Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Brideshead Regurgitated

Go and see Speed Racer. Take your kids. And your pets. And your next-door neighbours

Ahem. Sorry, I'll stop dribbling and try to write coherently.

9 years ago, the collective human jaw crashed to the floor a few minutes into this little action movie known as The Matrix, as the camera spiralled around a hovering Carrie Anne Moss. I was only 9 at the time, so by the time I saw it the wow factor had worn off.

What very few people noticed is the anime influence. It certainly never struck me until I saw the Animatrix, discovered the Wachowski's love for the it fair to call anime a genre? A movement? In any case, they adore it, and the concept behind bullet time was merely what anime had been doing for years - hero leaps up into a pose and pauses before delivering a killer blow. All they did was translate it into three dimensions and you have it, instant cool.

I knew it was based on an anime series, but I was amazed how faithful it was. Not to the story - I never followed Mahha GoGoGo, but the style. Particularly the way heads move past each other in dialogue.

I just wish I had more courage in my convictions to say outright that its the most brilliant original movie made since whenever. It's easy to dismiss this as a kids film, and believe me your 8-year-old boys will love it. But that's not quite the point - this is the movie Kill Bill wanted to be, a gleeful pastiche of a much loved genre. But where QT failed, the Wachowski's succeed: in filling the audience with their enthusiasm. It's still sufficiently childlike to entertain the nippers, but stylistically, it looks like the most expensive episode of Power Rangers ever.

So please, go see Speed Racer ready to experience deliberately obvious characters in the midst of an offbeat masterpiece. It's not even style over substance - the substance is a level clever than it had to be - and go see it at the biggest cinema you have. You're lucky - your local doesn't have 9 seats in a row at its widest point. There were two other people in the cinema besides us, they were at the back, we were at the front and there were only 20 rows between us.

But lets talk about the real reason we went to see Speed Racer - Matthew Fox, the artist formerly known as Jack from LOST. The irritating doctor to those of you who switched off in the first series. Remarkably, his acting has visibly improved across the series - he's starting to plough some impressive emotional depths, and increasingly looks like the only one who'll get off the island with a career. He was good in this. The last Film I Watched With My Sister Because It Had Matthew Fox In was We are Marshall - see this post for what I thought of that slushfest - which was the utter antithesis of this. It was obvious; this is knowingly obvious. It was boring. This is pretty damn exciting, and I don't mean loud music and car crashes - I mean visually exciting, thrilling direction. You ain't seen nothin like it.

Unless you're an anime fan. When you ain't seen nothin like three dimensions.

PS - Doing a bit of investigation into the new Brideshead Revisited movie. The prospect is bleak. As a fan of the book, and the tv series, it has some work to do in my estimation. Hell, I've een been seen to complain that the series (a virtually word perfect adaption) cuts my favourite line
from, the book!

I don't object in principle - after all, Pride and Prejudice also made a good book, then a good perfect BBC adaptation, then a good two hour movie with all the dross chopped out. There's a lot of Brideshead that could go, but the difficulty is that it's ALL dross. They eat dinner. They drive. They talk. If you're looking for plot, then frankly there ain't none. Once you start cutting, its hard to know what to keep.

Brideshead is a story in two acts, and inevitably the movie intends to focus on the less interesting, less subtle and frankly, less romantic relationship between ordinary bod Charles and Julia Marchmain than betwee Charles and her brother Sebastian. Think Brideshead - think teddies, Oxford and strawberries on the lawn! All doomed to the big bad world of cut. pparently they're removing the references to catholicism, which is really ripping the guts out of the novel. Without lingering in spoiler territory, it'll put Julia's motivation entirely oput of whack.

Brideshead is also a story of a life. People drift in and out, Charles gets a lot older. The Julia relationship takes place when they are both in the middle of it. Inevitably, they'll rocket it into his youth so the actors can remain pretty, which will again change the focus and feel of their eventual coming together.

I don't want to damn it automatically. They could still make a good story out of it, even if it ain't whats on the page. But it won't be Brideshead, at which point they could easily twist their desired rewrite into a totally new film. Mind you, marketing and distribution and all, tying it into a recongised concept will increase its appeal. But not by much - because the Brideshead lovers are into period drama anyway, and thus you won't expand your audience by much.

Lets look at the official guff:

"A provocative and suspenseful drama, “BRIDESHEAD REVISITED” tells an evocative story of forbidden love and the loss of innocence set in the pre-WWII era. i.e. it wants to be the new Atonement. This line gets up my nose bigtime. There is no suspense, its far too sedate a story for that. I don't know what they mean by provocative; probably the same thing as evocative, a film which moves you, just like every other film ever made. That's production company double speak. I don't get what's so forbidden about it either. Loss of innocence is arguably the best descriptor.

In the film, Charles Ryder becomes entranced with the noble Marchmain family, first through the charming and provocative Sebastian Flyte, and then his sophisticated sister, Julia. The rise and fall of Charles’ infatuations reflect the decline of a decadent era in England between the wars. That's much better. Oh how I wish that was the film they are making, as it sums it up wonderfully. Academy Award-winner Emma Thompson co-stars as Lady Marchmain. No I don't think so. No please. The film, based on Evelyn Waugh’s acclaimed novel is adapted for the screen by multiple BAFTA Award-winner Andrew Davies who did pretty much any BBC adaptation you can name and Jeremy Brock and directed by Julian Jarrold."

Now for the poster:

I like the dramatic placement of Lady Marchmain - even though this was probably just to get their biggest star, Emma Thomson, on the poster, she's a key character and well suited to the "overshadowing villain" position here. Unfortunately, I can forsee her standing in the way of the "forbidden love" mentioned before, which'll be a pity - her damaging effect is so much more subtle and realistic in the book. I also like them featuring Brideshead itself - it's a cornerstone of the book, an important character in its own right. Obviously the three pretty leads are playing "spot the love triangle" in the corner, but it works.

But you know my low quip about it wanting to be Atonement (ironic for a book which clearly itself wanted to be Brideshead at times, with the fountain and tiled floors)? What colour is Julia wearing? What colour is the word "revisited"? Yes, its the same shade as that stunning and iconic dress sported by Keira Knightly in all the publicity. Clearly gunning for your subconscious!

The tagline reads: "Privilege. Ambition. Desire. At Brideshead, everything comes at a price." Two minds. On the one hand, I hate it for being so obvious, so American, so everything that the book isn't. It sounds like the characters will be striving for those things, aiming at complete hedonism. They're not - the tragedy is that they're born into the privilege. On the other, aside from the wretched clichedness, it does sum up the themes pretty well. Change it to "Privilege, Love and Catholicism" and I'd be happy (because it is love, not desire, even though love doesn't sell as well as sex these days)

Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content. Because even period dramas don't sell unless someone takes their clothes off.

And now for the trailer. This could be the deal breaker. Like a watched pot, a watched youtube buffering bar never boils.

Pardon me, wiping the vomit off the carpet. What was that?! It was all going so well. It was very bizzare seeing the well loved Castle Howard inhabited by a new generation of flapper dresses and cravats, very odd indeed. As such, it was quite bizzare to see other actors in the roles. I'm not a complete Brideshead obsessive, you realise; I didn't expect to feel this facet of a new adaptation would feel so troubling. It looks like the catholicism is back on the bill, for which I am thankful. As predicted, the whole time frame has been shrunk - Julia is going to Venice, and any relationship there will be taking place while the actors are young and gorgeous. It looks like they'll deal with the sexual ambiguity of the Charles/Sebastian relationship, probably making it more overt (in the book, it's never stated that they are more than friends, even though there is a troubling transfer of platonic affection from Sebastian to proper passion for his sister, who it is often stated looks very similar. For me, the most satisfying reading is that he and Sebastian are in love of a kind, but not one that's ever stated. i.e. I feel ambiguity is best.)

The grot set in when they called Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece an "acclaimed" novel, which for me is a bit like saying Shakespeare was a fairly good writer. Acclaimed may suit for a modern little known novel, but it feels odd here.

And then they start frantically cutting like it's the most exciting thriller ever, giving away half the plot, and what a plot it is! They've turned Charles and Julia into Cecelia and Robbie as far as I'm concerned. After all this meandering and mulling over the various possibilites and trying to be even handed, I'm not sure I'd get to the end of the film. Not sure I'd get to the end of the trailer for a moment here.

It was inevitable that there would be chopping. But why introduce entirely new elements? It's a powerful story alone. Charles is seduced by the lifestyle, but he's not a social climber. Like I said above, making things which are subtle more obvious and cheap. And as for engaging Julia against her will? Perlease. She's barely a maiden fair being carried off by a villianous monster.

All in all, maybe this is one I'll have to miss. And make myself one day, and properly. I'd quite like to see the movie in the first half of the trailer, that looks OK. But from 1:44 onwards, things go downhill. They're trying to churn drama out of an entirely undramatic book. The joy of Brideshead Revisited is the sublety, but they have to make everything so horribly obvious.

PPS - Boycott Heinz Sandwich Spread! It's too creepy. You note it's not "tomato spread" or "chicken spread". Nope, it's "Sandwich Spread", to distinguish it from all those spreads you don't put on sandwiches. Lets see what it's described as: "A tangy cruchy spread". Oh look, it spreads. Ingredients? Well, whatever they are, they're tangy and crunchy. Dead mice perhaps? Finally, the serving suggestion - and this is the idiot-proof bit. "Heinz Sandwich Spread is a perfect addition to any sandwich".

Er, thanks. Naturally. NOW BAN THIS SICK SPREAD!


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