crap i have watched recently #6

completely gratuitous thor picture

Some SPOILERS but not too many…

Sense and Sensibility (2008; BBC):  The problem with most film adaptations of Jane Austen’s works is that they are 1) horribly costume-drama-ish; and/or 2) they are all about whatever big name stars play the leads. The first usually leads to a show with pretty dresses, impeccable accents, and a complete misreading of Austen (she was a satirist) and the second often means we get to watch some famous actress who has always wanted to play Emma tastefully chew her way through a grossly abbreviated version of the story.    A few years ago (OK, more than a few…it was in 1995) the BBC/A&E adaptation of Pride and Prejudice seriously raised the bar for Austen adaptations.  This multi-award winning miniseries remained true to the spirit of the original work without slavishly following the text and for many people brought Austen’s world and her humor and wit to vivid life.  I am personally never very far from either the book or the DVD.

Despite being one of Austen’s best received works Sense and Sensibility has only a couple prior adaptations to its name: a 1981 BBC series and a movie in 1995. The latter was directed by Ang Lee and starred Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant and, well… it’s tolerable, I suppose.  It wins mostly for having Alan Rickman in it.   The 2008 BBC miniseries does for the novel what the A&E show did for P&P seventeen years ago, which is not surprising given that the same person did the adaptation.  I admit to not knowing S&S as well as I do P&P but the series does seem true to the novel’s intentions.  The plot is a basic romantic comedy with poor but lovely heroines, handsome and rich heroes, seemingly insurmountable obstacles to romance, snobby titled people, entirely unsuitable beaux, and unworthy relatives.  There is also plenty of Austen’s usual genteel yet perfectly bloodthirsty sniping at the social order of her day.

I am not a huge fan of the 1995 movie, primarily because none of the cast actually seemed very Austenish.  Many of the actors seemed too old for the roles, and Hugh Grant just reminded me of what drippy character Edward Ferrars is in general.   In the new BBC series, however, the cast is on the whole quite good.  Dan Stevens in particular does a fine job of portraying Edward, a man who made a foolish choice in his youth but who is honorable enough to live with the consequences though it will cost him the woman he loves.  (I might consider watching Downton Abbey to see more of him.)  Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield do not entirely stretch credibility as the 19 year old Elinor and the 16 year old Marianne and each faithfully embodies her half  of the title (“Sense” and “Sensibility”, respectively).  The only major role that didn’t work for me was Dominic Cooper as Willoughby; he just seemed sleazy and it was hard to believe that anyone wouldn’t see right through him.  Many of the supporting players are excellent, including those that play Mrs. Jennings, the Misses Steele, and John Middleton (Mr. Weasley!)

The show is a visual treat.  The scenery is lush and dramatic, the country houses are lovely, and the dresses are to die for.  Sadly, Edward does not jump into a pond but we do get to see him chopping wood in the rain, which I assure you is entirely pleasant.   Several other scenes stand out:  Edward’s obviously painful goodbyes to Elinor; the Dashwoods’ polite dismay on seeing their new home; Anne Steele’s horror when she realizes she’s given away her sister’s secret; Elinor’s carefully restrained anguish as she reminds Marianne that just because she doesn’t go larking about the hills in rainstorms it doesn’t mean she isn’t suffering the pain of a broken heart;  Edward walking in on Elinor and Lucy; Marianne’s dawning realization that she has badly misunderstood her sister, Eleanor’s sudden loss of composure when she finds out that her beloved Edward is not married after all.  Did I mention Edward chopping wood in the rain?

Nothing will ever replace Mr. Darcy in my heart but this version of S&S may find its way into my personal library.  You really  never can have enough Jane Austen.

Score:  W00t!

Comic Book: The Movie (2004): Last year I tried for four straight hours to get tickets to Comic-Con, the annual megasuperfabulous comics convention in San Diego.  (I failed and I might still be bitter about it.)   A few weeks ago this little straight-to-DVD gem popped up on my Netflix recommendations so I put it in the queue. I didn’t hold out much hope but I figured at best it might be some good harmless fun.  As it turns out, this movie is straight up awesome.  Mark Hamill, who you might remember from another small and unimportant film, directs and stars in this homage to the golden age of comics and the fans that love them beyond all reason.  The plot is slight.  Don Swan is a high school teacher, comic book collector, and fanzine writer/editor who is the world expert on an obscure Golden Age Nazi-fighting superhero called Commander Courage.  He is brought on board as a consultant for the movie reboot of the hero as the gritty Codename: Courage and the studio sends him to Comic-Con for the big announcement.  Swan quickly discovers that the studio intends to update the hero with an all black commando outfit, lots of guns, a new enemy (terrorists), and a sexy female sidekick and completely abandon everything he stood for in the process.  The movie concerns Swan’s attempts to convince the film studio to remain true to the original character and their increasingly desperate attempts to keep him on message with the reboot.   Simple and not totally compelling.  Yet…magic happens.

The movie is chock full of things that will give fans of comics and movies fits of happiness.  Much of the footage was filmed at the 2002 Comic-Con with all the actors remaining in character as they interview and interact with luminaries of the comics and movie world.  Some of these people, including Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, Bruce Campbell, and Hugh Hefner (!!) sat down for mock interviews, most of them unscripted.  The cast consists primarily of well-known voice actors, including Billy West (Fry in Futurama), Roger Rose, Jess Harnell, Tom Kenny, etc.   The standouts include a nearly unrecognizable Hamill as the intensely earnest Don Swan, Jess Harnell as Ricky, his pothead studio-assigned cameraman, and Billy West as the recently discovered sole living descendant of Commander Courage’s creator, but all the supporting cast do a fine job.   There are tons of cameos:  Mike Mignola, Jonathan Winters, Billy Mumy, the actors who played Darth Vader, Bobba Fett, and Chewbacca in Star Wars, Matt Groening, a variety of comic book artists and writers, Sid Caesar, Ron Perlman (immediately pre-Hellboy), Ray Harryhausen, Gary Owens (yes, that Gary Owens), the guy that makes Troma films, and on and on.   The con footage is generally fun and there are lots of insider jokes and references, a lot of which you don’t really need to be an insider to enjoy.

There are many really funny moments in this film and I laughed out loud and repeatedly.  A short list:  Ricky doing all the voices of the Beatles in quick succession; an acting throw-down in which one actor plays a beaver and the other an orangutan; Kevin Smith explaining why he now understands the studio’s insistence on a giant spider in his screenplay for one of the Superman movies (“I was young then…and straight.”); Don’s fanzine co-editor Derek literally dragging his exhausted son and very irritated wife to “just a few more panels”; Jonathan Winters and Sid Caesar grousing that the idea for Commander Courage was stolen from them; Ricky explaining that Don’s studio handler is really a nice guy (“He’s alright.  I knew him when he was a woman.”); Hugh Hefner trying to make Don understand why audiences might prefer Liberty Lass over Liberty Lad; Ricky confusing the Green Fairy with the Hulk; the voice of Winnie the Pooh getting wasted on absinthe at a con party.   None of this humor is at all mean-spirited and in fact the movie is clearly a labor of love for everyone involved.

Now, you might think that you’d have to be into this stuff to get anything out of this film but I am not sure that’s true.  My experience with comic books is mostly via the movies.  I go to cons for people watching and photography.  But I am not kidding when I say that I haven’t had this much fun watching a movie in a long time.  It has completely strengthened my resolve to get Comic-Con tickets next year.  And you know what else?  For all the comic book films I’ve seen in the last few years, all the Batmans and Spidermans and Supermans, all the X-Men and Avengers and Fantastic Fours, the Scott Pilgrims and Kick Asses, this is the only one that’s actually about comic books.  It deserves a much wider audience.  Go watch it now.

“I got a little claymation boner as he walked by.”  -Derek after meeting Ray Harryhausen at Comic-Con

Score:  W00t!

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~ by gun street girl on June 19, 2012.

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