Tuesday, July 11, 2017

LIZ SMITH: History Repeating

Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis in In This Our Life (1942).
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Movies — Remakes, Reboots and Nuns Run Amok!  Also, The Great Olivia de Havilland is NOT Amused by Ryan Murphy’s “Feud.” 

“THE newspapers shout a new style is growing, but it don't know if it's coming or going/there is fashion, there is fad, some is good, some is bad and the joke is rather sad/that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

So sang (and swayed!) the great Shirley Bassey, on the 1998 rendition of “History Repeating” with The Propellerheads.
THIS SONG — and the fabulous video! — got stuck in my propeller head a bit after a weekend of movie-going. 

First I took myself off to see Sofia Coppola’s remake of “The Beguiled.”  Don Siegel’s 1971 version of this, starring Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page, was not much of a hit. But over the years became a great cult film, reexamined and re-appreciated.  (I enjoyed it immensely at first viewing, way back then.) 
Clint Eastwood and Geraldine Page having a good time between takes of "The Beguiled."
Coppola’s take might travel a similar long path to full appreciation.  It is moody and hypnotically beautiful to look at — perhaps too moody and beautiful.  What I missed was the raw, sordid vibe of the Siegal original.  In its tale of a wounded Union soldier cared for by a clutch of Southern maidens (and the older woman who ran what was once a fine school for girls). The Eastwood/Page version had an invigoratingly exploitive vibe that complimented the material — mixed with the now beloved '70s style of cinematography. 

Eastwood, as the manipulative soldier and Page (especially!) as the matriarch with a rich, lurid fantasy life, were not subtle.  It was creepy and it was fun, and eventually, nasty indeed.
Coppola’s “The Beguiled” is somewhat harder to pin down. It is more beautiful, more elegant, cleaner (Nicole Kidman and all her girls appear surprisingly well put-together, and the dilapidated mansion is exquisite even in ruin.)  It is also much more — it seems to me— about female solidarity, rather than the more tawdry vindictiveness of the first film.  It floats rather than really settling in. And Colin Farrell, charming and attractive as ever, is something of a mystery, which the character certainly was not in the original. Farrell’s soldier reminds me more of the misunderstood (or is she?) character of “My Cousin Rachel.”  Does Farrell deserve what he gets in the end? Eastwood certainly did! 
Colin Farrell with Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst in “The Beguiled.”
All performances — Kidman, Farrell, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, etc. — are fine, but seem hard to connect with.  At least at first viewing.  Yes, like all of Ms. Coppola’s films, I feel I need more time with it.  I came to love her “Marie Antoinette.” But I have to admit I might be one of the few people on earth who does not consider “Lost in Translation” a masterpiece. And I’ve tried! 

“The Beguiled” is still worth the effort. Especially for an audience unfamiliar with the original. 
Nicole Kidman and all her girls in "The Beguiled."
THEN, I went to see “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”  And here I have to scratch my head and ask — why?  Not that there’s anything “wrong” with it.  Tom Holland is charming, and at 21 looks a very convincing 15, as Peter Parker, who accidentally becomes Spider Man.  But other than that, it’s essentially the same basic story, the same Spidey moves, certainly the same suit.  Holland is no better, nor worse, than Tobey Maquire who originated Spider-Man onscreen back in 2002 and then in two sequels. Or Andrew Garfield, who “freshened” it 2012 and 14. I wonder at the time and money spent and, frankly, who is on the horizon for the next young man to be wedged into that outfit.  I was entertained, but I was just as entertained five times previously. 
Tom Holland as Spider-Man.
FINALLY, I took in “The Little Hours.”  This ribald (okay — outrageously vulgar) near-romp didn’t remind me of much of anything.  Well, perhaps a really good old “Monty Python.”  Very loosely based on Boccaccio’s  “The Decameron,” it tells of a 12th century young man (the very attractive Dave Franco) who seeks refuge in nunnery, pretending to be a deaf-mute. His alluring physical presence incites three nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Kate Mirucci) to sexually harass him at every turn.
Dave Franco in “The Little Hours.”
It’s sort of like “The Beguiled” on acid, with no language or behavioral restrictions.  The film is not quite the satire on religious strictures causing near madness that writer/director Jeff Baena likely intended it to be; it seems really, more like an extended, R-rated comedy skit.  But, it satisfied my occasional taste for bad behavior and political incorrectness.  NOT for everyone, I must emphasize this!

But I preferred “The Little Hours” to the rash of current comedies featuring women behaving badly, just to prove they can be as crass as the boys. (Is that something women really need to prove?) Maybe the nod to classical literature and the medieval period took the curse off, for me? Just be prepared.  These are not the nuns of “The Sound of Music.”
Sexual aggressors Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, and Kate Micucci.
I MISSED this news, when it broke a week ago, and perhaps others did as well.  The great, the divine Olivia de Havilland, age 101, has filed suit against producer Ryan Murphy, over the way she was portrayed in Murphy’s FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan.” (Miss deHavilland was played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.)  The suit claims that all the dialogue put into de Havilland’s mouth, via Murphy, “are completely false, some inherently so.” 
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland in “Feud: Bette and Joan.”
Furthermore: “Olivia de Havilland has made efforts, spent time and money, protecting her well-defined public image as one who does not engage in gossip and other unkind, ill-mannered behavior.” So the lawsuit reads.

Ryan Murphy says he did not contact Miss de Havilland because he did not wish be “disrespectful.”  That has to be the funniest comment made either as part of the “Feud” script or about the show itself.  Full speed ahead, Olivia! (Give in Mr. Murphy.  Miss de Havilland survived five movies with Bette Davis, eight with Errol Flynn, “The Swarm” and “Airport ‘77.” And remember how she dealt with Montgomery Clift in “The Heiress.”  She has been taught by masters.) 
Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift in “The Heiress.” 
Click to order "Kennedy and King: The President, the Pastor, and the Battle over Civil Rights."
ENDQUOTE:  The final paragraph in James Goodman’s excellent New York Times review of  Steven Levingston’s “Kennedy and King: “The President, The Pastor and the Battle over Civil Rights.”

Goodman observes: “Kennedy and King” will most likely leave readers thinking that what is needed today is not more leaders ... what is needed are ordinary people: alert, informed, engaged, mobilized, idealistic but not naïve, critical but not hopeless, confident about who they are and what they want but able and inclined to work with all sorts of others, exercising rights won at enormous cost, starting with the right to vote. 

“What is needed, in short, are more citizens, prepared to lead our leaders towards a more promising land.”

Also a valuable New York Times read — Eitan Hersh’s piece on “political hobbyism.”  Aimed particularly at Democrats who are — naturally — alarmed and agitated by the current atmosphere, but not doing as much as they think they are.
Matt Chase 
Contact Liz here.