THE queen is not the only one to celebrate a jubilee in 2012. It is 50 years since James Bond, another British icon, first appeared on screen. Age has not wearied the dashing spy, though his hair colour, accent and taste in women, cocktails and tailoring has changed. In celebration of 007’s glamour and gadgetry, a retrospective opens at the Barbican in London on July 6th, the first leg of a three-year international tour.
The Bond films are the longest-running and (adjusting for inflation) most lucrative franchise in cinema. Their success depends on updating each one for its time while remaining pleasantly removed from reality. Ian Fleming’s much darker novels, on which the film character is based, presented a world of champagne, fine food and foreign travel far beyond the reach of most readers. As such things became ordinary, the films came to feature ever glitzier frocks, outlandish sets and whizzy gadgets.
Each instalment holds a mirror to the fears of a generation. The villains eventually leave Russia, get hold of nukes and set up terrorist cells. But the films—and the exhibition—take in shifting social mores too. Pussy Galore is unforgettable for many reasons, but when “Goldfinger” came out in 1964, she was one of the first leading women to wear trousers on screen. Although Bond still likes a tipple, there is no sign of the 70-a-day cigarette habit he sports in the 1953 novel “Casino Royale”. A few of his high-tech toys have helped to launch commercial products, including the first digital watch in “Live and Let Die”.
Bond is not an establishment figure, says curator Bronwyn Cosgrave. Rather, he is “a wild card with a better suit than everyone else”. Though some of those suits were tailored in Los Angeles, Paris and Rome, and although the films are Hollywood productions, 007 remains essentially British. The 23rd official Bond movie, “Skyfall”, to be released this autumn, seems to sell Britishness more strongly than ever: the trailer features skyscapes of London, coffins draped with the union flag, and action sequences by St Paul’s, Big Ben and the Tube. In the year of the London Olympics the spy has finally come home.
From The Economist, HERE.
From Time Magazine, HERE.
Perhaps you think the world does not need another Spider-Man, since Sam Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst did such a nice job with him, circa 2002-2007. Even if their third installment had less zing in its swing, it seemed unseemly for Columbia Pictures to reboot the franchise so soon, like those people who finish a remodel on their home and start another a year later. Obviously, Columbia is greedy, but can’t we just enjoy what we already have?
Marc Webb’s ebullient, satisfying The Amazing Spider-Man might leave youwith a new attitude about crime-fighting superheroes; it certainly did so for me. They’re becoming like venerable Broadway plays, trotted out with different casts and directors on different occasions, proving themselves surprisingly flexible to new ideas, new stars. You don’t say, “Oh, I’ve already seen Death of a Salesman,” you say “Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Lohman? I’ll bite.” (Provided you had the chance while it lasted.)
It so happens that Andrew Garfield, the new Spider-Man, played Biff to Hoffman’s Willy in Mike Nichol’s Death of a Salesman this spring and got great notices. He deserves more of the same for his Peter Parker. The character is young, a senior at Midtown Science High School, and stays the same age throughout. The bony, almost bulbous-nosed Garfield (Never Let Me Go, The Social Network) is 28 in real life, a bit old for high school, but between the lanky physique and puff of hair, he manages a credible teen. He does very well with Peter’s goober tendencies as well as the tenderness Peter feels toward Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). This Spider-Man is a full of moist sincerity; he’s always tearing up. But Garfield has the edge on Maguire in terms of Peter’s sex appeal, which grows apace—along with his sarcasm—with each street fight won and building scaled. That famous Dunst-Maguire kiss? The Amazing Spider-Man has one just as good, between Peter Parker and his pre-Mary Jane love, his high school classmate Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone of The Help and Easy A). Gwen is beautiful, brilliant (she interns at Oscorp) and the daughter of police captain George Stacy (Denis Leary).
(READ: Richard Corliss on Garfield’s breakthrough film, Never Let Me Go)
A Marvel obsessive may take exception over the way the fleet of screenwriters, including Harry Potter stalwart Steve Kloves, have handled the story. The Amazing Spider-Man is neither a pure return to the source material nor a prequel to the Raimi narrative; it wavers somewhere in between. It helps to be forgetful (which comic book fans don’t tend to be). I didn’t rewatch the first Raimi film until after I’d seen Webb’s ((500) Days of Summer is the only other film he’s directed) and the sum of my memory of it had faded to Fun! Good kiss! Cute Tobey! Good swinging! But even so, when the new Uncle Ben goes down in the street and the light leaves Martin Sheen’s eyes, all I could think was how many more times are we going to see this old man’s blood run into the pavement?
The Amazing Spider-Man covers Peter’s bite and subsequent transformation in greater detail, playing off his bafflement about it to fine effect, as well as his dawning realization that being part spider is awesome. There’s a nifty scene on a subway car, with Peter apologizing left and right as he discovers his new strength and the challenges of having organic Velcro on his fingertips (he yanks off a woman’s top). How would it be to go from geeky teen that can’t get a date to someone who can move like Mikhail Baryshnikov at warp speed? Thrilling, and that’s what it looks like here. None of this is new to us, but Garfield and Webb make it feel convincingly fresh and exciting.
The main narrative difference here, other than his youth and love interest, is that Peter is more focused on the absence of his parents, Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary Parker (Embeth Davidtz), who leave him with Aunt May and Uncle Ben in a prologue and then go off and die in a plane crash. As a teen Peter finds some of his father’s old files from Oscorp and pays a fateful visit to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), his father’s former colleague and best friend, although it turns out, not a very loyal one. “He never even called,” spits Uncle Ben. (That backstory clearly awaits us in The Even More Amazing Spider-Man, should the box office respond to this one.) Sheen is just right as Uncle Ben, and Field is good too as Aunt May, although I found her youthful mane of dark, cascading curls distracting. I’m not used to Aunt May (or Sally Field) seeming hot.
(READ: Why The Amazing Spider-Man can’t catch a break. Or can it?)
Like Norman Osborn, Dr. Connors dabbles in his own genetically engineered serums which restore a missing arm (plus!) but turn him into a lizard (negative!). Ifans handles the furtive aspect of pre-lizard Dr. Connors nicely, but when he goes reptilian, the man and the villain hardly seem connected, unlike Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin, who always seemed like an adjunct of Norman. Also, even in 3-D, I found the lizard version of him mechanical and fake, straight out of a B movie. I appreciated Captain Stacy’s withering comment to Peter, mid-lizard-denial, “Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo to you?”
Nearly as many sparks fly between Peter and the cop as they do between Peter and Gwen. For their first date, Gwen invites her classmate to share a special dinner with the family. “We’re having branzino,” she promises. This trendy fish is often served whole on the plate. I think, from the teasing way Gwen repeatedly says “branzino” to Peter, that she finds both her mother’s culinary reaching and Peter’s cluelessness about the treat he’s being offered amusing. They lob the word back and forth flirtatiously, which is weird and yet delightful.
(READ: How much we loved Emma Stone in Easy A)
Garfield and Stone have serious chemistry (they’re dating in real life). Maybe it’s partly Stone’s husky, Bacall-like voice, but their dialogue has an old fashioned feel to it—two smart kids sparring, with occasional pauses to kiss. They’re intellectual equals (she’s first in her class; he’s second, according to Gwen) but she’s still swayed by that physical power business. “I’m going to throw you out the window now,” Spider-Man tells her during a fight sequence, and when he does and she lands safely on the ground, from the look on Gwen’s face you’d think he’d said “I’m going to peel your clothes off now” and done it. I look forward to seeing more of them together and I suspect audiences will too. The Amazing Spider-Man has a little more than two weeks in theaters to prove itself before The Dark Knight Rises. Speaking of, it may seem unfathomable now, but someday in the not so distant future, someone will replace Christian Bale too. Blasphemy or economic reality? The latter. And we’ll all be just fine.
HERE’S a pop math quiz: “The Hunger Games,” a best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins about children killing children, is recommended for readers 12 and older. The “Hunger Games” movie, which shows kids killing kids, is angling for a PG-13 rating when it hits theaters March 23. To complicate matters, many readers under the age of 12 are dying to see the movie. Meanwhile, , the film’s star, is 21. She got the book at the behest of her mother, a reader and fan.
So who is the audience for “The Hunger Games”? A tense and gritty critique of media culture with violence as entertainment, it could be a movie squarely aimed at grown-ups. Or a family film that works on different levels for older and younger viewers, the way Pixar releases do. Or it could be the next “Twilight,” another smash young-adult-novel-to-teen-movie adaptation with a similarly vexing (if less prominent) love triangle.
The open question reflects the book’s audience. In recent years a wave of popular young-adult novels has generated a happy convergence of readers who are young, readers who are young adults and readers who are, well, old adults. These best sellers may have caught Hollywood’s attention, and led to major deals. (See the dystopian “Divergent” and “A Fault in Our Stars.”) But that doesn’t make even a blockbuster like “The Hunger Games,” which has sold more than 11 million copies in the United States since it came out in 2008, a sure box office hit.
“There were a lot of ways this could become a movie that didn’t honor what the book was about,” said one of the film’s producers, Nina Jacobson, who described herself as obsessed with the novel, and who optioned “The Hunger Games” immediately after reading it. She made a passionate case to the author, promising to respect the book’s fans without pandering to a teenage audience. But Ms. Jacobson assured Ms. Collins she wouldn’t dilute the story by aging the characters up or by glamorizing its violence. “I loved the book as an adult,” Ms. Jacobson said firmly. “I don’t think it’s a Y.A. novel.”
One possibility might have been to follow the “” model, which succeeded as perhaps the first middle-grade novel to bring in adults to both the reading experience and the movie theater. As Harry and his Hogwarts friends made their way into the upper grades, the stories themselves became darker and more sophisticated — decidedly young adult.
And “The Hunger Games” is very much a young-adult novel. The story takes place in a postapocalyptic version of North America called Panem, where 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen assumes the place of her younger sister in a televised battle to the death known as the Hunger Games. The games are retribution for an earlier rebellion against the Capitol, which starves and represses the 12 remaining districts under its rule. Every year 24 children, a boy and girl from each district, must murder one another until one winner remains, an event relentlessly promoted to the entire nation. The ensuing action is similarly relentless — brutal, bloody and heartbreaking.
Gary Ross, the film’s director, is no stranger to the pressures of major book-to-screen adaptations. He brought both “Seabiscuit,” Laura Hillenbrand’s adult nonfiction book, and “The Tale of Despereaux,” a children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, to film. He also brings rare experience with the book world to Hollywood. As the president of the Los Angeles Public Library in the early 1990s Mr. Ross oversaw a major expansion of its young adult collection. The parent of 16-year-old twins, he is steeped in the genre. And he is an author himself. His first children’s book, what he calls an “epic poem” called “Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind,” will be published in November.
He argues that “The Hunger Games” both embodies and transcends the young-adult genre. “Because teenagers are on the cusp of adulthood, they’re grappling with a lot of issues that in adult books are resolved but teenagers are still beginning to explore,” he said. “It’s that nascent element that makes ‘The Hunger Games’ feel so urgent. It’s innocent and aspirational and engaging.” And, he argued, it is no less so for an adult than for a teenager.
“I was enthralled,” he said. “Not many books on this scope have the kind of intimacy of ‘The Hunger Games.’ It was subtle but urgent, and Katniss Everdeen was complicated.”
Read the entire piece from the NYT HERE.
Every year, thousands of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and techies migrate to Austin, Tex., for South by Southwest Interactive, a whirlwind week of discussions, panels, parties and breakfast tacos and the latest innovations from the start-up world and tech industry.
The circus kicks off on Friday. The New York Times will be on the ground, playing around with the newest apps and services, ducking in and out of panels (and possibly a Jay-Z concert) and reporting on the scene from our usual headquarters, Bits. I will be posting quick-hit reactions and photos to Twitter and Instagram. We’ll also be directing a sampling of our South By experiences to a new outlet: a New York Times SXSW Tumblr, as well as several Google Plus Hangout sessions that we will record from Austin and post on Bits over the course of the conference.
Follow all the action from the NYT Bits team HERE.