Tag Archives: Emma Thompson

Meyerowitz Stories: Sandler and Stiller Strike Back

This weekend my parents are coming to Stockholm to see me, my brother, sister and nephews. I’m glad they’re coming because we are all close, but at the same time there can be tensions when parents and their adult sons and daughters have to live together closely for a short time. It doesn’t matter how old you get, the roles you’ve always played in a family remain the same, and so do the issues you might have with one another.

Watching Noah Baumbach’s new film, the best he’s made so far, made me think of my own family and the bonds we share. I’m certainly blessed in comparison with the Meyerowitzes… then again, the love and intimacy that eventually grace the film is quite moving.

The Meyerowitz children, Danny (Adam Sandler), Matthew (Ben Stiller) and Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), are adult now but their relationship with their father Harold (Dustin Hoffman) is still a struggle. Harold used to be a lauded sculptor but is no longer an active or even particularly well remembered figure in the Manhattan art scene. Danny, a musician who’s never accomplished much, has been more successful with his teenage daughter (Grace Van Patten), even though he hates the idea of her growing up. Matthew has been doing very well for himself in Los Angeles, but is not much of a role model as a father. Jean usually ends up between her brothers, but when Harold finds himself in a hospital the siblings have to get together and deal with an uncertain future.

Reminiscent of The Squid and the Whale
Released in theaters and on Netflix, the film reminded critics and audiences of Baumbach’s earlier The Squid and the Whale (2005) and he knew that there would be comparisons. After all, both movies take place in the same intellectual middle-class Manhattan environs (Squid and the Whale has the Museum of Natural History, this one has MoMa) and depict a troubled relationship between siblings and their father, a bearded cultural giant who’s now in decline. The tone is also the same, with frank dialogue and a sense of humor laced with earnestness.

It’s impossible not to love the cast. Hoffman is fun to watch as the egotistic patriarch who can’t stand to see the fellow artists from his heyday remain relevant when he’s almost forgotten; Thompson is hilarious as his girlfriend, an alcoholic yet lovable hippie who is chronically unable to cook a decent meal. The real treat here though is watching Sandler, Stiller and Marvel as the siblings. The latter is a veteran of theater and television who’s very engaging as Jean, the seemingly mousy sister who’s devoted to her family and too rarely noticed by her brothers. As for Sandler and Stiller, they have too often been seen in subpar comedies, which has led many of us to expect very little from them. On few occasions, they have surprised us. In this case, Sandler finally finds a proper vehicle for the rage that has become typical of so many of his characters. His ambition to fuse that rage with likability, seen in many of his bad comedies, is finally fulfilled.

Stiller is also terrific, and it is particularly joyful to see both stars interact with Hoffman; they look like they’re digging deep inside of themselves to find that little extra something that might elevate a scene they’re sharing with a titan like that.

The dynamics of the Meyerowitz family are nicely captured by Baumbach in his two roles as writer and director. Randy Newman’s music score is also a pleasure. Watching these selected stories from the life of a family is like therapy, for Baumbach (who was initially inspired by a stay in the hospital) and us in the audience alike. 

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and selected) 2017-U.S. 112 min. Color. Produced by Noah Baumbach, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin, Lila Yacoub. Written and directed by Noah Baumbach. Music: Randy Newman. Cast: Adam Sandler (Danny Meyerowitz), Ben Stiller (Matthew Meyerowitz), Dustin Hoffman (Harold Meyerowitz), Elizabeth Marvel (Jean Meyerowitz), Emma Thompson, Grace Van Patten… Candice Bergen, Rebecca Miller, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Sigourney Weaver.

Last word: “I wanted to write about a hospital. I felt, in a movie, I hadn’t quite seen what it’s really like to be in a hospital when you’re with someone who’s sick, and having the personal and institutional kind of colliding. But I didn’t know how much of the movie that was going to be. Getting the short story structure helped me think, ‘OK, that could be here. And I could have the two brothers not even be in the same movie until the third section.’ That was helpful, too, because it spoke to the kind of family dynamic, the compartmentalisation that Harold utilised. He doesn’t involve Danny and Matthew; he sees them separately.” (Baumbach, Dazed)

 

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Fry and Laurie, Double the Fun

Finding this clip on YouTube was quite a treat, a special called Fry and Laurie Reunited (2010). At first, we get the two comedy stars’ background. Then these guys who’ve been best friends since the 1980s sit down to talk about their achievements in British television. Many laughs are shared, and it’s obvious how close Fry and Laurie are; watching them this relaxed and silly in each other’s presence adds to the fun. Laurie is now a Hollywood star and Fry a successful and beloved writer, actor and TV personality (among many other things). Wealthy and sophisticated, they still seem down to earth.

Amusing interviews with fellow comedians, long-time friends (Emma Thompson) and a “fan” (Daniel Radcliffe) are interspersed throughout the special.

The clip above is from The Cambridge Footlights Revue in 1982, where Fry, Laurie and Thompson started collaborating.

The reason why I ended up watching the whole thing is that I recently read “More Fool Me” by Stephen Fry, his 2014 account of drug-fueled years in British showbiz in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I love Fry’s writing, even if this book was far from his best. Too much of it is devoted to incidents and memories from his youth already covered in his earlier book “The Fry Chronicles”.

A huge chunk of the book consists of excerpts from his 1993 diary, which is a very interesting read, albeit somewhat repetitious. I also got the feeling that Fry skipped the worst parts of his cocaine addiction and we never really learn just how he kicked his habit.

Still, you’re never bored. There are standouts in the diary. Fry notes how Hugh and his wife Jo disapproved of his addiction, but were too polite to have a serious talk to him about it. Instead, Fry was embarrassed because he thought so highly of them and tried to be even more discreet in their presence. There’s also an encounter with the police where Fry is unbelievably lucky, and the revelation that the computer-savvy comedian had to help Emma Thompson rescue her subsequently Oscar-winning screenplay for Sense and Sensibility (1995), after the file got corrupted.

Both Fry and Laurie can certainly stand on their own. But having both of them is all the more fun, as evidenced by both the 2010 TV special and “More Fool Me”.

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Beauty and the Beast

BE OUR GUEST. 

When her father (Kevin Kline) is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) inside a huge, wintry castle, Belle (Emma Watson) offers herself in exchange for his freedom. Another live-action remake of an animated Disney classic. This one can’t escape a certain sense of pointlessness considering how close it stays to the 1991 original… but that feeling is suppressed by sheer playful buoyancy and colorful opulence. More a lavish Broadway production than just a remake of an animated movie, the film offers a few new songs and really looks like no expenses have been spared. Simply put, it is beautiful and fun. Watson is radiant in the lead and the 3D visuals really draw us into this fairytale world. 

2017-U.S. 129 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos. Music: Alan Menken. Song: ”How Does a Moment Last Forever” (Alan Menken, Tim Rice). Production Design: Sarah Greenwood. Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran. Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (The Prince/Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor… Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson.

Trivia: Ryan Gosling was allegedly considered for a role.

Last word: “Disney didn’t know about [LeFou’s infatuation with Gaston] [laughs]. It was something I was thinking about and that I talked to Josh Gad about. Our joke was that one day he gets up and he wants to be Gaston and the next day he wakes up and he wants to fool around with Gaston and he hasn’t quite landed on it yet. It’s just a moment in the film, and I get a little weary about talking about it too much because then it seems like a more heavy-handed thing. But I kind of enjoyed that and it’s in the fabric of everybody falling in love that that couple falls in love too.” (Condon, Flickering Myth)

 

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Actors Choosing on Brexit

Politics is often hard, especially for those of us who frequently find ourselves in the center. There have been numerous moments throughout history, in different countries, where a decision to turn left or right may be the only sane choice. The most stable governments on this planet find a balance that tries to borrow the best from different ideologies and avoid the worst. Changing from one administration to another thankfully does not mean uprooting the entire system. After an election in countries like the United States, Canada, France, Britain, Israel, Japan, Germany, Australia or Sweden, compromises are usually made with an eye toward the ideological shape of a new parliament. And life goes on.

But all of that boring stuff requires a thinking mind. Now, politics looks like it’s becoming simpler as Europe and the U.S. is headed down a darker and stupid path. We are now severely tested by nationalists and the far right who are influencing large, ignorant masses. One example is Donald Trump, whom no liberal or conservative in their right mind could support. Another is the idiotic British referendum on June 23 that will ask its citizens whether or not to remain as a member state of the European Union. The answer is obvious – leaving the E.U would be an economic disaster for Britain, and it would also hurt other countries who have trade deals with the U.K.. Apart from the financial blow, it would also hurt both the E.U. and Britain culturally since the Union, for better and worse, has been a reasonable way to hold a traditionally war-mongering continent together.

For a country that benefits so much from its membership, and has asked for special deals from the Union, it’s a pretty outrageous thing for Prime Minister David Cameron to do this referendum – especially since he wants the country to remain as a member, even campaigning in the clip above with London’s fresh mayor, Labourite Sadiq Khan!

As a film and TV blog, it’s interesting to look at which celebrities are outspoken on the issue of Brexit. British news magazine The Week featured a compilation a few days ago. It was a relief to see actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Thompson (watch the RT clip above), Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham Carter be on the right side of history. There was also Simon Cowell – and most surprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson, who made the following bright assessment:

“Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had good, cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good.”

On the wrong side of history we find Michael Caine, Julian Fellowes, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Hurley, who all have weird and sad reasons for not wanting to be part of the E.U.. Caine seems to think that the Union is a “government-by-proxy of everybody” and forgets that his country is run by an actual government, not the E.U.. And Hurley had the following to say:

“If it means we can go back to using decent lightbulbs and choose high-powered hairdryers and vacuum cleaners if we so wish, I’m joining Brexit for sure.”

The European Union needs a lot of work. I agree that it can’t be the “united states of Europe”, it has to be smaller and leaner than that. But on June 23, the choice is very simple. Be smart on what the E.U. is and what it can be in the future, vote to stay. 

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Men in Black 3

THEY ARE BACK… IN TIME.

meninblack3When an alien criminal (Jemaine Clement) escapes from his lunar prison, Agent J (Will Smith) has to go back in time to 1969 to save K (Tommy Lee Jones)… and the Earth. Ten years after the last movie in the franchise came another sequel – which was more fun and had a better story. There’s a few breakneck chases (in 3D), wild aliens (including an amusingly grotesque performance by Clement as the villain) and it’s fun watching Smith and Jones work their old charm. Josh Brolin is a perfect choice to play the younger Agent K. Not blindingly original stuff, but having the Apollo 11 launch as part of the climax is a nifty idea.

2012-U.S. 105 min. Color. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Will Smith (J), Tommy Lee Jones (K), Josh Brolin (Young K), Jemaine Clement, Michael Stuhlbarg, Emma Thompson… Nicole Scherzinger. Cameos: Bill Hader, Will Arnett.

Trivia: Alec Baldwin and Sacha Baron Cohen were allegedly considered for parts.

5 kopia

 

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Saving Mr. Banks

WHERE HER BOOK ENDED, THEIR STORY BEGAN.

savingmrbanksIn the early 1960s, P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson), the author of “Mary Poppins”, finally gives in to Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) relentless requests to make a movie out of her book and travels to Los Angeles, fully intent to give the tycoon a hard time… The fact that this film was produced by Disney has its pros and cons. Don’t expect a complex portrait of Walt the man, but on the other hand credibility lies in many other details and portraits of the studio and its work at the time. The script also tells us the story of Travers’s upbringing in Australia, helping us understand her better. A little too neatly plotted at times, but very entertaining, with a first-rate cast.

2013-U.S.-Britain. 125 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Ian Collie, Alison Owen, Philip Steuer. Directed by John Lee Hancock. Screenplay: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith. Music: Thomas Newman. Cast: Emma Thompson (P.L. Travers), Tom Hanks (Walt Disney), Colin Farrell (Travers Goff), Ruth Wilson, Paul Giamatti, Bradley Whitford… Jason Schwartzman, Rachel Griffiths.

Last word: “You wouldn’t know why [Travers] was being so vigilant about her work without knowing her past. It would be a one-note, fun movie without the other part and not nearly as interesting. It is good to know that the sadness in ‘Mary Poppins’ came from that little girl and her broken family. At that age, she wanted someone to come in and fix it. Aunt Ellie couldn’t do that. As a creative person, you turn around and invent Mary Poppins, who could do that. She knew if Disney made the movie all this would be dredged up again for her.” (Hancock, RogerEbert.com)

4 kopia

 

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Brave

CHANGE YOUR FATE.

braveThe Scottish princess Merida refuses to be married off; after an argument with her mother, she runs away and comes across a witch in the forest who offers her what looks like a simple solution to her problem… In spite of a few issues (such as the first director, Brenda Chapman, leaving after a disagreement), this 3D Pixar fairy tale is robust entertainment, good-looking, and an original to boot. Spirited cast, but the film isn’t terribly novel and the big twist, lively and familiar as a fairy-tale ingredient though it may be, constantly runs the risk of turning the movie into a farce.

2012-U.S. Animated. 94 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman. Voices of Kelly Macdonald (Merida), Emma Thompson (Elinor), Billy Connolly (Fergus), Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Julie Walters… Craig Ferguson, John Ratzenberger.

Trivia: Reese Witherspoon was allegedly considered for the part of Merida.

Oscar: Best Animated Feature. Golden Globe: Best Animated Film. BAFTA: Best Animated Film.

5 kopia

 

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Rest in Peace: Dennis Farina and Mel Smith

This past week has lost two originals in showbiz. Neither was what you may call a star, but Dennis Farina and Mel Smith were entertainers of the first order. 

No one could say “fuck” like Dennis Farina, as evidenced in the clip above. A former Chicago police officer, Farina was often cast as either a cop or a mobster because he knew both sides. He actually started out as a consultant to Michael Mann who worked with him on Thief (1981) and Miami Vice (1984-1989); he also had roles in that movie and on that show, and it wasn’t hard for him to move further into the business, playing Jack Crawford in Manhunter (1986) and a cop in Midnight Run (1988). He got his own TV show in 1986 with Crime Story, which lasted for two seasons. He also had memorable roles in Get Shorty (1995) and the TV series Luck (2012), where he played Dustin Hoffman’s right hand. The general public, however, is more likely to remember him mostly for his two-season work as Detective Joe Fontana on Law & Order. Farina died today from a blood clot in his lung. He was 69. 

Three days ago, the British comedian Mel Smith passed away from a heart attack at the age of 60. Celebrated by Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and former comedy partner Griff Rhys Jones, Smith was called “kind, funny & wonderful to know.” Outside of Britain, Smith made little impact even though he did direct a film starring Emma Thompson and Rowan Atkinson called The Tall Guy (1989) and then Bean (1997) with Atkinson, which was a huge box-office hit. In the end, it was rarely Smith who got the credit for the work he did. He was known primarily for Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alias Smith and Jones, now classic comedy shows. The clip above shows him in a skit from the latter, “Nazi Generals”, which makes fun of a traditional view of German aristocratic soldiers in World War II as ruthless, sadistic and more than a little bit gay and lustful. 

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Remains of the Day: Duty Above All

remainsofthedayIt happens, although not very often, that a filmmaker creates two masterpieces in a row. James Ivory and his team had barely released and received Oscars for Howards End (1992) when they made The Remains of the Day. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that virtually everyone who was involved in the E.M. Forster adaptation also labored on this one, a filmization of a much more recent book. Both films share not only key crew members and themes, but most visibly stars – Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson reunited for that most restrained of love stories.

In the 1950s, Mr. Stevens (Hopkins), the butler of Darlington Hall, takes some time off and journeys to a small English town where he is to meet Sally Kenton (Thompson), who is now Mrs. Benn. Perhaps he can talk her into returning to Darlington Hall as housekeeper. During his trip, Mr. Stevens’s thoughts wander back to those years in the 1930s when the manor was owned by Lord Darlington (James Fox) and Miss Kenton came to work there. An admirer of Germany, the lord was desperately trying to ease tensions between the German leadership and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, thoughtlessly entertaining Nazi-friendly guests and flirting with anti-Semitic notions. Mr. Stevens’s job was to remain as helpful and invisible as possible, displaying almost no emotions whatsoever, not even when his own father (Peter Vaughan) was employed as a footman and subsequently fell ill. As Miss Kenton tried to figure out what motivated the impossibly cold head butler, Darlington Hall prepared for a major conference where representatives from Britain, France, Germany and the United States were to discuss how to promote peace…

Foundations are crumbling
I hadn’t seen this film for almost twenty years, but it’s hard not to be instantly drawn into its world, set in a time that was about to change. Howards End portrayed an era when the British class society remained strong. This film shows that the foundations are still there decades later, but crumbling; after the war, Lord Darlington loses everything and his manor is purchased by an American. The upper class is viewed by Ivory and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as pitiful, consisting of foolish and arrogant men who don’t know any better, which is pointed out in a memorable scene by Christopher Reeve’s American participant at the peace conference. The film received some criticism for not digging as deep as the novel, but the filmmakers really do honor its themes. Mr. Stevens may be “invisible” but he’s front and center of the story, sometimes challenged by others, as when Lord Darlington tells him to fire two recently-employed Jewish girls for no good reason. Apart from politics, the film also wants us to ponder the butler’s life as a whole. Is he unhappy, or could this devotion to duty be all that he wants from life? There’s a few beautifully conceived scenes between him and Miss Kenton that indicate otherwise (especially one of the final shots that echo Brief Encounter (1945)), but the answer is not obvious. Hopkins plays Stevens with a polite demeanor that reveals nothing but still allows for plenty of interpretation. Thompson’s effort needs to be more emotional and she acquits herself very nicely. Reeve is also worth a look in his last notable role before the accident that made him a quadriplegic.

Cinematographer Tony Pierce-Roberts expertly captures the stately English countryside with a hint of darkness. Fans of Downton Abbey will eat this up… and if they have any sense, they will demand from the ITV drama and its creator Julian Fellowes to up their game. 

The Remains of the Day 1993-U.S. 135 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Mike Nichols, John Calley, Ismail Merchant. Directed by James Ivory. Screenplay: Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Novel: Kazuo Ishiguro. Cinematography: Tony Pierce-Roberts. Music: Richard Robbins. Costume Design: Jenny Beavan, John Bright. Cast: Anthony Hopkins (James Stevens), Emma Thompson (Sarah “Sally” Kenton), James Fox (Lord Darlington), Christopher Reeve, Peter Vaughan, Hugh Grant… Michael Lonsdale.

Trivia: Jeremy Irons and Anjelica Huston were allegedly considered for roles. The original version of the script was written by Harold Pinter, meant for Mike Nichols to direct.

Last word: “It sounds pretentious to say it’s Chekhovian, but, really, so much is said by not being said. Stevens and Miss Kenton discuss the most ridiculous things, like jugs and dust, and underneath them this passionate and tragic story is being staged. She falls in love with him, and that is her downfall, because she cannot crack his walnut carapace. It’s about one of the most important things of all: you have to say to people you love them. Otherwise they go away, and suddenly you find you’ve come to the end of your life, and it’s too late.” (Thompson, This Distracted Globe)

2 kopia

 

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Beautiful Creatures

DARK SECRETS WILL COME TO LIGHT.

beautifulcreaturesHigh-school kid Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who can’t wait to get out of his narrow-minded South Carolina hometown, is immediately smitten by a newcomer (Alice Englert) with special powers. Another attempt to attract the Twilight crowd, this time with so-called “casters” and magic. We have young lovers, a family of outcasts and entertaining performances by Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons as adversaries… but it still doesn’t click because the story feels drawn out and overly familiar. Also, the leads are bland and look too old for their parts.

2013-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Richard LaGravenese. Novel: Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl. Music: Thenewno2. Cast: Alden Ehrenreich (Ethan Wate), Alice Englert (Lena Duchannes), Jeremy Irons (Macon Ravenwood), Viola Davis, Emma Thompson, Emmy Rossum.

6 kopia

 

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The Greatest Hits of 2013

It’s time for that annual list of this year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2013 for ya.

JANUARY:

* The Last Stand – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first starring vehicle in ten years. Not expecting great things.

* Broken City – Allen Hughes directs this political thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.

FEBRUARY:

* Warm Bodies – Director Jonathan Levine last made 50/50, so this romantic zombie movie has to be checked out.

* Identity Thief – Melissa McCarthy has two major comedies out this year, which could propel her into greater things. The first one also stars Jason Bateman.

* A Good Day to Die Hard – The fifth movie in the franchise. None of the predecessors have disappointed so far.

MARCH:

* Oz: The Great and Powerful – Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz (1939) has a few trailers promising exciting stuff.

APRIL:

* The Heat – The Bridesmaids director strikes with another comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. Looks like another Stakeout, and could be a major hit.

* 42 – Brian Helgeland directs this drama about Jackie Robinson. Co-starring Harrison Ford.

* To the Wonder – Terrence Malick’s latest, with Ben Affleck leading the cast.

* Oblivion – Science fiction with Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.

MAY:

* Iron Man 3 – Shane Black directs this first follow-up to The Avengers.

* The Great Gatsby – Baz Luhrmann’s take on the iconic novel.

* Star Trek: Into Darkness – The second film in J.J. Abrams’s new vision of the old franchise.

* The Hangover Part III – A chance for this gang to redeem themselves.

JUNE:

* Much Ado About Nothing – Joss Whedon does Shakespeare.

* Man of Steel – Superman, as envisioned by Zack Snyder.

* Monsters University – Pixar’s big summer movie is a sequel to Monsters, Inc. (2001).

* World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt… and Marc Forster in the directing chair. Looks like a challenging combo.

JULY:

* The Lone Ranger – Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski reunite from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies for an American Western classic.

* Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro directing something that looks like a huge Michael Bay adventure.

* The Wolverine – Hugh Jackman returns in his most famous role, this time directed by James Mangold.

AUGUST:

* Elysium – District 9 director Neill Blomkamp returns with a sci-fi thriller starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

SEPTEMBER:

* Rush – Ron Howard’s biopic of legendary Formula 1 driver Niki Lauda and the crash that almost killed him. Starring Daniel Brühl.

* The Tomb – Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger break out of a prison; directed by Mikael Håfström.

OCTOBER:

* Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s follow-up to their 2005 movie.

* Oldboy – Spike Lee’s remake of the South Korean classic.

* Captain Phillips – Paul Greengrass’s latest is a story about Somali pirates hijacking an American cargo ship, helmed by Tom Hanks.

* Carrie – The remake of the 1976 horror classic is directed by Kimberly Peirce of Boys Don’t Cry fame.

* Malavita – Luc Besson’s gangster movie features Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones in the cast.

NOVEMBER:

* Thor: The Dark World – The sequel reunites Chris Hemsworth with Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Dark Elves are also involved.

* The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen.

DECEMBER:

* The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – OK, so the first chapter was disappointing. Perhaps Peter Jackson will get it right this time?

* Anchorman: The Legend Continues – Fans are in for a letdown. The original wasn’t that great to begin with, and now they’re expecting the sequel to be a masterpiece. Oy vey.

* The Monuments Men – George Clooney directs this story about museum curators and art historians trying to rescue vital pieces of art before Hitler gets his hands on them. Starring Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Daniel Craig.

* Saving Mr. Banks – Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. Need I say more? OK, the movie also stars Emma Thompson, Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti.

* Last Vegas – Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline and Morgan Freeman partying in Vegas.

* Jack Ryan – Kenneth Branagh directs this action triller, a reboot of the Jack Ryan franchise starring Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Branagh and Keira Knightley.

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Hugh Laurie: From Prince of Wales to Blackbeard

Blackbeard lives! At least in the mind of Neil Cross, the creator of Luther (2011- ), who has agreed to deliver a TV series to NBC titled Crossbones, which is set in 1715 and will portray the famed British pirate who robbed people on the eastern coast of the American colonies. It has now been announced that Hugh Laurie is in talks to play the pirate. Let’s hope that it works out better than it did when Laurie was announced as a cast member of the RoboCop (1987) remake.

 

In the early years (that’s the late 1970s), Laurie attended Eton and Cambridge, rowing like his Olympic gold-winning father, dating Emma Thompson and finding a friend for life in Stephen Fry. His interest in acting and comedy was obvious already in Alfresco, an early comedy sketch show featuring the above and Robbie Coltrane.

 

Another talented buddy Laurie and Fry found while studying was Rowan Atkinson. Together they made the Black Adder series. It was in the third and fourth seasons of the show that Laurie was handed more significant work, appearing as the thoroughly dim-witted Prince of Wales and Lieutenant George Colthurst St Barleigh. This sort of defined Laurie to international audiences, making his darker American breakthrough all the more surprising.

 

In the years 1989–1995, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry delivered four seasons of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, a comedy sketch show in the vein of Monty Python (although not quite as freaky as that). Especially valid as a weapon against the administrations of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, the show is interesting as a comparison to Jeeves and Wooster, the 1990-1993 adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s 1930s stories, also featuring Fry and Laurie (in a somewhat more conservative mood).

 

And then came House in 2004, the show that not only introduced Laurie to American audiences but also showed the world that this was an actor who could do a lot more than play moronic royals on TV. This was irresistible to him; his early experiences lead him toward darkness, such as the realization that his mother didn’t really like him (which is something he told James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio). Besides, what actor would resist such a tempting opportunity to research one’s most miserable corners? The clip above shows Laurie auditioning for House.

Perhaps Blackbeard offers Laurie another chance to dig deeper inside his past/mind?

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An Education

INNOCENCE OF THE YOUNG.

 

London, 1961; 16-year-old Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan) meets an older man (Peter Sarsgaard) who takes her places and treats her to beautiful things, but she realizes that he has secrets. Danish director Lone Scherfig’s first international film has a title that pretty much sums the story up. Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir, this very entertaining and elegant experience balances between teenage naiveté and insights into how 1960s women really weren’t expected to do anything with their education. That frustration is perfectly mirrored in Mulligan’s character and this is an outstanding breakthrough for her. Nick Hornby’s dialogue and a sense of humor are frosting on the cake.

2009-Britain. 99 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey. Directed by Lone Scherfig. Screenplay: Nick Hornby. Story: Lynn Barber. Cast: Peter Sarsgaard (David Goldman), Carey Mulligan (Jenny Mellor), Alfred Molina (Jack Mellor), Dominic Cooper, Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams… Emma Thompson, Sally Hawkins.

Trivia: Orlando Bloom was allegedly considered for a role.

BAFTA: Best Actress (Mulligan).

Quote: “It doesn’t have to be teaching. There’s always the Civil Service.” (Thompson on Mulligan’s career options)

Last word: “The story is short, so [Hornby] fleshed it out. There are a couple of characters that are his, especially the teachers, but the structure and a lot of the details are actually in her original piece. I think he’s given it a tone that’s definitely Nick Hornby — and jokes, too. He’s really humorous. [Lynn] says that Alfred Molina’s role (as Jenny’s dad) is a lot more sympathetic than she had imagined. I hope we have added something as well. It’s just layer upon layer, and as long as we’re telling the same story — a group portrait of a girl and the people her surrounding her, particularly David … the more time we spent on it, the more time [it was] in this development situation, the more detail you see, the more contrast and the more integrity.” (Scherfig, Hulu)

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