Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Affection for Jane

I saw a movie this weekend that made me cry so much I brought on a massive headache.

Well, I don't know how true that statement really is, but I did cry a lot. Mostly because lost love is something worth crying about, and there's lots of heartache in Becoming Jane.

Jane is a young woman who, like her parents, wants to marry for affection, not for money. But, as in all of her books, money can never be ignored. The stress of marrying well is put upon her from the get go. Her mother (played by Julie Walters) wants her to remember that money is absolutely necessary. Her father (James Cromwell), though he supports her idea of happiness, tells her “nothing breaks the spirit like poverty.” Jane finds release from these constant pressures through her writing alone…until a young lawyer from London enters the picture.

Tom Lefroy (magnificently portrayed by James McAvoy) is everything Jane wants. He’s free-spirited, intelligent, and a little rude. I don't think she wanted the last part, but it grows on her. He quickly falls completely head-over-heels for her, and she with him. The movie was a little slow up until the point they declared their affection for one another. Once the slight glances and mocking arguments move into true “affection,” Becoming Jane shifts out of generic period drama into devastating love story.

Those who are looking for the intensity of the Pride and Prejudice (both the mini-series and last year's version) should probably wait until Becoming Jane is on DVD. It’s a slow-paced drama that doesn’t build true momentum until almost halfway through. Lots of time is spent on looking at the scenery and dancing. There's definitely a lot of time spent on dancing. I understand that dancing was the only way for young, eligible people to speak to one another, but I think this could've been a bit more interesting. I stopped griping about all this by the time Jane and Tom fell in love. The intensity of feelings exploding off the screen were enough for me to forgive the turtle pace of the first half.

Anne Hathaway stars as the not-yet-famous Jane Austen. She’s wonderful. A lot of critics have commented that she was miscast--too doe-eyed to play the serious Jane Austen. I don't think so. This Jane is supposed to be a care-free young woman. Hathaway's innocent, playful features bring life to young Jane. You believe that this whimsical young woman grew to be the extraordinary author she would become. More importantly, Hathaway is just as convincing a Brit as RenĂ©e Zellweger.

Hathaway doesn’t deserve all the love; the supporting cast is equally as great. James McAvoy is, unsurprisingly, great. I talked about him earlier in the year when he made an exceptional turn in The Last King of Scotland, and he plays Tom Lefroy like an old pro. In an interview I watched with Anne Hathaway, she says that when she met McAvoy he seemed "like a young nice man," but then we she started working with him she said, "Oh, I'm sorry. I now realize I'm working with a future legend." Hopefully, she's right. The man is a chameleon and completely blends into every role he takes on. Granted, he’s no Colin Firth, but I’m OK with that. :)

Julie Walters completely tossed aside the doting Mrs. Weasley and became the stern, but loving, Mrs. Austen. James Cromwell, though acceptable as Mr. Austen, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Hathaway on perfecting that English accent.

With her name so high up in the credits, I was really hoping to see more of Dame Maggie Smith, but she’s obviously pulling a Dame Judi Dench in this movie by making her presence very much known in the shortest amount of time possible on screen. (Watch her get an Oscar nod out of it or something.)

Becoming Jane is a fictionalized telling of Austen’s life. The story came from a letter Jane sent to her sister Cassandra about meeting a lovely young man named Lefroy. No one knows if they fell in love in real life. Screenwriters Kevin Hood and Sarah Williams were obviously trying to mix Austen’s life with her work, but it’s hard to top the artist herself. For fans of her novels, little (and some not so little) glimpses of her characters will pop up. Lefroy could easily be Mr. Darcy with Jane as Elizabeth, or are they Willoughby and Marianne? No matter the truth and fiction of it, I think it’s a testament to how Jane Austen may have lived her life. She wrote stories of women who made it through difficult times by finding love because she was a woman who found a way to live through her difficult times by experiencing love.

2 Bloggers and a Movie...on Harry Potter

The film geeks have returned! And now we're talking about what, to me, was the most anticipated movie of the summer. Hmm, I guess now that I've seen it, I need a new "most anticipated" movie. Any suggestions?

A Conversation with Kate about
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Faith: Hey Kate! It’s been a while.
Kate: Sure has.
Faith: But hey, it’s Potter-mania out there, and we should discuss.
Kate: I'm all kinds of in Book Seven at the moment.
Faith: Yeah, I'm trying to separate my mind from Deathly Hallows at the moment too.
Kate: I'm gonna list some things that I liked and that will probably help reset my mind.
Faith: OK
Kate: Death Eater fight scene in the Department of Mysteries even though it was really short. Um… Luna was PERFECT. Oh...and was that a Mimbulus Mimbletonia that Neville was holding at the beginning? I also liked Helena as Bellatrix; she was awesome. And what's her head? As Umbridge? PERFECT...LOVED HER. And the cats? HAHAHAHA!
Faith: Imelda Staunton.
Kate: Thanks.
Faith: Welcome. I too loved Luna. The only thing that bothered me is that Evanna Lynch (that would be Luna, folks) is obviously no actress. She looked so nervous on screen.
Kate: That didn't bother me, not at all. I think it added to her character.
Faith: I got over it, but it was still there. I think we've got to discuss Imelda Staunton further.
Kate: Sure...shoot!
Faith: She was great! There, I'm done.
Kate: I've loved her in every thing I've seen, but I did have reservations. Her characters have always been too likeable in the past, but she was exceptional.
Faith: I always pictured Umbridge as squatter, but Imelda made me believe in a less-today Umbridge.
Kate: Wait, what?
Faith: Oops. That should've said “less-toady.”
Kate: Ooooooooooooh
Faith: Sorry. Typos are fun.
Kate: I thought you were somehow commenting on Umbridge: just how DID she effect the muggle "war on terror"...or something.
Faith: Haha. Not so much.
Kate: Well, you just never know. I bet Umbridge IS Bin Laden. Think the CIA has considered it?
Faith: Ha!
Kate: She might be more evil than him come to think of it.
Faith: Yeah, because Bin Laden doesn't have a magical wand and an entire government to back him up. Well...I guess he has a regime. Not the same though.
Kate: Disillusionment charms, my friend. That's how he's escaped capture for so long
Faith: Well, damn, the government needs to employ some aurors ASAP.
Kate: YES! I vote Ron and Harry. Then make Hermione the next J. Edgar Hoover
Faith: Perfect!
Kate: He always like dressing like a girl anyway.
Faith: I think we may be taking the political metaphor a little far now.
Kate: Yeah...
Faith: Moving on to other great casting moments. Time to get formal. From the first time I heard that Helena Bonam Carter was playing Bellatrix, I knew it would work, but not until I saw her did I know how well. She was absolutely spot on.
Kate: Yeah...she really was. I also could not have cast it better. I can't stand her, so there was no chance I'd be predisposed to like Bellatrix for any reason!
Faith: I do think she was a bit underutilized. I know she's evil because I’ve read the books, but was her true evilness really apparent in the movie?
Kate: Well...frankly I think everyone but Harry was underutilized.
Faith: Um yes. I've probably talked enough about Ron as the glorified extra. But come on!
Kate: Malfoy, Snape and McGonagal had, what, one line apiece?
Faith: Snape had about five I think.
Kate: Oh, forgive me. But I can still count it on one hand
Faith: Malfoy didn't actually even need to be in the movie for the amount of time he was on screen.
Kate: I think that's (of late) been my biggest gripe about the movies
Faith: The downsizing of character roles?
Kate: Exactly. They cram so much action in that the characters barely register. Not that the movies are "bad"...I generally enjoy them.
Faith: Very true. I think the action actually worked to their advantage in Prisoner and Goblet.
Kate: Why do you say that?
Faith: I felt like I got some character development in Prisoner, and I liked the action of Goblet, but I really missed characters in Phoenix.
Kate: Yeah. I remember thinking Prisoner was VERY rushed. It was like the book on crack…but enjoyable. Don't honestly remember what I thought about Goblet
Faith: Only the first ten minutes felt rushed to me. Maybe it was because the movie zoomed through the first seven chapters in about 10 minutes.
Kate: Order, I thought was good action-wise, but I lost a lot on the characters. I wanted to see more PEOPLE, too.
Faith: I enjoy the movies, but I tend to be reading the books around the time the movie comes out, and I know that makes the experience very different
Kate: Yeah...I concur. I do the same.
Faith: The characters were very much pushed to the side for this movie.
Kate: I've said this before, and I'll say it again. I can't believe they're not doing the LOTR treatment with these movies.
Faith: Just shooting them all at once or reordering the story a bit to make the movies flow?
Kate: Two and a half hour theatrical release and a 57 million hour DVD release for the uber-geeks who want to see more. I'd get it.
Faith: Oooh. Yeah, I'm really hoping for a slew of deleted scenes on the Phoenix DVD.
Kate: *crossing fingers*
Faith: All and all, I find them very entertaining. This one was just a little less entertaining than the others.
Kate: Yes...and all in all, I'd just as soon re-listen to the books! I owe the movies a lot, though. They've given visual reference to a lot of my imagination, which is lovely.
Faith: OK. I guess we're done.
Kate: Seems that way. I've got to run anyhow.
Faith: Oh, OK. We'll discuss some other movies later then.
Kate: Sounds good. Bye!
Faith: Bye!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The More Musical Remake

Remakes and I don't usually get along, but Hairspray is just too much fun. Before the opening number began, all I was hoping for was a good movie that didn’t ruin the original cult classic. Oh, and I was curious to see how spry John Travolta is in a fat suit. I did get that fun movie, and John Travolta can really shake his moneymaker even in the Edna suit. But I’ll save Travolta and his moneymaker for later. I want to talk about the music.

You had better be a fan of musicals if you’re going to see this movie. "Well, of course, Faith; it's a musical," you say. Oh yes, it is a musical, but it's not musical-light in the slightest. It isn’t one of those lazy musicals that have a couple of songs here and there. The cast breaks out into song at least every five minutes. The opening number “Good Morning Baltimore” set the mood, and the poppy good feeling didn’t let up for the majority of the movie. The only slow number is “I Know Where I’ve Been” performed by Queen Latifah’s Motormouth Maybelle, but its spiritual feel doesn’t bring the movie to a grinding halt. Instead it just mellows you out for a serious note. Unfortunately, that song--plus the shortest protest in history at the television station--are the only real serious notes in the entire film.

This version was definitely more about the music and entertainment, not so much the message of race relations. John Waters’ original has a very strong underlying story about desegregation and acceptance. In director Adam Shankman’s version, this storyline is kind of touched upon but not really deepened. Yeah, Tracy talks about being different and being accepted, but it's more after school special-ly. I really did miss the everyone getting along message, but for a new generation of viewers who are simply looking for a good time at a summer movie, Hairspray definitely fits the bill.

Now let's talk about Mr. Travolta. His portrayal of Edna Turnblad is the only weak link in the cast. He may be quite spry in the fat suit, but he overplays Edna. With his far too exaggerated gestures and odd accent (is that what Marylanders sound like? I don't think so. No one in my family sounds like that), Edna comes off as more caricature than character. I also never got over the fact that I was watching John Travolta in a fat suit. Not necessarily a good sign when he’s supposed to convince me he’s playing someone’s loving mother. Christopher Walken, on the other hand, does a brilliant job of playing Christopher Walken. I’m sorry, I mean Wilbur Turnblad. No seriously, he is brilliant. He steals every last one of the moments he’s on screen, but that isn't a big surprise. Walken has always been very good at that.

Zac Efron, as Tracy’s crush Link Larkin, is so adorable that I just wanted to stick him in my purse and take him home. I think he may have been channeling Michael St. Gerard, the original Link, because his Elvis-like moves are spectacular, and the twinkle in his eye is very geniuine. And speaking of spectacular...Elijah Kelley’s Seaweed blew me away. The guy has got a serious set of pipes and some very slick moves to boot. Queen Latifah, as always, is wonderful. I felt she was a bit underutilized, but when she is on screen, you feel her presence completely.

Then there’s Nikki Blonsky. Like Ricki Lake back in 1988, Nikki Blonsky is new to this whole film business, but you’d never know it. She is Tracy Turnblad, a young girl who just wants to dance and be good. Nikki’s voice is perky and sweet without being artificial, and her dancing is not too shabby either.

If you want something fun, eccentric and a little off the grid, see the original Hairspray. If you’re looking for a big, bright summer movie with tons of music and a few off-color remarks, don’t miss this Hairspray. Oh hell, see them both.