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GREAT EXPECTATIONS

We aren’t exactly poor in adaptations—on the big and small screens—of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations.” But there’s always room for another, provided that it’s reasonably respectful of the source and shows a bit of imagination. Mike Newell’s new version is somewhat short on the latter score, but sufficiently strong in the former regard to make up for it. If you keep your expectations within reason, its stylish faithfulness to the book is enough to help one overlook a certain stolidity in its approach to the story.

“Expectations” is, of course, the tale of orphan Philip Pirrip, or Pip, who, as boy serving as apprentice to his brother-in-law blacksmith Joe Gargery, assists an escaped convict named Magwitch and is invited by a wealthy but reclusive neighbor, Miss Havisham, to be a companion for her adopted daughter Estella, to whom he quickly becomes devoted despite her pursuit of social position and wealth. As a young man he’s informed by London lawyer Jaggers that he has unexpectedly received a large sum from an anonymous benefactor that will allow him to become a gentleman in the city. Unfortunately, his newfound status causes him to lose sight of who he really is and grow into a profligate. It’s only the revelation of his benefactor and an ensuing tragedy (along with some help from his true friends) that lead him to abandon his self-destructive ways and return to his origins—and to Estella, who has learned a similar lesson from her life.

This précis, of course, only scratches the surface of a story that’s typically Dickensian in its surfeit of characters and richness of detail. Newell and his scriptwriter David Nicholls can’t shoehorn it all into a feature-length format, of course, but it’s not for lack of trying. Their treatment incorporates a surprisingly large number of the book’s narrative points and the figures who drive populate the plot, and does so with considerable style, thanks not merely to Nicholl’s and Newell’s scrupulous attention to Dickens but also to the period precision of Jim Clay’s production design, Dominic Masters’ art direction and Beatrix Aruna Pasztor’s costumes, all sensitively captured in John Mathieson’s elegant widescreen cinematography. (The only visual flaw is the excessive use of outdoor shots—especially of birds flying across the horizon—as a transitional device. It’s a tiresome cliché.) Richard Hartley’s score is finely wrought, if unexceptional.

As far as the casting goes, the weakness lies in the leading couple. Jeremy Irvine is rather bland as grown-up Pip, and it doesn’t help that he very much resembles the young Ethan Hawke, who played the character, renamed Finn, in Alfonso Cuaron’s 1998 updating of the story. (His brother Toby, on the other hand, makes a winsome younger Pip.) Similarly, Holliday Grainger is stately and beautiful as the older version of Estella, but Helena Barlow makes her girl counterpart convincingly snooty.

The supporting characters, on the other hand, are vividly drawn, even if many of them have been reduced to little more than walk-ons, like Sally Hawkins’ Mrs. Gargery and David Walliams’ Mr. Pumblechook. On the other hand, Olly Alexander as friendly Herbert Pocket, Ewen Bremner as helpful Mr. Wemmick and Ben Lloyd-Hughes as the odious Bentley Drummie get a bit more screen time and use it well, while Jason Flemyng cuts a very winning figure as Joe and Bebe and Jessie Cave combine to make the younger and older versions of Biddy extremely likable.

Best of all are three alums from Newell’s “Harry Potter” films—Ralph Fiennes (Magwitch), Helena Bonham Carter (Miss Havisham) and Robbie Coltrane (Jaggers). The two men fit their characters perfectly and savor the opportunities for scene-stealing that they offer. And while Bonham Carter takes some getting used to in a part that’s usually assigned to an older actress, her strangely touching remoteness ultimately wins you over.

Newell’s version of Dickens’ popular novel doesn’t supplant David Lean’s 1946 film as its finest screen adaptation. But its fidelity to the source and its stylish, though somewhat sedate approach make it a good, if not great modern alternative to Lean’s still-superb filmization.

CARRIE

This is the third cinematic go-around for Stephen King’s telekinetic teenager—the second being a dismal 2002 NBC telefilm—and that’s not even counting the notorious 1988 musical or the only slightly less appalling 1999 sequel (“The Rage: Carrie 2”). One can cut to the chase quickly by saying that everything since Brian De Palma’s brilliant 1976 adaptation has up to now been, if not totally atrocious, basically unnecessary.

That could also be said of this new “Carrie” by Kimberly Peirce, but though it fails to measure up to the 1976 version, it has considerable virtues of its own. Peirce made an auspicious debut in 1999 with “Boys Don’t Cry,” so it’s understandable that she should have been drawn to King’s modern classic about a another young outcast treated brutally by those she tries to fit in with. And her treatment is very different from De Palma’s, which brought the director’s wickedly comic sensibility and extravagant visual panache to the material. What emotional depth his film contained—and there was a good deal—came from the extraordinary lead performance by Sissy Spacek, who gave the tormented title character a remarkable degree of inner life.

Peirce doesn’t depart much from the narrative arc of De Palma’s film—indeed, she follows the original script by Lawrence Cohen so closely that he gets primary screen credit, something he really deserves for having wrestled King’s book, which is structurally a compendium of extracts from news reports, depositions, memoirs and the like, into not only a conventional narrative but an effective one. (The alterations by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa are actually pretty minimal, mostly involving such updating as the inclusion of cell phones and YouTube postings. And when he does make a notable change—as in the final cemetery scene—the result is pretty flat.)

But Peirce’s attitude to the material is entirely unlike De Palma’s: she eschews any hint of a tongue-in-cheek approach, treating the story with a seriousness that suggests near reverence not only for King but for Cohen as well, although she and Aguirre-Sacasa do occasionally add bits from the book that Cohen didn’t use, such as a revelation about Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) at the close. And she mostly avoids visual flourishes designed to call attention to themselves, though she takes advantage of the advances in special effects to introduce scenes of Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) testing her new-found powers and jazzes up the culminating prom sequence somewhat—though not as much as one might expect. (The one exception to her restraint comes in the final confrontation between Carrie and her chief tormentors, Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan, played by Portia Doubleday and Alex Russell, which goes much farther than the original did, presumably in an effort to appeal to today’s hard-core horror movie audience.)

The result is a “Carrie” that’s faithful to the outline of De Palma’s movie but equally to the spirit of King’s book, a poignant tale of a bullied girl’s vengeance against a mother who’s herself deeply damaged and classmates who victimize her for her awkwardness and lack of social skill. Though King spiced it up with a heavy dose of fantasy wish-fulfillment, it’s a story that has even more resonance in the present, when incidents in schools are so prevalent, than it did back in 1974. Given that, Peirce’s decision to treat it earnestly is certainly defensible, and working with cinematographer Steve Yedlin, she pulls it off quite well.

The cast fit nimbly into the director’s vision. Moretz is rather too attractive to be a genuine ugly duckling—she’s more a pretty girl trying to appear to be one—but she conveys Carrie’s shyness and fear, as well as her fury toward the close, to considerable effect, while Julianne Moore, as her religion-obsessed horror of a mother, replaces the oversized, operatic approach of Piper Laurie with a degree of fragility to go along with Margaret’s fanaticism. Wilde and Doubleday do their bits as good girl and bad girl efficiently, and Ansel Elgort is a standout as Tommy Ross, the good-natured classmate who, at his girlfriend Sue’s urging, draws Carrie out of her shell and proves a genial escort to the dance until tragedy strikes. Among the other adults, Judy Greer is aces as the hard-nosed gym coach who becomes Carrie’s champion, and Barry Shabaka Henley proves an affable presence as the befuddled principal.

Audiences are far too familiar with the original “Carrie” for Peirce’s version to offer any real surprises, and indeed when it tries to do so (as in the very last scene) it stumbles. But while it will never achieve the classic status of De Palma’s take on King’s first novel, its offers a serious, respectable alternative.

But one does miss Pino Donaggio’s wonderful background music. It probably wouldn’t fit with Peirce’s more straightfoward retelling of the story, but Msrcio Beltrami’s bland contribution is no substitute.