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

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The world's going to hell in a handcart.

You may remember a few months ago, I wrote an optimistic meditation on the new Brideshead Revisited film. One of my favourite books, turned into one of my favourite TV shows. A slow-paced, nostalgic story of love, religion and middle age.

Last time, I was trying hard to be gentle. I don't want to damn it out of the blue, I want to give it a chance. And I understand that of course, they have to change things. I'm prepared. But I genuinely think this new movie is going to be a trainwreck.

Its all a matter of tone, and meaning. For me, Brideshead Revisited is about a middle aged man who realises he has spent his entire life searching for something he lost at the age of 19. For author Waugh, it was about the operation of divine grace on a small group of characters. For Jarrod, the new director, its about "young individual from a poorer, less interesting background who is welcomed into this beautiful, magical, alluring kingdom with wonderful, magical people. And then he begins to realize that everything is not what it seems.”

None of those things are in the book. Waugh was a converted Catholic who, I presume, saw God in everything - and for him that would be the strongest force in his character's lives. I'm very sentimental, very nostalgic, and my chief worry on going to university is that one day that'll happen to me (pessimistic, but it could happen). When I read the book, its all about Charles trying to regain what he saw in Sebastian - whether that's true love, or what he represented in terms of the rich lifestyle, or his free lifestyle, or just the joy of being young. He's only in 3 chapters or so - but his influence is all over the place. Anthony Blanche notes "inevitably we talk of Sebastian" early on in the novel, and it happens for the rest of the book. The classic image of the show is, well, poncing about with teddy bears.

To justify my reading, my film would be all lingering shots, subtle glances and covered with bittersweet loss from the first five minutes. I might even mix the scenes up Tarantino style, interspersing the early sunny scenes with the later grey and grim ones to telegraph that things are going downhill from the start. Waugh shoved the full of very subtle hits, use of language which is ravingly obvious if you go looking for it. And a fascinating memo sent by him to Hollywood reveals that religion would be the central theme of his movie.

I do not know of Mr Jarrod's background, but for him the story is about class. To be honest, I barely noticed it, just as I barely noticed the religious undertones until they were pointed out. But having seen the trailer, just as I would play up the loss, he's playing up the class issues. The insinuation that Charles is getting in with the family for the money is no where in the book, although it is an interpretation one could follow. He sees the world of Brideshead as temptation - decadant, rich, exotic but corrupt. Again, I disagree - because he sees it as something happening to Charles, wheras for me it's something in the past. He's always looking back at it. Mr Jarrod is playing up the thriller-ish aspects of the novel, sexing up something which was perfectly fine as it was.

Tone. Chaos, eh? This was sparked off by an article on the NYTimes website. Lets do a commentary:

"THE images from the 11-episode mini-series are still vivid, 27 years later. Louche young Oxford students in crisp linen suits (and one teddy bear) drinking endless cocktails. A spectacular country estate, dripping with treasures and crackling with religious, sexual and dynastic tensions. A delicately beautiful Jeremy irons"

Yes, Jeremy Irons was pretty yummy in this. You note they start with the TV show, not the book. The book was already big - but like the Godfather movie, the epic show preserved it in the public mind and made it big.

It is those lingering memories, even more than Evelyn Waugh’s novel, that anyone attempting to turn “Brideshead Revisited” into a feature film for the first time naturally has to contend with. And so as not to contaminate his approach Julian Jarrold, the director, studiously avoided the mini-series — all that elegiac emotion, spread out over 659 languorous minutes — and returned to the book. “It exposed some of the myths I’d had about ‘Brideshead,’ ” Mr. Jarrold said of his rereading. “I’d had the memory of it being a nostalgia trip about the passing of English life and a bygone era, a glorification of aristocracy — about people wearing odd clothes and poncing around Oxford.” That was part of it, he said.

But there was also a bite and a sharpness that are as relevant now as they were in 1945, when the novel was published. “One of the reasons for the book’s popularity is, it is an archetypal type of story of this young individual from a poorer, less interesting background who is welcomed into this beautiful, magical, alluring kingdom with wonderful, magical people,” Mr. Jarrold said. “And then he begins to realize that everything is not what it seems.”

I'm not going to deny the bite and sharpness. The dialogue, the observation of character is priceless. But as I've already noted, I never for a moment saw it as a story about class. It's not even mentioned. It's just an issue that doesn't matter to me personally - my family is affluent, some people I know are richer, others are poorer. So what? I don't believe in class tensions.

The film, which is to be released on Friday, is set in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s and stars Matthew Goode as Charles Ryder, the unworldly student whose friendship with the aristocratic Lord Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw) introduces him to a whole new world of money, class privilege, deep happiness and deep despair. Castle Howard, an estate in Yorkshire, stands in for Brideshead, home to Sebastian and his family, a symbol of a dying way of life and a character in itself. The mini-series was written by John Mortimer and stars Anthony Andrews as the teddy-bear-carrying Sebastian. It opens and ends with Charles (Mr. Irons), now a British Army officer, unexpectedly encamped at Brideshead during World War II. He begins to replay in his mind the role Brideshead, with its dark sorrows and bewitching delights, played in his life some 20 years earlier.

In this new version the filmmakers have, of necessity, pared down the story. World War II comes up only at the end. There is less time to dwell on the seemingly endless summer when Charles and Sebastian meet and their lives gradually become entwined. Some supporting characters given prominence in the mini-series — Sebastian’s younger sister, Cordelia, played in the original by Phoebe Nicholls, for example, or his waspish friend Anthony Blanche (Nickolas Grace in the series)— appear only glancingly in the film.

See what I mean? For me it would be paramount for WWII to open the film, to let the audience know this is all happening in the past. It would best support my interpretation as a story of lost ideals and innocence. Here, they leave it to the end. Serious mistake. Pity Cordelia will be cut down, but it was inevitable; as with Anthony. I imagine Bridey has been cut entirely.

“It was a terrible struggle, and we worked for many, many hours on the screenplay in order to make the right choices,” said Jeremy Brock, who wrote it with Andrew Davies. “But bluntly, you have a 330-page novel and a two-hour film, and you don’t have the luxury of being able to include everybody.”

Yeh, that's fair. And what they're cutting out is the least of my worries. It's what they're adding and twisting that gets my goat. So...

The filmmakers also have played up the love triangle of Charles, Sebastian and Sebastian’s bewitching sister, Julia (Hayley Atwell). An extended scene during a night of erotic possibility in Venice serves to advance Charles’s romance with Julia. (All the changes — including placing Julia in Venice — were approved by the Waugh estate, the filmmakers said.)

I approve of this. The novel is in two sections - Charles and Sebastian and then Charles and Julia. Without making two films, they can't adequately do either, so fudging them together is really their only option. I'm not sure what "erotic possibility" means though. Actually, the word "extended" disturbs me about as much. Anyway...

“This puts Julia center stage,” Mr. Brock said of the Venice scenes. “When you read the novel, there is a sense that she is slightly the one who comes after Sebastian, that she is No. 2, and I think it’s not quite fair. The true love story for Charles is the one with Julia.”

As I said, all about interpretation and I think that's ridiculous. The true love story for Charles is the one with Sebastian - Julia comes afterwards, she's an echo of what he misses. She acnowledges it in the book; Charles notes they look similar. Mr Brock is deliberately pissing off the Valyard here. Or, to put it more simply, he's actually deciding he doesn't like something and plunging in to restore Julia to where he thinks she should be. Very chivalric. Now I know its only a story, but screwing with fiction really gets my goat - in my mind, it's like a time traveller deliberately interfering with the past. Anyone who's ever watched sci-fi will appreciate you can't change history on a whim, not just because you'll change the present (in our analogy, come up with a worse film), but because you just shouldn't - because its a law you shouldn't break.

Am I overreacting? After all, protecting the integrity of the time continuum and keeping a movie adaption canonical aren't exactly of equal importance. There is a reason why history works the way it does; and there is a reason why stories are written the way they are. Now changes must be made - every now and then, you step on the odd butterfly - but militantly deciding to go back and kill baby Hitler is always wrong. And that's what Mr Brock is doing - he's decided he wants to change things. Ach, yes Im overreacting.

Perhaps he's closer to Mr Waugh's intent: "Charles's romantic affection for Sebastian is part due to the glitter of the new world Sebastian represents, part to the protective feeling of a strong towards a weak character, and part a foreshadowing of the love for Julia which is to be the consuming passion of his mature years." Because I see the story backwards, I see his love for Julia as a result, not a foreshadowing.

And while the homoerotic longings between Charles and Sebastian are more implied than explicit in the earlier incarnations, in the film they share a quick kiss. Instantly their easy camaraderie is polluted by a new awkwardness and inhibition. “There’s a sense that maybe they’ve crossed a line that one of them isn’t ready to cross,” Mr. Brock said of the kiss.

Heh. Its all about tone, boys and girls. Whats the point in making something so obscure so obvious? Let the platonic crowd have their fun, let the "get out of the closet!" brigade prove their argument, and let the people who like it on the fence stay on the fence. Because there's nothing that clear cut about youth, and for me this is the biggest problem encountered so far. If you choose to so read it, then Charles'n'Seb can be at it like rabbits the whole time. There's way enough evidence. On the other hand, the story works just as well if its an entirely innocent relationship. I feel its a mistake to deny that it is love, but

In a surprising casting move Lady Marchmain, the matriarch whose deep religious faith reverberates so tragically through the lives of her children, is played by Emma Thompson, made up toward the end of the film to look much older.“I always associate Emma Thompson with being youthful and contemporary and playing decent, sensitive characters, whereas obviously this is the complete opposite,” Mr. Jarrold said. But Ms. Thompson can play old as well as young, lacing her character’s prodigious charm with a chilly savagery. As much as it is a story about a lost period of English history — a final shining moment before everything changed forever — “Brideshead” is a novel about the inexorable pull of Catholicism. The issues it raises are particularly relevant now, Mr. Brock said, though viewers may interpret what they see differently depending on the role of faith in their own lives. A scene toward the end, when the Marchmain family tussles over the soul of Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) as he lies on his deathbed, is wrenching and even shocking. After abandoning his wife and her self-sacrificing piety for a life of sensuality and ease in Italy, Marchmain has returned home to die. But what sort of role should Catholicism play, with its ability to pull in lapsed members with a “twitch upon the thread,” as Waugh put it, citing G. K. Chesterton, at the end of Marchmain’s life? To Charles’s fascinated horror, the question is of central importance to the family, and there is only one possible answer. “In that tug between individual freedom and fundamentalist religion, there’s a story that’s apposite for our time,” Mr. Brock said. “In the modern age that’s something we’re all dealing with.”An important divergence in tone from Waugh’s novel, Mr. Jarrold said, comes in the closing scene, when Charles — now back at Brideshead during World War II — talks to Lieutenant Hooper, a fellow soldier who has a rough accent and the forthright views of a modern man unimpressed by the aristocracy. How to portray him led to long discussions about the way that Waugh “is sometimes profoundly undemocratic” and disdainful of Hooper and what he represents, Mr. Jerrold said. In the book Hooper is “described as a traveling salesman with a wet handshake,” he said. “But he’s the future of England, and the hope of the 1945 generation, and we’ve put a positive spin on him.”

Again, look - class issuese

So lets leave the final word with Mr Waugh, from a different memo to Hollywood about seeing his books filmed: "It has lately been demonstrated that cinema audiences do not know whether the films they see are spoken in Italian or English. It is useless to write down to their level. Try to produce a work of art."

Ugh. I'm thoroughly miserable now, so miserable I've just finished off half a pack of chocolate wafers and am listening to the Beach Boys. It ain't working.

Under those circumstances, it might seem a bad idea to pre-judge another one of my favourite books about to emerge as Hollywood property.

Cirque du Freak is the story of an ordinary kid who becomes a vampire. Only please don't stop reading, because it is so much more than just that. It was one of my favourites as a kid - I bought all 12 books. What is more impressive that they still read well now I've grown up a bit. Author Darren Shan treads a fine, fine line and while the books are aimed at children (every chapter ends on a cliffhanger - "and now the spider was heading for me!"), its never patronising and satisfyingly dark. It starts out as a book about a teen vampire hero. 11 installments later, he's handling alternate Earths, parallel futures and middle age. In one novel, a newly converted Darren dates a local girl in an effort to retain a normal teenage life. Generic stuff. But Debbie comes back in 10 years as an adult with her own flat, while Darren still appears to be 13. He never shies away from making things hard, and tackling ideas like that where other kids books would make it easy.

At one moment, a desperate situation is resolved by a piece of outrageously cheesy deus ex machina. The next chapter begins "No. I wish it had happened like that, but it didn't", and all of a sudden, beloved characters are dying and you can only watch helplessly - especially because last chapter you were groaning because it was all too happy. And characters do die, lovely ones and in cruel ways. JK Rowling only got this dark in the final chapters of Book 7, and was never this ironic.

So lets have a look at the movie. It's being written by Brian Helegand, who wrote Knight's Tale. He has my stamp of approval. The cast list reveals a Wolfman and Murlough have been cast. These are the villains for books 2 and 3 - evidently the first three have been compacted. Another good move - the 12 book series vaguely falls into four trilogies anyway, and these three are similar in tone et al.

Its being directed by Paul Weitz, and suddenly I really wished I'd seen Golden Compass - his last adaptation of a dodgy kids book. If it's as average as everyone said, then I'm a little edgy about him handling my baby. I also wish I knew something about the composer - his films all seem to be indie or low-profile, so hopefully he'll do something interesting and not fantasy-default.

The cast is OK. Ken Wantabe isn't the Mr Tall of my mind, but he will do it well. I wish Mr Tiny wasn't credited as Mr Destiny, but there goes - the actor has a wonderful look. Mr Tiny needs to have presence - be creepy, without really knowing why; just as Mr Tall has to be completely trustworthy, in the same way.

The stars have my temporary approval too. Darren and Steve look perfect, although I don't recognise anything they're in. The jury's out on Mr Crepsley, played by John C. Reilly. He's not an actor I like much (from Chicago, but still), and Mr C is one of the most insanely special characters. A suggestion on the IMDb board is that he should have traded roles with Willem Dafoe, who is playing Gavner Purl. Now JCR would make an awesome Gavner, but I'm willing to give him a chance.

I just have one problem. They're gonna make it a sodding PG. Now done properly, this thing deserves an 18 rating - its still one of the most violent things I've ever read. But that's stupid - its still a kids book. All I'm asking is a 12. Don't aim it at the tweenie market, its not Harry Potter. It should be aimed at young adults. For 13, 14yrold kids who want a horror movie of their own with some proper gore. I can't think of a way that this film could be made faithfully at PG, and retain the alarmingly visceral feel. Drop the visual nastiness, and the nastiness inherent in the plot will be the next to go.

On the whole, I'm optimistic. I'm looking forward to the film I would make, which is a mistake, but I feel it'd be hard to do these books badly...if there is a mouse on set. By mouse I mean a director, a writer, a producer who will weed out the cheese. If they try to do it sentimentally, or use that awful "magical music" exhibited by current kid movies. Its a bleak piece of fiction; the world of the cirque is not wonderful in any way.

Case in point: A Series of Unfortunate Events. Another good series of books. I rather liked the film - Jude Law made a terrible Lemony, it needed to be someone far older and cynical, but the look was wonderful. But the ending! They gave it a happy ending!

Something about the film will piss me off. But I'm not going to issue a fatwah for the crew just yet, because if they steer away from sentimentality and and keep it honest as the book, then there is an awesome film waiting...


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