Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Attendance at Meryl Streep Event


Thanks to LY again, who seems to be always one step ahead! Jennifer Ehle attended the Shakespeare in the Park "Mother Courage and her Children" (Starring Meryl Streep) opening night. As she kept a low profile, there's only one photo from Patrick McMullan Company. But I'm a searchin'!

Monday, August 28, 2006

Stoppard on Utopia

NY Magazine interviews Sir Tom about the Coast of Utopia trilogy.

... But in theater, Stoppard is addicted to complexity; critics have said that his ideas overwhelm the drama. He’s acutely aware of that delicate balance. At the moment, Stoppard is eyeing the trilogy “rather beadily,” he says. “You’re in danger of falling into this trap of thinking that because something is true, then it absolutely must deserve its place.” Each of the three plays will roll out on its own; come February, theatergoers with iron glutes will be able to see the whole nine hours in one gulp.

Stoppard admits to tireless ambition—“I don’t understand an artist who is not trying to do it for posterity”—and even suggests that a few of his subjects “would be dealt with more deeply in prose.” But what’s likely to make The Coast of Utopia a delight rather than a slog (aside from Billy Crudup, Brían O’Byrne, Ethan Hawke, and Martha Plimpton) is a narrative scope—­encompassing revolutions and doomed love ­affairs—that you’d expect from Cecil B. DeMille. Could this have been a film? “I think I would get the movie thrown back at me, because these arguments between Russians, they go on rather long,” he says. “To me it’s a fairly ordinary kind of play. I think I’m a difficult conventional writer.”

Spiderman's uncle

There's a full feature on John Ehle at Journal Now about the republication of The Land Breakers and its selection for On the Page. Interesting overview of his career. Among his many claims to fame: "...Ehle enjoyed saying that he was married to Spider-Man's aunt and was Lady Macbeth's father." There's quotage from the folks at Press 53, who have a PDF of the book's first chapter and are auctioning off signed copies. There's also a $1000 essay contest for high schoolers.

Over at IMDB, a couple people reckon they spotted Jennifer Ehle in some mini-series with Celia Imrie and Steven Mackintosh and as an extra in Howard's End. Does this ring any bells? Oh, mini mention of Michael Clayton in this Scotsman interview with Tilda Swinton.

In case anyone's freaking out about not receiving all their Utopia tickets at once, word at All That Chat is that tix for each play are being mailed separately.

To round off, another Alpha Male review, by Variety's Leslie Felperin:

A rich, dysfunctional English family is torn apart when the patriarch dies suddenly and the mother remarries in the sturdy but so-so "Alpha Male." Part of a newly reinvigorated fascination in Brit drama with the lives and loves of the idle posh ( "Separate Lies," "Gosford Park," and the recent TV adaptation of "The Line of Beauty"), pic demonstrates tyro helmer Dan Wilde's skill with thesps, especially leads Danny Huston and Jennifer Ehle, but also Wilde's taste for the overwrought as a screenwriter. "Alpha" found low spot in the B.O. pecking order on its opening in Blighty on Aug. 11.

Confusingly constructed as a series of switchbacks between a contempo time frame and about 10 years ago and almost entirely set at a spacious manse and its extensive gardens somewhere in the Home Counties (the wealthy burbs bordering London), pic focuses on the Ferris family. Dad Jim (Huston) has made millions manufacturing paper cartons, and seems happily spliced to Alice (Ehle, from the 1995 BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice") although minor chords on the soundtrack suggest tensions lurking.

When home on the weekends from the city, Jim alternates between explosive bouts of temper and dramatic gestures of affection for his children, such as building a tree house for his daughter Elyssa (played first by Katie Knight as a 10-year-old and when grown up by upcomer Amelia Warner from "Aeon Flux").

Son Jack (first young Arthur Duncan, then Mark Wells from "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") seems to have inherited his dad's temperament. When Jim dies of cancer, Jack assumes the role of the man of the family, and so takes badly to the notion of Alice remarrying gentle, bearded painter Clive (Patrick Baladi), whom she meets in a bereavement support group.

Withdrawn loner Elyssa vents her own hostility at Alice's sister Brede (Trudie Styler, also pic's producer), whom Elyssa once saw making a pass at her father.

Present-day section revolves around a lavish 21st birthday party Alice throws for Jack. At the bash, assorted home truths are uttered and betrayals come tumbling out in a rush. Even Jim puts in an appearance from beyond the grave for a mawkish moment of closure.

Dialogue shows fair grasp for the nuances of this upper-class milieu, with its frigid politesse masking roiling resentments under the surface. Dramatic balance, however, remains a problem with some character psychologies appearing too belabored (particularly Jack's) while the behavior of other characters (particularly Elyssa and Jim) remains frustratingly opaque.

Still, ensemble members make the most of what they've got, with the redoubtable Huston and Ehle, who's been seen too little recently onscreen, holding up their ends especially well. Styler too does good work here as Alice's sister.

Tech package is competent, with all departments executing pro job, although wintry, minimalist piano score by Stephern Warbeck ("Shakespeare in Love") grows increasingly tedious over the long haul.

(Variety slanguage guide)

Hold on. One more, in the Catholic Herald. You can read a snippet of it in Google Cache:

Alpha Male is the Sloaniest film I’ve seen in years. I use the word very specifically, not as a general catch-all for public-school educated Brits or toffs rampaging drunkenly around Sloane Square, but rather a particular type of attitude that still personifies Middle England. Modern Sloaniness is about the struggle between a desire to be trendy and a strong awareness of class; it is sensitivity and ambition scuppered endearingly by slight embarrassment and trying ever so slightly too hard. ...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Plastic fantastic

Some perks for American Express members: holders of standard cards can book The Coast of Utopia tickets in advance up til September 8th, while gold carders get preferred seating. Word is that some dates are already sold out. Telecharge links for booking: Voyage, Shipwreck, Salvage.

Forsyth County Reads

If you're in the area:
'Forsyth County Reads' to begin with concert
"On the Same Page: Forsyth County Reads" will begin with John Ehle & Friends at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Arts Council Theatre, 610 Coliseum Drive.

There will be live performances by Polecat Creek and Rhonda Gouge.

To reserve a free ticket, call any Forsyth County public library at 703-BOOK.

Also, here's an IMDb user comment on Alpha Male
I went to see this film because I'd heard about it from a friend of mine who worked on the production. Apparently the producers completely re-cut the film to make it more 'commercial' and as a result the director walked away during post-production and asked to have his name removed.

Apparently the director's cut is a totally different film, and I'd be very interested to see it because there are moments in this version that are kind of impressive. The film has an underlying intelligence and you get a sense that the director was trying to achieve something ambitious and different. The writing is confident and subtle and the film has a bold narrative structure. On the downside, some of the editing is quite sloppy and the whole film is marred by a terrible score.

Taking the film at face value, I'd have to say that it was boring at times but also intermittently intriguing. Some of the chronology didn't cohere as you felt it should and yet some of the narrative juxtapositions were beguiling. My balanced assessment is that the film reaches for a unique, dreamlike atmosphere and sometimes it succeeds.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On Russia and Streepishness

Martha Plimpton, one of the Utopians (Coasters?), has updated her Myspace blog about her upcoming research trip to Russia with three other cast members. She is funny. Read it.

In other news, nice things said by MysticDollarRedemption:
Alpha Male
Quite a curious one. Part of me was bored by the domesticity of it all, but the domesticity was probably also my greatest appeal to this film. Sometimes it did feel like an extended episode of Emmerdale, which is not good, but the acting is pretty great, especially from Danny Huston (The Constant Gardener), and Jennifer Ehle (BBC’s Pride & Prejudice.) She gets my nod for Best Actress of the year so far, and I thought she was very “Streep-like” in her performance. So overall, potentially mediocre tale, good performances. The ending was quite satisfying too. B.

Patrick Peters' full Empire review is now available:
Plot: The grown-up children of a middle class family can't forgive their parents for the family decisions they made when they were younger.

Review: An oppressive air of exacting care hangs over Dan Wilde’s already stifling domestic melodrama. Yet it perfectly suits this country house tale of parents who blithely confuse their own contentment with doing the best for their children.

The flashbacking action revolves around a prodigal son returning for the 21st birthday party being thrown by the mother he has never forgiven for re-marrying, and the childhood sequences, in which widow Jennifer Ehle hastily replaces short-fused Danny Huston with smarmily decent Patrick Baladi, are delicately paced to suggest the chagrined resentment of her spoilt kids. A subplot involving grasping aunt Trudie Styler and her niece, Amelia Warner, adds to the satisfyingly distrustful atmosphere.

Verdict: This is maybe too meticulous and manipulative for such a slender storyline, but the stifling atmosphere induced by selfish motives and repressed resentments is well sustained.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Costume Museum

This is kind of old news because I forgot to post it.
TELEVISION'S Mr Darcy will be staying in Nuneaton for a month - or at least his wedding costume will.

From Gwendolen Grandcourt to Frankenstein's bride, wonderful wedding wear worn by the stars of stage and screen is appearing in a unique exhibition at Nuneaton's Riversley Park museum.

The period costumes from well-loved television shows and films such as Pride and Prejudice, The House of Eliot and Frankenstein will be on display at the museum until September.

Highlights include the outfits worn by Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the popular BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Visitors can see the blue wool tailcoat, beige trousers and leather boots worn by the English hunk, along with the beautiful cream silk dress worn by his bride - typical of the early 19th century.
...
"I think probably Mr Darcy and the Frankenstein costumes will be the most popular. It's something you don't get to see close up every day."

Miss Barlow, who said Jennifer Ehle's dress was her favourite in the exhibition, added: "Come and enjoy it and have a glimpse into the history and see how wedding dresses have developed up until today.

"I think you can probably all see something that is still in fashion now from all these things."

The exhibition will remain at the museum until September 10.

You Tube Videos

Fancy watching some clips of Pride and Prejudice and Possession along to music? They've got tonnes of them on You Tube.
P&P Clips to: "Don't go breaking my heart", "Sacrifice", "Nothing Else Matters", "She"
Possession clip to: "Time after Time" (Only Ash and Christabel)
There's also a comparison of the '95 and '05 versions of P&P.

Monday, August 21, 2006

"Excels", "one of her best performances"

Warwick Arts Center reviews Alpha Male:
Shot partly through flashback sequences this is a film for fans of Stephen Poliakoff or those who enjoyed the film Separate Lies (2005).

Father Jim Ferris is the archetypal 'alpha male' so his sudden illness and death come as a profound shock to his family leaving them stunned and adrift.

Jack, Jim's son, turns 21 and is pressured to come home to celebrate, but in a climax of mounting tension old wounds are reopened and everything that has been simmering for so long comes to a head.

Jennifer Ehle is fantastic in one of her best performances since BBC TV's Pride and Prejudice.

"Disconcertingly satisfying" Empire

Nina Caplan, Metro :

Danny Huston is certainly an Alpha Male, so you can't help feeling sorry when his wealthy entrepreneur character swiftly dies, leaving a beta wife and a couple of hacked-off children to wallow around in this zeta script.

Alice (Jennifer Ehle) remarries a pretty but limp widower, her daughter Elyssa goes mildly batty, while repressed young Jack takes his misery out on the reluctant stepfather.

All of which is told in intermittent flashback, with all the elegance and sensitivity of a champagne cork popping at a funeral.

David Clack, Film Exposed:

With his first feature film, writer/director Dan Wilde explores the impact of bereavement upon an upper-middle class family, with focus on the consequent breakdown of relationships that results upon the death of the patriarch. As the title suggests, the burden of the masculine role with which the fatherless Jack (Wells) struggles is key to the narrative. Wilde projects his story across two planes of time, skipping between past and present in an attempt to glean greater insight into the long-term effects of family loss. Tensions peak when Jack reluctantly returns to the family for his 21st birthday party, forcing him to confront his estranged mother and unaccepted stepfather.

There's an undeniable sense of foreboding one feels upon settling down to a directorial debut, since the likelihood of enduring trite mediocrity outweighs that of discovering inaugural genius. Add to this feeling of doomed anticipation an unimaginative plot in an over-familiar setting and it becomes difficult to enjoy Alpha Male from the outset. The story ticks lazily over before glossing all too quickly over the crucial death of father and wealthy provider Jim Ferris (Huston). Jennifer Ehle excels as widowed Alice Ferris, arguably the film's most demanding role. Excellent too are Arthur Duncan and Katie Knight as the young Jack and Elyssa, whose performances outshine their elder, brattish counterparts.

Here lies Alpha Male's major flaw. Through a combination of Wilde's overly simple script and Mark Wells' unnecessarily obnoxious portrayal of main character Jack, it becomes incredibly difficult to care whether this struggling family can reassemble itself. Audience apathy is enhanced further by the apparent lack of effort by any single character to communicate with any other, resulting in not only a screen full of unsympathetic characters, but also what seems like an eternity of awkward and silent pauses.

That said, Wilde's cinematography is constantly competent and occasionally excellent; the aforementioned moments of silence are emphasised through regular use of close-ups, which, when juxtaposed against the many long shots of the family's mansion help to emphasise the distance between the characters. Sadly, however, this textbook approach to filmmaking isn't enough to draw the viewer into the fundamentally flawed story.

Although at times entertaining and by no means a write-off, Alpha Male is undoubtedly most useful to Wilde himself. With a little more time spent on screenplay development, perhaps next time this promising young director can appease the audiences who found his characters ineffectual and his story bland. Certainly, his technical ability shows promise and whilst some may argue that a picture paints a thousand words, Wilde relies all too heavily on graphic matches and facial expressions to plug the holes in his helplessly leaky script.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Maitlands DVD

Ebay's auctioning off a DVD of The Maitlands, which is rare because it isn't normally available for sale. Do bear in mind that you can view it as part of the Lending Library.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

All systems go

The library's going ahead!

In case you missed it, a recap: we're setting up a library to circulate DVDs of Jennifer Ehle's works that aren't available commercially (Maitlands, Beyond Reason, Pleasure, Self Catering) as well as recordings of TV interviews and awards coverage. Those links go to transcripts.

It'll work like this. The DVDs will be lent as an entire set. There will be several copies of these sets, each for a geographic region. So far we've got three sets: Eastern US/Canada, Western US/Canada and Australasia, but more sets will be made if there's interest. We want to make this a global thing. Each region will have its own queue. The order in which we receive your signup e-mail will determine your place in the queue - if you wrote to us before, you've already been ranked. Each person will pass on the set on to the next in line within two weeks. If there is no one left, then the set will be returned to the regional librarian.

The only cost involved is forward postage. We've decided not to have donations to determine queue priority since the costs of VHS to DVD transfer were less than anticipated, thanks to the generosity of a couple of people. There is a requirement, however, that you join EhleNews and share your thoughts on what you've watched.

You can sign up for the library by sending an e-mail to ehleblog@gmail.com with the subject line "Ehle Library" and the following information:

1. Your full name and postal address
2. Your e-mail address
3. Your daytime phone number (this is for chasing up overdues)
4. Do you plan to copy the DVDs?

Once you've done that, come join and introduce yourself on EhleNews.

Just had to share this mp3 audio clip from the Rosie O'Donnell interview: "Mummy, can I wash ma ha-ir in the bath?" (think Lizzy Bennet meets Blanche Dubois). Too funny!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Live from Lincoln Center

Earlier someone suggested that we lobby for The Coast of Utopia to be broadcast on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center TV program. I wrote to ask if they were already planning to do so and the reply was in the negative. Still, may be worth a try. Here are the contact details:

Live from Lincoln Center
70 Lincoln Center Plaza, NY 10023
212-875-5339
csamet@lincolncenter.org (this address works)

We've heard from the NYPL that The Coast of Utopia is going to be recorded for the Theatre on Film and Tape archives, the same collection that also contains The Real Thing and Macbeth vids.

Meanwhile, Mr Crudup's already helping publicise the trilogy. From the Trust the Man junket:

Will be appearing this fall at Lincoln Center in a trio of plays by Tom Stoppard called The Coast of Utopia. They're about Russian politics in the 19th century -- he tried to make them sound rock 'n' roll, but even he knew it was a lie.

Now for something completely different

Alpha Male reviews, what else. Bit of a mixed bag.

Mike Cahill, Sunday Telegraph:

The week's other British release finds playwright-turned-director Dan Wilde content to drearily recycle riffs from recent American independent cinema. A party thrown by yummy mummy Jennifer Ehle for her ingrate son brings together remnants of a well-to-do family who clearly have Secrets to be Uncovered and Ghosts to be Laid to Rest before the end credits can run. Stephen Warbeck's plinky-plonky piano score threatens to turn into Lionel Richie's 'Hello', while ineptly handled flashbacks prompt a lot of staring into the middle distance.

At no point are we given reason to care. Previous group hugs of this type went under such convoluted names as The Substance of Fire (1996) and The Myth of Fingerprints (1998). Alpha Male is far too chest-beating a title for a film this deathly; better if it were called something like 'The Inertness of Things' or 'The Probability of Sleep'.

Carol Allen, Close Up Film:

This is a very accomplished piece of work from first time feature writer/director Wilde. The "Alpha Male" of the title is Danny Huston as Jim, husband of Alice (Jennifer Ehle) and father of Jack and Elyssa. The film is about the effect on the family when Jim unexpectedly dies and how they deal with it and either move on or fail to.

The structure of the film is particularly interesting, interweaving the past, when Jim was alive and the immediate aftermath of his death, and the present, in which grown up Jack (Wells) returns home for his twenty first birthday, having cut himself off from his family because of his resentment at his mother's remarriage. The two time periods successfully illuminate and inform each other. It is a device which could have been confusing but through the use of clever editing and well thought out visual clues it is always clear exactly where we are in the story's chronology.

Danny Huston is perfect as Jim, all reassuring warmth, strength, and authority, so it is really painful to watch him when he becomes ill and the strain of things like giving his daughter Elyssa a piggy back ride is beginning to show. Like the family we miss him when he is gone. The performances however are good throughout, including the children; Arthur Duncan very self assured as Young Jack and Katie Knight as young Elyssa, who becomes very disturbed after the death of her father. Ehle is quietly moving in her grief and there's an impressive performance from Jemma Powell as adult Jack’s “wild child” girlfriend, accurately described by one character as “looks fun, like a fast car” . The psychology of the characters rings true, as when Young Elyssa witnesses a seduction attempt on her father by Alice's lonely and bitter sister Brede (Trudi Styler, who also produced the film) and keeps it inside her as a festering secret, while Young Jack’s arguments with his mother's new partner Clive (Patrick Baladi) are icily articulate. Towards the end the film softens into a rather American style feelgood sentimentality in its reconciliatory resolution and there is a somewhat clunky scene between adult Elyssa (Amelia Warner) and the rather solid ghost of her father, which strikes a bit of a false note. Overall however this is a mature and thoughtful film and even though Huston has comparatively little screen time, his memory dominates the film, as it does the family.

Henry Fitzherbert, The Express on Sunday:

A strong performance from Jennifer Ehle is the only redeeming feature of Alpha Male, a dull domestic drama, contained entirely within the walls of a country house. It unfurls, at a funereal pace, the issues of an entirely uninteresting family group.

The major conflict, a priggish son's resentment at his mother's remarriage, is not explored in any meaningful or revealing way. There is not enough here to sustain a short play, let alone a movie.

Jeff Sawtell, Political Affairs ("Marxist thought online"...!):

A crass champagne class tragedy is summed up by one character stating: "You live in a mansion and you've a fortune built of selling recyclable plastic cartoons, so what's your problem?"

Precisely. Despite the excellent acting, we're supposed to believe that a couple of rich kids can't get it together because their dear darling daddy has kicked the bucket, leaving them all living in clover. Oh dear.

Guardian user review:

A little slow and some strange editing but it settles down into an absorbing piece. Trudie Styler is better than you would expect and David Baldacci shines as the second husband. And one emotional scene that stays this side of mawkish.


And a couple more DVD lenders have it: ITV Movie Club and Easy Cinema.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Alpha Male Trailer

There is now a trailer for Alpha Male available on MyMovies.net.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Alpha Male DVD etc

  • Tesco and Screen Select seem to have Alpha Male for rent already, which is weird.
  • A meh kinda review by Jason Solomon from The Mail on Sunday (not online):

    Be careful what you wish for, runs the old saying. For years, British film-makers gave us either gangster movies and council-estate dramas or posh people and period pieces. I've spent many columns begging for films about the middle classes. Now, in Alpha Male (15) **, one arrives and it's, well, dreary.

    On the eve of Jack's 21st birthday and his mum (Jennifer Ehle) has persuaded her son to return to their country home for a lavish party. In flashbacks we see a happier time when the kids played in the garden and Dad earned a fortune making drink cartons. But then cancer strikes and the family splinters in grief. In the intervening years, Mum's got herself a new man, a new young son and a whole new set of problems.

    In his debut as director and writer, Dan Wilde has attempted an intimate family saga, painting in the emotional landscape with detailed sketches of past remembrances and present troubles. It's like piecing together a smashed ornamental plate.

    A drama about love, loss and repressed emotion, Alpha Male suffers from a lack of tension. This stuff works on telly on Sunday evenings but on the cinema screen it feels out of place and short on thrills; too polite and awkward to let rip. How very British middle class, I suppose.

  • Hands up who's not in The Coast of Utopia? Another bunch of actors sign up. Press release here.
  • Ain't It Cool has a review of Michael Clayton from a test screening. Watch out for spoilers. Llephen's verdict in a nutshell is that it's good but needs editing. Also, a Myspace account from the screening as well. No review though.
  • YouTube has an interview with Jeremy Northam about Possession.
  • Another meh review, from Peter Whittle of the Sunday Times:

    A family fails to face up to the trauma of a father's death in this ponderous and inept British drama from the director Dan Wilde. The fact that it's a wealthy black-tie type of family doesn't make its woes any more interesting, other than the opportunity it affords to gawp at beautiful country houses and luscious lawns.

    Jennifer Ehle plays the widow who falls for a new man (Patrick Baladi), thus earning the disapproval of her arrogant twerp of a son (Mark Wells) and causing her weird daughter (Amelia Warner) to spend much of her time chasing foxes. The problem is that this simple story is confused by baffling editing and an overuse of disorientating flashbacks -an attempt, perhaps, to jazz up the thin material.

  • Ian Johns of The Times modifies his earlier review a bit:

    This is a slow-burn British film that charts the family tensions underlining the return of a prodigal son for his 21st birthday. Through flashbacks we discover the father’s terminal illness and the resentment caused by the mother remarrying. It’s not Festen, more a portrait of repressed British emotions.

    An oppressive air hangs over the film that not even Ehle’s luminous stillness as the mother can lift. The tone remains too aloof to keep us interested in the agonies before us in a film in which even the pauses seem to have been scripted.

  • One more from BBC Movies' Mark Stevens:

    A melancholy story of bereavement and family breakdown, Alpha Male takes itself seriously but quite never finds the emotional weight necessary for us to do the same. Jennifer Ehle (Wilde, This Year's Love) heads the cast as Alice, widow of Jim (Danny Huston). Left on her own, she tries to cope as children Elyssa (Amelia Warner) and Jack (Mark Wells) feel the loss of the family's alpha male. The resulting drama proves a dream-like evocation of death and dysfunction.

    Ehle excels as Alice, capturing the reserved shellshock of a woman who knows she can't afford to indulge her grief. Despite doing everything she can to ease her children through the painful transition, she watches helplessly as Jack (played brilliantly by Arthur Duncan as a child, less convincingly by Mark Wells as an adult) begins to blame her for everything. Told by his father that he needs to become head of the family, young Jack is totally unprepared for such a challenge and the film keenly observes this boy's muddled attempts to play man.

    Hints of sexual tension between mother and son come to little as does daughter Elyssa's gradual mental breakdown. Debut writer/director Dan Wilde eventually relies on some trite third act plotting to deliver a climax, but it feels falsely tacked on, too convenient to ring true. What sticks in the memory is the evocative cinematography and creepy score; both turn the family's beautiful country mansion into a haunting, haunted place where choked up despair and adolescent angst simmer towards disaster.

  • Autographed Donmar The Real Thing program on eBay. Here's a scan of the signed page with photos and biogs of her and Stephen Dillane.
  • Film blogger Tim R gives Alpha Male a B and rates the screenplay as one of his top 5.
  • Sunday, August 13, 2006

    More Alpha Male

    Here's an article on Alpha Male/Danny Huston fromThe Telegraph (full text avail.)
    A languid, beautifully observed feature from the first-time writer-director Dan Wilde, Alpha Male boasts a cast that includes Jennifer Ehle, Patrick Baladi and Trudie Styler, but is far from blockbuster material.

    'That's the reason I was drawn to the project,' he says, in his warm, transatlantic drawl - a legacy of boarding school in Somerset and holidays in Ireland. 'I wanted to do Alpha Male because the script was fascinating, and there's still a film-student part of me that likes to work on stuff that's a bit experimental.

    Plus, it's good to be taken down a peg or two.' Huston plays Jim Ferris, a packaging tycoon whose unexpected death devastates his young family and whose influence lingers long after he's gone.

    'It's a keen look at a family, at its structures and dynamics, how the people within it interact,' says Huston, for whom the film's principal theme of children being in thrall to their larger-than-life fathers had a certain resonance.
    And from The Observer
    The week's other British movie, Alpha Male, is a dim account of a brother and sister from a wealthy Home Counties family adjusting to the death of their overbearing father (Danny Huston) and refusing to accept their mother's new husband (Patrick Baladi), a widowed painter. The narrative is confusing, the motivation obscure and the performances stilted. Jennifer Ehle, an attractive actress, most famous for her TV Elizabeth Bennet, goes through the proceedings with a curious little smile on her lips while remaining loyal to both her late husband and her current lover - what one might call simper fidelis

    Saturday, August 12, 2006

    "Touchingly vulnerable performance"

    Jamie Russell, Channel 4:

    A death leaves a family in turmoil in this drama from debut writer-director Dan Wilde

    "I feel like I'm just floating, there's no reference point for anything," says bereaved matriarch Alice (Ehle). It's an insightful line since it serves as a brief summary of writer-director Dan Wilde's intent in this occasionally moving but mostly frigid drama about bereavement, loss and coping. Cross-cutting between past and present, Wilde charts the lives of Alice and her children Jack (Wells) and Elyssa (Warner) as they struggle to come to terms with the death of Jack (Huston), the family's alpha male husband and father.

    Set in a privileged world of Oxbridge graduates, champagne and marquees, the film never strays from the family's country mansion, where stuffy, oak-paneled rooms open out onto rolling green lawns and shadowed forests. As a mood piece, Alpha Male works well, its austere location, studied pacing and carefully shot composition underscoring the stunted, emotionally devastated lives of its characters. The slightly off-kilter, elliptical feel is nicely exacerbated by Stephen Warbeck's creepy score that drifts in and out of scenes, and Jennifer Ehle's touchingly vulnerable performance as the bereaved mother - her cardigan sleeves stretched down around her hands, her smile fixed like someone trying to cope for the sake of others.

    Yet while the mood is dark and ominous, the film never delivers as much as it promises and its pay-off barely disturbs its glacial atmosphere. As the young boy whose dying father implores him to become a man, Jack (played as a child by Arthur Duncan and as an adult by Mark Wells) proves a distinctly priggish central character. His immature outbursts and smug air prove so alienating that Wilde struggles to convince us that the character's psychological and emotional coming of age is one that we care about. Meanwhile, the film's far more interesting character - Jack's sister Elyssa, whose grief pushes her quietly towards psychosis - is sidelined. It's a pity, since it leaves Alpha Male sharing too many of its young hero's worst traits - it's far too convinced of its own importance.

    Verdict
    A stark psychodrama about bereavement, Alpha Male struggles to free itself from the straightjacketed lives of its characters.

    David Parkinson, Radio Times (déjà vu):

    *** There's something strangely compelling about this domestic drama, in which writer/director Dan Wilde cuts between past and present events to explore the impact of a man's death on his family. Businessman and near-perfect father Jim Ferris (Danny Huston) dies suddenly while his children are still young, and his wife Alice (Jennifer Ehle) subsequently takes up with widower Clive (Patrick Baladi). As the estranged family reunites for son Jack's 21st birthday, Wilde explores new tensions and past indiscretions. The action and the acting are often too meticulous and manipulative for such a slender storyline (although Arthur Duncan does impress as the grieving son attempting to be the man of the house). But the stifling atmosphere, engendered by selfish motives and repressed resentments, is well sustained here.

    Alas, Matthew Turner of View London gives a thumbs down.

    The performances are a mixed bag. Huston, Baladi, Ehle and Amelia Warner (as the grown-up Elyssa) do the best they can with the dire script, but Mark Wells is too smug and slappable to make Jack sympathetic whilst Jemma Powell (as his girlfriend Malika) is a shockingly bad actress saddled with a badly written character.

    Mymovies.net has links to trailers, but can't get them to work here.

    Alpha Male reviews a-plenty

    Alan Frank, Daily Star (can't find this online):

    Fine performances from a strong cast, headed by Danny Huston and Jennifer Ehle, add impact to a powerful drama about a fractured family forced to come to terms with their emotional traumas.

    First time writer-director Dan Wilde can feel proud.

    VERDICT: 6/10

    Allan Hunter, Daily Express (ditto):

    A prodigal son's return prompts bitter memories and agonising soul searching in this stilted drama of the emotional turmoil that lies beneath a sea of stiff upper lips.

    Danny Huston gives the movie's best performance as loving, quick-tempered father Jim. When he dies, his widow Alice (Jennifer Ehle) marries Clive (Patrick Baladi) and her children never quite forgive her.

    The son's 21st birthday is the setting for old battles to be revisited and endless flashbacks to unfold but this lacks bite and it's difficult to accept 36-year-old Jennifer (Pride & Prejudice) Ehle as the mother of a strapping 21-year-old.

    Anthony Quinn, The Independent:

    *** A decent, thoughtfully written chamber piece on bereavement among the English well to-do. The first-time writer director Dan Wilde shuttles elegantly between the past and present of a family broken apart by the untimely death of a beloved parent (Danny Huston). Jennifer Ehle plays the widow who finds solace with a new partner (Patrick Baladi), thus alienating her brattish son (Mark Wells) and disturbing the fragile sanity of her daughter (Amelia Warner). The latter has to carry the minor but maddening symbolism of the screenplay (the collapse of a treehouse is less than convincingly staged) but shares an intriguing by-play with a sinister aunt (Trudi Styler, also the film's producer), about whose treachery she has kept quiet for years.

    The robo-Sloane 21st-birthday party of the last act will test the sympathy threshold of certain viewers, but Wilde is bold enough to remind us that even spoilt brats can legitimately yearn for a mother's love.

    David Edwards, Daily Mirror:

    *** You may not have heard of Amelia Warner, but the young British actress is fast becoming a name to watch. Boasting classic good looks and with a exquisitely understated screen presence, I reckon the former Mrs Colin Farrell could be the new Keira Knightley.

    She stars in this slow-burning drama about a brother and sister who go into meltdown following the death of their father.

    On the surface, the Ferris family have it all. Dad Jim (Danny Huston) has made millions inventing a new type of food packaging and lives in a mansion with his wife (Jennifer Ehle) and two kids, Jack and Elyssa. But when he contracts a fatal disease, the children are unable to cope, their problems made worse when mum brings home a new boyfriend (Patrick Baladi, best known as David Brent's boss from The Office).

    Elyssa ends up in a home after poisoning the dogs, while Jack does his best to make the new arrival feel as uncomfortable as possible. It all comes to an excruciating head a decade later when the family are reunited for Jack's 21st birthday party.

    Alpha Male is a haunting look at family dysfunction that takes a long time to get going and, even then, doesn't go very far. Director Dan Wilde builds up a convincing, tense atmosphere but squanders it with an underwhelming climax that makes all that comes before feel like a bit of a con.

    Still, at least the performances are mostly there. While Huston never looks entirely at ease, much better are Ehle and her grown-up children, played by Warner and Mark Wells. Overall, I suspect Alpha Male's natural home would be a Sunday night slot on BBC2 rather than a cinema.

    Chris Tookey, Daily Mail:

    Verdict: Worth no more than a beta minus
    Alpha Male is a sluggish, tedious drama about an arrogant, ungrateful young man called Jack (Mark Wells) who, at the age of 21, still feels miffed that his packaging mogul father (Danny Huston) died when he was 12, whereupon his grieving mother (Jennifer Ehle) married a local widower artist.

    Hamlet, this ain't. No attempt is made by director Dan Wilde to allow us to share the young man's suffering, and it's hard not to feel that his psychological problems arise from a reluctance on his part to grow up. In the meantime, Jack's sister (Amelia Warner, a beautiful young actress hitherto most famous for having been married to Colin Farrell for four whole months in 2001) appears stricken by grief for her dear dead dad, and spends much of her time trying to ingratiate herself with a local fox.

    I'm pretty sure the fox is symbolic, but of what I can't be sure: being an outsider, suffering at the hands of the upper classes, or merely an inability to stay away from rubbish?

    The characters spend a lot of time looking agonised and staring hopelessly into space. I did, too.

    Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian:

    *** There could hardly be a more unfashionable topic for a new UK movie than the woes of the super-rich upper middle classes. Yet that is what the first-time British writer-director Dan Wilde has tried for. It's a difficult genre, susceptible to mockery and disdain and, yes, Wilde is a little too reliant on pregnant silences and a plangent piano score.

    He doesn't have Julian Fellowes' sense of drama and pace. Nevertheless, it's an impressive debut. The story is about Alice (Jennifer Ehle) who remarries after the death of her wealthy husband Jim (Danny Huston), thus triggering anger and resentment in her children, pain which survives into their young adulthood. A self-conscious but bold and ambitious movie with intelligent ensemble work.

    Tim Robey, Daily Telegraph:

    Writer-director Dan Wilde's debut is a truly promising, albeit old-fashioned thing - a Chekhovian country-house drama that's skilfully played and quite moving. The death of packaging magnate Jim Ferris (Danny Huston) turns his family upside down, particularly when Alice (Jennifer Ehle, outstanding) meets a local widower and finds her son hardening against her. The structure isn't quite there, and several lurches into symbolism give you pause for doubt. But it's a surprisingly assured first film on the whole, and I think Wilde is going places.

    Friday, August 11, 2006

    More Male

    Derek Malcolm, Evening Standard:

    Taking the pregnant pauses and wordless looks out of this Bergmanesque country-house drama would be an improvement. But Dan Wilde's first feature, which he wrote as well as directed, does have a certain fascination of its own, as he tries to do something dif ferent and sometimes succeeds.

    Jim Ferris was a very rich industrialist with a grand mansion -- and a family who are devastated by his sudden death. His wife, Alice (Jennifer Ehle), does her best to cope as a single mother before falling for nice widower Clive (Patrick Baladi). But Jim's son (Mark Wells) and daughter (Amelia Warner) go virtually catatonic, and Alice's sister (Trudie Styler), who rather fancied the dead man, becomes an emotional liability.

    There are others in the grip of terminal neuroticism, demonstrating, rather comfortingly, that the very rich are seldom capable of more happiness than the rest of us.

    Thanks, however, to good acting and Wilde's determination to paint the sequestered and repressed scene with some subtlety and emotional truth, Alpha Male grips even when it is at its most irritating. Here is a British film-maker who will almost certainly make a name for himself.

    Nigel Andrews, Financial Times (requires subscription):

    Alpha Male, a first feature from the British writer-director Dan Wilde, proves the upper classes still exist. This is Gosford Park for the Google age. It sets its search engine down in a manorial estate, types in "guilty family secrets" and gets pages of fictive answers: "Late dad Danny Huston's child by his wife's sister", "What the daughter saw the gardener doing", "Drunken Hooray Henry makes love to son's girlfriend", and so on.

    Nothing changes among the toffs of England. There'll always be a Debrett's while there's a dynasty eating too many cucumber sandwiches. Wilde's film is enjoyable, although it is shot in an HDV that makes the lawns look like shimmering Astroturf and Jennifer Ehle (as Mum) like a wobbly-textured Meryl Streep. Those negotiating the deep-sea visuals are rewarded by a modest treasure chest of a plot, with a skilful two-generation time frame. For once, each pair of older and younger actors playing the same characters really do resemble each other.

    Ian Johns, The Times:

    It’s a struggle to engage with the British film Alpha Male, which never leaves its country-house setting and feels all the more insular for it. The writer-director Dan Wilde charts the family tensions behind the return of a prodigal son for his 21st birthday. We learn the roots of these strained relations through flashbacks that reveal how his mother (Jennifer Ehle) remarried after the death of his father (Danny Huston), who had an affair with his jealous aunt (Trudie Styler).

    The film is all privileged introspection and repressed emotion, qualities that Joseph Losey and Stephen Poliakoff have spun into more involving drama in the past. The performances are fine but the tone and characterisation remain too aloof to sustain interest in a film in which even the pauses seem scripted. And you’re left wondering why Green Wing’s Mark Heap has a silent cameo as a gardener — did most of his performance end up on the cutting-room floor?

    Alpha Male is out today, Fri 11th. We await your reports, Londoners!

    According to international distributor Capitol Films (via Agent E, muchas gracias), no US release is planned so far. Waiting for word about down under.

    "Shines"

    Alpha Male review from Emily Govan of the Tottenham Journal:

    DAN Wilde's first feature-length film ALPHA MALE (15) is a thoughtful if bleak look at the modern family.

    This Ferris family seem to have everything: health, wealth and happiness. But when the husband dies, the family's paradise falls apart. Wife Alice struggles to hold the family together; son Jack takes his new-found responsibilities seriously as the man of the house; meanwhile his sister is resentful of the jealous and money-grabbing visitor who comes to stay.

    Years later, when all the characters are reunited for Jack's 21st birthday party, how will each one react when all the old wounds are reopened?

    This is a smart film which is both moving and honest. Mark Wells is impressive as the brooding Jack who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders; Jennifer Ehle shines as the mother fighting to keep her family united while the direction is intelligent and original.

    An interesting and unsettling look at relationships and how fragile they are.

    David Jenkins of Timeout is more critical:

    Jim Ferris (Danny Huston) is an affable packaging tycoon whose sudden demise strands his doting wife (Jennifer Ehle) and two children in a purgatory of loneliness and suffering. ‘Alpha Male’ then assesses the willingness of each character to accept his or her new role within the family. It’s a well-intentioned, Bergmanesque drama about paternal anxieties amongst the nouveaux riches, and contains some fine performances and an articulate script. The tone is perhaps a little too frivolous to supply the film with any kind of lasting emotional depth, but there are some delightful moments, such as Mark Heap’s comic cameo as a bashful gardener with a penchant for relieving himself on the grounds of the family mansion, and Tariq Anwar’s editing conveys a pervasive air of melancholy. But the modern- day setting is totally out of sync with writer-director Dan Wilde’s distinctly old-fashioned views on male totemism in the modern family unit, and overall, the film feels too thin to warrant a cinematic release.

    The film is going to be showing at Vue cinemas in Leeds, Plymouth and Shepherds Bush. See LondonNet for London cinemas.

    At IMDB there's a rumour that the producers cut the film to make it more commercial, against the director's wishes.

    There's also a preview of Michael Clayton at Moviecrazed:

    A phone tapper and a hit man are just two of the bad boys who may feel at home at the prestigious New York law firm where attorney Michael Clayton (George Clooney) works. Clayton himself, the divorced father of a troubled boy, has conceivably schmoozed with these and other thugs during the 15 years he has performed legal miracles for his slippery, high-profile clients. One thing he learns for sure: more than one of these clients have not told him the entire truth about matters of life and death. And now, at a time of personal peril, Clayton is probably wondering why the lovely young attorney (Jennifer Ehle) with whom he’s been having a clandestine affair is asking him so many deeply probing questions about his unlovely work history. This thriller marks the directorial debut of writer Tony Gilroy, whose screenplays include “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Devil’s Advocate” and “Proof of Life.”

    And look, this is cool. Martha Plimpton, one of the Coast of Utopia cast members, has a blog.

    ...Number one, in September I'm starting rehearsals on a new trilogy of plays by Tom Stoppard at Lincoln Center (TheCoastofUtopia.com) here in New York. It's a huge undertaking and I'm going to Russia with some of the other actors at the end of the month to do some research and see a lot of men with bed head stumbling around drunk. I've never had any interest in Russia as a travel destination but since the plays are about a bunch of crazy Russians in the 19th century I figured I'd go. Also, one of the actors asked if I wanted to go, and I had nothing else to do so I said yes. Kurt Vonnegut said, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." He then burst out laughing at how queer he sounded.
    ...
    Anyway, these Tom Stoppard plays are called "The Coast of Utopia" and I'm beyond excited about them. There are 37 actors playing 70 roles in a story spanning some ridiculous amount of time and we'll be performing them in repertory from October 17 to March 10, 2007. The last three Saturdays of the run, people will be able to come and see all 3 in marathons starting at 11 am, which is terrifying because I haven't seen 11am since I was fourteen. The cast is, in part, Josh Hamilton, Ethan Hawke, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Ehle, Jason Butler Harner, Brian O'Byrne, Amy Irving and Richard Easton. Some of them I've worked with before, some are old friends, and some of them I've never had the chance to meet or work with because there's 37 of us and I can't know everybody, people.

    I hope anyone who likes long, epic trilogys about Russia will come and see it. I think it will be an incredible experience for anyone who doesn't fall asleep.

    Yeah come, with us!

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006

    Shaw thing

    G-roan. Anyway, BroadwayWorld reports that Rosemary Harris has promised to take part in the Players Club's Project Shaw. All of George Bernard Shaw's plays are being staged as concert readings over two years.


    Alpha Male Reviews

    They've started coming in.
    This is from Bloomberg.com
    Newcomer Dan Wilde's ``Alpha Male'' adds up to a lot less than the sum of its parts.

    Hard-nosed businessman and beloved father Jim Ferris (Danny Huston) dies, leaving a wealthy widow Alice (Jennifer Ehle) and two heartbroken children, Jack and Elyssa.

    When Alice marries Clive (Patrick Baladi), a penniless artist, Jack refuses to acknowledge him. Elyssa has her own problems with Alice's manipulative sister Brede (Trudi Styler). By the time Alice and Clive have a child, Jack has left home and cut himself off from his family. His reluctant return to his 21st birthday party, hosted by his mother, brings the sorry stew to a boil.

    Total Film
    Rated 4/5 stars
    In British writer/director Dan Wilde’s debut feature, the ‘alpha male’ in question is Jim Ferris (Danny Huston), a successful businessman who provides for all the needs of wife Alice (Jennifer Ehle) and children Jack and Elyssa. But when he dies suddenly, grief, jealousy and dysfunction fill the vacuum – until the family’s tensions surface a decade later at the 21st birthday party of Jack (Mark Wells).

    Much like its characters, Alpha Male is haunted by the patriarch’s continuing presence, as flashbacks (and a ghostly visitation) document the family’s disintegration and fragile rehabilitation. It is subtly written, well performed and never mawkish, even if the action’s confinement to the grounds of the family mansion seems to make time drag. Set around family celebrations, it’s a kind of Three Birthdays And A Funeral – without Hugh Grant’s comic bumbling.


    Empire
    Rated 3/5 stars
    Plot
    The grown-up children of a middle class family can't forgive their parents for the family decisions they made when they were younger.

    Verdict
    This is maybe too meticulous and manipulative for such a slender storyline, but the stifling atmosphere induced by selfish motives and repressed resentments is well sustained.

    Tuesday, August 08, 2006

    Utopia tix prices & December jamboree

    Telecharge (search "Utopia") has ticket prices for the marathon performances on February 24, March 3 and March 10: orchestra and loge rows A-C are $300 while rows D-E are $195. For single plays prices are $100 and $65. See the seating chart. On marathon days Part 1 begins at 11am, Part 2 at 3:30pm and Part 3 at 8pm.

    So, who wants to go see The Coast of Utopia with some fellow fans? We're* planning a meetup for the weekend of December 9-10 to see a Saturday evening performance of Voyage and matinee of Shipwreck the following day. E-mail jenniferehle@gmail.com if you're interested. You needn't come to both days if you don't want to. Let us know before September 1st, since we might book tickets as a group to sit together and cheer at inappropriate moments. Don't be shy, it'll be fun! Even if you can't come then, how about a group read/discussion of the plays? Drop an e-mail to the same address above.

    PS. Controversy already! All That Chat members report that there were long lines in the morning, LCT phones rung off the hook and Telecharge crashed due to demand for Utopia member tickets. Apparently they even screwed up and tickets were available to the general public between 10am and noon. LCT does reserve tickets for single ticket sales so we have some chance, but get ready for a stampede come September 10.

    *"we" = Kerry, Tess, Ann, Kimiko, Abigail & yours truly.

    Monday, August 07, 2006

    Odds and ends

  • The Pittsburg Post-Gazette says that The River King will be showing on "SHO" at 7.15pm Wednesday.
  • Youtube music videos of Pride and Prejudice to "Nothing else matters" (Apocalyptica strings version), "She" (ta, E) and "Sacrifice".
  • An astrological profile- apparently she's got the same personality and character as Harry Potter.
  • Coast of Utopia member tix are available from 10am on Monday.
  • In the print edition of Total Film magazine out today there should be an Alpha Male review. The Barbican has a snippet of the 4-star review, already posted before.
  • A brief review of Alpha Male in the Sunday Mail:
    This rather dull domestic tale follows the moody lives of a pair of spoiled little rich kids resenting their mother (Jennifer Ehle) for remarrying quickly after father Danny Huston dies. It's told in flashbacks from a 21st birthday party but the childhood sequences are cleverly done and get the mood of the bitter kids just right.

  • And an even briefer preview in the Guardian.
  • An interesting essay on The Coast of Utopia in the Oxonian Review by Brad Henderson. There's some quotage from the plays.
  • Sunday, August 06, 2006

    Trudie Styler Interview on Alpha Male

    Here's the excerpt about Alpha Male. Find the rest at The Independent.

    She discovered Alpha Male director, Dan Wilde (whose short film, Bookcruncher won him Best Director at the New York Independent Film Festival in 2002) when he worked as her receptionist for three years. "He wasn't a very good receptionist," she says dryly. "He was clearly distracted by something. When I got to the bottom of it, I said, 'Well maybe when you've posted the mail, you'd like to show me your script.'"

    Alpha Male is a compelling take on grief and dysfunctional families. A father's death brings his children's world crashing down. At first you find it hard to care about any of these posh, privileged people, but gradually you're hooked. Styler is especially touching as older sister Brede, who tries to seduce her brother-in-law (Danny Huston), then manipulate her grief-stricken sister (Ehle) after his death.

    The impressive thing is that Styler can access the mindset of an abandoned middle-aged wife or a needy single woman. In Love Soup she was heartbreakingly funny as Irene, who dresses up in miniskirts to annoy her unfaithful husband. "It's that thing of 'To hell with her! To hell with him! I hope you're looking at me... in my skirt with the dustbin man.'"

    Styler deliberately chose a dark wig to play Brede because it washed the colour out of her face: "I've got very pale eyes so the contrast made her a little bit disturbing. And she has quite a groovy haircut because she tries very hard, but something's a little bit off. She hasn't quite got it."

    As for the sibling rivalry... "Of course, what I've drawn from is that I'm one of three sisters - in the middle. Growing up together, the sibling rivalry was fairly classic. Especially because my two sisters were both taller than me, so they got the new clothes and I got the hand-me-downs. It was always a rich source of discussion in our house." One starts to understand where Styler's passion for Gucci and Alexander McQueen comes from.

    Saturday, August 05, 2006

    LCT launches Utopia site

    The official Coast of Utopia site is up with all sorts of goodies! Thanks LY.

  • Tickets: member tix go on sale this Monday, August 7th; the rest of us must wait til September 10th. StudenTix subscriptions are closed at the mo but you can sign up for the waiting list.
  • Cast: the entire list of who plays what in which part. Jennifer Ehle is Liubov Bakunin in Voyage, Natalie Herzen in Shipwreck (huzzah!!) and Malwida von Meysenbug in Salvage.
  • Blog: there's only an introduction up so far by Brendan Lemon, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.
  • New interview with Jack O'Brien: compare to the 2003 interview. Here are some of the "in a nutshell" bits:

    BL: What is the shaping idea behind the Stoppard trilogy?

    JO: Perhaps the most important idea of this play is: Who has the map in history? Where are we? There is no map. When I pulled my personal camera back into a long shot and tried to figure what the hell I was approaching here, I came back to "the coast of utopia,"which is of course Stoppard's title. When you think about that, and you should think about that, utopia is an impossibility. There is no coastline, because you can't get there.

    BL: There is a sense in the play of the characters trying to have an impact on history, yet history hurtles on without them.

    JO: That's very Stoppardian. In the zigzag of humanity that he talks about, the question is raised: Are you the cause or are you the effect? Personally, I think we think we're the cause, and too often we're the effect. These guys, this gang of five, this posse of Russian individuals -- Herzen, Belinsky, Turgenev, Bakunin, and Ogarev -- did in fact know each other that entire period of time. They are both affected by, and affecting, the history of their time. Sometimes they're the doers, and some they're the receivers. What is mystifying and thrilling about our lives is that we sometimes have the mistaken feeling that we're doing it while truly it's being done to us. And I think that's a lot of what these evenings are about. Putting things in connotations that don't have connotations, but not enough to assure us that we're on the right foot. Because we sort of aren't.
    ...
    BL: How would describe the basic story for people?

    JO: This is at first a Chekhovian story and a story that really happened, and a story about a huge wrong that needed to be righted. To put it in fairy-tale terms: Once upon a time, in a country very far away, there were privileged people and great unwashed masses who were hopelessly, hopelessly poor. And some people thought that was not fair. That people shouldn't own people, that people shouldn't measure their wealth in terms of slaves but in terms of enlightenment. And these relentlessly intellectual guys struck flints against an impassive problem until they started a fire. The trouble with fire is, you can't control it. What they tried to do, for the best possible reasons, ended up, in 1917, with murder and cruelty and unbelievable unhappiness. That was the eventuality of revolution, which some people say has to happen. They say that without a revolution of some kind, you can't really effect change.

    BL: How do you characterize each play generally?

    JO: The first story in many ways is the wittiest, and the most charming, and most romantic, and the prettiest. The second story, gets a little deeper and a little darker. And people die. The third has a kind of intense intellectual brilliance. The trilogy is a marathon, but a very enjoyable one.

  • FAQ: mildly useful.
  • Calendar: there's a fancy Flash version of the performance dates on the site's sidebar, as well as a downloadable PDF. Below are jpgs of the latter - click to enlarge. Didn't know that they would repeat earlier parts later on in the run as well (so double huzzah!).

  • Random reviews

    Oops, sorry about the missed day yesterday everyone! Misdated this post to August 2005.

    First up, a mini-review of Summerfolk by Clive Barnes of the New York Post on October 3rd, 1999.

    I was a little less enthusiastic over the National's new staging by Nunn of that darker-toned companion piece to Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard," Maxim Gorky's "Summerfolk."

    Not much helped by Nick Dear's new and glibly modern translation, it missed that crepuscular Gorky magic achieved by David Jones' production for RSC a couple of decades back. But some performances - especially, again, Roger Allam and, as a young, lost and bewildered wife, Jennifer Ehle - shone out between the omnipresent birch trees of Christopher Oram's setting.

    And a late review of Macbeth by librosopher:

    I recently saw this play performed in Central Park in NYC. It was a post-modern production with Liev Schreiber as Macbeth and Jennifer Ehle as Lady Macbeth. They each did a fantastic job but I think the director was being a bit overambitious and overwrought with the imagery and overall look. The witches looked more like raggedy homeless soldiers rather than supernatural creatures…perhaps that was Moises Kauffman’s intention, but it just did not seem to fit the play. Yes, Macbeth is a story about war, but it is more about Macbeth’s internal conflict fueled by power and ambition manifested onto the world and how this blurs his sense of reality and imagination. I did like how the murder of Macduff’s family was juxtaposed with the scene in which Macduff finds out about it, though it could have been paced a little faster. I also like how at the end, the back curtain was drawn back to reveal the trees of Central Park, standing in as the forest of Birnam advancing on Dunsinane…very clever. I even almost expected them to move and a slight breeze did make them rustle a bit.

    Period drama fans might be interested in reading this bunch of reviews at raptures of folly which includes Pride and Prejudice. As a bit of trivia, it turns out that Capitol Films is distributing both Alpha Male and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

    Full Shadows Alpha Male review

    The Shadows on the Wall review by Rich Cline is out of embargo now:

    Writer-director Wilde skilfully captures the most jarring truths of British social relationships in this insightful, creepy drama. But it's perhaps too quietly tense and ice cold to ever engage us.

    Alice (Ehle) is throwing a 21st birthday party for her son Jack (Wells), who hasn't been home for three years. Jack's sister Elyssa (Warner) is in a world of her own, while Alice's new husband (Baladi) is straining to bridge a rather yawning emotional gulf. Flash back a decade to the family's upper middle class idyll, with convivial dad Jim (Huston) and much more open-hearted young Jack and Elyssa (Duncan and Knight). Even Aunt Brede (Styler) seemed more relaxed back then. So what happened to turn them all into such annoying adults?

    With its emphasis on British reticence and the stiff upper lip culture, the film relies on the superbly understated performances of the cast. And everyone is excellent, although you can feel the cast struggling a bit with the huge emptiness in the script--knowing glances and surly glares fill the spaces that should contain conversation. These people just refuse to talk to each other about anything.

    As the parallel timelines progress, we keep waiting to learn what horrible thing took place that caused all of this dysfunction. But there's a nagging feeling that it's simply due to the time and place, the fact that these are the idle rich--aimless people who, without a sense of purpose in life, just get on each others' nerves. The film is loaded with awkward interaction, interrupted communication and blind selfishness masquerading as polite social contact. It's pretty painful to watch.

    And also frighteningly true to life. The main problem is that we have virtually no sympathy for anyone. Ehle generates a bit of pathos as the mother hen yearning to bring her family together. And Huston is the most engaging character by far, with his lively eyes and mischievous actions. But Jack is spiteful and Elyssa is freaky, so Wells and Warner never remotely earn our concern or interest. On the other hand, it's this reluctance to play it safe that makes the film worth watching.

    New visitors, have a look at a video clip of Alpha Male we've posted before.

    Wednesday, August 02, 2006

    Interview with Fiennes

    Here's an LA Times interview with Ralph Fiennes about Sunshine.
    We have met to discuss Fiennes' latest screen role, in which he plays three members of the Sonnenschein family in Istvan Szabo's "Sunshine," the epic tale of Hungarian Jews who struggle with identity and assimilation through the political upheaval and religious persecution of 20th century Europe.

    Szabo is best-known for his powerful film "Mephisto," the first in a trilogy (with "Colonel Redl" and "Hanussen," which he made in German in the '80s). In the early '90s, he began his foray into English-language films.

    Szabo's first film in eight years began when he started to write a draft of the highly personal "Sunshine" in Hungarian. "From the beginning I was sure that I needed one great actor with the face to represent three generations of this family," says Szabo in his accented English, by phone from home in his native Budapest, where "Sunshine" was filmed.

    For the first hour of "Sunshine," Fiennes is Ignatz, a judge with a tight rein on his emotions who changes his name from Sonnenschein (Hungarian for "sunshine") to Sors ("destiny") in order to get promoted to a higher bench. As Adam, he is a cocksure Olympic fencing champion who converts to Catholicism to make the team. And as Ivan, he grapples with shame and revenge after standing by while his father is murdered by Nazis. "He has to move differently and speak differently, not just to show himself," Szabo says. "A great personality, it's not enough."

    The original script was 400 pages. It has since been translated into English and cut by more than half to make the three-hour film.

    "I couldn't believe that we were ever going to make the screenplay I first read," Fiennes recalls. "But it always was a long film. I loved the humanity of the story. There were no heroes. It was a very compassionate look at the lives of three men and their families against a very particular historical background. It didn't judge these men. It wasn't preaching at the audience. It was simply telling a story, saying, 'Look, this is what this world at this time has done or required or made these people feel. And how do you feel about that?' "

    Fiennes says Szabo's clarity kept him from losing track of the characters, even on the rare occasion when the production schedule had him playing all three on the same day. Szabo helped him to understand the complex, long-standing love that would prevent a wife from hating her husband even after he raped her; to see that it was curiosity, not venom, that fueled a man's chance tram encounter with a former lover who betrayed him years before.

    "He would always deviate me from the simplistic choice or approach," Fiennes explains. "To work with someone like that is fantastic, someone who's determined that never is there some simple black-and-white choice."

    Szabo speaks about Fiennes with an equal reverence. "He's enormously prepared and has fantastic discipline," he says, adding that Fiennes was exacting down to fine points such as how he should hold a fencing prop when his character discovered he was left-handed. "He understands every detail of his work, and he is so deeply dedicated that if you feel that you are not so dedicated for a moment you shame yourself. Nobody allowed himself not to do something 100% in front of Ralph Fiennes."

    "It was such fun," says Rosemary Harris, the actress who plays the older Valerie, Adam's mother and Ivan's grandmother. (Harris' daughter, Jennifer Ehle, is the younger Valerie.) "I found him so accessible. We giggled a lot. He looks serious and intense, but if you really look at his face, there's a twinkle near the surface. I don't think I've ever had as much fun working with anyone."

    Valerie is the Sonnenschein matriarch, the wise, poetic, self-possessed figure at the center of all the madness.

    "She's the heart of the film," Fiennes says. "But the thing that I respond to is, like, it's all these men getting lost and screwed up by wanting to find a niche where they can be successful and supported by the status quo and they lose sight of just being in the present moment."

    He cites a line near the end of the film when Valerie tells her grandson to note the small joys in life. "She's trying to say, you know, you're all up in your head about the woman you love--isn't it nice to just have a beer," he says, taking a sip from his prop. "I know that's quite simplistic, but we can all get so caught up in pushing ourselves, into what? I think it's a sort of a philosophy of living. To be with Istvan is fantastic, because he'll look at someone and say, isn't it wonderful today the way she is with this nice blush on her cheek--he'll notice something about someone or about a moment. For me the film is about trying to champion the poetic sensibility in everyone, the possibility of it. In many ways that's not very fashionable; people sort of bridle a bit at the idea."

    Not cynical enough?

    "No, it doesn't have a vein of cynicism through it," he says.

    "Sunshine" opened in Europe last fall to respectful but lackluster reviews. The Observer of London said, "Because of the romantic aura, the marvelous images of Szabo's regular cinematographer, Lajos Koltai, the seductive score by Maurice Jarre and a succession of attractive performances, the picture holds one's attention for three hours. But it's thinner, more contrived and far less compelling than his oblique, complex trilogy." Variety wrote: "The tale's geopolitical complexity and a nagging superficiality born of a wearying amount of narrative information--included at the expense of memorable character development--make this well-intentioned but never entirely engaging chronicle a tough mainstream sell."

    Nevertheless, the Canadian-Hungarian-German-Austrian co-production was nominated for 14 Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.

    "It's a complicated and difficult film and not so easy to find an audience able to share this long excursion," Szabo concedes. But he has been heartened that people who have seen it have found what he calls "the real message of the film, which is what happens when you lose your identity."

    It is clear that the film was a meaningful experience for Fiennes, who says he came away from it "very cynical about politics, politicians, nationalism of any kind. Things that probably latently I thought anyway, but working on the film and talking to Istvan crystallized my feelings about."

    In conversation, Fiennes often refers back to "Onegin," an experience that made him painfully sensitive to the need for publicity and the challenges of sticking to your instincts in today's film culture.

    "I felt on 'Onegin' that people would want changes that were about making the whole thing more lovable," he says. "And about stroking people and making them feel moved. People are terrified of alienating an audience. I get uncomfortable when I think, what is the audience? I'm in the audience. I sat through 'The Thin Red Line' loving it, and around me there were people leaving. And that is an audience."

    Fiennes empathizes with Szabo's insistence on staying true to the story he wanted to tell. At the end of "Sunshine," Ivan reads from a letter his grandfather wrote, a kind of Sonnenschein manifesto of lessons for living. "It's a statement, I think, of Istvan's value system," Fiennes says. "Not everything's perfect, religion is not perfect, but don't put all your concentration on riches and success. I know for some people that is simplistic. Actually I think some people are embarrassed by the truth, the common sense that's contained in some of that. But when I read it, I have to say, that letter holds a lot of things that I believe myself completely."

    Like "We are afraid of seeing clearly . . ."

    "Yeah, 'and of being seen clearly,' " he finishes. "It's like being honest about who you are, I think. And it takes courage. I'm not saying that I or anyone else is successful at it."

    This is how he does and does not talk about himself: through the prism of ideas, the emotional landscape of a character, the metaphors of someone else's life.

    In the final scene of "Sunshine," Ivan is the last Sonnenschein left standing, alone to reclaim his identity.

    "I think at the end of the day Ivan walks down that street with this clear sense not just that 'I am Sonnenschein' but that he's not going to be caught in corners by trying to please the communist general or anyone again," Fiennes says. "Even if he ends up digging a cabbage patch in the countryside, it doesn't matter--he will dig his cabbages and watch the sunset and be like Valerie--be true to who he is."


    Meanwhile, here's a late Macbeth Review from the Epoch Times. Not altogether nice.