Category Archives: Books

Little Women — Official Trailer

The 8th? 15th? 147th? film version of Little Women is headed right at us on Christmas Day, and can there be any doubt that this will be a hugely successful movie? From the trailer, it sounds as if Greta Gerwig has brought this staging of Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century novel into the 21st century, for better or worse. Probably for better.

Like (almost) all the previous film versions of Little Women, this one benefits from the talents of its superlative female cast, including Florence Pugh (English) as Amy, Saoirse Ronan (Irish) as Jo,  Eliza Scanlen (Australian) as Beth and Emma Watson (English, but born in Paris) as Meg. Laura Dern plays and Marmee and Meryl Streep plays Aunt March, because of course she does.

The male cast is equally impressive, with James Norton (English) as John Brooke,  and Louis Garrel (French) as Professor Bhaer, and Timothée Chalamet  (USA! USA!) as Laurie. It will be interesting to see what Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman himself, does with the role of Mr. March.


Out of the Past  —  Some Earlier Versions


Many people consider the 1933 version of Little Women the best.

The Little Women

Joan Bennett as Amy
Katharine Hepburn as Jo
Jean Parker as Beth
Frances Dee as Meg

Notes

Aunt March was played by the great Edna May Oliver who steals every scene she’s in, as she inevitably did in all her movies.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Paul Lukas, who was Hungarian.
Joan Bennet was 23 and pregnant when she signed on to play 12-year-old Amy.


The next version came out in 1949, 16 years and one World War later.

The Little Women

Elizabeth Taylor (in a blonde wig) as Amy
June Allyson as Jo
Margaret O’Brien as Beth
Janet Leigh as Meg

Notes

Peter Lawford was Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Rossano Brazzi, who was Italian.
Mary Astor played Marmee, but she’ll always be Brigid O’Shaughnessy to me.
June Allyson, 31 and pregnant, played 15-year-old Jo.


The 1978 miniseries was bad beyond belief. Oh, was it awful!

The Little Women

Ann Dusenberry as Amy
Susan Dey as Jo
Eve Plumb as Beth
Meredith Baxter as Meg

Notes

The senior roles were played by movie stars from the 1940s: Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Greer Garson as “Aunt Kathryn March”, and Robert Young as “Grandpa James Laurence”.
None of the actresses playing the March girls was known to be pregnant while production was underway.
The sisters were played by television actresses who were TV-famous at the time, but are now largely forgotten. Their line readings were pure 1978 California-contemporary and their acting would have been just fine in a community theatre production, if the community was home to fewer than 500 people.
It’s impossible to ignore the cast’s ridiculous wigs.
The whole miniseries looked cheap. The sets, the costumes, and the mediocre performances all but shouted out “Low Budget”.

But there’s really only one thing you need to know to comprehend what a disaster this production was:
The German Professor Bhaer was played by—wait for it—William Shatner.
He’s Canadian, I think.


With its first-rate cast, the 1994 remake is right up there with the version made 61 years earlier, in 1933.


The Little Women

Kirsten Dunst as Younger Amy
Samantha Mathis as Older Amy
Winona Ryder as Jo
Claire Danes as Beth
Trini Alvarado as Meg

Notes

Susan Sarandon played Mrs. March and Christian Bale played Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Gabriel Byrne, who is Irish.

True History of the Kelly Gang Trailer

A few months ago, I wrote that the trailer for JoJo Rabbit was “The Most WTF Trailer of 2019”.  I might have been wrong.

Here’s the trailer for a new Australian movie called True History of the Kelly Gang.

Those not fortunate enough to be Australian may be unfamiliar with the history and legend of the mid-19th-century Kelly Gang. The gang was headed by Ned Kelly, an outlaw and murderer whose generosity in spreading the loot from his numerous bank robberies has led to his becoming something of a Robin Hood-like figure in the Australian popular imagination. His occasional practice of burning mortgage documents from those robbed banks helped propel the narrative.

His life has been the subject of at least two earlier films, both of which were titled Ned Kelly: Mick Jagger played Kelly in the 1970s movie, and Heath Ledger played him in 2003. This time, he’s played by George MacKay, who seems to be having a breakout year—he’s also starring in the much-anticipated WWI film, 1917. The first-rate supporting cast includes Essie Davis (Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and Amelia from The Babadook), the always excellent Nicholas Hoult, Charlie Hunnam, and Russell Crowe.

The movie was made for Stan, which is an Australian alternative to NetFlix. No US release date has been set so far.

True History of the Kelly Gang is based on a book of the same name by Peter Carey. The book is a fictional account of the gang, written as if it were a memoir by Ned Kelly himself.  It won the 2001 Booker Prize for the best original novel written in English.

His Dark Materials Arrives Tonight on HBO

The new adaptation of Philip Pullman’s bestselling fantasy trilogy, His Dark Materials, a collaborative project by the BBC and HBO, premiered in the UK last night, to rapturous reviews and the highest ratings for a new drama on British TV in five years. The Independent called it “A beautiful, brooding vision of Philip Pullman’s universe that is unafraid to air the book’s anti-theocratic messages.” (★★★★★). The Telegraph said it was “…a gorgeously-realised version of Philip Pullman’s novels.” (★★★★). And The Guardian hailed it as “a riveting realisation of Philip Pullman’s magic.” (★★★★★).

American critics have been somewhat less impressed, but the Tomatometer is still 82% “certified fresh”.

His Dark Materials is set, at least at the beginning, in a world that is not quite ours. There’s an Oxford University, but the Magisterium (a thinly disguised Catholic Church) dominates society. Technology is at about the same level as it was during our Victorian Age. And then there are the dæmons….

The eight-episode series will run from 4 November 2019 through 22 December 2019, and has already been renewed for a second season. That suggests the show will take its time covering Pullman’s three-volume epic, and may well extend the scope of the story.

Fourteen-year-old Dafne Keen plays the key role of “Lyra Belacqua”, with Ruth Wilson, James McAvoy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda in prominent roles.

Worth checking out.

Audio Version of Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, Available from BBC Radio 4 for a Limited Time Only

For the past few weeks, BBC Radio 4 has been running a full-cast reading of an abridged version of The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. The project is now complete, and, if you move fast, you can listen to all 15 episodes.

Each episode is only available for 30 days after its original broadcast. That means that the opening episode, first run on 16 September 2019, will be unavailable after 15 October 2019. Since each episode is only 14 minutes long, though, binging shouldn’t be a problem.

The Testaments is set fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale. The monstrous Republic of Gilead still exists, but seems to be crumbling from within. Aunt Lydia, however…

Well, just listen to the program. You can start here

Visiting F. Scott and Zelda

Tuesday, the 24th of September, was the 123rd anniversary of the birth of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and as I do every few years, I took Metro up to Rockville, MD, to visit his grave. He and Zelda are buried in the little cemetery next to St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

I’m sure Fitzgerald would have made short work of those plastic flowers, but he’d probably have enjoyed the bottle of Hendrick’s Gin that had been left by an earlier visitor.

I thought back to the time, years ago, when two more-than-just-friends and I made a highly chemically enhanced 2 AM visit to the Fitzgeralds’ grave. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

“Boats against the current….”

I didn’t stay long this time. I sat on the grass for a while, read the last few pages of Gatsby, and headed back to the city.

Jojo Rabbit — The Most WTF Trailer of 2019

Jojo Rabbit is a black comedy about a 10-year-old boy and his imaginary friend, Adolph Hitler. And the thing is…it’s apparently really good!

Jojo Rabbit won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, which is significant because 10 of the last 11 People’s Choice winners went on to get Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, with four of them winning the big prize itself.* According to Vanity Fair, “No film in Hollywood is enjoying more Oscar buzz at this exact moment than Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit.”

Roman Griffin Davis plays the boy, and Taika Waititi himself plays the imaginary Hitler. Also in the cast:  Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell, Alfie Allen, Rebel Wilson, and Stephen Merchant.

Jojo Rabbit is based on the book Caging Skies, by Christine Leunens. Leunens, whose grandfather spent years in a German labour camp during WWII, is an American-born New Zealand-Belgian novelist who has lived one of those amazing lives, jumping from country to country and from career to career, succeeding brilliantly in all of them.

Jojo Rabbit will be released on 18 October 2019.


And because there’s no such thing as too much David Bowie, here’s the full German-language version of Heroes. Bowie recorded the song in Berlin, in the summer of 1977, during his German phase.


Obligatory show-stopping scene from Springtime for Hitler

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* Recent People’s Choice Award Winners at the Toronto Film Festival that Went on Receive Academy Award Best Picture Nominations

(Movies that won the Oscar are in boldface)

(2008) Slumdog Millionaire
(2009) Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
(2010) The King’s Speech
(2012) Silver Linings Playbook
(2013) 12 Years a Slave
(2014) The Imitation Game
(2015) Room
(2016) La La Land
(2017) Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
(2018) Green Book

An Extract from Margaret Atwood’s Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale

The Guardian has posted a lengthy extract from The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Set more than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s Booker Prize-shortlisted sequel revisits her dystopian republic Gilead”

You can read it here.

The official release date for The Testaments is 10 September 2019, but Amazon “accidentally” broke the embargo by shipping 800 copies of the book early. Indy bookstore owners were not amused, and The Guardian has that story as well.