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FIRST IT WAS A PLAY, THEN IT WAS A MOVIE

 

From Shakespeare to Albee, playwrights have provided the stuff from which great films are made. And many moviegoers are finding at least a touch of greatness in "Frost/Nixon." For details on this adaptation of Peter Morgan's acclaimed play and other new stage-to-screen transfers, browse below.


AS YOU LIKE IT: Kevin Kline, Bryce Dallas Howard, David Oyelowo, Adrian Lester, Brian Blessed, Janet McTeer, Alfred Molina, Romola Garai, Justin Hoong-Fai Chan, Sacha Bennett, Yee Tsou, Paul Chan (Directed by Kenneth Branagh; Picturehouse) Kenneth Branagh, who brushed up his Shakespeare impressively in filmed adaptations of “Henry V,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Hamlet” and “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” is at it again. But this time, with the complexly comic, gender-bending romance of “As You Like It,” he’s decided to stay behind the camera, and he’s taken the liberty of moving the magical Forest of Arden to 18th-century Japan. Bryce Dallas Howard and David Oyelowo play the love-struck Rosalind and Orlando. And if Kevin Kline, as mercurial courier Jacques, is even remotely as funny as he was playing Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” we’re in for a rollicking time. Oooops! This one went directly to HBO/Cable.

CAROUSEL: Hugh Jackman (Fox 2000) “The Sound of Music” made a big, big noise at the 1963 box office. Despite Julie Andrews’ ravishing voice and perky spirit, however, the movie was basically a bore. That, alas, was also true of numerous other screen adaptations of Rodgers & Hammerstein hit musicals, including “Oklahoma!,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “Flower Drum Song.” And it was certainly true of “Carousel,” the 1956 Cinemascope snooze starring Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow, the macho carnival barker and thief who is given a one-day pass from purgatory in order to straighten out the lives of the wife and daughter he left behind. The good news here is that the handsome, boastful lug singing “If I Loved You” and “Soliloquy” will be Hugh Jackman, who triumphed in a 2000 Carnegie Hall concert version of “Carousel” honoring Rodgers & Hammerstein. Opening date to be announced

DIRTY TRICKS: Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, Annette Bening, Jill Clayburgh, Sharon Stone, Jim Broadbent (Written and directed by Ryan Murphy; Paramount) They called her Martha the Mouth, Mouth of the South or simply Moutha. Her real name was Martha Mitchell, and she was the full-throttle wife of John Mitchell, Attorney General to President Richard M. Nixon. Never one to hold back, Martha, who died in 1976, had this to say about her hubby’s boss: “Nixon bleeds people. He draws every drop of blood and then drops them from a cliff. He’ll blame any person he can put his foot on.” Nor did Martha go all that easy on Mitchell himself, referring to him at one point as “that gutless, despicable crook.” Is it any wonder that in an effort to shut her up, her enemies eventually drugged her and held her captive in a California hotel room? Ryan Murphy, director of “Running With Scissors,” is bringing this adaptation of John Jeter’s play about the woman who spilled the beans that bumped Tricky Dick from the White House to the screen. And, best news of all, Murphy had the good sense to cast Meryl Streep as the biggest Moutha ever. Also on prominent display: Jill Clayburgh as Pat Nixon, Gwyneth Paltrow as Maureen Dean and Annette Bening as Helen Thomas, the White House correspondent who received many a late-night phone call from the whistle-blowing Martha. Opening date to be announced

DOUBT: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Lloyd Clay Brown, Joseph Foster (Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley; Miramax Films) We’ve come a long way since Father Bing Crosby and Sister Ingrid Bergman radiated respect and sexless affection for one another in “The Bells of St. Mary’s.” In “Doubt,” Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius, a probing, dictatorial nun who strikes a shattering blow to affable Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), her popular colleague at a parochial grade school in the Bronx, circa 1964. If you’ve seen John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, you know that the oppressively vigilant Sister Aloysius, troubled by what she considers Father Flynn’s dangerously close relationship with a black male student, accuses him of sexual molestation. Before long, life becomes holy hell for Father and Sister alike. By the way, Crosby and Bergman both received Oscar nominations for their performances in "The Bells of St. Mary's." Can you possibly doubt that "Doubt" will provide a similar springboard for Streep and Hoffman? To read Diane Baroni's 2002 interview with Amy Adams, click here. Now Playing

FROST/NIXON: Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt, Patty McCormack, Toby Jones, Jenn Gotzon, Rebecca Hall (Directed by Ron Howard; Written by Peter Morgan; Universal) Richard Nixon may be the second worst president the American public ever had to endure. In 1977--three years after bidding a mortifying adieu to the White House, thereby avoiding impeachment because of the Watergate scandal--he agreed to appear in a series of televised conversations with British media giant David Frost. Nixon learned too late that he should have played harder to get; as it turned out, Frost stripped him bare, exposing his soul for anyone who owned a television set to see. Fortunately, Peter Morgan, author of the screenplay for “The Queen,” decided to explore the confrontation between these two strong-willed men in dramatic terms. The resulting play was a triumph in London and on Broadway. Best of all, director Ron Howard had the smarts to nail Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, the duo who brought Nixon and Frost to riveting life on stage (Langella won a Best Actor Tony for his take on Tricky Dicky). An unexpected bonus: Patty McCormack, the kid who received an Oscar nomination for her playing of the title role in the 1956 flick "The Bad Seed," plays the long-suffering Pat Nixon this time out. Click here to read about more new biopics. Now Playing

HAIRSPRAY: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Queen Latifah, Christopher Walken, Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Zac Efron (Directed by Adam Shankman; Written by Leslie Dixon; New Line) There is nothing like a dame, especially when she’s played by John Travolta. The dude who once made women quiver when he went into his dance in “Saturday Night Fever” is sure to swivel and even sing as he takes on the role of Edna Turnblad in this adaptation of the hit musical based on John Waters’ 1988 cult film. Edna, played by the fabulously cross-dressing Divine in the original movie and by Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway show, is an ambitious 1960s mom trying to ease Tracy, her plump, perky daughter, through her troubled teens. The kid is played by newcomer Nikki Blonsky; Queen Latifah will strut her stuff as Motormouth Maybelle; and, believe it or not, Michelle Pfeiffer, who proved she could really sing in “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” will belt out a hot number or two as Velma Von Tussle, the menacing producer of a TV dance show on which Tracy is dying to perform. Now Playing

MAMMA MIA!:
Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard, Julie Walters, Dominic Cooper, Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski, Hemi Yeroham (Directed by Phyllida Lloyd; Written by Catherine Johnson; Universal) We’re all aware that Meryl Streep can do anything--in any medium and with whatever accent is required. So we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised to hear that she will sing out, loud and clear, in the movie version of the smash ABBA-loaded musical “Mamma Mia!”. If you’ve seen the show, you know the mama she’ll be playing is the proud mother of a bride-to-be. You also know that she’s never revealed the identity of the man to whom she owes her motherhood and that her daughter, determined to come face to face with dad, has invited the three most likely sires to her wedding on a Greek isle. (Could daddy be the cool architect played by Pierce Brosnan?) The big question is, can Meryl put over a song? If you had the pleasure of hearing her warble in “Postcards From the Edge” or “A Prairie Home Companion,” you know the answer is an emphatic yes. And once she gets “Mama Mia” out of the way, let’s hope she moves on to “Gypsy,” “Wonderful Town,” “Mame,” "Applause" and “Pal Joey. To read about more new musicals, click here. Now Playing

NINE:
Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Sophia Loren, Judi Dench (Directed by Rob Marshall; Written by Michael Tolkin; Weinstein Company) Who could forget “8 1⁄2,” the stunning 1963 film in which Marcello Mastroianni, under the direction of Federico Fellini, played a Felliniesque director who made more women than movies? Certainly, composer Maury Yeston and dramatist Arthur Kopit could not erase this classic from their memories. That’s why, in 1982, they came up with a Broadway musicalization of it starring the late, great Raul Julia as the womanizing auteur on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The show, called “Nine,” was successfully revived in 2003, showcasing the song-and-dance skills of Antonio Banderas. And now, here comes the movie version of the hit musical, directed by Rob Marshall, who gave us “Chicago,” and starring Daniel Day Lewis, one of the few actors now working who could be ranked alongside Marcello Mastroianni. Penelope Cruz plays his mistress, Marion Cotillard, who triumphed as Edith Piaf in “La Vie en Rose,” is his shortchanged wife, Nicole Kidman is an actress who greatly inspires him, Kate Hudson is a fashion reporter who intrigues him, and Sophia Loren will presumably haunt him and us as the ghost of his Mama. Opening date to be announced

RABBIT HOLE: Nicole Kidman (Written by David Lindsay-Abaire; Fox Searchlight) The serenity of a suburban family is shattered when a four-year-old boy is killed by the driver of a speeding car. Will a visit from the teen-ager who was behind the wheel bring solace to the boy’s mother, or will it fill her with rage? David Lindsay-Abaire's play won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and Cynthia Nixon was awarded a Tony for her performance as the grief-ravaged woman. Does that mean Nicole Kidman, who received an Oscar for "The Hours," will be nabbing another statuette? Opening date to be announced

SLEUTH: Michael Caine, Jude Law (Directed by Kenneth Branagh; Written by Harold Pinter; Sony Pictures Classics) A distinguished, conniving, sexually possessive playwright discovers that his lovely wife is having a red-hot fling with a brazen young actor. So, while his wife is away, he invites the handsome adulterer to spend the weekend with him at his secluded manor. Just a couple of buddies amusing--and possibly even murdering--one another. If this all sounds more than a little familiar to you, that may be because you saw Anthony Shaffer’s thriller on stage, as well as the 1972 movie version starring Laurence Olivier as the wordsmith and Michael Caine as the thespian. This time, Caine is playing the cuckold and the role of the sneaky lover has been entrusted to Jude Law (who, as you no doubt know, played the shameless womanizer in the remake of “Alfie,” a role brought memorably to life by Michael Caine in the original). Now Playing

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen (Directed by Tim Burton; Written by John Logan; DreamWorks and Paramount) From “Edward Scissorhands” to “Ed Wood,” Johnny Depp and his favorite director, Tim Burton, have never been afraid to come across as creepy. Even so, it’s a jolt to learn that their sixth collaboration will be “Sweeney Todd,” the film version of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 musical about the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, an ex-con who slashes the throats of his customers in order to supply ingredients for the succulent pies to be baked and sold by his equally demonic mate (Helena Bonham Carter, whose casting surely had nothing to do with the fact that she is the mom of Billy-Ray Burton, son of the film's director). Sing out, Johnny! Now Playing

A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE: Annette Bening, Sienna Miller, Sean Bean (Directed by Janusz Kaminski; Written by Howard Himelstein; Myriad Pictures) Suppose you were a proper young lady who had the misfortune of being seduced and abandoned by a wealthy, unscrupulous gentleman. What would you do if, years later, your grown-up son proudly introduced you to his powerful new mentor, a man who--unbeknownst to the poor bastard--is his own father, the very same scoundrel who decided to cut and run decades ago? That’s the question Oscar Wilde wanted Victorian theater-goers to ponder when he turned out “A Woman of No Importance” in 1893, and that’s the question screenwriter Howard Himelstein hopes we’ll struggle with in his update of the play. The question I’m truly struggling with is, do I really want to sit through a revamping of Wilde by the man who gave us “A Good Woman,” the terminally tame version of the witty playwright’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan”? Quick, somebody stop this man before he goes completely Wilde! Opening date to be announced