Harry Potter actress Smith has proved a huge hit with TV audiences as the catty Dowager Countess of Grantham, but long-running rumours suggest she is demanding behind-the-scenes.
Producer Rebecca Eaton, who works for American network PBS Masterpiece, said, "Maggie Smith is a handful, it's true. She's very difficult. She knows her worth, and she's tricky on the set, but she delivers when the time comes."
However, Smith's co-star Nicol, who plays cook Mrs. Patmore, insists the 77-year-old screen legend simply needs to rest between scenes due to her age.
She says, "Maggie's a professional, she does really well, working horrible, long hours sometimes for a lady that age.
"She has a rest between takes. That doesn't make her a snotty cow, it just means she needs a lie-down. She's not a diva."
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
This film is based on Elegy for Iris literary critic John Bayley's biography of his late wife the brilliant writer and philosopher Iris Murdoch. Iris is unconventional in the sense that it does not adhere to a structured plot or story line but instead focuses on their relationship by flashing back and forth between the present and 40 years ago when the two first met. In the sequences taking place in the past Kate Winslet plays a young confident Murdoch in her formative years a woman revered by men and openly bisexual. Hugh Bonneville plays the young and apprehensive Bayley hopelessly pursuing her. The present however reveals a drastic role reversal for the couple: We see Murdoch in her 70s as played by Judi Dench and witness her descent into Alzheimer's disease and the toll it takes on her husband played by Jim Broadbent. The once-subservient husband has been thrust into a caretaker position and painfully tries to cope with his beloved wife's illness and loss of sanity.
Dench deservedly received a best actress Oscar nomination for the fabulous job she does as the older Murdoch. She is convincing as a brilliant thinker and even more believable as her condition worsens--check out the heartbreaking scene when Bayley locks himself in the study to get away from her irrational behavior and she scratches the windowpane on the glass door like a cat while looking at her husband with utter helplessness. Dench conveys her character's vulnerability in a single glance. As an older Bayley Broadbent is as impressive as Dench especially as he struggles to be assertive yet avoid being too harsh. Bonneville as a young Bayley could almost be Broadbent's clone. At first glance he looks like the same actor made to look older through some sort of makeup or special effects wizardry. Bonneville skillfully hatches the young Bayley's traits and tics later perfected by Broadbent. Winslet also Oscar-nominated for Iris (in the supporting actress category) well plays Murdoch's early audacity and boldness.
Director Richard Eyre does a beautiful and seamless job flowing from the past to the present throughout the film. Although the film barely delves into Murdoch's work the importance of her writing is established with scenes from a BBC interview or a luncheon given in her honor. Eyre also does an exceptional job conveying Bayley's hopeless predicament: he fusses over Murdoch like an overprotective parent intermittently lashing out at her only to apologize sobbing afterward for having done so. It's sweet and pitiful especially since Bayley believes that the Iris he fell in love with is still in there somewhere. But while the film is visually exquisite and convincing the subject matter is not necessarily entertaining. We know Murdoch will eventually succumb to her illness but it's even more dreadful to have to watch every agonizing step. By the time Murdoch was reduced to playing in the dirt and watching Teletubbies I found myself wondering When is she going to die already?
"Whatever you do, do NOT refer to this film as a musical." That was the proclamation of British filmmaker Mike Leigh when "Topsy-Turvy" was screened at the New York Film Festival.
True, there are large-scale musical numbers, but these set pieces are there to illustrate and, in some cases, advance the plot. Instead, what Leigh has achieved is the most successful integration of theatrical production numbers and comedy-drama since Bob Fosse tackled "Cabaret" in the early 1970s. And like that movie, "Topsy-Turvy" is also set during a period of upheaval, although one more subtly portrayed.
Fans of Leigh's "social surrealism" (best demonstrated in the Oscar-nominated "Secrets & Lies" and the critically acclaimed "Life Is Sweet" and "Naked") will be in for a bit of a shock. In attempting his first large-scale period piece, the writer-director focuses not on the proletariat but on a turning point in the collaboration between bon vivant Sir Arthur Sullivan (a fine Alan Corduner) and the dour William S. Gilbert (an appropriately irascible Jim Broadbent).
The Victorian era mores were beginning to loosen, and Leigh slyly depicts this through Sullivan's relationship with the married Fanny Ronalds (Eleanor David), in some cast members' objections to loose-fitting costumes that press the boundaries of propriety, and by introducing technological innovations such as a reservoir pen and the telephone.
What is perhaps most impressive about this film, however, is that Leigh once again employed his tried and true methods of improvisations with the cast before actually writing the script. Despite the confines of historical fact, he has managed to craft an intriguing if overstuffed jewel box of a film. Some will carp over its split between biopic and backstage drama, while others may feel there are too many asides.
If Leigh has a weakness as a director, it is that he tends to include extraneous material. In "Topsy-Turvy," there are several such instances. On the other hand, Leigh is not a self-indulgent filmmaker; those added sequences are there either to provide background or to give a particular actor a moment. Still, there is a shapeless feel to the material, as if burdened with an excess of riches, Leigh felt he had to include it all.
The plot conflict arises from Sullivan's desire to compose loftier work than the popular operettas for which he became renowned. He voices his concerns that Gilbert (rankled by being called the "king of topsy-turvy" by the august Times of London) is repeating himself, and the pair is at loggerheads over fulfilling their contract with the Savoy Theatre. Through happenstance, Gilbert hits upon an idea that develops into "The Mikado," which rejuvenates their creative partnership.
On this rather slight outline, Leigh and company hang a visually and aurally beautiful film. Cinematographer Dick Pope bathed the film in crisp, clean lighting, lending it the look of history come alive, while production designer Eve Stewart crafted astonishingly detailed interiors and Lindy Hemming designed strikingly colorful costumes.
For the members of the D'Oyly Carte company, Leigh specifically hired actors who could sing. Among the more notable are Kevin McKidd, Jessie Bond, Timothy Spall and Martin Savage. While all of the actors turn in fine work, special note must also be made of Lesley Manville, whose heartbreaking performance as Gilbert's neglected wife gives the film some added dimension.
For those who prefer a more straightforward and comprehensive biographical film about the duo, they should check out 1953's "The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan" with Robert Morley and Maurice Evans. Those interested in a leisurely, if slightly meandering, but well-acted depiction of creativity filtered through Gilbert and Sullivan should check out "Topsy-Turvy."
* MPAA rating: R, for a scene of risque nudity.
Jim Broadbent: William S. Gilbert Allan Corduner: Arthur Sullivan Dexter Fletcher: Louis Suki Smith: Clothilde Wendy Nottingham: Helen Lenoir
A USA presentation. Director Mike Leigh. Screenplay Mike Leigh. Producer Simon Channing-Williams. Director of photography Dick Pope. Editor Robin Sales. Music Carl Davis and Arthur Sullivan. Production designer Eve Stewart. Costume designer Linda Hemming. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.
French film controversy
Ricky on stage
"Weakest Link" video game
Sharon Stone drops restraining order
Sharon Stone (The Quick and The Dead, Basic Instinct, The Muse) has dropped her request for a permanent restraining order against Italian visitor Agostino P'omato, according to reports by People magazine.
Stone was granted a temporary restraining order on March 19 to keep P'omato at least 100 yards away from her, her husband and their son. P'omato allegedly arrived at Stone's house in the Los Angeles area saying that he wanted to "take her and marry her."
P'omato's family convinced him to return to Italy, which prompted Stone to drop the request for a permanent restraining order, said her lawyer.
Redgrave honored at GLAAD media awards
Vanessa Redgrave received the Excellence in Media Award at Monday's 12th Annual Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Awards in New York.
Redgrave's daughter, actress Natasha Richardson, made the presentation. In a report filed by People, Redgrave told the attendees, "If Anne Heche can play a lesbian, so can I. I think I have done my part for heterosexuality." The award honors a member of the entertainment community who has made a significant difference in promoting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.
Also at the ceremony, Kathleen Turner presented Liz Smith the Vito Russo Award, which honors a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered member of the entertainment or media community for their outstanding contribution in combating homophobia.
Other guests and presenters included: host Mo Gaffney, Joan Collins, Gina Gershon, Sharon Gless, Florence Henderson, Jill Henessey, Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos), Susan Lucci and Eden Riegal (All My Children), Lou Reed, and John Ritter.
Splittsville for Gary Oldman
Gary Oldman's (Hannibal, The Fifth Element, Lost in Space) wife Donya Fiorentino filed papers to end their marriage due to irreconcilable differences. The AP reports that the couple of four years separated on Friday, the same day the papers were filed.
The Oscar-nominated Oldman (Best Supporting Actor for last year's The Contender) and Fiorentino have two sons together, Gulliver and Charlie. Oldman has had two prior marriages, with Lesley Manville and Uma Thurman (Gattaca, Pulp Fiction, The Avengers). Oldman has a third son with Manville.
Director Michael Ritchie dies
Director Michael Ritchie (Smile, Downhill Racer, The Golden Child) is dead of prostate cancer at the age of 62, says the New York Times.
Ritchie was often unconventional, as evidenced by the Holly Hunter feature The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, which aired on HBO in 1993. Ritchie also directed major flops, including The Island.
The last film Ritchie completed was last year's The Fantasticks.
French rape film sparks controversy upon arrival in U.S.
The controversial French film Baise-Moi (Rape Me) is set for release in New York and Los Angeles this June, reports Variety.
The film features two stars of the French adult film world, Raffaela Anderson and Karen Bach, and tells the tale of a prostitute and a rape victim who embark on a bloody, violent road trip. The film portrays a violent rape and its effect on the victim, who is spurred to acts of violence.
Censors, according to Variety, banned the film from mainstream movie theaters in France. In England, the film was screened only after the distributor cut 10 seconds of particularly objectionable footage.
The film is based on the novel of the same name, written by Virginie Despentes.
News blackout blankets resumption of WGA talks
No reporters, no cameras, no statements, no photo opportunities.
That is the "cone of silence" surrounding the negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the movie and TV alliance, as talks resumed at 2:30 p.m. yesterday.
Designed to keep negotiators focused on reaching an agreement, the blackout, according to Variety, allows for only a bare bones account at the end of the day. The arrangement takes the negotiations out of the public arena, where they have been since they began on January 22.
With the May 2 expiration of the current writers' deal, it is imperative that the two sides reach an accord as soon as possible. The last round of talks broke off on March 1, with the parties more than $100 million apart and a strike looming on the horizon.
Ricky's role call
It's curtains for singer Ricky Martin: the Latin heartthrob is in talks to star in Zorro, a stage production to premiere in London's West End, according to Britain's Sun tabloid. The musical, produced by Adam Kenwright, is also attracting singer Robbie Williams, who has expressed an interest in writing some of the show's lyrics.
Country crooners to wed
Two of Nashville's biggest stars--Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw --announced on Tuesday's Live with Regis and Kelly that they plan to get hitched. The couple has set a wedding date of Sept. 29. Morgan, 41, and Kershaw, 43, have both had previous marriages.
"Weakest Link" video game?
The latest game-show sensation to sweep America could invade stores later this year. According to Variety, British phenomenon The Weakest Link is being converted into a video game by Activision, Inc. The only catch: they're scrambling to get it produced before the hype surrounding the show dies down. Though typical video games take 18 months to produce, Activision is aiming for an October release.