poverty, the congestion and the general mayhem that prevailed in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria. This was a country cast adrift, tethered only to a tenuous connection to an ancient, disassociated, far distant past. The analogy that kept coming to mind was that of ‘Mother Nature hates a vacuum’. It was like a fertile field, when stripped of its ordered rows of crops and left neglected, becomes host to noxious weeds, pestilence and chaos.

It was becoming clear from these early investigations into the Dynasty that had ruled Egypt from around 1800 until its end in 1952, that this was not a family of saints. There was much, in their behavior and modes of governing, that was truly bizarre and indefensible. Yet, through it all they had taken Egypt from what was little more than an outpost of the Ottoman Empire to its position as the dominant cultural and industrial center of Africa and the Middle East. To just erase this period of growth and ‘formation’, despite its flaws, to me, was just inconceivable.

The point was driven home to me when I was having a conversation with a couple of privileged, high school aged kids in Alexandria. We were talking about my fascination with the history of the Royal Family and they admitted to knowing very little about it. They were convinced that King Farouk was a drunk and a womanizer, and that his regime was just totally corrupt and repressive. I was shocked. Everything I had read, though much of it did describe him thus, was leading me to draw a completely different profile of the man and ruler. Their mother was present and asserted that she had been taught the same things when she was in school in the ’60’& ’70’s, and still, to some extent, believed this. That would be two generations of Egyptians who had been deprived of the facts about the history of their nation. This led to their talking more generally about their dissatisfaction with conditions in Egypt and the dangerous atmosphere of intolerance towards Christians and foreigners, so I asked, well, how did they imagine Egypt’s future, how would they change things if they could?  This query was met with a blank stare. “What do you mean?” they asked. They had known nothing but the Mubarak regime and this pervasive sense of hopelessness, where things would never change, it would just always be like this.

Wow, I couldn’t imagine a bright, young person like this not having some vision of a future that might be better if certain conditions were to change, some aspiration to prosper, a state of grace, the pursuit of happiness….

All obvious external comparisons aside, for indeed, the birth of the United States is only about forty years older than the formation of the modern Egyptian state, the internal growth of this new nation had held great promise for Egypt. Where the United States had been, to some extent, cut from whole cloth, Egypt was born out of reform of already existing systems of law and governance.

I couldn’t help but see a connection between this young person’s lack of hope for a better future and the absence of a national history. It was like a kind of collective amnesia; if you don’t know where you’ve been how can you know what is possible in the future?

This, then, became a mission. Where we had started with the objective of telling the story of Nazli and Fathiya, which is still a compelling and sensational drama, now presented itself as the necessity of producing a documentary on the Dynasty and the emergence of a modern industrialized state.

(continued in ELD – Part 2)

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Talk of the Town!

kkurman, on the beat.  5 May ’11

This week was all POC, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ that is.

Went to the all media pre-screening at the magnificent, old Hollywood movie palace the El Capitan the other night and what a show! Geoffrey Rush was there and the place was packed. I love how they get the crowd all worked up by having a live organist playing the grand, silent movie era, Wurlitzer in the pit. The movie is fantastic, funny and fast moving. Capt’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the Spanish, the Brits (led by the not-to-be-trusted Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane, ‘Deadwood’) the most fearsome pirate of all time, race to be the first to re-discover The Fountain of Youth. They all have their own reasons for wanting to get there first, Capt’n Jack, strangely, seems to be doing it for the love of a woman, Blackbeard’s daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). As usual, the production design is top notch and the script is tighter than the last two. The action sequences, in 3-D, are thrilling, especially the feeding frenzy of the mermaids! Speaking of mermaids, the Bloom/Knightly young lovers’ roles have been replaced by a couple of new faces you will probably be seeing more of, Sam Clafin as a young missionary and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as the mermaid, Syrena. All-in-all, alot of fun and a must see!

Most folks are betting on which will be the biggest 1st weekend box office take; POC ‘On Stranger Tides’ (Disney) or the Marvel Comics’ franchise summer blockbuster ‘Thor’ (Paramount). Despite seeing ‘Thor‘ in the impeccable screening facility on the Paramount lot, it wasn’t good enough to make up for, hyperbolically speaking, one of the worse scripts ever penned. With a stellar cast and seemingly limitless budget, director, Kenneth Branagh, managed to produce an empty yawn of a picture that was overwrought and obvious at every turn. Chris Hemsworth as Thor, certainly looked the part, but the script didn’t really give him much to work with, if that, or additionally the 3-D, could have helped materialize this character off the comic-book page. I couldn’t help but wonder what Anthony Hopkins, Natalie Portman and Stellan Skarsgard, all stellar, award winning actors, were doing in this picture. Money, I suppose, is a demanding master. Anyway, my vote goes to ‘POC‘,  ’cause who doesn’t love Capt’n Jack Sparrow and who can ignore the siren call of mermaids? I mean, really!

Aside from the clash of the box office Titans, most of the attention now is being directed at the TV. As mentioned in previous TOTT’s, Cable has all the money and a captive audience, a match made in heaven. The Showtime series ‘The Borgias’ is in full swing and tearing up the screen with murder, sex and intrigue. A lavish production with good, historically accurate writing, ‘The Borgias’ is shaping up to be a Sunday night ‘must watch’. Based on the original mob family at the turn of 16th century Rome, the Borgia family was the model for Machiavelli’s (played here by the distinguished British actor and musician, Julian Bleach) classic primer for iron-fist governance, ‘The Prince’. Jeremy Irons is perfect as the corrupt-to-the-bone Pope Alexander VI, formally Rodrigo Borgia. His son, the infamous Cesare Borgia, is wonderfully and chillingly, played by Francois Arnaud.  Everyone in the cast is actually really getting into their characters and the energy is electric.

The problem arises in that HBO is running ‘Game of Thrones’ at the same time. Both are repeated throughout the week, but the dilemma is which to watch first. Both are episode-to-episode cliffhangers and both are emotionally fraught, costume dramas.  The character development is so good you can’t help becoming involved in loving, hating and cheering on your favorites.

‘Game of Thrones’ is a fictional adaptation of ancient, feudal Europe. The writers have created a masterful allegory of the universal struggle for power. HBO has once again nailed their production design with a visually stunning imaginary world populated with perfectly cast, ensemble performances.

I’m out of space, we’ll have to pick up the story where we left off next time…so,

That’s it for now. See ya’, Salam Alik!

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Talk of the Town!

kkurman, on the beat.  30 March ’11

            Last week was a silent week. For one reason, there was really nothing interesting going on at the movies. The other reason was a respectful moment of silence for the passing of the immortal beauty, Elizabeth Taylor. I read a few of the eulogistic articles that appeared in the press and realized that there was really nothing new to say about a career, a life, lived in full public view. We know her movies, we’ve all seen them, perhaps a couple of times more than we needed to, and we’ve watched the drama of her life played out in the media. This last week seemed like the best time to mull over our relationship with her, and say nothing.

For me, the review her life all boiled down to ‘BUtterfield 8’ and, ironically, ‘The Night of the Iguana’. ‘BU-8′ just ’cause it’s my favorite movie she played in, there were other’s, of course, you could go on and on… but that one is my favorite. ‘The Night of the Iguana’ because that’s where my imagination can play out my fantasy of Liz’s life in full, blazing ®Technicolor! I can conjure in my mind’s eye; Liz, lolling about by the pool of their lavish villa, gulping tropical cocktails all day in the blazing Acapulco sun, scandalizing the help in, or mostly outre, of a hot pink Réard bikini, but it doesn’t stop there. Dick, Richard Burton that is, gets home from the set late into the evening, hammered, herding an entourage that would include, also hammered, the sultry, Ava Gardener. A countdown of snide mockery begins, quickly devolves and the catfights ensue! Ah! to have been a pebble on the shore of Bahia de Acapulco on that night, of the Iguana!

Later in life, her work for AIDS charities and her continued reputation for being a hard drinking, outspoken bon vivant, sealed, for me, her status as an iconic Dame! She will be missed but her memory will never fade.

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Jane Eyre

by Charlotte Bronte – Moira Buffini, screenplay

directed by Cary Fukunaga

Focus Features

Here we have still yet another film adaptation of the classic Victorian morality play, Jane Eyre. It is an immortal story for all ages due to the universality of its aspirational, emotional core and its expression of responsibility to ones own moral values.

It would be presumptuous of me to comment on the original since the task has been handled by so many, far greater minds than my own. Since the story’s publication in 1847, it has been subject to countless settings and interpretations, both in straight readings of the original text and in adaptation to different times and points of view. The original novel has such good bones that it allows for broad social commentary and for a plea and justification for women’s rights. The proof of its success on this latter point is evidenced by the fact that the original was serialized under a masculine nom de plume, an affect no longer required pretty much anywhere in the world today.

In case you have forgotten the details, the story goes:

An orphaned girl from a good family is mistreated by her objectionable relatives, sent to an austere boarding school, then hired out as a governess. She silently falls in love with her libertine employer but refuses to give her self over to her passions despite his entreaties. When at last she does, it is discovered that he is already married to a mad woman whose existence tortures his soul. She flees and is taken in by a pious, religious man who gives her a job as the village teacher. When he proposes to her, for all the wrong reasons, she rejects him. When, in a turn of fate, she comes into a good deal of money, she returns to her first employer and true love and finds that he has lost everything, including his wife and his sight, leaving him free to accept her on her terms.

This new movie version is beautiful and evenly balanced in all its parts. The production design, cinematography and editing are all above reproach. It is exceptionally well cast from the newcomers, Mia Wasikowska as Jane, and Jamie Bell as St. John, to a commanding performance by Michael Fassbender as Rochester and Dame Judy Dench as the all seeing and permitting Mrs. Fairfax.

Where the production falls short is that the adaptation lacked verve. The director, also a newcomer, Cary Fukunaga, brought no bold stroke to the interpretation that would serve to lift a straight reading of a classic to new heights for a new audience. Just a couple of quick comparisons to illustrate the point might be, Alfred Hitchcock’s REBECCA or the 1993 Australian film WIDE SARGASSO SEA, based on Jean Rhys’s novel of the same name.

It is understandable that all the nuts and bolts might be in the right place, Fukunaga has had a respectable career as a cinematographer and no doubt he had good intentions. I especially appreciated the attempts to highlight the allusions to Jane as being of the faerie realm, not of this world, something aethereal, but they came too late and were too scattered through the narrative to stick. In the end, we were left with a movie experience that didn’t stick. A couple of days after the screening, I had pretty much forgotten that I had seen it, not a good sign.

But, all in all, it was a beautiful film with good performances of a classic story that holds up well without losing much of its inherent dramatic allure.

 

 

Keith D. Kurman

1 March 2011

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Talk of the Town! 2

kkurman, on the beat.  16 March ’11

The hot news this week is that ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’, a new, two-season serialized movie staring Kevin Spacey and directed by David Fincher (THE SOCIAL NETWORK, FIGHT CLUB, SE7EN) will be coming to… Netfilx! If you said, wow! You’d be right!

Netfilx, the on-line, DVD by mail service, has been in the fight of its life recently with video giant Blockbuster, to maintain their share of the home DVD market. Netfilx has been moving ever more towards streaming its movies on-demand over hard copy. This new move puts it in direct competition with cable providers like Time-Warner and Comcast (new owner of NBC) as a content provider. This announcement comes on the same day that Conde Nast (Vogue, Wired, Vanity Fair) announced that all of its print magazines would be on-line by the end of the year.

Of course, I’ve been predicting that this was coming for months, ever since I saw Charlie Rose‘s interview with Google‘s CEO Eric Schmidt. Schmidt is a genius and, as far as I’m concerned, if he says something is going to happen, you can bank on it.

This is all part of a tectonic shift in media delivery that has been happening over the last couple of years. Driven originally by HBO‘s demand for high quality content, A-list actors and directors have been producing film projects for television. It started about seven years ago with IRON JAWED ANGELS, a ‘made for TV movie’ about the women’s suffrage movement, produced by HBO and staring Hilary Swank and Angelica Huston.

It built up steam with repeated successes, THE SOPRANOS, SIX FEET UNDER, THE WIRE culminating, most recently, with the hugely successful Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Buscemi serialized juggernaut, BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

We should not underestimate this shift. It is as monumental as the effect the introduction of television had on the film industry back in the 50’s. It will affect everything having to do with how we get information, especially in our particular area of interest, Arts & Entertainment.

The trigger was Steve Jobs‘ introduction of the iPad. His company, Apple Computers, had already revolutionized the Music Industry with on-line downloads of individual songs and albums in iTunes. Then they started streaming TV shows and movies. Google was a little behind the curve but they finally released their, long in development, Android operating system that brings the technology to PC users, thus making it pretty much universally available.

So, it won’t be long now before magazines and newspapers stop printing hard copy, ’cause it just won’t be economically feasible to print and distribute them, and most of your news and entertainment will be on your pad.  And there’s the shift.

Your phone will carry instant, short delivery of time-critical communication and bulletins. Your Pad will carry longer-format news, entertainment and subscription content. Your Television, now connected to your home computer, will be the primary medium for independent film and serialized content and the struggling mega-plex’s and big, old movie houses will cater to arena-style, giant budget movie ‘events’, and 3-D spectacles like AVATAR.

Sad, but inevitable. When the subject comes up at parties around town it is generally pooh-poohed; “oh, no! That will never happen, I love going to the theatre, I love reading my newspaper,” etc… Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this week marks the end of all that, what can I say, get used to it.

Speaking of bad news, the other topic on everyone’s minds and lips right now are the victims and survivors of the tragic events in Japan. Our hearts go out to our brethren there, and please, if you can, donate generously to their aid.

That’s it for now. See ya’, Salam Ali!

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Talk of the Town! 1

kkurman, on the beat.  10 March ’11

There’s a lot going on in Hollywood this week. We’re all just recovering from the 2010 Award Season and we’ve already seen like, seven new movies, and there are lots more on the immediate horizon.

First, a little catch-up. It’s not really catch-up ’cause the movies from over the last few weeks are on the charts now, or not. I’m only going to mention the one’s actually worth going to the theatre to see, and if you haven’t seem them, you should.

Number one on the box-office charts, at $44 million so far, is RANGO, a really fun, beautifully made animated feature about greedy politicians and water conservation, voice-starring Johnny Depp. Its a classic, genre Western that’s great for kids of all ages. Number two in box office take is THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. These kind of real life/supernatural Si-Fi flicks are really in vogue these days and I’m all for it. They make good use of where the tech is for special effects and challenge our conventional thinking about what’s really going on, metaphysically. THE KINGS SPEECH is still on the charts but hasn’t really benefited from all the awards it just won, go figure. Still, its a great movie and if you haven’t seen it, go. There are a few more that have dipped below the $$ radar, but there’s too much else going on to mention them.

This week is JANE EYRE, the Charlotte Bronte classic done in the classic style with great performances from the newcomer, Mia Wasikowska as Jane, Michael Fassbender and Dame Judi Dench. The one to watch here is the young director Cary Fukunaga. He’s been a cinematographer for the last ten years and I don’t really know how he got this gig, but its a respectable start and I’m sure he’s got a really big career ahead.

BATTLE: LOS ANGELES looks like one of those typical, big Hollywood action movies geared for the young male demographic and will probably only really affect local Angelino’s. I haven’t seen it yet, and I always keep an open mind ’till I’ve actually seen something.

Coming up is THE LINCOLN LAWYER starring Mathew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei (who never seems to age, what’s up with that?), William H. Macy, who is just great in everything he does, and one of my favorite’s, Ryan Phillippe. The pacing seems a little slow at first but it all comes together pretty well in the end.

That’s it for now, stay tuned and we’ll try to get ahead of it, yeah, right! See ya’, Salam, Ali!

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