Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recommended Read: When You Reach Me

There are some great kids book out there that adults can enjoy too and I've got one such book for you: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I was first introduced to this book by my 11-year-old niece: "It's my favorite book. You have to read it."

Miranda, the protagonist sixth-grader, is likeable as she rambles around New York City in the late 1970s. She lives with her quirky single mother, who is obsessed with going on the TV game show $20,000 Pyramid. Miranda's life gets complicated when her best friend, Sam, inexplicably pushes her away and she begins to receive mysterious notes with messages that are important to the future, but have no context in the present, such as "I'm coming to save your friend's life, and my own." The story circles back on itself and you may end up wanting to re-read it to make sure everything holds up. 

Even though it's a mystery with a sci-fi time-travel bent, it's a quite realistic read overall and uses the time-travel angle poignantly. If you're a fan of L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, you'll enjoy this one, and if you need further convincing, When You Reach Me won the 2010 Newbery Medal.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

Everyone has a favorite memory of beloved film critic Roger Ebert; whether it's a clever remark he made on his long-running television show, a favored sentence from one of his thousands of movie reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times, a passage from one of his many books, or a cherished personal encounter with a man who was, by all accounts, friendly and approachable and happy to discuss the movies with anyone who was interested.

My own favorite memory of Roger Ebert comes from an old episode of Siskel and Ebert and The Movies that aired sometime in the late '80s. The format of the show was simplicity itself; Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel would alternately introduce a film that was currently playing in theaters, some clips would be shown, the two critics would share their impressions of the film, maybe some banter, and then a verdict would be rendered: thumbs up or thumbs down. That was it. And you always kind of hoped that they'd disagree on the film in question. When the two disagreed, you got a fuller sense of what they really thought of the film, good or bad. There was something charming about the way they wanted each other to appreciate what was unique about a given film, or what made it uniquely awful.

I would've been about ten years old when this particular episode aired. In addition to reviewing whatever Hollywood films were current that week, none of which I remember, there was a review of Alejandro Jodorowsky's film Santa Sangre. And these were, unquestionably, the strangest, most unsettling images I had seen in my life to that point. I remember Ebert, in voice-over, explicating a scene where an armless woman was playing the piano with the aid of her son, who had slipped his arms through the sleeves of his mother's dress. There was something off-kilter in the acting, and the candle-lit set appeared baroque, almost operatic. The succeeding images were dreamlike and menacing, evocative of dark mysteries that I couldn't possibly understand. Needless to say, Ebert gave it a thumbs up.

That peculiar memory resurfaced at the news of Roger's passing, those four or five minutes of a decades-old episode. I've been thinking about that, how appropriate it is that Roger Ebert used his popular weekly TV show to highlight a little-known art-film about magic, vengeance, and religious fanaticism, directed by a Chilean-French filmmaker whose name almost certainly meant nothing to the vast majority of viewers. Roger Ebert loved the movies. Big movies and small ones, great movies and otherwise. Roger Ebert loved the movies. It was an enduring, lifelong love-affair, and we were fortunate to share it with him.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Cast the Book: Gone Girl

 Read the book!
Or listen to the audio!

Gillian Flynn’s smoking hot thriller is being turned into a film.  David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network, Fight Club) is in talks to direct, so my hopes are pretty high for the film.  Gone Girl is a dark and often very funny domestic drama following the events surrounding the disappearance of beautiful Missouri housewife Amy Elliott Dunne.  If you read the book, you probably already have an idea of who you would like to play Amy and the other lead characters.  Below are some of my picks.

SPOILER ALERT: The book has some major twists, some of which are revealed below.  If you haven’t read the book, tread carefully!

Nick Dunne:  Nick is Amy’s husband.  He used to be a journalist until he was laid off, now he’s a bartender and part-time college professor.  He’s in his early to mid-thirties, handsome in an 80s movie villain sort of way (think: James Spader in Pretty in Pink), and from Missouri (he and Amy relocated from her native NYC after they both were laid off).  Nick constantly seeks the approval of others and has some secrets that he’s hiding.  When I was reading the book, I pictured Nick as being played by Matthew McConaughey ten years ago Sadly, time travel has not been invented yet, so he’s a little bit too old now.

First Choice:  Bradley Cooper.  Cooper is a little bit on the old side, but he can play younger.  He’s got the jerkish good looks and acting chops to play Nick.

Runners-Up:  It would be fun to Jake Gyllenhaal play a character who is a little bit of creep and Maggie Gyllenhaal could play his twin!  Adam Scott would be really, really good in this role too, even though he’s older than B.Coop and not nearly as big of a name.  I’ve also heard Ryan Gosling mentioned for this role, but since he’s on hiatus from acting, that’s probably a no-go.  Personally, I think he’s too confident and naive-looking for the part.

Amy Elliott Dunne:  The pivotal character in the book, a former NYC career gal turned Missouri housewife.  Amy is in her late thirties (she’s a little older than Nick) and a beautiful blonde.  She’s the inspiration for her parents’ successful series of children’s books, Amazing Amy.  Amy is a tough role to play.  Her character goes from sweet to frighteningly crazy, and she’s incredibly smart.  When I read the book, I envisioned her as played by Anne Hathaway though she’s too young and brunette for the role.  Reese Witherspoon is producing the movie and was rumored to play Amy (though she’s since backed out).  While Witherspoon is the right age and look, she might be too much of an obvious choice.  Maybe it’s just because I’ll always associate her with Tracy Flick from Election.

First Choice:  I really like the idea of Gwyneth Paltrow taking on this role.  She is blonde, from an upper class family and New York City raised, so she has a really similar background to Amy.  And Paltrow can be really good with the right material.

Runners-Up:  It would be cool to see an actress who usually stars in fluffy material like rom-coms or romantic melodramas in this role.  Rachel McAdams, Jennifer Garner, or Katherine Heigl would all be fine choices to play Amy.

Margo “Go” Dunne:  Nick’s beloved twin sister.  She’s in her early thirties and very pretty in an old fashioned way.  Go works with Nick at their bar and has a dry sense of humor.

First Choice:  Zooey Deschanel.

Runners-Up: Maggie Gyllenhaal (and not just with Jake) or Juliette Lewis.

Andie:  SPOILER ALERT.  Andie is Nick’s “very very young, very very pretty” mistress.  She was a student in one of Nick’s classes.  Andie is a curvy brunette and very much the opposite of ice queen Amy.  When I read the book, I pictured Alison Brie playing Andie.  But while she plays a college sophomore on Community, Brie is really quite a bit older than Andie.

First Choice:  To increase the creepiness of Nick’s character, I would cast former Disney star Selena Gomez.  She’s 20 right now, so about the perfect age to play a college student.  And picturing her coupled with Bradley Cooper is quite unsettling.

Runners-Up:  Gomez’s Spring Breakers co-star Vanessa Hudgens could definitely take on the role.  She’s a little bit more mature, so it makes the pairing less weird.

Rand and Marybeth Elliott: Amy’s somewhat self-absorbed writer parents.  The Elliotts stand by Nick, at least initially.  I’d cast Mimi Kennedy  and Jeffrey Tambor.

Desi:  Amy’s ex-stalker, a wealthy momma’s boy.  Jude Law would be great if he can do the accent.

Desi’s Mom:  Looks creepily like Amy.  Blythe Danner is the obvious choice.

Nick’s Dad:  A senile misogynist.  He’s way overqualified, but no one convey crazed old man in the same was as Christopher Walken.

Tanner:  Nick’s sleazy defense attorney.  My first thought was Bob Odenkirk, who is so good as shady lawyer Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad.  But he probably doesn’t want to be typecast.  Matthew McConaughey could be really good and flashy in this part.  For a smaller name, Ray Wise could bring an interesting mix of creepiness and authority.  

Ellen Abbott:  A Nancy Grace-like TV show host.  If her sense of humor is good enough, the best person for this role is obviously Nancy Grace