Wednesday, January 25, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Faux Feuds

Twisted sisters — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Wednesday Rap:  Annette Bening Robbed!!! ... Joan Crawford, still underrated ... Jame McAvoy, brilliant in "Split" ... Howard Rosenman, at Veau d'Or and in Sundance.

“BETTE DAVIS (the greater actress) and Joan Crawford (the more glamorous star) were longtime rivals since their heydays during the ‘30s and ‘40s.”

That’s the wonderful writer Jess Cagle, in Entertainment Weekly’s cover story about the coming limited TV series “Feud: Bette and Joan.”  (Susan Sarandon is Bette. Jessica Lange is Joan. On the cover, Sarandon is done up as Davis in “All About Eve,” and looks remarkably like Tallulah Bankhead. Well, Davis herself seemed to channel Bankhead in the 1950 film. Ms. Lange looks like Miss Lange, in a dark wig.)

What we want to say here is that the idea, the perception, of Davis as the greater actress needs to be re-examined.  Of course she was a great actress, in a patented, mannerism-heavy unmistakably “Bette” way.  She was a star. She was magnificent. So magnificent that when she was bad (as in not acting well) she was almost better than when she was good.

Crawford, although afflicted often with MGM pretensions (those rolling r’s)  was less burdened by vocal and physicals tics, and as a young actress, especially, could submerge herself in a role more convincingly than Davis.  Despite three Oscar nominations and one win (“Mildred Pierce,” which was not even her best work) Crawford never quite got her due, and of course, post “Mommie Dearest” she gets even less.
Both women were, as we say today, hot messes; two twisted sisters. And they didn’t like one another — although I believe the “feud” has been wildly exaggerated.  But as actresses, they could stand toe to toe. (On that big movie set in the sky, Miss Crawford is looking up from her knitting and vodka, saying, “Bless you, dear.”  Miss Davis is sloshing down a bourbon and saying, well — it also ends with " ... you!"

... WE will have a bit to say about the Oscar nominations tomorrow.  But right off, I am staggered, outraged that Annette Bening was not nominated for “20th Century Women.” Very happy for Jeff Bridges for “Hell and High Water.”  Also glad to see “Hell and ...”  in the Best Picture category.  Spiting mad over Annette. Disgraceful.
... REVIEWERS thought they’d lure me to M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, “Split” with accolades such as “a great return to form.”  All fine and well, but — I hated his form!  Why can’t he think outside of his box and do a screen remake of, oh — Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”?  (Eh, his version would end up with Amanda and Elyot as ghosts or zombies, or a poor couple in Appalachia having a dream — which to them would be a nightmare.)
The last two times I saw Shyamalan films at screenings — industry screenings — people actually hooted, talked back at the movie, groaned and in the case of “The Happening” threw things!  I’ll never forget “The Happening” event because Mark Wahlberg's performance was so bad, people were crying out, “Stop! Stop him!  He must stop talking!”  It was actually the best time I never had at a Shyamalan film.  (To be fair, Mark is a good actor, and now he’s gone all John Wayne-ish heroic/patriotic.  I think he was directed poorly in “The Happening.”) 
I saved  Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender,” “Devil” and “After Earth” for home viewing. “Devil” had its moments.   And, so does “Split,” perhaps because it follows a more conventional premise — crazy man (James McAvoy) kidnaps three young women.  He has 23 personalities.  Who gets out alive?  Which personality dominates?  There’s a Hitchcock on steroids feel, and two particularly good performances.  Anya Taylor-Joy as one of the kidnapped women and McAvoy's. He is one of the most talented, sexiest and ingratiating actors around.   This guy has been terrific in films as varied as “The Last King of Scotland,” “Atonement,” “Filth” and of course as Charles Xavier in the “X-Men” movies.  
James McAvoy as one very mentally ill man with 23 personalities in "Split."
“Split” gives him more scenery to chew on than he’s ever had before, and he is superb; it’s a dazzling pyrotechnic acting display. I read one review that chided him for being “too much, too actory.”  I say, too much is never enough when you’re playing somebody with 23 personalities. He must have needed a rest cure after this!  (Betty Buckley appears as McAvoy’s understandably concerned therapist. She is lovely.)
Director Shyamalan is famous for his “twist” endings and “Split” has a ... well, not a twist, a confusion.  Let’s just say I was confused, and annoyed.  I’m never going to really be a fan of this director’s work, although I have to admire his I’ll-go-my-own-way determination.  But I recommend his latest because of the terrific performance  of Mr. McAvoy.  It is something to see!
... IN the look-for-the-silver-lining department. While Britons still ponder the wisdom of Brexit, American filmmakers are very happy indeed. The English pound has dropped to $1.20 against the Yankee dollar, a 30-year low.  This means our big bucks go even further over there, where more and more movies are filmed (The Marvel franchise, “Rogue One,” etc).  The fabled Pinewood Studios is doubling its size, and Warner Bros. is expanding its shooting operations as well.  The only fly in the ointment is that many UK-based studios are dependent on immigrants. A clampdown could affect productivity. But, The Hollywood Reporter declares: “If the Brits get the work-permit and immigration aspects fixed, the U.K. may be entering a boom time.”

Hollywood to the rescue!
The "Pinewood Studios Development Framework" would see the development of an additional 30,000 sq m of stages and approximately the same amount of workshops and 34,500 sq m of production offices, not to mention a backlot.
I HAD dinner the other night at Veau d’Or with my longtime friend Howard Rosenman. If one asks Howard what’s going on, he always answers with energy “Something great!” This is what he said to me years ago when he was toiling making TV ads for diapers. He told me, of course, that he wanted to quit and write a screenplay.

I encouraged Howard and sure enough, he quickly penned a screenplay about three girls in Harlem who make it big as a singing team. “Sparkle” went down in cinema history. It was a precursor to “Dreamgirls.”
Howard Rosenman with Jordin Sparks and DeVon Franklin at the "Sparkle" premiere after party in 2012.
Howard went to Hollywood and made films at the top with none other than Barbara Streisand, and other worthies. It was Howard who later won an Oscar for his work in the creation of the AIDS quilt. This raised millions in that on-going fight. And he appeared in the film “Milk” as an angry gay moneyman.
So now, almost before I can print this, “my” Howard is at Sundance submitting a new movie, a gay love story titled, “Call Me By Your Name.” (This film is based on the acclaimed 2007 about book of the same name, written by Andre Aciman.)

Howard secured rights to the story, and sold this film to Sony. Directed by Luca Guadagnino, it stars Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet as the young men in love. They are both reportedly wonderful, as is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays the father of one of the boys, offering up sage, compassionate advice.  
Luca Guadagnino, right, with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom.
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson calls the movie “a wonder ... a true stunner, sexy, sad and funny. It’s life, messy and brilliant.” (James Ivory collaborated with director Guadagnino on the screenplay.)

But in spite of all this glory and success, Howard let me treat him to dinner. As you know — when you sell a project these days, you don’t get paid a dime until the film itself is done and comes out!

So Howard and Liz are not living high on the hog yet!
Howard at Sundance with director Luca Guadagnino and Timothee Chalamet, who is a "gigantic movie star," says Howard.
Contact Liz here.