March 10th, 2013


This week in the arts

I watched two DVDs this week:

The "watch every Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar winner" project continues apace. This week I watched Precious: Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, so now I’ve seen all the 21st century winners. I thought it was pretty good! The way it kept piling woe after woe onto its title character could have felt overdone and maudlin, but they largely managed to avoid that right up ‘til the very end, when they decided she needed to be HIV-positive in addition to being poor, obese, illiterate, a victim of sexual abuse by her father and physical and mental abuse by her mother. Well, I guess she wasn’t illiterate by that point, but still. Still, the performances by Mo'Nique and Gabourey Sidibe were good enough to elevate it above the melodrama. Perhaps the thing that fascinated me the most about the movie was something that came up in the director’s commentary: that the role of the social worker, Miss Weiss, was originally going to be played by Helen Mirren. That seemed so fantastically unlikely that I skipped backwards a few seconds to listen to it again, and even then I wasn’t convinced I’d heard it right. But after saying on on the Facebook, my pal Liz confirmed it, and the production featurette on the DVD added additional details. Apparently she had worked on Lee Daniels’s previous film and had agreed to do the part as a favor to him, but pulled out when she was offered a paying gig. (The Last Station, perhaps?) So instead he cast Mariah Carey, who we can all agree is the obvious choice to fill in for a Royal Shakespeare Company alum with an Academy Award, four BAFTAs, three Golden Globes, four Emmy Awards, and two Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Awards.

I'd heard a lot of good things about Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated, the newest version of Scooby-Doo on the block, so I checked out the volume one of the first season from the library to judge for myself. And it’s good! It stays true to the original while introducing modern storytelling techniques, like faster pacing and an ongoing arc, to the mix. Also, all the characters have personalities and are given things to do, which is a change of pace from any other version I’ve seen. Some of the character designs have been tweaked a bit, most noticeably Velma, who’s quite a lot shapelier than she has been in any other animated version. (The influence of having been portrayed by Linda Cardellini in the live-action theatrical films, I would imagine.) Oh, and the new theme – composed and performed by Matthew Sweet! – is terrific. But in other ways it’s like any other version you’ve ever seen: Scooby and Shaggy are still cowardly goofballs, they still ride around in a van, and the bad guys still would have gotten away with it if not for those meddling kids.

Wordwise, I reached finally finished Emma! Man, what a slog. Thankfully, volume three was a quicker read than the previous two. On to Northanger Abbey! It’s the Austen novel I’m least familiar with; I read it once, more than 20 years ago, and I’ve seen only one adaptation of it.