Fun end of the year lists

December 7, 2007

With the jury still out on whether I will finally beat this now seriously annoying cold, I have no choice but to hope my current state of woozy will be somehow beneficial to my writing (clearly I’ve reached the delusional stage). I’m thinking no such luck, but while I’m stuck inside watching the same Buffy episodes over and over again and eating junk food that I’m sure my pro-organic friends would disapprovingly frown over (and any self-respecting doctor), I do have some time to check out lots of movie articles.

Here’s what caught the attention of a tissue-loving girl:

It’s a Wonderful Life voted best Christmas film of all time

Now there’s a shocker. Nevertheless, I must protest: no A Christmas Story in the top ten? Sure, it can be corny at times, maybe we’re all a bit sick of it now and then (that annual 24-hour Christmas Day marathon on TV probably doesn’t help), and I know on some level we most likely all have a secret love-hate relationship with that persistently present leg lamp.

But be that as it may, you can’t deny the movie’s presence. I love Die Hard and all, but in the celluloid world of Christmas, I think A Christmas Story definitely deserves it No. 8 spot. I mean, I can see the need for popcorn escape on that day of all days, but really, Die Hard?? Nothing like adrenaline and action violence to bring a family together, I guess.

Top 10 Bizarre Movie-Star Interviews

Let’s just say some bathroom and drool issues are involved and leave it at that.

10 Things Movie Theaters Get Wrong

This isn’t a “the popcorn is too greasy” kinda list; think more aspect ratio stuff. But yep, I can definitely see why that incorrect frame turns Atonement into a whole ‘nother movie. Probably a movie that’s more appealing to teenage boys (and, okay, all men), but still not quite what the production team intended.


The religious supernatural in film: they walk among us

December 6, 2007

With the release of the famously controversial The Golden Compass (the least religiously-oriented of any of the books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy) upon us, what better time to look at the use of religion in film?

I’m not talking The Ten Commandments or The Passion of the Christ here – after all, that’s just obvious Biblical stuff. No, what’s more interesting is the real world reinterpretations of Judaeo-Christian religious mythology on the big screen that are not taken directly from holy texts; films that look at what religious mythology would exist or appear as if seen face-to-face, directly, in “real life.” More Stigmata, less The Nativity Story.

In other words, if it’s all true, and the battle between Heaven and Hell is right here beside us (as John Constantine might say), what could you see around the corner tomorrow, when you thought you were just coming home from work?

Not surprisingly, or perhaps very much so, horror is the key proponent of religious mythology in film. From The Omen to The Devil’s Advocate and Constantine (the latter two both with whoa-man Keanu Reeves, but more on that later), the devil, Hell and all that implies have been a goldmine for thinking man’s horror and non-thinking man’s horror alike – and classic and classically horrible alike. What better way to instill fear than to tap into what we’re already afraid of, or at least what we already recognize as being evil?

Christian religion is a whole mythos full of extremely recognizable characters and tales, from exorcisms to the ten plagues of Egypt, with which to terrify eager audiences. Satan himself, naturally, is the most popular target, portrayed in film as everything from a powerful guy in a crisp white suit to a Wall Street banker to… a lawyer in a crisp New York suit. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here – but it could just be me. Perhaps filmmakers just take that whole “sell your soul” for money thing a little too literally.

Not to be outdone, of course, the good side has its say as well, with angels making a rousing play for the dominance of Good on the big screen. Apart from Tilda Swinton as Gabriel in Constantine and Emmanuelle Béart as Angel (just the one name, like Madonna) in Date with an Angel, celluloid angels also seem to be predominantly male. Nicolas Cage (who kind of goes the other way in Ghost Rider – man, you never can tell about someone), John Travolta, Christopher Lloyd, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and European actors Otto Sander and Bruno Ganz have all played angels. Wow, male actors do get all the fun… and I thought actors liked the evil parts (rogue angels don’t count, Damon and Affleck).

And then there’s the epic, all-encompassing look – because someone has to do it, and high fantasy clearly has a head start on the whole supernatural war between good and evil shtick. The genre definitely takes its share, both in film and in print (I’m on to you, Tad Williams. A martyr nailed to a tree and the Mother Church? Plus a king named Prester John? Very subtle.). The classic example of course being C.S. Lewis’s Narnia epics, but Philip Pullman is now jumping into the fray as well with his trilogy’s move onto the big screen.

In the end, what this probably all comes down to is our intense desire to know – what’s out there, what the world is, if there is a God of some kind. And movies have swooped down to help fulfill that need in a more visual way, bringing oral and printed tales of deep-seated beliefs and fears to life.

Ahem, well, with all that “deep” stuff out of the way, let’s get to the lists. Here’s a quick guide to religious phenomena in film, through horror and fantasy, and even into romantic comedies (intriguingly, angels are more prominent here). Not everything is here, I know, but this isn’t just a film + religion = here kind of list. Nevertheless, hopefully it’s somewhat of a good overview. And hey, it looks like that reading of The Divine Comedy I did in college will finally come in handy.

All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

– Dante’s Inferno

My personal favorites are marked with a *.

HORROR

Ah, the Devil, a principal character or idea in almost every movie in HORROR. Sadly, like all big stars these days, he’s decided to move on from the silver screen and star in his own comedy TV show: Reaper. And yes, he wears a suit in that one too.

Honorable mention achievement awards to Keanu Reeves and Gabriel Bryne, who both have two films a piece on this list. That Neo certainly likes films of biblical portent…

* Rosemary’s Baby (1968) – Starting off our trio of “um, I think there might be something wrong with my child” flicks, this Roman Polanski horrifier stars Mia Farrow as a mother suspicious that her unborn child might be, well, evil. Of course, they also live in a massive, Renaissance, anyone can tell I’m haunted apartment building in New York (the real-life The Dakota building in Manhattan), which can’t help.

* The Exorcist (1973) – Probably fairly obvious what this one’s about, if not from the title directly than from the impressive multitude of parodies, sequels, prequels, remakes, supposedly related films, mediocre comparisons, etc. etc. Infamously starring Linda Blair as the jointless possessed child, and directed by William Friedkin.

* The Omen (1976) – Finishing off the trio, this horror classic stars cute little Damien (Harvey Stephens) as pure EVIL. Ah, fun times. Also starring Gregory Peck and Lee Remick as the child’s parents. Remade in 2006.

The Seventh Sign (1988) – Demi Moore is the only person who thinks the apocalypse is real. And it’s coming. Soon. Why can’t it ever be coming, like, 50 or so years from now?

* The Devil’s Advocate (1997) – Let’s just say that it’s not only an expression in this film. With Keanu Reeves as a newly hired Manhattan lawyer whose new boss might be a bit more than he seems – as he is played by Al Pacino, who do you think the boss really is? Also with Charlize Theron as the wife slowly going the Ophelia route (i.e., total insanity), and Gladiator‘s Connie Nielsen. Written by Michael Clayton director Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the Bourne films and the cult love story The Cutting Edge.

End of Days (1999) – In a world where the devil (Gabriel Bryne) walks among us, only one man can save us from eternal torment and he is… the governor of California.

Stigmata (1999) – Another Gabriel Bryne appearance in the same year (and, actually, this one was released a few months before End), but this time as a priest instead of Satan. Interesting. Patricia Arquette may be experiencing stigmata, or the physical manifestations of Christ’s wounds from the crucifixion. Determined not to be a one-note thriller, Stigmata was also a bit controversial with its none-too-positive view of organized religion (in other words, ever-popular target the Roman Catholic Church). If you know what The Golden Compass is about, same general idea, smaller scope.

The Ninth Gate (1999-2000) – Another Roman Polanski flick, but sadly, not quite Rosemary’s Baby. Nevertheless, it’s got Johnny Depp trafficking in mysterious rare books that may or may not (I’m going for “may”) summon the devil.

Lost Souls (2000) – Winona Ryder. The Antichrist. Mediocre entertainment unfolds.

* Constantine (2005) – I’ll admit it, I’m a closet Keanu Reeves fan. Scorn his acting abilities if you must, but he headlines a solid portion of my favorite films. The minimalism works for me. Plus, I clearly have a thing for Rachel Weisz horror, as I also have The Mummy on my repeat viewing list. And, okay, this isn’t exactly true to Alan Moore’s blond-haired antihero from the original comics, but it’s still cool thriller entertainment. Look for Shia LeBoeuf in his sidekick days (see I, Robot) as Reeves’s, well, sidekick. Also starring Swinton as Gabriel, Gavin Rossdale as Balthazar and Djimon Hounsou as Papa Midnite (that actually is his character’s name). Plot: Reeves is John Constantine, a chain-smoking cynic condemned to Hell who is trying to make amends by helping to send demons back where they came from. Weisz is a cop who doesn’t believe her sister really committed suicide. They cross paths. Coincidence? Ah… no.

The Reaping (2007) – Um, not the best… but it’s, ah, recent, and, um… about the ten plagues. With a 7% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Well, you can’t win ’em all, Hilary.

Other notable horror: Technically, The Mummy is about ancient Egypt, but it’s got a more interesting version of the ten plagues in it (sorry, Reaping), so why not. I would include Stargate as well, but I think that’s definitely stretching it. And it’s not really horror. Oh well.

FANTASY

The Chronicles of Narnia – With Disney’s release of the first installment in 2005 (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and Prince Caspian in 2008, C.S. Lewis’s Christianity-laced fantasy tales have been brought with much commercial success to the visual generation. Only five more left to go! Can’t deny I’m excited for a film version of Voyage of the Dawn Treader (est. 2010) with an actual budget… In any case, whether or not you like the religious layers in these stories, I have to say that when I read this series as a child, I had absolutely no idea of any religion at all (could the same be true for young readers of The Golden Compass?). And to be honest, I was disappointed and felt almost betrayed when I found out – my own little loss of innocence (things aren’t always exactly what they appear to be???) – although the last book in particular made a lot more sense.

The Golden Compass (2007) – The epic fantasy book gets a * but after an early glimpse at conflicting reviews for this film (UK’s Guardian vs. Times – may the person you agree with most win!), I’ll have to wait and see on the movie. For more on the plot, religion and controversy, click here.

OTHER COMICS-TO-FILMS

* Hellboy (2004) – Guillermo del Toro’s cult classic about a big red demon with horn issues who works for the government’s paranormal bureau – which, no, is not situated in Area 51 for once. Starring Selma Blair, John Hurt and Ron Perlman as Hellboy.

Ghost Rider (2007) – Well, if you make a deal with Mephistopheles, you gotta know weird things are gonna happen. Nicolas Cage gets to have a head that’s actually a skull which is constantly on fire (must be a burning bush kind of fire) and take people down. Doesn’t sound too bad.

COMEDY

* Wings of Desire (1987) – The Cannes award winner about two angels (Ganz and Sander) who wander unobserved through Berlin, this German film tells of Ganz’s angel’s growing love for a woman who can’t see him. Bonus points for including a character modeled on epic-maker Homer! Peter Falk (Columbo, The Princess Bride) also makes an appearance. If the plot sounds familiar to you but you don’t recall subtitles and/or German, see Angels, City of below.

Date with an Angel (1987) – This (literally) glowing movie stars Béart, Michael Knight and Phoebe Cates in a light (and regrettably dated) combo of Wings of Desire and Splash. Similar, at least in title: I Married an Angel, based on a play.

* Angels in the Outfield (1994) – A warm-hearted remake of the 1951 film of the same name, this Christopher Lloyd-starrer features a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young foster child who wishes his favorite baseball team, the Angels (get it?), would win the pennant. Angels, including Lloyd, respond to his request. Sigh, angels never respond to my requests.

Michael (1996) – As in, the Archangel Michael (John Travolta). With wings and everything, including a drinking problem. Also with William Hurt, Andie MacDowell (as the obligatory “expert” on angels), Bob Hoskins, Jean Stapleton, and Joey Lauren Adams. Directed by Nora Ephron of You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle fame.

The Preacher’s Wife (1996) – Another remake. An all-star cast (Whitney Houston, Courtney B. Vance, Gregory Hines, Lionel Richie) is featured alongside Washington’s turn as an angel named Dudley (played by Cary Grant in the original) who arrives to help “fix” the family’s problems. Unfortunately, the movie is not as good as the cast warrants.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) – A Woody Allen comedy that takes a detour into Hell, with Woody’s own unique vision of the levels in Dante’s Inferno. I think that pretty much explains the whole movie. Oh yes, and Billy Crystal is the devil with a devilishly sinister plan to ruin the world through air-conditioning.

* Dogma (1999) – Shockingly, another controversial one. And from Clerks auteur Kevin Smith? Who would’ve thought? No sailboats here, this comedy about some seriously annoyed angels on the warpath takes a bevy of stars (Damon, Affleck, Rock, Hayek, Carlin, Lee, Garofolo, Morissette, Rickman, Jay and Bob) and gives them lots and lots and lots to say about organized religion. Copious amounts of dialogue in a Smith film is odd, I know. Amid all the anger over its portrayal of Catholicism, and many thousands of hate mail letters, a disclaimer went up before the movie that, among other things, dissed the platypus (can you believe it? the nerve).

City of Angels (1998) – Wings of Desire, Meg Ryan-style. Cage shows up as the angel who falls in love.

Bedazzled (2000) – Besides Deconstructing Harry, this is the only comedy on the list that deals with the devil. Of course, Elizabeth Hurley as Satan isn’t exactly scary, or at least not in the typical horror genre sort of way. Brendan Fraser makes another appearance here as a schlub willing to sell his soul for the lively Frances O’Connor (Mansfield Park!). Without appearing desperate, naturally.

Down to Earth (2001) – Yep, it’s a remake. What a surprise. This one goes all out however, as it’s actually a remake of a remake of a play. Who said there were no new ideas. Chris Rock stars as a comedian who is accidentally killed and returns to earth as a loathed rich man. I have to say, Chazz Palminteri and Eugene Levy as angels? I’m a little afraid.

Bruce Almighty (not Evan Almighty, it’s just Noah’s Ark so I don’t want to hear it) – This 2003 film takes an amusing look at a few days in the life of God (Morgan Freeman), through the contortionist that is Jim Carrey. Jennifer Aniston also stars as the long-suffering love interest.

OTHER

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this Frank Capra classic through countless holiday seasons, kudos to you. Either way, you probably know what this is about and, yep, that angels are indeed involved.

To see a more comprehensive list of angels in film, click here.

For more on Satan in pop culture, click here.

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.

– Dante’s Purgatorio


Enchanted

November 30, 2007

Poor James Marsden. As I mentioned in the Hairspray review, he seems to have become the go-to “the other guy” in many big screen love triangles. But, really, if you’ve gotta be the third wheel, you can’t pick your love triangles better than Marsden (ah, mixed metaphors, gotta luv ’em).

As Cyclops, he blindly (sorry) fought for Jean Gray against Hugh Jackman’s bad boy Wolverine in the X-Men films (and Wolverine also got the spin-off, ouch). He was the guy who tried to keep Rachel McAdams for himself in the epic weepy The Notebook – but was naturally no match for Ryan Gosling in a rain storm. And finally, he even went up again the Man of Steel himself for Lois Lane’s heart – now that’s nerve – in Superman Returns.

The man just has no luck in the romance department – but as they might say, unlucky in love, lucky at the box office. X-Men, The Notebook, Superman Returns, and also Hairspray (in which he simply didn’t have a love interest at all) weren’t exactly box office duds. And his new film, Disney’s Enchanted, raked in $49.1 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, attaining the comfortable height of second-highest Thanksgiving gross behind Toy Story 2, according to Box Office Mojo.

In Enchanted, Marsden actually plays Prince Charming himself and he still can’t get the girl (trust me, I’m not giving anything away here – did you really think McDreamy wasn’t the main love interest?). Nevertheless, he throws himself into the over the top role with abandon, as he always does, rounding out a very aesthetically pleasing cast that is clearly having fun in this enjoyable film.

In the movie, Amy Adams (Junebug, Catch Me If You Can, that handbag girl on The Office) plays Giselle, a literal fairy tale princess in the animated land of Andalasia (not quite as catchy as Never Never Land, but okay). Think the world of Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but not taking itself very seriously, and also kind of slow, and you’ve got the gist of the first ten minutes or so of the film. Seconds before her wedding to Prince Charming (Marsden), Giselle is cast out of Andalasia by – who else? – her soon-to-be stepmother (Susan Sarandon), who just happens to also be a Snow White-esque evil witch with an unhealthy apple obsession.

Popping out of a manhole in the middle of NYC’s Times Square, but with her sparkling white wedding dress fully intact (it’s a grimeless manhole, apparently), a now real life Giselle eventually falls, again literally, into the arms of the anti-Prince Charming, a divorce lawyer and single dad played by Grey’s Anatomy‘s Patrick Dempsey. Meanwhile, Prince Charming, along with one of the queen’s sycophants and Giselle’s squirrel pal, try to find Giselle in the real world. Many culture clashes ensue. West meets… well, further West, if you want to take Tolkien’s view of things. Or the other side of a magical wormhole, if you believe the film’s.

My boyfriend, a big foodie, often says that the best way to judge a restaurant is to see if it “accomplishes well what it sets out to do.” You can’t compare a neighborhood pizza joint to a four-star restaurant (or three-star, if you’re going the Michelin route), because clearly the pizza joint is not aiming for the same goal. The same holds true for Enchanted – it’s obviously not The English Patient, but it never set out to be. It’s not Beauty and the Beast either, but I, for one, did not expect it to be.

It’s light, fun, and it’s got some good chuckles (Dempsey’s daughter tells Giselle that boys only want one thing, but then isn’t sure what that one thing is; the queen’s servant tries to get Giselle to drink a poisoned apple martini). Plus, the music ain’t bad. They even got Disney music guru Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin) to compose it.

Like any solid, middle-of-the-road romantic comedy, there are some unfortunate misses and some awkward, doesn’t quite work moments. Sure, having cockroaches and rats help Giselle clean up an apartment is clever – those are the kinds of animals available in NY, get it? no cuddly deer and bunnies there – but watching rats pour into a room is a lot less icky in Pixar animation. Nevertheless, it’s good, guilty pleasure entertainment. If you don’t come expecting Disney to make a sharp satire of itself, or definitely not a new Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for that matter, you won’t be disappointed. If you come looking for a fun, harmless, gentle (and feminist-ically modern! …or so it hopes to be anyway) romantic comedy, you’ll leave happy.

For you Wicked fans, look for Idina Menzel (the play’s original Wicked Witch), who looks a bit unsure of herself in her role as Dempsey’s “strong professional” girlfriend. And for any Bones fans out there, watch out for a seriously underutilized Michaela Conlin in a brief, probably no more than five second appearance at the end of the film. One can only hope her scenes were cut for time.


Become an “Enchanted” Disney character

November 21, 2007

Jumping on the Simpsons bandwagon, Disney has developed its own site for animated avatar creation – promising to turn your face into that of a character from the new film Enchanted or certain other Disney classics (such as Cinderella or Ariel from The Little Mermaid).

Sadly, for a company so famous for its animation classics (and for, well, how tightly controlled it is regarding uses of those classics), this site is, surprisingly, poorly executed. Less Simpsonize Me and more the Exorcist version of sticking your head through one of those cardboard cutouts at a fair.

And unfortunately, no, I’m not really exaggerating about that whole Exorcist thing. The program contorts the face from your submitted photo into various expressions, ranging from “evil” to “wink,” all while your head rotates creepily from side to side – cool idea in theory, I suppose, seriously disturbing in execution.

Plus, the steps it takes to actually get to the program are a bit mind-boggling for a movie geared towards (I’m just going to hazard a guess here and say…) children, or at the very least young adults and tweens, with that PG rating.

Here’s a general overview of what you have to do (for a PC user):

  1. Go to www.enchanted3dhead.com and click on “Start.”
  2. Give your name, email address, gender, and whether you’re an adult or child. Click “Submit.”
  3. Upload a photo and click “Enchant Me!”
  4. The site will then tell you that your photo has been submitted and that you will receive an email confirmation with a “link to your personalized download.” It says it might take a while; I’ve found it to be just a few minutes in general.
  5. Click on the link in the email. It will take you back to the original site where you select whether you have a MAC or PC.
  6. Download the file that it presents to you.
  7. Unzip, yes unzip, the downloaded file and save it to your computer.
  8. Open the file “Click Here to Start.” (You will see several other files, just ignore them)
  9. Read the instructions.
  10. See your face cut out from the submitted photo. Be warned: it moves. Choose from six different hairstyles, accessories, and faces. Faces, you say? But didn’t you already submit your own face? Best not to ask. Let’s just say that the placement of hand drawn eyebrows on your photo is involved. And it is worth mentioning that of the six “faces” available, five are male (Pinocchio, Peter Pan, etc.) – go figure.
  11. Go to the “Enchanted Photo Booth” to see your face distorted into different expressions of your own choosing.Or see your face transformed step by step from cut-out photo + 2D hair to animated Disney character. Take that as literally as humanly possible – in other words, you will not see a Cinderella version of you after the transformation, but instead just Cinderella.

Phew! Well, that was worth it…


The weirdest villains in film

November 14, 2007

In a recent review for the film American Gangster, the LA Times included a fun little photo gallery of what they considered “more unusual choices for organized crime bosses.” Their picks include Jabba the Hut (can’t argue with them there…) and Don Lino (aka, the voice of Robert DeNiro) in the animated Shark Tale.

And while that’s fun and all, what about those other outcasts from the population of ne’er-do-wells whose chosen occupations sadly don’t fall into the realm of organized crime? Shouldn’t they get their say as well?

Here, then, are some of my favorite villainous oddballs:

WARNING: some contain SPOILERS (read with care…)

Bowler Hat Guy (Meet the Robinsons) – Something about those spindly legs just really creeps me out and to top it all off, the true villain is the mechanical bowler hat itself (uh huh, a bowler hat) that’s telling him what to do. Ick.

Yzma and Kronk (Emperor’s New Groove) – The first looks like some sort of waspish spider and has a weird thing for llamas. The second is a sidekick who hums his own theme song and happily cooks spinach puffs right in the middle of an evil plot. And when Yzma cackles evilly as a cute little kitten? Priceless.

The Penguin (Batman Returns) – Okay, true, in Batman, Jack Nicholson’s The Joker is mighty odd and, yes, totally insane. But he’s got a kind of sense of humor (in a creepy way) and, well… it’s Jack Nicholson. He’s his own kind of weird. In any case, unlike the Penguin in the original comics who was rather cool-headed, refined and quite intelligent, the Penguin in Batman Returns is, as the Wikipedia entry puts it, “a physically deformed, sadistic, megalomaniacal monster.” Plus, he hangs around with penguins all the time. Literally. I think that qualifies him.

The Wicked Witch of the West (Wizard of Oz) – She melts and her henchmen are flying monkeys. Enough said.

The Claw (Toy Story) – Who knew the fun selector of children’s stuffed animals could be such a bizarre nightmarish creature? Not forgetting of course that The Claw is also a completely emotionless cult leader who gets his brainwashed followers to chant “The Claw is our master. The claw chooses who will go and who will stay.” And leads them to believe that being “chosen” will take them to “a better place.” Scary, scary stuff.

HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey) – As an artificial intelligence, this decidedly creepy villain is nothing but a voice and an oddly pulsating red glow. And really, there isn’t much that is scarier and more goosebumpily bizarre than a villain who never, ever raises his voice.

The Emperor (Star Wars) – Why is it that the names of many evil villains begin with a definite article? I suppose we’ll never really know, but I think it’s clear that this villain at least certainly deserves to have a name that begins with an emphatic “the.” With his ghoulish voice and eerie cackle, not to mention that blue lightning thing he can do with his hands, the Emperor is both evil and just plain strange. Darth Vader has got that cool strong man / deep voice in black metal vibe going on, but the Emperor has an omnipresent cowl and cooky sense of humor. He wins.

Assorted Amélie villains (Amélie / Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) – Perhaps not villains per se, if you want to get technical, but they are all weird and/or mysteriously odd people. So I think they should get their chance too. First, there’s the almost (okay, total) stalker guy from the café who records everything his ex-girlfriend says or does. Then, there’s the obnoxious and cruel grocer who delights in tormenting the boy who works for him and always calls Amélie “Amélie-melo.” And finally, there’s the ghost / possible obsessive picture taker whose eerie mystery haunts the film. Quite the goldmine of weird scoundrels, n’est-ce pas?

No Face (Spirited Away) – Half leprechaun, half “The Blob,” this gold-giving masked spirit vies (successfully, in my opinion) with the witch Yubaba for the title of baddest, largest, most complex, and just downright crazy villain in this spooky Japanese fairy tale.

The Cat King (The Cat Returns) – Pretty much demented, yet still a powerful ruler over, uh, cats, this rotund monarch has “I am CRAZY” eyes, static-style hair and calls the heroine “babe.” And he throws unfortunate palace performers out the window when they can’t make his guest smile. Weird and psychopathic – a winning combination for this list.

Lord Voldemort (pretty much any Harry Potter film) – Let’s recap, shall we? In the first film, he was a face on the back of someone’s head. In the second film, he was a ghost from a diary. In the third film, um… Okay, well, in the fourth film, he was a seriously creepy baby-like creature who transformed out of a boiling cauldron into a noseless man. In the fifth film and (I’m assuming) on, he’s that same snakelike, pasty-faced, noseless man. Yep, I think I’ve made my point…

Dr. Evil (Austin Powers) – This is a bit of a given. And with a medical degree in Evil, he’s earned it.

Honorable mentions: Stay Puft (Ghostbusters), the Black Knight and the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), coat hanger aficionado Toht (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark), and potentially Grendel’s mother (the animated Angelina Jolie) in the upcoming Beowulf.


Pride and Prejudice miniseries cheat sheet

October 20, 2007

For the beloved, and faithful, 1995 miniseries from A&E / the BBC starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.

Not to be too stereotypical (but, okay, I’m definitely being stereotypical), but I assume this is mostly for guys. If guys at large are anything like the guys I know, they’d rather roll around in a bed of hot coals (like Dwight from The Office) than watch this 5 hour Jane Austen-athon. Don’t quote me on this, but I believe my boyfriend recently used the term “loathe” to describe his feelings for this miniseries – although if it wasn’t loathe, it was definitely something like detest or abhor (as a random aside, I just love the words “loathe” and “abhor” – they really sound like total hatred).

Now, as I consider the miniseries to be among my favorite movies of all time, I thought it might be a good idea to help those poor guys out there stuck with girlfriends or friends who are girls who love the film and want them to love, or at the very least watch, it too. And now… they can pretend to!

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT

(NOTE THAT THIS IS A CHEAT SHEET FOR THE 1995 MINISERIES, NOT THE BOOK)

Title

Pride and Prejudice

Useful trivia: Austen’s novel was originally entitled First Impressions.

Who?

Because things are just never that simple, there is unfortunately not just one person who is “pride” and one who is “prejudice.” Besides the two main characters, many of the other people in the story are shown as having both deep prejudices and faults of pride.

Back to those main characters though. They are Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle, and Fitzwilliam Darcy (almost always referred to as Mr. Darcy), played by Colin Firth. Elizabeth is both proud and prejudiced – simply put, her pride is injured at the beginning of the story when she overhears Mr. Darcy saying that she is “only tolerable” (ouch), leading her to be prejudiced against him. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, is accused of being proud throughout the book, and he is often prejudiced against those who are “beneath” him.

Nice and straightforward, right?

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

Produced and released by the BBC and A&E. Never released in theaters. Written by Andrew Davies, who also wrote the movie version of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

300 minutes long (yep, that’s a solid, and to the unitiated possibly deadly, 5 hours). The miniseries is split up into 2 DVDs: the first one ends after Darcy’s proposal and Elizabeth’s rejection of it, and the second DVD starts with Darcy storming away after the rejection.

The bonus features are seriously lacking on the DVDs (no Firth or Ehle in the making-of?) so feel free to complain about them to your girlfriend.

If you can’t beat ‘em…

Like Clueless with Austen’s Emma, Bridget Jones’s Diary is essentially a modern-day update of Pride and Prejudice. The book version of Bridget Jones has more of the elements of the original Austen, but the film keeps the gist. As an added bonus, Colin Firth reprises his role as Darcy in Bridget Jones as well.

Sure, it’s still a chick flick, but a lot less painful than a 5 hour period drama with fancy language, no? Read through this cheat sheet and then watch Bridget Jones to get the general idea, and to see who that guy is (Firth) that all the girls are swooning over.

Keep in mind: Bridget Jones = Elizabeth Bennet (but without the confidence), Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) = George Wickham, and Mark Darcy = well, Mr. Darcy.

Other modern updates: Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood take on the film starring former Miss World Aishwarya Rai as Lalita (aka, Elizabeth Bennet).

For more fun Austen connections, see my six degress of Austen post.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think You’ve Got Mail mixed with Crossing Delancey combined with some of the tone from Shakespeare in Love, all set in 19th century England.

Who are all these people?

With so many people to keep track of, even those who have watched the miniseries all the way through can get confused.

Here’s a handy guide:

Pride and Prejudice character guide

(key: “Not known” – never mentioned in the film)

In PDF: Pride and Prejudice character guide

For The Republic of Pemberley’s complete list, with links to where the characters are mentioned in the novel, click here.

To see what some of the cast looks like, click here.

And where do they go?

Longbourn – where the Bennets live, a village in the area of Hertfordshire

Netherfield Park – the home that the Bingleys rent, also in Hertfordshire, near Longbourn

Meryton – a village one mile away from Longbourn, where the soldiers (including Wickham) are camped for a time

Pemberley – Darcy’s massive estate in the area of Derbyshire near the imaginary village of Lambton. Think the Chatsworth estate in England, where the scenes at Pemberley in the 2005 film with Keira Knightley were filmed. The estate, home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, is thought to have perhaps been the original inspiration for Pemberley.

Rosings Park – Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s estate in Kent, in the village of Hunsford, which is where Mr. Collins is the rector.

Plot

The Bennet family of Longbourn, upper class, but not noble and poor compared to other gentry, are excited to hear that the wealthy Mr. Bingley, a single man, has rented out the nearby Netherfield Park. With five single daughters, Mrs. Bennet is desperate to get them married well, and hopes that he will marry one of them, particularly Jane, the eldest. Mr. Bingley, his sisters and his even wealthier friend Mr. Darcy soon attend a ball at Meryton. Although Bingley is liked and immediately taken with Jane, Darcy is thought to be haughty and proud. What’s more, Elizabeth and her best friend Charlotte Lucas overhear him telling Bingley that Elizabeth is not good enough for him.

Following the ball, Bingley continues to dote on Jane. Meanwhile, a cousin of the Bennets, Mr. Collins, comes to visit. A distant heir of Mr. Bennet, he will inherit the estate because Mr. Bennet has no male heirs of his own. Mr. Collins, who is obsessed with his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, wants to marry one of the Bennet girls. As Jane seems to be “taken” by Mr. Bingley, he asks Elizabeth to marry him. She refuses, and he then proposes to Charlotte Lucas, who accepts him.

During all of this, Bingley has abruptly left for London and Elizabeth has met George Wickham, a handsome officer at Meryton. She is very attracted to him, and soon after they meet he tells her about his dealings with Mr. Darcy, claiming that although he was the steward of Mr. Darcy’s late father, Mr. Darcy refused to give him an inheritance that was due to him. This leads Elizabeth to now hate Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth goes to visit Charlotte at Hunsford and, while there, meets Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who, it turns out, is Mr. Darcy’s aunt. He comes to visit, with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Eventually, Darcy visits her at the Collins’s house when she is alone and proposes to her. She flat out refuses him and he storms away. However, the next day, he hands her a letter that explains how Wickham actually tried to elope with his 15-year-old sister, Georgiana, for her money, and that he did advise Bingley not to marry Jane, but he thought it was for the best.

Elizabeth returns home to Longbourn, shortly before Lydia leaves, invited to follow the soldiers (who are leaving Meryton) with her friend Mrs. Foster, the wife of the Colonel. Elizabeth leaves again for a trip through Derbyshire with the Gardiners. While there, they visit Pemberley and run into Darcy (who they think is away). He behaves very politely, without any sign of pride, and Elizabeth is very surprised and impressed by this behavior (and his extensive grounds). She also meets his sister, Georgiana, whom she likes very much.

Unfortunately, a letter soon arrives from Jane that says Lydia has run away with Wickham (very scandalous at the time, as they were not married). Elizabeth reveals this to Darcy, who is shocked and leaves, and Elizabeth thinks she will never see him again, since he hates Wickham and would never want to be associated with a family tied to him.

Elizabeth returns home to find the family in disarray. Her father has gone to London to try and find Lydia and Wickham. However, after her father has returned without luck, a letter arrives from the Gardiners, who live in London, saying that the two have been found and they will get married. Mr. Bennet thinks Mr. Gardiner paid Wickham to marry Lydia, but Elizabeth learns from Mrs. Gardiner that it was actually Mr. Darcy who found the couple and paid Wickham off.

Lydia returns to Longbourn to visit her family with Wickham, happily married (or in denial) and gloating that she has a husband, and then departs again almost immediately. Soon after, Bingley returns to Netherfield and begins to see Jane again. Darcy comes with him, but pays no attention to Elizabeth. Bingley eventually proposes to Jane and, of course, she accepts. Mrs. Bennet is overjoyed.

Shortly after the proposal, Lady Catherine comes to pay a visit and tells Elizabeth that she has heard that Mr. Darcy, her nephew, is going to marry Elizabeth. She wants Elizabeth to promise she won’t marry him. Elizabeth refuses. Lady Catherine communicates this to Mr. Darcy and, thinking Elizabeth might have changed her mind about him (since she refused not to marry him, get it?), Darcy stops by Longbourn with Bingley and he and Elizabeth end up going for a walk. He tells her he still wants to marry her and she accepts. They get married, and both couples live happily ever after (far away from Mrs. Bennet and Lydia).

Famous Scene

Something to do with a pond and a man’s shirt…

The wet shirt that launched a thousand sighs (and newspaper cover articles), this classic scene from the miniseries features Firth as Darcy plunging into a small pond on his estate, Pemberley, on his way back to his house, presumably to help him clear his mind of Elizabeth (this is after she’s already rejected him). Unaware that Elizabeth is currently visiting Pemberley, he walks back to his house soaking wet, in nothing but a wet white shirt and pants. They meet-cute on the grounds of his estate – he’s shocked and flustered, she’s horrified and embarrassed – and the rest is movie history.

The following scenes at Pemberley in general are crucial (and well-worn on my DVD), as a sort of turning point where Elizabeth starts falling for Darcy and he starts realizing she might not hate him anymore.

Crucial Quote

“She is tolerable I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”

Darcy’s (unfortunately overheard) comment about Elizabeth, early on in the book. Remember, if you can’t say something nice about the girl you end up wanting to marry, probably best not to expect a great response to your marriage proposal. For instance:

“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner…

…I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed upon to marry!”

What Elizabeth says in response to Darcy’s first proposal. I think it means “no.” (of course, we all know what phrases like “the last man in the world I would ever…” eventually lead to at the end of a film)

Themes

Love, marriage, social class, status, vanity, family, money, reputation, and (I have to say it) pride and prejudice.

Gifts for the girl who loves P&P

Some other Austen films: Pride and Prejudice (2005), Emma, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Clueless, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Becoming Jane, Bride and Prejudice, Jane Austen Book Club

Other period romances: Possession (with Jennifer Ehle), Jane Eyre, Ever After, An Ideal Husband, Much Ado About Nothing

Other Colin Firth films: The Importance of Being Earnest, Shakespeare in Love, Bridget Jones and the Edge of Reason (and, of course, Bridget Jones’s Diary), Love Actually, The English Patient, Girl with a Pearl Earring, What a Girl Wants

Classy Conversation Starters

I was watching Pride and Prejudice last night, and…

You know, my friends often tell me that I’m a modern day Mr. Darcy.


Madeleine L’Engle

September 27, 2007

A Wrinkle in Time movie

As most of you probably know, author Madeleine L’Engle died this month at the age of 88. I’m a bit late perhaps, but I thought it fitting to pay tribute to this science fiction and fantasy legend and her classic (and quite poetically named) novel, A Wrinkle in Time.

Amazingly (or perhaps not), there has been only one movie, a TV movie, based on the book. What did Madeleine think of it, according to Newsweek?

NEWSWEEK: So you’ve seen the movie?
Madeleine L’Engle:
I’ve glimpsed it.

And did it meet expectations?
Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad, and it is.

The movie she’s referring to featured a “watered down” version of the story, in particular in regards to its religious elements (sound familiar?).

So has a better or at least feature film not been made for fear of religious controversy? Or perhaps due to its heavy science content, or the difficulty (i.e., expense involved) in satisfactorily reproducing a classic fantasy book?

Who knows. But here are some fun facts about this well-known tale to help make my case for a great Wrinkle in Time feature:

But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean that the explanation doesn’t exist.

The opening line

The book begins with the line “it’s a dark and stormy night.” Cliché? Perhaps. But it’s still lots of fun, and of course perfect for the movies.

Trivia: It had to start somewhere… That inescapable line was originally written by Lord Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his novel Paul Clifford.

Rejection

Like many classic books, A Wrinkle in Time was, according to the NY Times, rejected by 26 publishers before finally being published at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. To give another example of a rejected classic: Harry Potter was also turned down by publishers – though naturally, accounts of how many times vary, from just a few to about a dozen (her stack of rejection letters was thiiissss big!). JK Rowling herself, and hopefully she knows, says in an interview:

“Four or five publishers turned it down, I think, and the consistent criticism was, ‘It’s far too long for children.’”

An article in the National Review Online also notes that “…a British publisher that rejected The Sorcerer’s Stone did so because it was “too literary.”” Ah yes, the typical complaint against (eventual) huge bestsellers.

Popularity

Again according to the NY Times, A Wrinkle in Time (1962) has sold 8 million copies and is now in its 69th printing. Sure, JK Rowling can sell that amount in about a day (with her hands tied behind her back), but considering that 12 million copies of the three books in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series have been sold worldwide so far and around 10 million copies of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz have been sold since it was first published… in 1900… – the figure sounds a bit more impressive.

Series

Not a lone classic like Catcher in the Rye, A Wrinkle in Time is actually the first book in a series, although it is without question the most read and the most famous book in the series. The other three (A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet) combine with A Wrinkle in Time to form the series “Time Quartet” about the Murry family. So no need to come up with a Wrinkle in Time 2: The College Years for that summer franchise. Phew!

For a complete list of Madeleine’s works, click here.

Tradition of children’s fantasy

The Chronicles of Narnia. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Alice in Wonderland. Harry Potter. The Golden Compass (hopefully). Most anything by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda). Some of the greatest classic books of all time have been made into the greatest classic movies of all time. And really, I think there’s room for one more in the pantheon.

Some fun, and of course entirely random, trivia: Roald Dahl wrote 6 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents… Perhaps an odd pairing at first sight, but when you think about it, you can certainly see a shade (or more than just a shade) of Hitchcock in Dahl’s books. Hordes of squirrels attacking a girl? Yep, that’s what I thought.

Controversy

A Wrinkle of Time has frequently been banned for its religious and mythological themes. It’s number 22 on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 Most Challenged Books of 1990-2000. Harry Potter is number 7 and Bridge to Terabithia (another film adaptation) is number 9. Which brings me to…

Themes

Time travel. Science. Love. Religion. Good vs. evil.

Controversial and heartwarming? If that doesn’t scream movie, I don’t know what does.

Hayao Miyazaki: closeted Wrinkle in Time fan?

Live action fantasy is expensive, limited and time consuming. Animation is expensive and time consuming, sure, but the possiblities? Practically endless. And Miyazaki’s record with animated fantasy adaptations? Spotless.

His most recent adaptation of fantasy literature was Howl’s Moving Castle, inspired by the book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, author of the Chrestomanci fantasy series (think Harry Potter, but with more eccentricity, a smaller castle and less children).

Miyazaki was even originally interested in directing an animated version of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels, although his son Goro ended up making the animated film (titled Tales from Earthsea) instead.

As Ursula LeGuin herself says:

Twenty or so years ago, Mr Hayao Miyazaki wrote me expressing interest in making an animated film based on the (then only three) books of Earthsea. I did not know his work. I knew only Disney-type animation, and disliked it. I said no.

Six or seven years ago, my friend Vonda N. McIntyre told me about My Neighbor Totoro and we watched it together. I became a Miyazaki fan at once and forever. I consider him a genius of the same caliber as Kurosawa or Fellini.

With praise like that, plus Miyazaki’s additional background in science fiction, who else better to direct an animated version of A Wrinkle in Time? Dubbed, limited release in art house theaters, here we come!

Plot

At this point, if you haven’t read the book, you might be saying: okay, that’s all well and good, but what is this book actually about?

Here then is a (spoiler free) plot summary, taken from Madeleine L’Engle’s official site (because who can describe the book better than her?):

Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and their mother are having a midnight snack on a dark and stormy night when an unearthly stranger appears at their door. She claims to have been blown off course, and goes on to tell them that there is such a thing as a “tesseract,” which, if you didn’t know, is a wrinkle in time.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with time-travel when he suddenly disappeared. Will Meg, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin outwit the forces of evil as they search through space for their father?