Friday, 30 September 2011

Can't Wait For This One. . .

And some great upcoming movie news.  The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel will be out in the spring of 2012.  How can this miss with the great cast - Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Dev Patel, and Penelope Wilton.  Check out the trailer above.  It's based on a very funny novel I read many years ago - These Foolish Things by Deborah Maggoch - about a group of senior Brits who come to India lured by the promise of a luxury retirement home, much cheaper than anything they can afford in England, and their subsequent comic and touching adventures.

P.D. James Takes On Jane Austen. . .

Here's some really exciting news for the fall season, just announced. Any new P.D. James mystery is a cause for celebration but this new crime novel is also set in the world of Pride and Prejudice, six years after Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage.  The murder victim?  None other than Wickham. Could this get more delicious?  Death Comes to Pemberley will be out in Canada at the end of November.
Can't wait to read this!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Behind the Scenes at the Tour de France. . .

So I was waiting in line getting my festival tickets and as you do, started chatting with the people around me. The guy in front had an accent so I asked him what part of England he came from.

"Well not many people know of it, it's a town called Bedford."
"Really?  I just happen to be reading a book by a guy who grew up in Bedford. That's just a bit north of London isn't it?"
"Yes, about 50km.  Who is the author?"
"Ned Boulting. He's a sports journalist; he's written a book about covering the Tour de France."
"Really? I went to school with a guy named Ned Boulting."

It really is a small world. When his wife returned bringing him a coffee, we also established that we'd all eaten in the same small restaurant in the suburbs of Liverpool and that we also shared a similar taste in British films, if our tickets were anything to go by.

Boulting has been covering the Tour for British television since 2003, roughly about the time I too became a fan.  He and I knew very little about the intricacies of the sport - what the heck a green jersey was, how the peloton worked, and why would so many guys work so hard pulling their bodies over huge mountains to help someone else win? You learn as you go, and as things start to make sense, one slowly becomes obsessed with this gruelling and fascinating sport, even despite the constant disappointments around the constant doping scandals.

In his book How I Won the Yellow Jumper, there are reflections on, and encounters with, some of the big names of the sport - Armstrong, Wiggins, Cavendish - but this is really a  look at the army of people involved behind the scenes, from the journalists and photographers, to the caterers, the hotel staff, and even the crazy fans who camp out on the mountains. They all need to eat, sleep, travel from stage to stage, do laundry, and  pee; all of which produces numerous logistical conundrums and frequently amusing anecdotes. The driving in particular is a nightmare - all those narrow, steep mountain roads, with big trucks and dangerous speed demons. And then there are the challenges of interviewing a rider at the beginning of a stage and having to get to the finish line ahead of the peloton (without getting lost on the side streets).  Boulting is also very funny on the difficulties he's had over the years (as most sports journalists can probably attest to) about staking out a reluctant athlete and coming up with intelligent questions beyond "How does it feel?".

What we want now, what TV demands to know, is the stuff that has remained hidden to this point, the stuff the blank stare of the lens cannot hope to unearth. The joy goes without saying; the delight is self-evident. TV wants to find out what the rider has within him: the hidden agenda, the feud resolved, maybe, the personal motivation born from some sense of grief or injustice or anger. Can the rider blurt this emotion out? Can he paint words for us all, which bring back the thrill of watching the win unfold? What can he say to make a good feeling better? And, I return to my initial question: where do I start?
This is an entertaining and informative book that could be enjoyed by someone who has never watched the Tour, or a die-hard fan glued to the TV screen for most of July.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

TIFF Part 2: Two Successful Literary Adaptations. . .

The last two films I saw at TIFF were completely different in style, but both were literary adaptations about how deeply and profoundly love can linger or shake us to our core.  And both were very enjoyable to watch.

My favourite film of the festival so far has been Terence Davies' adaptation of Terence Rattigan's moving play The Deep Blue Sea, starring Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale. Weisz plays Hester, a woman who has left her husband and comfortable lifestyle after falling in love with a brash, alcoholic pilot whose best days were during the war. They live in a shabby flat and at the beginning of the film, she has just attempted suicide, caught between a lover who no longer is in love with her, and a well-meaning husband who she simply can't love or return to. I was completely absorbed in this film from the start - the performances, particularly by Weisz who is beautifully vulnerable and raw, the gorgeous set design that captures all of the post-war bleakness and especially the amazing score.  Davies always knows how to use music to enhance his storytelling whether it's the soaring, emotional Violin Concerto Op.14  by Samuel Barber that he uses for the dramatic scenes (I had to go out and buy myself a CD right after the movie), or the sentimental songs sung by crowds in a pub or for comfort in a bomb shelter.  I completely teared up when the the couple was dancing to Jo Stafford's rendition of "You Belong to Me".  And what a treat to have Davies there, along with Weisz and Hiddleston, for the Q & A following the screening.  He's such a firecracker - jumping eagerly forward on the stage to answer questions, quoting Shakespeare and generally excited to be there, having shot this on a very small budget. And here's Weisz and Hiddleston (sorry for the blurred photo - I think I was a bit excited too!)

The next night, I saw the Chilean movie Bonsái , directed by Cristián Jiménez and based on Alejandro Zamba's novella of the same name, which I had read a few years ago and admired. It's the story of a young man's first love, intensified by the books the couple reads in bed at night (despite the two having lied to each other early in the relationship about having read Proust). This relationship is retold a decade later in the novel he is writing, while pretending to his new girlfriend that it's the manuscript of a famous writer that he's just typing up. Proustian time and memory was certainly a major theme throughout,  but there was also a wistful lightness to this film that was charming and humourous while also quite sad at times.  It's difficult to capture the internal importance of literature and the act of reading on celluloid, but this movie tried to explore, and generally successed at capturing some of its essence. I recommend both it and the novella.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Round Trip. . .

I was in Calgary on a work trip last week but managed to find time to visit two really lovely yarn stores. The Make One Yarn Studios has comfy couches and more importantly had skeins of the 8400 shade of Cascade 220 that I had just run out of, and still needed for my log cabin blocks. Hooray! I love taking knitting to the airport - it just makes the time go by so much faster. Another store I will definitely return to is the wonderfully named Pudding Yarn which had an intoxicating selection. This fall I'm completely drawn to all shades of purple and eggplant and I ended up buying a few skeins of this lovely purple tweed.  I knew I immediately wanted to knit a cosy cowl. 
This is the very first project I've ever completed using circular needles without getting it all twisted up and throwing it across the room in exasperation.  It's a small thing, but it feels like a real personal victory!  I did a simple chevron pattern which doesn't really show up, but does give it some extra texture. I love it - just waiting now for some cooler fall days.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Tales From TIFF. . .

I haven't bought one yet, but I do love the TIFF messenger bag and actually all of their merchandise is quite nice and reasonably priced. It's the films though, that have taken a large chunk out of my credit card but so far, so good.

I started yesterday with a real winner - a gorgeously filmed tribute to black and white films and the silent era.  It was The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius who I applaud for having the artistic guts  to create a silent film in this 21st century of 3D movies and state of the art special effects, not that he doesn't imaginatively employ a few of the latter himself.  Jean Dujardin stars as George Valentin,  a charming, successful silent film actor whose career spirals downward when the talkies come to Hollywood. Berenice Bejo is  Peppy Miller, a struggling actress given her first break by Valentin, but as her career soars, her attempts to help George revive his career, come up against his pride and ego.  The plot resembles a lot of movies from the 1920s and 30s, but what makes The Artist such a cinematic treat is - ironically for a silent movie - the director's clever use of sound.  There is almost zero dialogue in the entire movie or sound effects, but when they do make an appearance, they are used so effectively in enhancing both the humour and the style of the whole picture.  There's a dream sequence that is just brilliant.  There are definite homages to Singing in the Rain and the dance partnerships of Fred Astaire with both Ginger Rogers and Eleanor Powell;  Dujardin is also definitely channelling the charm of Gene Kelly.  I loved, loved this film. Great score too - a must for a silent film. 

I then dashed off to see Andrea Arnold's adaptation of Wuthering Heights.  I'm still in two minds about this one.  There were aspects of the film that I liked very much.  She certainly got the weather right;  I was chatting to someone afterwards about the film and he said it could have been renamed "the four seasons of Wuthering Heights".  And I thought it was interesting to have the entire film shot from Heathcliff's point of view.  So no Lockwood, and Nelly plays a very minor role.  However, I really wished she'd filmed the whole book. This is a novel about an intricate plot of revenge and also about the healing of the two houses at the end.  As such, you really need to tell the story of the next generation - the second Cathy, Linton and Hareton.  I don't know why film-makers always shy away from this.  Arnold takes a few tentative steps - she does show Heathcliff wrestling ownership of Wuthering Heights from Hindley, but that's about it, choosing instead to focus on the childhood Cathy and Heathcliff, who is played as a runaway slave, by a black actor, which works very effectively although a lot of his language, especially his cursing, seemed too modern for the period (I could be completely wrong about this).  The younger actors, especially the younger Cathy were terrific, which made the appearance of the older Cathy, played by a different actress, quite a let down. I actually thought it was Isabella when she first came on screen. It's a very visceral film; full of mud and wildlife (maybe too many dead bunnies for my liking) and raw emotions, and it's certainly different from other adaptations.  But I still think the definitive film has yet to be made.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Three On the Go. . .

It's been rather cold and rainy this holiday weekend, but I haven't really minded. It's been great for catching up with reading and knitting projects.  My log cabin blanket is progressing really well. I've done eight blocks and I think twelve in total plus a border, will do nicely to drape over a sofa  or be used as a bedspread.

And then I've been rather obsessive about the beekeeper's quilt and all those hexagon puffs. They are so addictive - I've done about twenty-five now which is very far away from a finished quilt. But even at this stage, I'm wondering whether to go for a completely random look like this:

Or to start organizing them better by colour and forming a more cohesive pattern like this:

To make matters worse, I tried knitting my first mitred block and it was so much fun, I'm now contemplating yet another blanket project.  What I love about these blocks is not only the crazy stripes, but the raised stitches from the turns, which will form yet another wonderful textured pattern when the quilt is complete, just like "real quilting" would do.

I'm in real trouble here.  With three blanket projects on the go, is there any hope that I'll get one of them completed by the first snow fall?  And will I ever go back to real quilting?  Anyone else in a similar dilemma?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Film Festival Frenzy. . .

Every year, I tell myself I just won't do it.  I won't go through the frustrating, multi-hour hassle of trying to get single tickets to the Toronto International Film Festival online.  And yet every year, I succumb to the excitement of it all and the list of amazing films on offer, and get up bright and early, ready to hit that "reload" button a million times before I finally get through.  Last year it took me nearly three hours.

This morning I had my fingers posed nimbly over the purchase button waiting for my computer clock to flash 7am.  And lo and behold, it took me about five minutes to get in, and I was completely finished by 7:27am.  Hallelujah!  Then I went down to the Festival Office to pick up my tickets, only to learn that not only had the system subsequently crashed shortly after I got off it, but all the printers had gone down as well.  I stayed in line for about 45 minutes chatting with other film fans in the hopes they'd have it fixed, but no such luck. I'm okay though - my tickets are confirmed and I just have to pick them up at another time.  If I'd been one of those who had lined up since 5pm yesterday afternoon, I'd be a bit upset.  But seriously, despite these computer glitches, TIFF really has improved their website. Most importantly, once you are in, you are in to the end.  In previous years, you'd finally get through, choose your tickets and have the system time out just as you were typing in your credit card information. And you'd have to start all over from the beginning.  When I got back home I decided to order a second batch of tickets.  The website now puts you into a virtual waiting line and beeps when you are in.  The message flashing was pretty scary "This could take up to 7 hours".  But five minutes later, the message was saying "This could take up to 4.5 hours".  In the end it took 33 minutes, and I had tickets to three more films.

I'm really excited about the 12 movies in total that I'll be seeing. Many are literary adaptions. I snagged tickets to Michael Winterbottom's Trishna, a retelling of Tess and the D'Urbervilles, starring Frieda Pinto; Terrence Davies' adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea, (pictured above) starring Rachel Weisz and one of my favourite UK actors, Simon Russell Beale; Bonsái, directed by Cristián Jiménez, based on the novella by Alejandro Zambra (part of Melville House's Art of the Contemporary Novella series), billed as "a romantic ode to love and literature"; and Andrea Arnold's adapation of Wuthering Heights.  I loved her previous film Fish Tank - could she be the one to finally film this literary masterpiece properly?  Below is a still from the film; I'm getting goosebumps already.

I'll also be seeing The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, a film about a silent era star trying to make it in the talkies.  This film got great buzz at Cannes.  And Like Crazy, the winner of the Grand Jury Best Picture Award at the Sundance Film Festival, about a long-distance romance (which I'll be seeing with my own long-distance partner who will be in town that week - hooray - so it had better end well!).  For me, TIFF just wouldn't be complete unless I saw a film with Kristin Scott Thomas in it and so I was really thrilled to get a ticket to her latest - The Woman in the Fifth. Ethan Hawke and Paris co-star. 

I can't believe that any movie starring Hugh Laurie and Catherine Keener can be bad, particularly if it's a comedy, so I'm looking forward to The Orangesdirected by Julian Farino.  Ditto for Emily Blunt who's latest movie is Your Sister's Sister, directed by Lynn Shelton.  The political thriller Page Eight, directed and written by David Hare and starring Bill Nighy, Ralph Fiennes, Judy Davis and Rachel Weisz looks terrific. I have one animated film on my roster - an intriguing Czech movie called Alois Nebel, directed by Tomáš Lunák. Set during the Cold War, it's about a train dispatcher and apparently quite a homage to the movie Closely Watched Trains which I would easily put into my top ten list of movies set in train stations.

And my final film is by Canadian director Ingrid Veninger and it's called i am a good person/ i am a bad person. It's a drama about a mother and daughter's relationship falling apart as they travel to a film festival.

So I'll be seeing a little bit of everything. And this is the great thing about TIFF - real fans, who don't have corporate or film industry contacts, really can participate and see lots of great films. It just takes a bit of patience.  And the best parts of the whole experience are the conversations you have in line with other film buffs. The fun starts a week from today.  Can't wait.

Friday, 2 September 2011

My New Literary Crush: Michael Innes. . .

Michael Innes, where have you been all my life?

Well actually you've been lurking in the dark corners of my bookcases - part of a neglected group that was hidden behind another layer on my doublestacked shelves. Fortunately, (or desperately), I've had to cull my overflowing shelves lately and so discovered a few of his novels.  I can't remember when or where I bought them, but I must have read a glowing review somewhere.  And I'm delighted to have found such a treasure among my many unread books.

I love mysteries with a sense of humour and if it's of the academic or bibliophilic type, even better.  Which is why fiction written by authors who were also English professors (as John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, aka Michael Innes, was) are often so deliciously witty.  The New Sonia Wayward had me at the first mention of our protagonist's wonderfully silly and yet appropiate name - Colonel Ffolliot Petticate.  Folly and pettiness are certainly key themes that permeate this comedy of suspense.

In the opening paragraph, Sonia Wayward - Petticate's wife - has just died of natural causes while the couple was sailing in the English Channel. Something of their married life can be gleaned by what Petticate does next. After a careful consideration of how many of the suddenly extra pork chops now available for dinner he should eat, he takes his wife's clothes off, puts on her bathing suit and calmly tips her body overboard. When Petticate returns home to the small English village of Snigg's Green, he lies to his neighbours, telling them his wife is just on an extended trip and can't be contacted.  Sonia was a successful writer of romances and the main breadwinner.  She left an unfinished manuscript which Petticate, worried his income and way of life are about to disappear, tries to finish.  He finds he quite enjoys the writing and believes in his talent. But his nerves are being stretched to the limit;  he is under constant pressure from the police, Sonia's editor, and a famous sculptor to produce his wife, not to mention the unsettling presence of his two sinister servants who simply will not leave the house, even after being fired.

There are certainly shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley (published five years earlier), in The New Sonia Wayward.  Petticate shares Tom Ripley's growing ego, his paranoia, and even at times his touching vulnerability.  But Innes has a far more comic touch and the predicaments that Petticate finds himself in as a result of his lies and deceptions are very funny indeed, especially the last and most fitting one.

I'm hooked.  I have two other Innes books to read - another standalone novel, From London Far, and Hamlet, Revenge!, one of his Inspector Appleby mysteries.  If they prove to be as equally enjoyable, then this is going to be a very long affair.  Innes was quite prolific and the House of Stratus editions are very handsome indeed.