Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Emphatic Praise: National Television Australia AND First Weekend Box Office Success!

Mornings with Kerrie Ann Kennerley had this to say about "Easy Virtue". In some respects - it speaks for itself. In others:"It's the most enjoyable film I've seen in the last six months" and "...sometimes you just want to walk out of the cinema with a big smile on your face - and that's why this film worked for me."

Andrew Mercado ****1/2 stars!

On the other hand - this is also about the wider review. The Australian public voted "Easy Virtue" their per screen number one:The upshot being: "Elliott’s Easy Virtue topped the limited release charts".


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Australian Reviews Rave On

The most senior Australian Film Critics, Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton of At The Movies have both given 'Easy Virtue' the thumbs up. "The surprise of the film is how well Jessica Biel matches her stalwart British co-stars. She’s beautiful and, more importantly, she’s talented. She is delicious. It’s potentially a creaky old yarn but Elliott, working with screenwriter Sheridan Jobbins, has imbued the film with an energy and a beauty that is beguiling." says Margaret.

In a typically curmudgeonly exchange, David admitted it's one of the few films which has made him laugh out loud in recent times.

DAVID: Once or twice I laughed out loud, and I don't do that very often these days in the cinema.

MARGARET: Oh, you old sourpuss.

Margaret Pomeranz ****
David Stratton *** 1/2

At The Age newspaper, Phillipa Hawker opens her review by writing: "Easy Virtue is an unexpected pleasure, a deftly presented comedy of manners that takes a few turns into sharper satirical and emotional territory. Essentially, however, its intention is to amuse: it is a sure-footed, entertaining period piece, a revamp of a Noel Coward play from the '20s that never takes itself too seriously, yet never treats its source material with contempt."

Philipa Hawker *** 1/2

Sandra Hall, the senior reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald summed up her glowing review by concluding: "honesty finally trumps hypocrisy and the pacey ending sends you out on a high."

Sandra Hall *** 1/2

Richard Wilkinson *** 1/2 "This is an absolute joy. Lovingly shot and beautifully directed. Easy Virtue! Fabulous darlings.

Over at Urban Cinefile Andrew Urban summarised his opinion of Easy Virtue: "The often outrageous Steph Elliott is a surprising choice to make a Noel Coward adaptation, and a surprise it is for us too, in the best possible way. Elliott injects two special ingredients: a naughty sense of edgy fun ..and a splendid soundtrack" and Louise Keller said, "With a delicious zest for life and a casual disdain for the upper middle class, Stephan Elliott's happy return to directing is piquant joy."

A follow up interview can be found by clicking here.

Rob Lowing 7/10

I was unable to find an on-line link to Rob Lowing's review in the Sun-Herald, so I'll write it out in full here. It was on Page 15 of the "S" entertainment section, in the Sun-Herald on March 15

"It is a bit of a shock to realise this immaculately produced and cast, and very British-feeling, drawing-room comedy is directed and co-scripted by Australian Stephan Elliott, he of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame.

While the tone is still occasionally saucy, this 1920s-set clash of cultures is reined in by the conventions of its source material: The play by Noel Coward. (This was previously made into a tougher-edged 1928 movie by Alfred Hitchcock, who was in a typically more death-obsessed mood.)

Elliott's approach is softer but not necessarily woollier, thanks to star Firth in a rare sombre role and Scott Thomas who, since extracting ecstatic reviews for her I've loved You So Long and pretty much saving this week's Confessions Of A Shopaholic, can do no wrong.

The story is tailor-made for those who want escapism but can't tolerate the stale, dumb jokes of most modern Hollywood comedies.

Easy Virtue delivers memorable, arch banter among well-bred British, intercut with romantic angst and a dead body or two (here, a mistakenly dispatched pet dog, a possibly murdered husband and an absent fiance.)

Scott Thomas is perfect as the outraged and cash-strapped mother who discovers that her young son (Chronicles Of Narnia: rince Caspian heart-throb Barnes) has married a shady, older and penniless American rather than the well-to-do lass she had earmarked for him.

The shady lady is played by Biel, who is slightly strident and too young but better than expected.

Mum gets no support from her jaundiced and distracted husband (Firth), who has never recovered from the horrors of WW1. Lending a hand - or not - are the daughters of the house and a perky butler (Love Actually charmer Kris Marshall).

Combating the artificiality is director Elliott's smart decision to set key scenes outdoors or by windows that frame the gorgeous countryside, the historic houses are also drool-worthy.

Elliott is noted for his soundtracks and Easy Virtue is a corker, with traditionally presented Coward tunes as well as jazz-baby versions of Sex Bomb and more.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Australian Reviews: Seriously good fun!

Julie Rigg at ABC National conducted an extensive interview with director Stephan Elliott and co-writer Sheridan Jobbins. In the 'e-mail' section, she sums up the film by saying: "The most surprising entertainment of the week - a remake of Noel Coward's 1924 play Easy Virtue. It's delightful entertainment - and it's directed, of all people, by Stephan Elliott. What?"

Margaret Pomeranz At The Movies conducted an extensive interview with director Stephan Elliott It is plain from their conversation that she thoroughly enjoyed the film.

Fiona Sewell, reviewing 'Easy Virtue' for ABC Radio said: "It's no Priscilla but there are plenty of drama queens! There's also lots of witty dialogue, good performances and sumptuous costumes. This is good fun, with some serious moments thrown in. The soundtrack is terrific, with plenty of Noel Coward and Cole Porter, and a wonderful version of Sex Bomb."

Giles Hardie at the Sydney Morning Herald's on-line website said that "With a combination of Noel Coward's witty one-liners; great performances from a terrific ensemble; and inspired directing by Australian Stephan Elliott - this is a thoroughly enjoyable comedic and fun film. What's more - with genuine conflict between strong characters in a lavish setting there is both humour and drama to spare."

'Easy Virtue' was the closing night film at The Adelaide Film Festival. In reviewing the festival, several journalists also swept 'Easy Virtue' into their net of praise:

Michael Body writing for The Australian: "It's an adaptation of Noel Coward's Easy Virtue, that has Elliott back in the main game. It's a breezy and well-received film starring Kristin Scott-Thomas and the unlikely Jessica Biel."

Andrew Fenton at The Adelaide Advertiser: "Elliott's adaptation retains some of the tone and themes from the original play but it's considerably lighter and funnier, with a triumphant ending that transforms quite a dark scene into an audience pleasing, feel-good moment. "

And The Age's Paul Kalina wrote in a lengthy summary: "The star-studded Noel Coward adaptation Easy Virtue was the perfect choice for closing the festival on Sunday night. For starters, it brought the house down at its two concurrent, capacity screenings. Secondly, it is co-written and directed by Stephan Elliott, one of Australian cinema's most successful talents, despite not having even worked here for 12 years since Welcome to Woop-Woop.

Elliott, who adapted the Coward play with Sheridan Jobbins, takes a screwball approach to the material, a raucous period-set comedy in which the son (played by Ben Barnes) of a fading aristocratic family brings his new wife home to meet the mostly mortified family. She is, after all, older than him, a racing-car driver, an American and a divorcee whose name has appeared in the scandal sheets.

Kristin Scott Thomas, Jessica Biel and Colin Firth are pitch perfect in their respective roles, while the script deftly draws out the stinging attacks on upper-class values and marital codes. If anything, Elliott's perspectives as an outsider serve him well here. It's blisteringly funny at times, even when it resorts to a semi-slapstick routine involving an unfortunate Chihuahua."

'Easy Virtue' - a homecoming for director Stephan Elliott

'Easy Virtue' opened in Australia on March 12.

In the absence of any of the film's stars (normally a lightning rod for attracting attention to a film) the Australian press turned to director Stephan Elliott. He appeared on numerous TV and radio shows being interviewed by Kerrie Ann Kennerly, Jono & Dano, and Deborah Cameron all keen to discuss the skiing accident which effectively removed ten years from his working life.

In January, 2004, Stephan skied off piste in Courchevel, France. He struck a rock at speed and snapped his pelvis, crushed three lower vertebrae and dislocated his hip. Before he could be moved from the mountain, the weather deteriorated to the point that the rescue helicopter was unable to reach him. Instead he was ferried down by skiers, and later placed on a fire engine. At the bottom of the mountain, the fire engine was met by an ambulance supposedly bringing blood to the haemmorhaging Elliott - only in haste, the medial bag had been dispatched without anything in it. He was given 20 minutes to live, and lost consciousness believing he would die.

Instead he awoke to find himself in Albertville Hospital. He was subsequently air lifted to Britain, where surgeons were able to reconnect his pelvis using a radical new technique and 11 titanium plates. In a remarkable display of courage, he learned to walk again in record time - and 8 months later was back skiing in the Australian Alps.

During the 3 years it took him to regain full use of his legs he wrote the 'book' for the stage play of 'The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert' and the script for 'Easy Virtue'.

Here is the story as told to David Richardson on 'Today Tonight':

There is also a digital sections of The Sydney Morning Herald, which posted this excellent interview with Elliott and Giles Hardie about the making of the film:

Newspapers picked up the story - many of the journalists including pocket reviews of 'Easy Virtue' into their articles:

In the national paper 'The Australian" Greg Callaghan described 'Easy Virtue' as, "a handsomely rendered take on the Noël Coward play of the same name, about an English aristocratic household in the ’20s, starring Jessica Biel, Colin Firth and Kristin Scott Thomas, to be released on March 12. Say what? A period film for the former enfant terrible of the Australian film industry? “Yeah, but a period film with a rocket up its arse, as someone described it,” laughs the 44-year-old, who grew up in Sydney and wanted to become a director from the age of eight."

There was also an excellent and comprehensive article by Marion Hume, in the Weekend Magazine for The Australian (28th of February, 2009) and a very handsome photograph in the Sunday Magazine - neither of which have I been able to find on line. If you're able to send me a copy via the comments section - I'd be most grateful.

In Melbourne, The Age film reviewer Phillipa Hawker said: "The movie has a strong cast. Kristin Scott Thomas is the formidable, icy lady of the manor; Colin Firth her husband who returns from the harrowing experience of World War I with little enthusiasm for his role as master of the house; and Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian) their dashing, love-struck son. Jessica Biel - Justin Timberlake's girlfriend and a paparazzi magnet who was in The Illusionist and TV's 7th Heaven - plays Larita, a woman out of place. A glamorous young American who drives a racing car and embraces new art and literature, she is shunned by the family she has married into, and hemmed in by English country life.

After the screening of the film to the closing night audience of The Adelaide Film Festival, Andrew Fenton wrote in The Adelaide Advertiser:
"The original play was an attack on Victorian repression and hypocrisy masquerading as moral virtue, and Elliott's version also parodies the stuffy English aristocrats for being hopelessly out of touch and rejecting the encroaching modernity that Larita represents. Such an interpretation, though, could be accused of making a fun movie seem a lot more ponderous than it really is. For it may be set in 1920s England, but Easy Virtue isn't filled with stuffed shirts and stiff acting. Instead, it's full of zinging one liners and period-appropriate versions of modern songs like Car Wash and When the Going Gets Tough."

While at the Sydney Morning Herald, Elissa Blake reported, "Elliott says period films have always "bored the hell out of him" so he livened things up by turning the original melodrama into a fast-paced comedy with an updated soundtrack. The songs include a 1920s version of Car Wash and Tom Jones's Sex Bomb, co-produced by Elliott and record producer Marius de Vries. "We wanted to make it a modern film for young audiences," he says. "When we first screened it in [Britain], the younger crowd lit up like Christmas trees when the music kicked in.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Newsnight Review - vs - Graham Norton

Some reviews are so intelligently considered they fulfill a second purpose as acting as a trailer and synopsis. This is such a review. It's by far the best I've found so far for "Easy Virtue"...

...while Graham Norton's is the funniest!

...which also had this perfectly silly addendum:

"Easy Virtue" Blog Reviews - It Takes Two To Tango

Sister Blogger and brother WordPress I salute you - out there tapping away in the electronic Morse Code of naughts and ones. Publishing, publishing, publishing.

Here are a select few of the serious cinefile bloggers:

Andrew UrbaN: "Like Oscar Wilde, Coward used wit to prick the balloons of pomp and hypocrisy. But behind the wit lies seriousness of purpose: the crushing of personal identity for the sake of conformity. This is an eternal and universal theme - but if we can have fun unravel it, all the better."

Louise Keller: "With a delicious zest for life and a casual disdain for the upper middle class, Stephan Elliott's happy return to directing is piquant joy."

Cinematical wrote: "I don't know what attracted [Stephan Elliott] to this project, but I'm glad that something did. The material may seem almost purely verbal, all clever turns of phrase and sardonic interjections (what Americans think of as "Britishness"), but Elliott is constantly concerned with how the movie looks and sounds. Fittingly, he manages to give it a curious, otherworldly feel."

Harry Knowles : "It's been a while since I've laughed this loudly in a movie ... I can bestow upon it the only real sign of success: it's a film for people who wouldn't normally see such a film. Now see it."

Helen O' Hara:
"It's to everyone's credit that this loose, screwball adaptation of a Coward melodrama works as well as it does, and emerges as something strange but fresh."

Thomas Caldwell "This is an excellent adaptation of Coward’s play and Elliott’s skills as a director are beautifully on display." ***1/2

John Bale: "Elliott has succeeded in his cheeky upgrading of the Coward play without going into high camp like Priscilla. I’m sure many younger people not familiar with Noel Coward’s work will enjoy this sparkling night’s entertainment."

Neal Anthony: "An iconoclastic re-imagining of Noel Coward’s Easy Virtue - a period film for those who don’t like period films."

Flower.Ink"It's really a funny movie worth watching."

Sour Cherry : "Brilliant. So funny."

User comments have also been providing some one-on-one review action. Over at we have this little gem from gerrystakes: "From the flamboyant director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this sublime adaptation of Noel Coward's tragic-comic play zings with dazzling wit and impeccable timing delivered by acting of the highest order. Who knew Jessica Biel could be so delicious as the American interloping fallen woman? Among the British stars, Colin Firth provides the counterpoint gravitas as a WWI surviving member of the "lost generation" who turns the tables on his insufferable wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and besotted son. Easily one of the most entertaining movies of the past several years, it deserved the genuine spontaneous standing ovation at the world premiere screening I attended at the Toronto film festival. Scott Thomas is devastating in a totally different French-speaking role in "I've loved you for so long", for which she deserves an Oscar nomination. But see this for arch Brit humor at its finest."

A Comedy of Manors "Set in the late 20's early 30's it's what happens when a beautiful bride with a past marries into a family with no future. Jessica Biel and Ben Barnes are the star crossed lovers... Kristin Scott-Thomas and Colin Firth are the stars that they cross... The casting is brilliant, the acting superb, and the story - (based on a Noel Coward play) is sharp, funny and at times (go figure this) heart breaking. Add to that direction from the maverick and iconic Australian Stephan Elliott (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) and you also get great music, witty coverage and some of the funniest moments I've had in a film which is thoroughly suitable for a family aged 13 plus. Seriously - how long is it since you've seen a film which stays with you - with an ending you can talk about afterwards?"

There are also a couple of fan sites which have been enthusiastic in their reception for their chosen star:

Colin Firth
Colin Firth appreciation
Ben Barnes
Ben Barnes
And you guessed it... Ben Barnes!
Oh yeah - and Jessica Biel - who really does deserve all her accolades for this fine performance.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Rome Film Festival: UN MATRIMONIO all'inglese

"Easy Virtue" premiered in Italy at the Rome Film Festival under the title "UN MATRIMONIO all'inglese". There were several reviews during the festival from Reuters - in particular this one, which said; "ROME (Reuters Life!) - "Easy Virtue," a bubbly comedy based on Noel Coward's play about English high society in the 1920s, has emerged as a hot favorite to win the best film award at the Rome festival, which winds up on Friday.

Italian daily Corriere della Sera called the film, a British production directed by Australian Stephan Elliott, "a little gem" and gave it 3-1/2 stars out of four -- its highest marks for a movie screening in the main 20-title competition.

La Repubblica newspaper also tipped the film as a winner for its witty dialogues, praising actress Jessica Biel's performance as a glamorous and free-spirited American woman storming into the lives on an old-fashioned English aristocratic family."

It opened wide to rave reviews - the most spectacular of which was in La Repubblica on the 9th of January 2009. Now, my Italian is not nearly good enough to translate - so you'll have to take my word on this: It's very, very good.


NELLE SALE / Dopo il successo al Festival di Roma, arriva la commedia "Un matrimonio all'inglese": protagonista, una Biel più scatenata che mai... Jessica la sexy emigra in Inghilterra tra gag, humor e risate intelligenti


UN MATRIMONIO all'inglese è una bella cura cinematografica contro il malumore, la depressione, le brutte notizie che arrivano dal mondo. Perché è brillante, divertente, ricco di gag, di intelligenza, di humor, di personaggi irresistibilmente simpatici. A partire dalla protagonista, Larita, oggetto del desiderio di tutti i maschi del film e causa di scompiglio in un sonnacchioso villaggio inglese a causa del suo matrimonio con un nobile rampollo del luogo. E a incarnarla, in tutto il suo sex appeal, è la diva americana Jessica Biel. Che qui, forse per la prima volta, mostra di essere non solo bella, ma anche brava.

Ambientato all'inizio dei ruggenti anni Trenta, in una campagna britannica immobile eppure affascinante, il film - diretto da Stephan Elliot, noto soprattutto per il cult Priscilla la regina del deserto - prende le mosse proprio dal ritorno a casa del giovane e ingenuo John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) nella residenza di famiglia. In cui imperversa la sua insopportabile madre (Kristin Scott Thomas), mentre il padre (Colin Firth) sembra relegato a un ruolo marginale. Il problema è che il giovane non si presenta da solo, ma con una moglie nuova di zecca: Larita, appunto. Misteriosa ragazza americana, reduce da una gara automobolistica, anticonformista e insofferente alle regole. Tutte caratteristiche che la fanno odiare dal primo istante dalla suocera, che scatena contro di lei una guerra senza esclusione di colpi. E dalle conseguenze imprevedibili.

Una vicenda raccontata con un senso dell'umorismo, del dialogo intelligente e ironico, come raramente si vede al cinema. E che, del resto, ha origini nobili: il film è tratto infatti da una piéce giovanile del commediografo inglese Noel Coward. Già trasposta sullo schermo, in gioventù, da Alfred Hitchcock. Ma il regista ha negato che la sua opera, malgrado la sua accuratissima ambientazione d'epoca, possa essere considerata in qualche modo datata: "Non volevo girare una pellicola in costume - ha dichiarato - ma un film moderno, per un pubblico moderno". Un risultato raggiunto, almeno a giudicare dagli applausi ricevuti durante l'ultimo Festival di Roma.

Quanto alla Biel, si tratta di una interpretazione a tutto tondo, che la lancia alla grande come attrice. E lei ne è consapevole: "Come interprete ho trovato molto eccitante il personaggio di Larita - ha detto - perché la capivo. Anche se io nella realtà sono più dolce: proprio per questo, è stata una bella sfida".

"Easy Virtue" sounds good: Reviews for the Soundtrack

"Easy Virtue" has an impressive musical pedigree. The orchestrated score has been composed by Marius de Vries. He has worked on several film scores - notably "Romeo & Juliet", "Moulin Rouge" and "Eye of the Beholder". He is, however more famous as a record producer whose enormous body of work includes producing albums for Bjork, Annie Lennox, Josh Groban, Massive Attack and Madonna's "Ray of Light". With that in mind it's no wonder that the album for the film "Easy Virtue" is fresh, intelligent and anarchic.

In an interview published in The Age newspaper DeVries says: "I've never approached movie music in a traditional way," DeVries says. "The conventional process of underscoring a script is something that a lot of people do better than I, and I have no wish to compete with them. It only really makes sense for me to get involved in movies where there is something a little bit different going on." have reviewed the album saying: "The sparkling and swinging Easy Virtue soundtrack includes 17 tracks taken from the film, all of which have been re-recorded. It features popular hits from the 20s and 30s such as "When You're Smiling" and "Let's Misbehave" as well as modern day tracks such as "Car Wash", "Sex Bomb" and "When the Going gets Tough" (which have been made to sound like they are from the same era). There are several new compositions written by Marius de Vries including a dramatic Tango.

Marius de Vries has assembled a fantastic team of musicians for the album including Dave Rowntree (the drummer from Blur), Mike Smith (keyboard and sax player for the Gorillaz and The Good Bad and The Queen), Chris Storr (Trumpeter for Jools Holland), violin player Sophie Solomon from Oi Va Voi, and internationally renowned pianist, Jim Watson.

Pop sugar single out the music for special attention "The wonderful composer Marius de Vries cheekily mixes authentic songs from the period with contemporary tunes given a Cole Porter-esque arrangement (this version of "Sex Bomb" has to be heard to be believed!) It's an interesting device, as is the use of the cast's own singing voices (Jessica is surprisingly good.)

Sky movies gave the album, and the film, a four star review saying "Music supremo Marius De Vries puts 20s-style tweaks on contemporary classics - Car Wash, Sex Bomb, Billy Ocean’s When the Going Gets Tough - to accompany more time-honoured ditties by Coward and Cole Porter, it’s a refreshingly crisp and accessible affair. Easy on both eye and ear, this jaunty little number has many virtues to commend it."

The sound track and album were co-produced by the film's director Stephan Elliott. In an interview in The Sydney Morning Herald, he is quoted as say that period films have always "bored the hell out of him" so he livened things up by turning the original melodrama into a fast-paced comedy with an updated soundtrack."When we first screened it in [Britain], the younger crowd lit up like Christmas trees when the music kicked in."

One of the most startling features of the film is the amount - and quality - of singing by the leading actors. The title track - "Mad About the Boy" is sung by Justin Timberlake's girlfriend Jessica Biel, revealing for the first time on film the breadth and appeal of her beautiful smoky singing voice.

The video of her singing live in the studio as seen here on YouTube, also serves as a love letter for fans of Ben Barnes.

It's possible that only his fans are aware that Ben Barnes had a fully fledged (if short lived) career as a pop singer in the band Hyrise. They were second place runners up in the UK pre-selection for The Eurovision Song Contest in 2004 losing out to James Fox who went on to achieve 16th place. In "Easy Virtue" Barnes sings on several numbers - both in the context of the film and as a part of the soundtrack. Perhaps the most outstanding is Noel Coward's "A Room With A View".

The sound track has been released through the Decca label and is available for on-line purchase at Amazon and among others.

Although this is not strictly a 'review' it is interesting to note that Graham and Tolly who are making a bit of a name for themselves as "Addictive TV" have chosen to create a 'mash up' of the film. For the fuddy duddies out there, a mash up is where a DJ takes two tunes and 'mashes' them into a brand new song. Addictive TV take that idea one step further by cutting the image and soundtrack from movies to suit their new 're-mixed' rhythms. Before they did it for "Slumdog Millionaires" they produced this one for "Easy Virtue."