“Far From the Madding Crowd” isn’t a Masterpiece Theatre style remounting of the 1874 Thomas Hardy novel. Instead it’s vibrant soap opera, complete with love triangles, pregnancy, suicide, love sick neighbours, crimes of passion, more marriage proposals than you can shake a chaff fork at, missed opportunities, bad decisions, broken hearts and petticoats.
Carey Mulligan is Bathsheba Everdene, the headstrong and beautiful mistress of a sprawling farm inherited from her uncle. She’s independent—“I have no need for a husband,” she says.—but also an irresistible man magnet, beating off marriage proposals like Neo in a roomful of Agent Smiths. Suitors include manly sheep farmer (and aptly named) Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), high-strung middle-aged landowner William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and a dandy in a Scarlet uniform, Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) who uses swordplay as foreplay.
Through reversals of fortune and chance encounters Bathsheba perseveres, making her way through the world, the very embodiment of resilience and grace.
Director Thomas Vinterberg breathes new life into the story by preserving the classic themes of the novel on marriage, class and gender while not being precious about it. The film’s pacing is as bucolic as the rural English countryside setting, but the movie feels very contemporary in its approach. It’s a rom com, without much com. There’s even the 19th century equivalent of the romantic movie staple, the Run to the Airport to Declare Undying Love.
Vinterberg takes advantage of the setting, using nature to guide the lives of the farmers—each changing season brings new developments in Bathsheba’s life—and human nature to explore the relationships that make up the tale’s love triangle. It’s mannered but clever, lively direction that values the location—it was shot on location in Dorset, the novel’s setting—and text while focussing on the themes that make a one-hundred-and-forty year old story seem fresh and universal in appeal.
Mulligan and Schoenaerts generate heat in their chaste scenes, slowly building their relationship through mutual respect. He is stoic, she is grounded but wistful.
“It is my intention to astonish you all,” Bathsheba says to her collected staff, and once again Mulligan does impress with a performance that digs deep to deliver a nuanced but soulful take on the shrewd character.
“Far From the Madding Crowd” is an abbreviated retelling of the story. The last version, from director John Schlesinger and star Julie Christie, was one hour longer but Vinterberg brings a luminous energy and modern feel to an old tale.
Think of “Preggoland” as “Sex and the City” without the shoe budget. Or maybe a grittier “Desperate Housewives.”
It’s the story of Ruth (screenwriter Sonja Bennett), a 35 year-old grocery store cashier (along with co-worker Danny Trejo) who hasn’t embraced maturity. She lives in her father Walter’s (James Caan) basement and spends her off hours drinking and partying. Her perpetual hungover condition stands in stark contrast to her circle of friends, most of which have settled down and are raising families.
After an embarrassing episode at a baby shower—she hits a kid with a baseball bat and gifts the mom-to-be with a sex toy—Ruth becomes a pariah… until her friends, Shannon (Laura Harris), Cherry (Denise Jones) and Deb (Carrie Ruscheinsky), mistakenly get the idea that she is pregnant. She’s welcomed back into the fold and comes to enjoy the plusses of pregnancy minus the procreation.
“Preggoland” is part farce, part semi-serious examination of a lost thirty-something trying to make her way in a social sphere that is changing too rapidly for her to keep up. Director Jacob Tierney balances the two approaches, blending laugh-out-loud comedy with some of the painful revelations Ruth must come to grips with. It’s a nuanced look at a desperate attempt to be part of the motherhood in-crowd and the fallout from trying to hard to belong.
“Preggoland’s” not-so-secret weapon is screenwriter and star Bennett. Relatable, even in her dark moments, she grounds the outlandish elements of the story, making them believable and poignant.
For a few years in the 1980s Andy Summers was one third of the biggest band in the world. During the course of filming this documentary—based on his 2007 memoir “One Train Later”—he finds himself walking into a karaoke bar, unrecognized, to join a stranger on stage to sing one of his biggest hits, “Every Breath You Take.”
The former guitar player of The Police seems comfortable in his place in the rock and roll firmament, but nonetheless uses “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police” as a way to get his side of the story of why the band called it quits at the peak of their fame out to the world. In some ways it plays like a musical cautionary tale, in other ways like a New Wave “Spinal Tap.”
The Police—Summers, Sting and Stuart Copeland—were birthed out of the punk rock movement. With their bleached blonde hair and tuneful ability, however, they quickly became a mainstream success, charting hits like “Roxanne,” “Walking on the Moon” and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” filling stadiums while, at the same time, allowing their egos to become as inflated as their record sales.
Summers—the only new interview subject, all other interviews are archival—walks the viewer through his career from sixteen-year-old jazz player to guitarist in Eric Burdon’s New Animals to meeting his wife Kate—who left him at the height of his fame, only to return when things calmed down somewhat—as a broke and unemployed musician slumming it in Los Angeles.
The story picks up when he joins The Police, a then struggling trio playing London’s punk clubs, and quickly begins to detail the cracks that eventually widen to split the band apart. Arguments over credit, fights about whose songs would be recorded and included on their albums and Sting’s habit of referring to the band as a launching pad to a solo career, turned their working lives into a pressure cooker, one that finally boiled over in 1986.
There isn’t as much down-and-dirty info in “Can’t Stand Losing You: Surviving The Police” as you might expect from insiders tell-all documentary and Summers is an amiable host but the inclusion of fresh interviews with his former band mates—who appear in archival and some newly shot footage from their one-off 2008 reunion tour—might have broadened the story and added some grit to the tale.
When most people think of Helen Hunt they think of Jaime Buchman, the urbane New Yorker she played for 162 episodes on “Mad About You.” In her new film Ride, which she also wrote and directed, she plays an urbane, if somewhat more uptight riff on Jaime. She’s a hotshot New York City book editor who gives up everything to be near her son in California and to enjoy the California sun.
A-type Jackie (Hunt) is a stickler for details. A high-powered book editor, she is the kind of person who corrects your grammar and shoots you a withering glance while doing so. Her son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) is an aspiring writer who is slowly being crushed by the pressure of being related to one of the city’s top literary figures. To escape, he quits school and heads to Los Angeles to stay with his hippy-dippy dad (Robert Knepper). Jackie follows him to the coast, and in an unlikely twist, throws herself into surf culture in an attempt to connect with her son. With the help of her chauffeur (David Zayas) and surf instructor Ian (Luke Wilson) the trappings of her old life begin to melt away as it dawns on her that she has given her life to work and not her family.
“Hang Ten” Hunt’s second surfing film—the first, “Soul Surfer” was released in 2011—finds her with sturdy sea legs as a director, less so as a writer.
“Ride” has some interesting elements— Thwaites is suitably brooding as a son trying to make his own way in the world and the surfing scenes are shot with aplomb—but the three characters who occupy the bulk of screen time, Jackie, Ian and driver Ramon, are straight out of Central Casting. The performances are fine, but the character work is more suited to a sit com than the big screen. Of the three Ramon gets off the easiest, mostly staying in the background, existing primarily to act as a tour guide to Jackie’s fish-out-of-water routine. Jackie and Ian, however, are put through their paces front and center in a series of sit com style clichés meant to move the story forward. She laughs uncontrollably after smoking a joint, he suggests an unlikely (untrue and frankly, unsanitary) cure for a surfing injury.
It’s all perfectly amiable but also feels like we’ve seen it before. Comedy and drama butt heads in awkward transition to one another as Jackie flip flops from ridiculous behaviour to introspective resolve, often in the same scene. It’s meant, I guess, to add depth to the characters and situations but instead feels convenient and easy. For example, no one as career minded as Jackie is going to laugh uproariously after getting fired, even if they have just smoked a joint. Or, in this case, taken a cursory toke or two. It’s a bizarre way of presenting a major change in her life and doesn’t seem in character at all.
“Ride” isn’t a complete wipe-out, but it feels more VOD than big screen.
“Can we hold them?” asks evil scientist Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) as a team of superheroes tear up his supposedly impenetrable HYDRA lair.
“They’re the Avengers,” comes the reply. The only thing missing is the “Duh!” at the beginning of the sentence.
Not only does the exchange answer the question of every film producer who has a movie opening opposite “Avengers: Age of Ultron” this weekend but it also sets a loose, funny tone for the film.
Twenty seconds into the movie we’re already engaged in a wild action scene that puts them in possession of an ancient gem containing artificial intelligence. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) intend to use the technology to build a peacekeeping army—“I see a suit of armour around the world,” says Stark. “Peace in our time, imagine that.”—but the plan backfires and instead of creating a global peace initiative they create a robot monster named Ultron (voice of James Spader). “I really miss the days when the weirdest thing science created was me,” says Captain America (Chris Evans). Hell-bent on improving the world by exterminating humanity, Ultron says, “When the dust settles the only things left will be metal.”
Cue the metalocalypse.
While many superhero movies have chosen a dark road—think Christopher Nolan’s ennui ridden “Batman” movies or the dour looking “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”—director Joss Whedon delivers action with a grin. There’s always time for a quip in “Age of Ultron.” The wisecracks are the glue that hold the film together, acting as a bridge between the battle scenes.
Stark is his old cocky self with none of the insecurity of the emo “Iron Man 3” in sight. Gone is the introspection of “Winter Solider.” Sure, Banner is still tormented by his Hulk alter ego—but let’s be honest, if you take away his torment, you take away his character—but nonetheless finds time to do a faceplant into Scarlett Johansson’s chest and Black Widow (Johansson) shows more of her feminine side than ever before, but the film is less interested in the characters than how carnage the characters can cause.
There are action scenes galore. If all you want are trucks flying through the air, buildings crumbling and Iron Man assembling and disassembling, look no further. It’s a smorgasbord of skirmishes, a constant barrage of action scenes, many of which appear in a blur, just glints of metal and flashes of colour. These sequences are stuffed to bursting with an overload of CGI that becomes less interesting the more you watch.
One of the reasons we go to the movies like “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is to see things we’ll never see in real life, but it’s hard not to agree with Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) when he says, “We’re fighting an army of robots and I have a bow and arrow—it makes no sense!” Whedon has tried to dazzle our eyes—and he does!— but has forgotten about engaging our brains.
“The author keeps his adoration for the album—”Elvis’s raw energy and anger… spoke to me in a way nothing had before”—confined to the introduction, though there is little doubt the entire project is a labor of love that many readers will find [as] contagious as listen[ing] to My Aim Is True again or for the first time.” – Publisher’s Weekly
From Paul Myers, author of A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio:
“Everybody knows that My Aim Is True is a classic album, but now Richard Crouse makes the definitive case for Elvis Costello’s landmark debut, with a narrative that’s as fast-paced and literate as the album he celebrates. With all the toe-tapping passion of a true music fan, Crouse demystifies the man behind the mystery dance, while simultaneously allowing himself to play the enlightened fan boy. Going in, I thought I knew a lot about Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and the audaciously brilliant world of Stiff Records, but Richard’s book proved to me that I clearly knew less than zero!”
From Barry Avrich, director of The Last Mogul and Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story:
“As a film director who has chronicled the famous and infamous, Richard had me at hello with this book. Elvis pioneered a sound and style that was the alchemy of hip, attitude and talent. This book is an extraordinarily entertaining autopsy of a great career. This book is the new king of music biographies.”
SYNOPSIS: This is the story of how Elvis Costello got his start, and the story of the making of his critically-acclaimed debut album My Aim is True.
His real name was Declan MacManus. His mom worked at the Selfridges department store. His dad was a trumpeter and singer.
Declan worked as a computer operator.
It sounds like any bland life of a typical 9-to-5er. Except that this was a man with a talent.
Richard Crouse details how Declan MacManus convinced an indie record company to believe in him, how they created Elvis Costello, and how a hit album was recorded in just 24 hours.
MY THOUGHTS: Crouse says he loves Costello’s story. Well, he makes you, the reader, love Costello’s story.
Here was a guy with a boring day job who had dreams of something bigger. But what would have happened if he had not decided, while riding the tube one day, to call in sick and keep going an extra couple of stops to drop off a tape at this newly-opened Stiff Records? What if he knocked on the company’s door six months later?
Crouse puts it all into context and asks the “what ifs.” He not only tells Declan MacManus’ story, but also explains the 1970s environment that helped push him forward.
There’s also a personal aspect to the book. It’s a topic that Crouse is passionate about because he grew up listening to My Aim is True… in a tiny room with a shag carpet. It’s something you can relate to no matter who your musical inspiration was in your teenage years (memories of boy bands and 90s punk rock flooding back…).