Tuesday, October 4, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Ambitious efforts

Ruling the roost as Alexis Carrington.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Remake "Citizen Kane" If You Like, but Leave "Dynasty" (and Alexis!) to the Ages!  Also: "The Mandibles" ... "Westworld" and "American Honey."

“NONE OF us are sure what your motives are Alexis.”

Motives?  That’s an ugly implication.”

So it goes between Joan Collins as Alexis Carrington and Linda Evans as Krystle Carrington, (the ex and current wives of oil baron Blake Carrington) in the first scene the actresses shared in the second season of a struggling nighttime soap opera, titled “Dynasty.”
Of course, it wouldn’t struggle long.  From the moment Miss Collins, a great beauty who’d never had the right career breaks swept into a courtroom scene, the series belonged to her, and she took it and herself to the pinnacle of TV success.

For the next three or four seasons Ms. Collins and company ruled the roost. (On Wednesday nights, it was “dinner and Dynasty” for millions of TV viewers.)
Can I Get a Witness?!
Then inevitably, the witty writing stalled, the amusing storylines palled and all the characters were reduced to barking, endlessly, “Get out!” I’ll be back!” and “I hate you!” (The show lasted nine seasons and even the most devoted fans were not sorry to see it end.)  

Through it all Miss Evans looked gorgeous and behaved as if Blake (John Forsythe) had had her lobotomized at some point. (She truly came to life only when the script required her to physically abuse Joan. Miss Collins, delicate beneath the brass and eyeliner, hated all the fight scenes and usually employed a double for the extreme beat-downs.)
Collins, who effortlessly wore more makeup, wigs and fur than any woman before or since, was literally electrified with pleasure that after 49 years, she’d finally become the star she should have been back in the 1950’s.  Her pleasure in her late-life fame was evident in her every gesture on and off screen.  She made hay while the sun shined.  Actually, she made gold while the sun shined!
Alexis — not a member of PETA!
“Dallas” and “Knots Landing” and "Falcon Crest” all had their assets and pleasures, but nothing in the history of nighttime soaps compared to the outrageous, juicy carrying on of the denizens of Denver — including the inclusion of a gay character, Steven Carrington, one of Alexis’ ever-increasing brood of children. (She started off with two, but others kept popping out of the woodwork, willy nilly.)  Steven was rather a bore, but producer Aaron Spelling deserved credit for keeping the character alive in the 1980’s when AIDS was a new and terrifying disease.
When not depleting the world of furry creatures, or plotting revenge, Alexis often "nibbled" in between withering put-downs.
Now, because nothing can ever be left alone, the CW Network is planning to revive/reboot “Dynasty.”  The names will be the same, although the perspectives will be different (younger, natch.)  Krystle, the second Mrs. Carrington will now be called Cristal, and is Hispanic. (In the original, much was made, negatively, of Linda Evans’ character having once been a secretary. I suppose now the Carrington offspring, who so objected to Krystal’s expert dictation, will now talk a lot about “building a wall” between Cristal and the new Blake?)

Sigh!  Didn’t anybody learn anything from the dreary reboot of “Dallas?”   No word yet on casting.  But the one person who need never fear that her legacy is in danger of being usurped is Miss Collins. 
She, the original writers, costume designer Nolan Miller, and whoever was responsible for fastening the tresses of hundreds of financially hard-up humans on Joan's head every week, created an indelible, classic character.

Maybe the CW producers should simply have her reprise the role?  Joan still looks terrific, and maintains an energy level and vitality that seems superhuman. 

Just putting it out there.
Click to order “The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047."
READING: Lionel Shriver’s “The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047." This tale, set in the not-so-distant future, takes on what might happen to the United States (and the word) should the economy collapse — if the dollar suddenly has no value, and must be replaced by a new currency. 

This is a far more grim and realistic apocalyptic/dystopian view of almost-End-Times than roaming zombies, deadly new viruses, or even nuclear war — the most favored extreme scenarios.  I’ve rarely been as unsettled by a fiction that seems so scarily possible. Well, not since Frederic C. Rich’s “Christian Nation.” That one posited an America and its people under a theocracy.  

“The Mandibles” makes you want to check your finances, until you realize if the dollar fails, you have no finances.  It is sobering make-believe that is not outside a sobering reality.
WATCHING TV:  Given the near-rapturous reviews, I checked in on HBO’s “Westworld” series about hapless (so far) robots and the inhuman humans, who abuse them.   I’ll have to give it a few more episodes.  I became a bit confused at first at who were the robots and who were the “real” people.  Not gripping enough, right off the bat.  It’s no “The Night Of” let’s put it that way.  But, as it is meant to be HBO’s new “Game of Thrones” — going on for at least four seasons — we shall see. (Of course, that’s what they had hoped for “Vinyl.”)  “Westworld” is certainly ambitious! (And it’s always great to see Anthony Hopkins in anything.)
WATCHING MOVIES:  Speaking of “ambitious” efforts — director Andrea Arnold’s two hour forty minute “road movie” titled “American Honey” certainly deserves that accolade. (Or caveat, depending on how one feels about or anticipates spending so much time at movie with epic length, but not a toga, sandal or chariot to be seen!)

Length here is a problem, but I have to say there’s something so fresh and vital about the movie; a gritty immediacy and also oddly dreamlike.  Given its running time and the many episodes within, “American Honey” is, in short, about a teenage drifter (Sasha Lane) who falls in with a group of equally disaffected, ratty young people who travel across the country selling — of all things — magazine subscriptions.  It’s a con, run by pierced and tattooed Shia LaBeouf and hard-eyed Riley Keough.
Shia LaBeouf and Sasha Lane in “American Honey."
This is a coming of age movie about a heroine who doesn’t care about coming of age — she’s simply escaping, no plan, no ambition — maybe just a bit of wistful hope. Most of her rag-tag group of new friends are equally adrift, hedonistic, downright nuts.  And if that seems a slender tale for two and half hours, it is. 

And yet, “American Honey” is so beautifully photographed, and takes such a pleasure in its storytelling — which seems casual to the point of improvisation — that it is easy to forgive director Arnold some excess.

Rambling, shambling, innocent and cynical, ugly and beautiful, the movie has a hypnotic quality, enhanced by an eclectic soundtrack — music that seems appropriate, not just stuck in for the inevitable CD. (Although, I could have done without a few of the cast sing-alongs as they travel through middle-America, fake-selling magazines.)
Riley Keough as the calculating Krystal.
Sasha Lane is a newcomer, and she is exceptionally convincing as Star, girl on the run.  Riley Keough (granddaughter of Elvis Presley) is spot-on as the calculating Krystal — the real leader of the pack, and not to be messed with. 

As for Shia LaBeouf, his seductive, volatile performance makes up for all of the actor’s strange “living art” behavior and other quirks of recent years. Long a favorite of this column, ever since 2005’s “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” this is LaBeouf’s best work in quite some time. Welcome back, Shia.

“American Honey” — it’s the sweet life for those who take their cinema seriously.
A conflicted Shia at the Berlin Film Festival. (At least he wore black tie with that paper bag.)

Contact Liz here.