Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Boxing Day Blizzard

So, what a Christmas, eh? Christmas Eve was clear and fun, good food, good folk, we even sang Christmas Carols for the first time in years. Driving out to Huntington, the moon hung low and big and beautiful in the sky. Christmas Day I got up rather late, then loaded my car with bags of gifts and Christmas cookies before setting off to my brother’s house in Jersey. I put out an extra litter box and extra food for the kitties (whom I would leave alone for a full 24 hours for the first time).

Leaving later than planned, I went out to the car and discovered a flat tire. Front right. I thought it had felt a little funny driving home from the Island Christmas Eve. Sigh.

The closest gas-service station is just around the corner, but its service aspect was closed. It being Christmas and all. So I called AAA. Blessings upon this fellow Jamel, who showed up within 17 minutes of my call, changed the tire, gave me some advice about those little metal things and their rubber caps (without the rubber caps, they little metal things may freeze and make it impossible to put air in the tires. Beware.) He took my broken tire to a station on Hillside (I’ve been there before, they’re the closest AAA station), where I said I’d come first thing Monday to get the repaired tire or, if need be, a new one. It looked pluggable to me. Let’s hope for one less expense.

Off I went to my brother’s place for Christmas dinner. My brother lives a 50-minute drive away, or an hour with traffic. Somehow found myself going 80 on a road where one oughtn’t, but not doing it alone, so I got to my destination in 30 minutes. All around a lovely day until the rumbles of a coming blizzard got louder. My nephew lives down in Arlington, Virginia, where, no matter what the Governor may say on the Weather Channel, they really suck at dealing with snow on the roadways. Should he start out Christmas night, and miss the Sunday Giants game he and his father had planned to watch together? Or wait for his originally planned Monday, which would make everybody happy. Except for the worry that he wouldn’t be able to drive into Virginia when those sanders and snowplows didn’t show up – wouldn’t be the first time.

Alas for my poor brother, my nephew’s wise choice was to drive down in the middle of the night. A lot of fast driving this Christmas, because he made it home in about four hours, when the trip should take an easy five. He beat the snow to Virginia by a few hours, so at least he was safe at home when the storm swept through.

This morning I drove home as the flurries began. In Jersey they were pretty light, but crossing the Hudson the snow came down harder. Home in Queens before noon, and had the pleasure of watching the "Doctor Who Christmas Carol" with a cuppa tea with honey in it and my honeys (a.k.a. cats) around me. Took a nice walk around 3 this afternoon, when visibility was about half a block. Not terribly cold with the wind at my back, but rough stuff when I turned around! I’m looking forward to shoveling tomorrow, a fun way to do some cardio – taking breaks of course. More importantly, shoveling the stoop and walkway makes me deserving of hot chocolate. When I go get my tire, of course, will depend on just how much snow we get.

The cats are happy to have me back, not having starved to death overnight, or resorted to cannibalism. They didn’t even destroy anything. So despite obstacles, we must mark this down as a pretty good Christmas.

Hope yours was happy,

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Ready for snow angels.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Taymor's Tempests

Poor Julie Taymor. She has two important projects in the news now, and it’s bad news for both. I have neither seen nor intend to see her Spiderman musical, in which she’s been so remiss as to allow an actor to be severely injured this week, with other accidents earlier in the process. Whatever happened to her puppets? They’re the only performers who can be allowed to be endangered onstage. This is Broadway, not the Roman Coliseum.

And then there’s her highly anticipated film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, “The Tempest.” Ms. Taymor’s visual creativity seemed a good match for this difficult play. It is a story, though, and a filmmaker’s job is to tell the story. Ms. Taymor did not. Additionally, and alas, the actors, who did perfectly good work individually, for the most part were not connected to one another or the film. It’s as if they each acted alone in a studio or on a beautiful beach, and Ms. Taymor glued the resulting scenes and her visual effects together. Unlike her cast, the effects were not stellar. Visually, I expected more and was quite disappointed. Where was the director’s voice? What was her vision? Was all this hoopla just an excuse to spend a lot of time in Hawaii filming?

The Tempest” is not an easy play. Its emotions are raw, angry, blissful; its language is intense, lyrical, magnificent. When you hear these actors speak the lines, you’ll hear phrases with which you’re very familiar – it’s a highly quoted play, and for good reason. In terms of the language -- most of which is Shakespeare despite Ms. Taymor’s credit as screenwriter -- all the verse was clear, from all actors.

I’ve seen a number of productions of the play, most of which were disappointing in a few elements, though not always the same ones. Sam Mendes’ production at BAM earlier this year had some good bits, some bad bits and some irrational bits, and good performances and poor ones, including the Miranda (who appeared much too old for the role. Everyone’s too old for it, but they don’t all play it that way.). I saw that rare creature, a Miranda I liked, in the Classic Stage Company production of “The Tempest” in late 2008. The production starred Mandy Patinkin as Prospero, with a willowy Elisabeth Waterston as his daughter Miranda. In that production, Ms. Waterston held my attention, and I believed her to be 15 because she did. In the CSC production, however, I did not enjoy the clown scenes, while in the Mendes production, the clowns were fantastic, their scenes perfectly timed and felt. [My review of The Bridge Project’s production of “The Tempest” is at]

No stage production of “The Tempest” I’ve ever seen was perfect, which is fine – they’re not indelibly “finished” as films are. The theatre is alive, and ever-changing, growing, advancing. Films – and I love film – are frozen in their own time. Even if we’ve never seen a particular film actor before, even if all films for all time were in black-and-white, we can easily discern a 1940s actor vs a 1970s one, just as we can readily spot a Preston Sturges or a Hitchcock or a Coen Brothers film.

Ms. Taymor’s “The Tempest” is not particularly a 21st Century adaptation -- maybe the 1990s. And it’s not particularly hers. Yes, certain effects are smoother now than they might have been accomplished a decade ago, but that’s just technology. There’s no soaring imagination here, there’s nothing in this version that is magically of our time, or really indicative of Ms. Taymor’s capabilities. She did not bring to this story what we expected of her, and that’s what the sale was all about, wasn’t it?

In fact, Ms. Taymor didn’t tell the story in this jagged composition. The backstory is provided early in the film – as it is in the play -- by Prospera, a great Magician (or a scientist, depending on your point of view), explaining to her daughter Miranda what’s happening and why. That she has, by her powers, wreaked havoc on her enemies who, 12 years before, overthrew Prospera’s legitimate Dukedom of Milan, and cast Prospera and her daughter adrift in an unfriendly sea. This betrayal was executed by her own brother Antonio, with the help of the King of Naples. By changing the male Prospero of the play to a female Prospera, Taymor opened up terrific feminist possibilities. Prospera was a scientist, and in her time, that meant she was a witch. This made it easy for her male enemies to overthrow and exile her. And there it sat. This spiffy idea went no further than the audience saying, ‘Ah, of course they used her scientific experiments to call her a witch, and cast her off. Cool.’ But no follow-through.

The tempest of the title is a tool in Prospera’s – what? Revenge? Counter-revolution? Plans of political alliance? She keeps separate her enemies and the innocent members of their party, but as in any political machinations, all the players must come together by the end to give or get their comeuppance.

Helen Mirren’s “Prospera,” a valid and fun deviation from the original male character “Prospero,” is powerful, her verse work perfection, her emotions toward her daughter clear and warm. Her feelings toward her enemies are less clear after the initial soliloquy. And even Mirren could not make playing to an airy Ariel work – you’d think the actors had never met, and for all I know they may not have. Ben Whishaw made for an interesting and musical Ariel, always a tad dangerous and frightening, a terrifying power held in thrall to Prospera. But the connection between “master” and “slave” was missing.

Separately we saw survivors of the “shipwreck” wrought by Prospera’s tempest (the opening storm scenes were quite effective) brought to shore. Prince Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, survives believing he’s alone in the world. Reeve Carney was quite dull in this role. Any male model would have done as well. I don’t know Mr. Carney’s work, so cannot know if this is entirely his fault or if it is shared by Ms. Taymor.

On another part of Prospera’s island, we meet David Strathairn as Alonso, King of Naples, distraught at the loss of his son. Mr. Strathairn is solid, handsome, talented, thoughtful, and his Shakespearean verse does not disappoint. Tom Conti as that “good old man” Gonzalo is excellent, an old pro in the best sense. Alan Cumming is delightful as Alonso’s brother Sebastian, not awfully bright, a follower not a leader, thinks himself a wit – a terrific role for Cumming. Chris Cooper was strong, seductive, and sinister as Antonio, the treacherous Duke of Milan, brother and betrayer of Prospera. The scenes between these four men gave me hope for the film, since they told the story their characters should, despite the odd composition of the shots.

Just as Reeve Carney was dull as Prince Ferdinand, Felicity Jones, while attractive and competent as Miranda, was not a wondrous and wondering creature as I think she should be. Nothing objectionable, but nothing exciting -- Ms. Jones is no Elisabeth Waterston.

As for the clowns – Alfred Molina as Stephano and Russell Brand as Trinculo are not connected to one another or the story, even though they share the screen more than the other actors, with few close-ups. Mr. Molina is more than competent, I’ve enjoyed his work on stage and onscreen for years, but he was just serviceable here. Mr. Brand I’ve only seen in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and he was fine in that, though nothing special. Despite the physical disparity between these two men and Mr. Brand’s hilarious costume, these scenes did not work. To be fair, often the clown scenes in this play don’t work for me (although they particularly did in the aforementioned Bridge Project production last spring, so I know it’s possible). Because I feel like it, I’ll lay the blame for the failure of the comedic scenes on Ms. Taymor as well.

Djimon Hounsou as Caliban was quite good, a creature torn between humanity and …. whatever else he is. He almost redeemed the clown scenes, but not quite. And his makeup was fabulous, due, according to, to Brian Abbot.

Too much of the film did not rise to the level of the scenes between Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and Gonzalo. Mind you, it’s the actors’ work I liked. The scenery was swell, and none of these actors chewed it, but the director does seem to have relied on all the beauty to distract people from these poorly framed and composed scenes. That said, Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh did a reasonably good job, but how could one go wrong photographing good-looking actors and Hawaii? There are too many close-ups in this film – whose choice is that? Of the many things this story is about, estranged and strained relationships are vital, and close-ups don’t tell us anything about relationships. Film Editing is listed as being by Françoise Bonnot, yet I think the flaws in the storytelling – which can be saved or destroyed by editing – here are the responsibility of the director. I quite liked the Costume Design by Sandy Powell.

When finally Prospera’s wrongdoers meet up with their hostess, the originator of the storm that cast them onto this island, nothing much happens. The sparks, the fury, the rancor, the evasiveness, the guilt, all the emotions that should be at play underneath the civility of the meeting and of Prospera’s enforced forgiveness (for she must forgive as she aligns herself to her enemies by wedding her daughter to Alonso’s son Ferdinand) are lacking. I read a brief interview with Cumming in which he implied there was rehearsal for this film, but in that scene, it felt rather like the rehearsals were between actors and stand-ins, and not the actors together. In the final cut, they were not all in the same place at the same time.

You may think I’m being hard on Ms. Taymor, but film is a director’s medium. The director has the vision, the concept; the director has the power. It is her job to pull all the disparate parts together to form a coherent and cohesive whole. To make sure the story is told. Ms. Taymor did not do this.

I’ve read “The Tempest” a number of times. I’ve seen various productions of it, each one succeeding in some aspects and failing in others. My very favorite version of “The Tempest” is, oddly enough, a film: “Forbidden Planet,” an imaginative 1956 science fiction version in which the Prospero is “Dr. Morbius” (played by Walter Pidgeon), stranded on a distant planet for 20 years, where his daughter Altaira (Anne Francis) was born. Morbius’ Caliban is Robby the Robot, and the visitors to the planet are the crew of a rescue spaceship. Therefore the “Ferdinand,” instead of a teenaged heartthrob, is a grown man, captain of the Starship….excuse me, Commander of the “United Planets Cruiser,” J.J. Adams, as played by Leslie Nielsen. RIP, Mr. Nielsen. Trinculo and Stephano (the clowns) are combined into Cookie, delightfully played by Earl Holliman. And poor Prospero – he is burdened here by “monsters from the Id.” Now this version is funny and scary, and I heartily recommend “Forbidden Planet.” Alas, much as I had looked forward to Ms. Taymor’s film, I cannot do the same for it.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer to watch my videotape of “Forbidden Planet.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Paris to Venice to.... Chawton?

Near the end of the credits for “The Tourist” is listed the film upon which it is based -- a 2005 French film which is noted in Netflix as extant but not in DVD form: “Anthony Zimmer.” Its description fits the “The Tourist,” which just changed the original film’s French characters to British.

This version is …sweet. It was made to be fun, and it succeeds. Angelina Jolie is far from the smart stoic woman she was in “Salt,” and Johnny Depp far from Captain Jack Sparrow. As is appropriate in a film that tends toward the caper, the authorities are shown as excessive in their zealous quest for thief Alex Pearce, who stole a great deal of money from a British mobster (a chilly, realistic Steven Berkoff), who surrounds himself with Russian thugs. Said mobster’s name is Reginald Shaw. You just know, though, when he was a low level thug on his way up, he was called ‘Reggie.’

Ms. Jolie’s character Elise is allegedly British, and is the only link the authorities have to the whereabouts of Pearce, who’s been in hiding for several years with several billion British pounds of ill-gotten gains. The lead investigator for the Metropolitan Police, who consistently oversteps his bounds and budgets spending lots and lots of money with both French and Italian Interpol agents, is a frustrated civil servant named Acheson played by Paul Bettany. His complexion is as chilly as Berkoff’s, his thinness presumably having more to do with sleepless nights and excess coffee than any exercise regimen. And what does he want? The many millions in taxes Mr. Pearce owes, but more: He wants Pearce’s hide. Acheson’s boss is played by Timothy Dalton in a ragged acerbic style.

We watch the clownish police miss the good stuff – while watching the lovely Ms. Jolie walking down a Parisian street (wondering if she’s wearing underwear that day), they spot an innocent courier doing his job, and miss the interesting partial profile of another man watching Elise. We particularly notice him, of course, because we recognize him. Some minutes later, when the French police have gone off in an entirely wrong direction, we watch Rufus Sewall stroll away. Ah hah! says the audience. We don’t know what’s going on yet, but that’s Rufus Sewall, and it wouldn’t be Rufus Sewall if he weren’t deeply involved in this plot!

Like any good caper film set in Europe, we must take the train from one country to another. On said train, Ms. Jolie follows the instructions provided by her missing lover and picks a man of similar height and build as the missing Mr. Pearce. She easily sets him up for a chump. Said man is a rather sad sack Johnny Depp with bad hair, non-descript clothes, reading a paperback espionage thriller. He is an American, his name is Frank, which Ms. Jolie tells him in all the commercials is a bad name. But his last name is “Tupelo,” so now all I can think of is honey, and a cup of tea to stir it in.

The destination of the train is Venice. Perfection. Alleyways and canals, boats and precious architecture, light reflecting off dark water, and a society we gaze upon without wondering how it got there or what’s going on in those winding little alleys between the buildings that open onto the canals. Claustrophobia, paranoia, pick an ‘oia,’ and it can be put to good use in Venice. Elise invites Frank to join her on her taxi boat, and then in her hotel, where the missing Alex has provided her with wardrobe and jewelry befitting a rogue robber baron’s consort, the sort of people that go to balls in Venice. Unmasked.

Meanwhile, of course there’s a mole in the British police who informs the angry mobster that his goal is in Venice, and he knows the thief well enough to know where he’ll have put up Elise. Now they’re after Frank Tupelo, who is serving his function as the fellow Elise sets up to appear to be the plastic-surgery changed thief. Attack, rescue, attack, rescue, running, climbing, jumping, funny chase scenes in pajamas, people in boats, people falling in canals, all sorts of good fun. As expected, nay required, in any cops and robbers finale, everybody we’ve met shows up again. Including Rufus Sewall, of course.

The script is by Christopher McQuarrie (“The Usual Suspects”), Julian Fellowes (“Gosford Park”) and the director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Unfortunately it doesn’t live up to the quality one might expect from the first two writers. Scenery by whatever deity you choose and old Venetians and Parisians is beautifully photographed by cinematographer John Seale. I'm not trying to throw in a spoiler, since I don’t wish to ruin any innocent fun some undemanding viewers might get from this film, but aspects of the story suffer from the same problems as Act IV scene ii (lines 380-384 of the 1914 Oxford Shakespeare) of “Cymbeline.” Or, of course, any story in which one (or more) characters are in disguise.

When does who know what? Don’t ask. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry on it. Just enjoy the ride.

I’m all for going out to the movies, despite the absurd costs, since there really is nothing like the big screen. Not to mention supporting the economy, supporting new films... Except when they’re retreads of old ones. (Unless they’re remarkably clever and imaginative retakes of old ones, like 2009's “Star Trek.”) In any case, if you would like to see a well written, well directed, and beautifully acted film, with a story that actually makes sense, I suggest staying home.

I just saw, quite belatedly, Masterpiece Theatre’s “Miss Austen Regrets” with Olivia Williams playing our beloved novelist, sharp, acerbic, funny, angry, clever, loving, sad, lonely, remarkable. Greta Scacchi is her elder sister Cassandra, and these two women sit together, silently or speaking, like sisters. It's a lovely thing to watch. Phyllida Law plays their ornery mother. With lots of hardworking, excellent actors, including Pip Torrens, Tom Hiddleston, and Hugh Bonneville, this film is a delightful reconstruction of Ms. Austen’s later years. In the film’s opening, she accepts then turns down a wealthy suitor, landing herself 12 years later in the Hampton “cottage,” Chawton, in which she wrote most of her novels. By this time the author of Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park is famous, although her name is not, since it's not shown on the title page or anywhere else. What Miss Austen’s books do show is the depth of her understanding of her society, and particularly women’s place in it. In Gwyneth Hughes script, you’ll recognize moments that Miss Austen lived then put into her novels, you’ll laugh, you'll fume, you'll cry. As directed by Jeremy Lovering, the film is touching and gripping. For Jane Austen fans -- OK, it may be fair to say Jane Austen geeks -- the film is followed by some wonderful audio extras from Jane’s letters, her niece and nephew’s letters, and general reportage on the elusive author. If you’re not a big Jane Austen fan, you don’t have to listen. If you are a fan, enjoy. “Miss Austen Regrets” is well worth a rental -- have a nice cuppa and watch with a cat on your lap.

~ Molly Matera, logging off the computer, but leaving on the light. So much re-reading to do.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Millie 1, Hyena 0

Earlier this week I let the cats into my bedroom.

They love running across the entire apartment, landing on the bed, jumping down behind it, and zooming through the tunnel beneath it and back out to the living area.

Since cats don’t know what time it is, the door is closed to them each night when I go to bed. Each morning I’m getting up earlier than before they arrived (this is a good thing), pulling my toes, making the bed, then opening the door to find them sitting waiting for me.

The little ones come right in, and Millie turns in the direction she thinks I should go – toward the kitchen. She does love to eat.

Thursday evening I returned home after dinner in the city. With my phone in my shirt pocket, I went right into the bathroom, where Millie and Wilbur followed me. My cell phone buzzed and rang.

Since I dislike wondering if it’s my phone ringing when it’s not, I had set up some fairly unusual ringtones. When it’s a regular voice call, my phone plays the theme from “Peter Gunn,” a television program from the Sixties. When it’s a text message, it plays a Hyena’s laugh. This may be weird, but I never heard anyone else’s phone ringing with a hyena’s laugh.

The problem is, it apparently sounds realistic, and Millie clearly does not like hyenas. She went wild. She hissed and growled and then leapt up to my shirt pocket to kill the beast. I hastily took the phone out and turned off the ringer and tried to calm her down. Poor Wilbur sat there wondering what his mom was all upset about.

A few minutes later, I placed the phone on the kitchen counter. Again a text message came in, again the damned hyena started laughing and screeching, and again Millie hissed, cowered, arched her back, and sat growling. By this time Chick was awake, sitting on the back of the couch blinking, wondering what was going on. Wilbur stayed on the opposite side of the room watching his mother. Of course I turned off the phone, and promptly deleted the hyena laugh from it. Millie quieted down, but didn’t relax. Nor did the kids. In the middle of the night I got up and opened the door – three ghostly white shapes turned toward me. A tad creepy.

Next morning all was normal – their memories don’t seem to play much part in their lives. Since Millie was found around Forest Park in Queens, I cannot imagine she actually recognized the sound of a hyena laughing – perhaps just a canine type, and those instincts of kitten- and self-preservation kicked in.

Moral of the story – beware of animal voices as cellphone ringtones if you have any animals in your home!

~ Molly Matera, continually catproofing. And wondering -- how can one throw out boxes when the boy so enjoys them?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The King Speaks the Speech

My knowledge of British history between the wars has become, I discovered Friday, rather hazy. In school, I excelled in history classes pertaining to the first half of the 20th century – back in the second half of the 20th century. I still know well the British and American mystery writers of that period, but I had forgotten the names of the real people and the parties and the politics until I saw “The King’s Speech.” My fuzzy memory was not an impediment to involvement in the film’s story, so I can safely encourage others who would not get an “A” in a history class on the period to go see the film. “The King’s Speech” has very little in the way of razzle dazzle (though it has some pomp and circumstance), and no car chases, but it is worth your time. The story is clearly told, its point of view unwavering, and its cast altogether splendid as led by Colin Firth (as the second in line Prince of York, later King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush as the commoner Lionel Logue. The film zeroes in on these two men in a time that would change the tide of western history. And they sure are fun to watch.

The King’s Speech” can refer to two things: first, the speech impediment of King George VI, who, in another time, might have been referred to as Bertie the Stammerer; and second, the final speech of the film, the speech made by a wartime king to his people. The speech impediment would not have been an issue prior to the 20th century and the advent of mass communications via wireless – no, not cellphones or the internet via wifi. The “wireless” was the radio. Although the radio was connected to the wall by an electrical cord and therefore not “wireless” as we use the term today, all the radios in the world were not connected by wires to the place from whence the broadcast emanated. Hence, “wireless.”

[Nor were the Beatles tiny little guys inside my radio, or regular size guys running from a radio station on 34th Street to another in Rockefeller Center playing “I Want To Hold Your Hand” live when I was hearing it, but that’s an altogether different set of childhood beliefs.]

The “wireless” radio was a modern marvel, an equalizer, as well as a destroyer of private space, just as television came to be after it.

King George V (played to perfection by Michael Gambon) seems to be a distant father, to his second son, Albert (Firth), and a disappointed one in his eldest son and heir, Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). The Queen is played by a coldly regal Claire Bloom. Ms. Bloom’s brief appearances in the film seems to reflect the queen’s brief appearances in her children’s lives, and tend to make us forgive any failures and foibles of her sons. As I said, the point of view of the filmmakers is clear. Not all historians would agree, but they didn’t write this movie.

King George V learned to use the new instruments, the microphone and the radio, to address his people, and expected his sons to do the same. None of this is extemporaneous, all the language is “approved,” and the speeches rehearsed. Edward takes to it readily. Albert, however, while clearly intelligent and well versed in the domestic and foreign affairs of the British Empire, cannot get out three words without stammering and leaving huge pauses – and silence on the airwaves is deadly. Although second in line to the throne, still Albert has duties to perform and he has tried every medical treatment available to cure his stammering to no avail.

Colin Firth was born to play Bertie, later George VI. He is quintessentially British, reserved, with a stick where you’d expect it to be, yet terribly vulnerable in his stance, his eyes, his mouth. The first time he sits down in Logue’s parlor, he crosses his legs and pulls his arms tight to his trunk, as if physically compressing any needs or weaknesses that may emanate in this unfamiliar territory. He is in someone else’s playground, and he doesn’t like it. His stammer is painful to hear, his eyes seeing the words he cannot speak painful to watch. His wife, the future Queen Mum, is played here by Helena Bonham-Carter, more recently seen as madwomen, at which she excels. Her Elizabeth (mother of the future Queen Elizabeth II) is a strong, resolute woman who adores her husband, and works before and behind the scenes to give him the strength and confidence he’ll need in the days to come. The contrast between her and her husband’s mother is very clearly defined in family scenes in which she and Bertie spend time with their two daughters.

It is Elizabeth who pseudonymously seeks out the unconventional Lionel Logue (the wonderfully unconventional Geoffrey Rush), she who maintains the formality of her royal status while inviting the commoner to provide his services in his own way, not the royal way. I quite like Ms. Bonham-Carter in this role – apparently as she ages she can play sane as well as mad.

Initially Bertie, much as he may wish to overcome his stammer, will not play Logue’s game his way, but both Elizabeth and Bertie recognize thresholds passed under Logue’s ministrations that no Harley Street doctors achieved. A decidedly odd and far from comfortable friendship develops between these two disparate men – so uncomfortable that Logue doesn’t tell his own wife that he’s treating the Prince of York until Mrs. Logue comes home to find the royal couple in her parlor. Rush’s Logue is confident, frightened, cocky, subservient, hopeful -- much of this story shows us quotidian moments in this man’s life so he becomes ours, he becomes us. We watch him audition for an amateur theatrical company and fail, then boldly challenge the King of England to overcome his impediment. Rush is a hoot.

It amused me to see Derek Jacobi, clearly an expert stammerer in the “I, Claudius” miniseries, playing the Archbishop of Canterbury.

[Note: If you’re unfamiliar with “I, Claudius,” read the book by Robert Graves and rent the miniseries. It’s fabulous, with appearances by British actors when they were much younger -- some even with hair.]

Wonderful actors pop up throughout the film, including Timothy Spall as a pre-war Winston Churchill (not the usual drawl, but he wasn’t the powerhouse yet, and Spall plays him as a quietly encouraging behind-the-scenes man), Anthony Andrews as Prime Minister Baldwin (Andrews was the pretty young Sebastian in the original “Brideshead Revisited,” and he’s grown gaunt and serious as a prime minister in a tempest-tossed Europe would be), Jennifer Ehle as Logue’s wife Myrtle (smart, to-the-point, and quietly warm), and Eve Best barely recognizable as Wallis Simpson (Mrs. Simpson is not shown favorably here, but Eve Best doesn’t play her as a gold-digger; just as a superficial woman accustomed to getting what she wants, and not considering the consequences to anyone else for so much as a moment.).

The film’s structure and build is chronological, each year bringing the two princes, Edward and Bertie, inevitably to their fates, and each year bringing Bertie and Logue closer to the full disclosure needed to push the accidental king beyond his obstacle. The wireless came closer than the tabloids and long before the internet in exposing the private lives of the powerful. Edward’s insistence on abdicating in 1936 because he could not function “without the help and support of the woman I love” made a private matter public -- his speech over the wireless went out to the entire Empire, on which the sun never set. Once Edward made his irrevocable decision, Bertie had to overcome his own obstacles to take on the mantle of apparent power – that is, he became King, and subject to his people’s needs. He had to be able to speak to them over the wireless, and inspire them. With Lionel Logue’s help, he did.

What Lionel Logue did was more speech therapy than speech pathology. He treated people with emotional and/or physical trauma who’d lost the ability to speak clearly or, in some instances, at all. These could be young men returning shell shocked from World War I, whom no one in the medical professions knew how to help. Or they could be children who, as Logue says in the film, “were not born” stammering, but who came to stammer as they grew up. Simply and clearly, Bertie finally makes bald statements about events of his childhood that preceded the advent of his stammer. No magical cure, this, Logue and Bertie must continue to work and sweat and rehearse so that the King addressing his people could sound as he really was – intelligent, informed, and passionate.

The King’s Speech” is beautifully filmed, the camera lavishing care on the vast interiors of royalty and the halls of power, the tattered wallpapers of the Logues, the rich velvets and stiff collars, the expanses of people gathering to hear their royals speak. From fogbound London to Canterbury Cathedral to Balmoral, the film is photographed splendidly by Danny Cohen and well directed by Tom Hooper. Ms. Bonham Carter’s hats are, of course, marvelous.

This film is entirely sympathetic to Logue and Bertie/Albert (George is the fifth of his Christian names – Albert was deemed too Germanic for an English king coming to the throne as Nazi Germany was rising to the east). The script by David Seidler is succinct and passionate, the acting superb in every scene.

The film is scheduled for a wider release come Christmas. Give yourself the gift of Firth and Rush.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer but not the light. Must re-read my history texts.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Kids Are All Right

It’s the 7th day. The kids have settled in: Millie the mama, Chick the sister, and Wilbur the brother have grown accustomed to their new space. I’ve almost grown accustomed to waking up to all the throw rugs tossed around the room. Every day they show me something I need to move if I want it to remain intact.

There was that day when the three of them were racing around the kitchen and I heard a timer start. I caught them all on the counter, and the “timer” sound was the oven they’d turned on. Oh dear. Here you see the pressure sensitive controls of my oven, complete with paw prints.

Here you see the solution -- little lids of little plastic crates from Staples, plus priceless duct tape, of course.

I covered the sink cleaning powder, since they appear to have bounced into it and shot its powder all over. They’ve even knocked over the knife block! Joint effort, or Millie alone?

Millie is getting heavier – it’s as if she doesn’t believe she’ll stay here and continue to be fed. The little ones are hungry in the morning, then they go running around, turning the Bose on and off. I’ve rigged a temporary cover and shifted their path to another side of it.

Spent many hours today clearing up the bedroom to make it more habitable – first the closet, threw out some things, made room for other things in the bedroom that needed a new stash. Anything in bags went into boxes or drawers I could close to keep the cats out. I cleaned, I vacuumed, I stashed. Enough done to allow the cats to come into the bedroom when I’m home, so I no longer have to shut the bedroom door constantly. Right now all 3 are sitting in the bedroom with me. Mama Millie is alternately licking herself and her daughter, except when she decides to fight with Chick. Wilbur is disappearing into the pillows (not the ones I sleep on, they’re covered!).

Now, so long as I’m home, they can enjoy the afternoon light streaming into the bedroom, and run an even longer length of the apartment. There are still things to clear out, still wires to tie up, but we all have the run of the whole apartment now. Frabjous.

Just a tad worried about Millie overeating. Maybe I should rename her “Scarlet,” since she clearly thinks she must ensure that she’ll “never be hungry again.”

~ Molly Matera, signing off, tying up a few loose ends while the kids catnap.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Childproofing Continues

Day Two was Wednesday, a gray, rainy day with high winds tossing branches about, whirling leaves past the windows, and whistling a frightening tune. While the storm raged outside, the cats sat about subdued, watching me. Wilbur, who’d napped on my hip the day before, ran from me every time I approached.

Chick was less afraid, but no friendlier. Only Millie responded to my petting, only Millie (the mother, former street urchin) was unafraid. Nevertheless, they were no longer sitting in the windowsill.

By evening, when the winds had died down, they were ready to play, not just with their toys, but with any piece of paper I crumpled in their hearing. The window perch I’d set up the night before their arrival suddenly fell to the floor, happily with no one on or under it. The initial adhesive strip had pulled off the windowsill – I’ll have to find a way to fasten it again, since the kids like that perch so much. In the meanwhile, I’ve wedged phone books between it and a counter stool under it to keep it in place.

Day Three, Thursday, dawned bright and cold. I woke realizing that my reasonably neat home was chaotic with the cats’ toys and their re-purposing of all my stuff into yet more toys. I dreaded the mess, and went out to feed them. They’re everywhere, up on the counter, places they should be and places they oughtn’t. Then they tumble all over each other and make me laugh out loud. I cleaned up after their and my breakfasts then left for an early appointment in the City.

On my return they've rediscovered another window – the birds are back after the storm, and the three are tensed to pounce.

Of course, there’s a window, a screen, and bars on the window between them and the birds, so the birds are not worried. Clearly Chick is the huntress, and when she and her brother fight over a crumpled piece of paper, she wins.

None of this distracts them from their exploration of the kitchen. Suddenly there’s a beeping from the stove, as if they’d stepped on the timer. The kittens are too light to have any effect, but Millie is plenty heavy. I yell and wave so they (all three at once) run away, but then I see that they’ve turned on the oven. Must find a way to cover those buttons if Millie’s going to go walking along there.

Millie’s finally used the second perch at the window from which she can actually see the street and passersby. Unfortunately from there she wants to leap to the sink.

Every day an adventure.

~ Molly Matera, signing off. Must see what they’re doing in the other room……