Friday, July 14, 2017

"The Beguiled" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "The Beguiled" as well as DVDs "Life" and last year's Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film - "The Salesman."  The Book of the Week is "The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People's Temple" by Jeff Guinn.  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with another Jean Vigo film: "L'Atalante"]

The Beguiled

It's three years into the Civil War and wounded Union soldier John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is discovered by a young girl and taken to her Southern school where three sexually-repressed women and three other young girls live.  What do you think might happen?  Gee, really?

Well, you are right.

But before I get into the story, I feel a rant coming on.

I know I ranted last week about sequels.  Well, this week it's about remakes.

This film is a remake of the 1971 film starring Clint Eastwood as McBurney and directed by Don Siegel.  After reminding myself of the first film, from what I can gather there are few changes to this script.  For one, there was a black character, a slave named Matilda, who has been eliminated from the story and director Sophia Coppola has taken some heat for that.  In this film, there is a statement that the slaves had all left, which I thought was strange. And the first film also had a theme of incest and lots more sex which is not present here.  But since the first film was directed by Don Siegel, a director known more for action films aimed at men than films starring women and who purportedly said of this film that it was about "the basic desire of women to castrate men," I can see why Coppola, a woman, didn't copy the first film.

So, anyway, here is the thing about remakes. 

I would think the reason you would remake a film is because the first film was so awesome, you want to update it and see it again.  But then I have to ask, if the first film was so great, why remake it?  Let it live out its artistic life as a wonderful film. This seems to happen most often with films that start out as foreign films.  We Americans just can't seem to handle subtitles. A perfect example of this is the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which was a highly acclaimed Swedish film and made both Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist (who just recently died at only 56) stars. Yes, I know it was in Swedish with English subtitles, but grow up, people.  You can deal with those subtitles. Though the remake was also highly acclaimed, that first film did not need to be remade.  But OK, that remake worked out. But then there is the remake that falls short like "The Secret in Their Eyes," a fantastic Argentinian film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010 and was remade in 2015 as a vehicle for Nicole Kidman and Julia Roberts and was reworked into something unrecognizable, especially since I had seen the original.

So for me, unlike sequels, where it is important to remember what happened in the first film in order to know what the heck is going on in the sequel, for a remake, it works best if you DON'T remember the first film so you are not comparing the two. As I said, Coppola has changed the film out a bit from the first one, and since I saw the first film 46 years ago and can't remember what happened in it anyway, I was able to take this film on face value as a new film. So maybe this isn't really a remake of a film that didn't need to be remade after all, but more a woman's version of the story, a better version since I am not a big Clint Eastwood fan anyway and take issue with Siegel's lame I guess, never mind.  Sorry I said anything.

So on with the story!

Young Amy (Oona Laurence, a child actress who I remember from "Bad Moms" and who is one of the few that I don't hate) is out looking for mushrooms in the sultry countryside near her Southern school - the Farnsworth Seminary for Young Girls - when she comes upon a wounded Union soldier, who introduces himself as Corporal John McBurney.  He seems harmless enough and Amy has a tender heart, because she loves all living things and I guess that includes wounded Union soldiers, so she helps him up and takes him to her school where six other women and young girls have taken refuge.  These women and girls are on their own because the slaves have supposedly all left and these are the girls who had nowhere else to go.

The school is presided over by Miss Martha Farmsworth (Nicole Kidman), hence the school's name, and classes are taught by Miss Edwina (Kirsten Dunst).  In addition to Amy, the other students are Alicia (Elle Fanning), Marie (Addison Riecke), Emily (Emma Howard) and Jane (Angourie Rice, who is currently starring in the new Spider Man movie).

Though Miss Martha plans to let the local Confederate Army know about Corporal McBurney by tying a blue cloth onto the school gate, an agreed upon alert when Union soldiers are about, she also believes helping McBurney is her Christian duty so they install him on a couch and lock him in the music room where Miss Martha proceeds to tend to his wounded leg. She also gets the idea to bathe McBurney, who has fallen into a sort of coma, so she dismisses the girls who are all agog at having a man in the house and proceeds to give him a sponge bath, almost succumbing to a case of the vapors while doing so.  She gets so turned on that she has to splash her face with cold water.

Thus sets the scene for each woman and young girl to jockey for the attention of this handsome man in their midst, and as they do so, jealousy, sexual tension and eventually violence ensues.  It also doesn't help that McBurney knows his power and charm and uses it to manipulate and insinuate himself into the lives of these women and girls. 

In addition to the sexual repression that reeks from Miss Martha, Miss Edwina is also all aflutter, and when McBurney asks what she would wish for if she could have anything she wanted, she reveals that she would leave the school and never come back. He tells her she is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen, and you know what that does to a woman when a man tells her that, right?  Meanwhile, Alicia is a fascinated teenager and one night excuses herself from evening prayer to go into McBurney's room and kiss him goodnight.  So now we have three women all vying for the attentions of Corporal McBurney.

So you see, not good.  Some very not good stuff is going to happen.

Director Sophia Coppola (who won the Best Director prize at Cannes this year for this film) has adapted this screenplay (this and the earlier film was based on Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel) and created a stultifying and stifling atmosphere ripe for the sexual tension that ensues when these women and girls are confronted with a man in their midst.  And Farrell does a good job of playing the charming McBurney who easily accepts the attentions of the women and girls but when the tables turn shows his ugly side.  And it's not easy creating a character with depth when you are lying on your back for the most of the film, which is the case for Farrell.

Kidman is excellent as the buttoned-up school marm doing her "Christian duty" by caring for a Union soldier but who slowly warms toward McBurney.  Likewise, Dunst does a good job as Edwina who was able to hold in her desires until the man of her dreams appears.  Elle Fanning is also good as the curious teenager who is eventually the catalyst that leads to the final tragic ending. You know how I feel about child actors, but Laurence is particularly memorable as the young Amy who loves her pet turtle and all living things.  Likewise, the other young girls also all play their parts well.

The opening frame of the film when the title appears harks back to costume films from The Golden Age of Hollywood such as "Gone With the Wind" and "Raintree County," and this film has that kind of feel. Coppola is aided in creating the broody gothic atmosphere that is so important to this film by Philippe Le Sourd's beautifully dreamy cinematography  and a moody score based on Monteverdi's "Magnificat" arranged by Laura Karpman.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...I am not going to hold it against this film that it's a remake since I couldn't remember the original, so let's forget the first one and if you like slow-burning Southern Gothic films, you will enjoy this.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Life (2017)

Life Poster

Soil samples from Mars arrive at the International Space Station and when the sample proves to house a life form, all hell breaks loose.

An all-star cast flies around in zero gravity in this sci-fi film that is also a horror film reminiscent of "Alien."  Well, not just reminiscent.  Very much like "Alien." But it not only begs the question "Is there life on Mars," but also asks "Do we really want to find out?"

Sho Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada), Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal), Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) and Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) are the multinational crew of the International Space Station, representing the United States, the UK, Russia and Japan.  Sho's wife has just had a baby back on earth; Rory is the ship's mechanic; Miranda is from the CDC; David is the crew's medic and was just breaking the record for most consecutive days in space (400+) and is in no hurry to get back having become disgusted with what he saw there; Hugh is an exo-biologist; and I wasn't ever sure what Ekaterina did.  She was some kind of commander.

Anyway, after receiving a sample from Mars they discover an organism that is incontravertible proof that there is life beyond earth.  As they broadcast this find to earth, there is much excitement and there is even a contest where school children compete to name the organism.  The winning name is Calvin.

The film is slow to get started as we get to know the astronauts.  And as Calvin grows, we are lulled into thinking that it is benign.  Think again.  The gotcha moment is coming soon and then its non-stop intensity.  That little bugger Calvin may look like a starfish made out of jello but he is very strong and smart and when he finds his way out of the incubator it starts picking off the crew members one by one.

We lose Rory Adams early on in a very gross scene similar to the one in "Alien," except instead of the alien busting out of Rory's body he gets inside and's not pretty.  I couldn't help but wonder why Reynolds would want such a small part in this film.

Soon the crew loses all communication with earth.  Can this get any worse?

Why, yes it can!  And it does!

Jordan and North must make some difficult decisions.  Can they get back to earth?  And if so, how do they make sure that Calvin doesn't come with them?

Directed by Daniel Espinosa with a screenplay by Rhett Rheese and Paul Wernick, not sure how this movie got lost but it didn't stay in theatres long. Too bad because it's really good and really scary and really gross, if you like that kind of thing.  

There was just one little thing that bothered me, and I am terrible about noticing inconsistencies and mistakes, no matter how small.  Much is made of the children's book "Goodnight Moon" but please people.  From the size and thickness of the book in the movie, you would think that "Goodnight Moon" is a chapter book. It's not.  Like I said, I notice stuff like that.  I know, it's irritating, but I can't help it.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the stuff that nightmares are made a good way!

The Salesman (2016)

When a woman is assaulted in her new apartment, her husband goes on a mission to find the attacker and seek revenge.

I have to admit at the outset, I am a huge fan of director Asghar Farhadi.  I loved his film "A Separation (which rightfully won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012), I loved his next film "The Past," and this one is no exception, and amazingly and deservedly, also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this last year, though Farhadi was not able to pick up his Oscar in person because of Trump's travel ban. 

Farhadi's characters may be Iranian and the films are in Farsi, but the storylines he pursues have no nationality or particular language.  They embody the drama of the daily lives and human emotions that people from all over the world can relate to.

This time, we are introduced to Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti), a married couple who are forced out of their apartment because it is crumbling due to construction next door.  He is a literature teacher and both are part of an amateur theatre troupe that is putting on Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," so when one of the actors says he has an apartment they can move into, they jump at the chance. 

Soon after moving into the new apartment, Rana leaves the play early, goes home and gets ready to take a shower when the door buzzer goes off.  Thinking it's her husband, she buzzes him in and off she goes to the shower leaving the door open.

Not good.

You see, it is revealed that the person who lived in the apartment before them was a prostitute and the person Rana let into the apartment was a man looking for the prostitute's services.

We don't see what happened, we only see Emad arriving home to find blood on the stairs and in the bathroom and that his wife is in the hospital.

Farhadi is a master at dealing with human emotions and the heart of this film is shame, avoiding shame, which is particularly important in repressive societies like Iran.  Rana doesn't want to go to the police because she feels shame that it was she who unlocked the door and let the man in.  In those kinds of societies, and even in religions here in the United States, rather than people believing that someone is innocent until proven guilty, we have to prove it's not our fault that something happened to us. And revenge and honor killings are also major parts of dealing with shame.  And being humiliated in front of one's family is worse than death. This theme is played out not only with Emad and Rana but later in the film when the perpetrator is confronted.

Emad goes on a mission to find this man who attacked his wife.  Farhadi builds the emotion and intensity that Emad is feeling and when he eventually finds the man we see the rift between men and woman and the repressive chauvinistic society that breeds that schism.

The making of "The Death of a Salesman" is a side-plot, but its story is so key to this one and provides many layers.  One layer is a political one, the difficulty Iranians might have putting on such a potently American play but the other layer is the correlation between the humiliation that the character - Willy Loman - felt in the play and the humiliation being dealt with by the characters in the film. The play also provides an important link to the title of this film and asks the question:  Who is the salesman?

As I said, I am a huge fan of Farhadi's.  The theme of a husband going on a mission to seek revenge for an attack on his wife is a theme that has been done many times before, but in Farhadi's masterful hands, it's new and original. His films are wonderful so I hope you won't be put off by subtitles.  This is an important film.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you read my reviews, you know what it means when I cry at the end of a film.  I cry when I know I have just seen a really brilliant film.  I cried.
(In Farsi with English subtitles)

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

194 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

L'Atalante (1934)

Juliette (Dita Parlo) and her new husband, ship captain, Jean (Jean Daste), start their marriage aboard his ship, L'Atalante, along with first mate Jules (Michel Simon) and a cabin boy.  Not a great way to start a marriage as you will see.

Trying to start a marriage on a barge with a couple of idiots in tow is not recommended.  Everyone seems to be making a move on Juliette.  In fact this film was a bit risque for it's time which would have been pre-censorship, though I don't think the French filmmakers worried about censorship much.

The couple travel to Paris to deliver cargo, enjoying a makeshift honeymoon en route. Jules and the cabin boy are not used to the presence of a woman aboard and when Jean discovers Juliette and Jules talking in Jules's quarters, Jean flies into a jealous rage by smashing plates and sending Jules's cats scattering. Arriving in Paris, Jean promises Juliette a night out and takes her to a dance hall where a man flirts with her and once again Jean flies into a jealous rage and drags Juliette back to the barge. 

However, Juliette is now enamored of Paris and sneaks off the boat to go see Paris on her own.  When Jean discovers this, he decides to leave her behind and casts off in yet another rage.  A series of events befall Juliette who is now abandoned, alone and practically homeless in Paris.  Meanwhile, Jean, who so far hasn't turned out to be a very good husband, regrets his decision to leave her behind and when Jean falls into a depression and almost loses his job, Jules decides he needs to take matters into his own hands and go find Juliette. When he does find her, there is a humorous sweetness to their encounter.

This is the second film in a row directed by Jean Vigo that I have seen and reviewed, and as I said last week when I reviewed "Zero for Conduct," I find some of these early films a slog to get through.  I liked this one better than "Zero," but not by much, though it shows Vigo's progression as a filmmaker.  I can appreciate the early films in their historical context, but these are not the kinds of films where I look forward to the experience. And French humor is an acquired taste.  I mean, let me remind you that Jerry Lewis is a comic god to French people.

Why it's a Must See:  "...Jean Vigo's masterpiece L'Atalante is the cinema's greatest ode to heterosexual passion...Vigo's death at the age of twenty-nine was a tragic loss.  But [this film] crowns his legacy -- and is there any scene in cinema sexier than the magnificent, Eisensteinian montage of Jean's and Juliette's bodies, far apart, matched in postures of mutual arousal, an act of love made possible only through the soulful language of film?"
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...geez, maybe I had better watch this one again!
(b & w, in French with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the People's Temple by Jeff Guinn (2017)

A detailed and fascinating look at Jim Jones, the self-proclaimed preacher and founder of the Peoples Temple, who was responsible for the largest murder-suicide in American history.

I have always been fascinated with true crime and cults and am drawn to books about those subjects.  I just want to understand what makes seemingly normal people murder or join cults.  Yes, Jones had a less than perfect childhood.  His mother was overbearing and probably delusional - she always told Jones he was special and meant for great things, but didn't we all tell our kids that? His father was disabled from war injuries and possibly an abusive alcoholic and Jones was left to fend for himself.  But there are many people with childhoods worse than Jones's who didn't grow up to be megalomaniacs who caused the deaths of over 900 children and adults.

But in addition to my fascination with cults, I also have a sort of peripheral connection to Jones when I lived in California. I lived in San Francisco in the early 1970's and left right before Jones came to prominence in that City and before he moved to Guyana.  I also lived in a remote part of Northern California in the mid-70's, not far from Redwood Valley where Jim Jones moved his congregation from Indianapolis in the 60's.  Though he had moved most of his congregation to San Francisco by then, the Peoples Temple still had ties to the area when I lived there.  Though I never interacted with any of his followers (that I know of), I can relate to the places and the times when Jones and his gospel took root. 

Anyway, Guinn has done an excellent job of researching and presenting Jones's life from his beginnings in rural Indiana to his interest in Socialism and racial equality and his civil rights accomplishments in Indianapolis.  He met and married Marceline Baldwin, the daughter of a Methodist minister, and she was his champion all of her life, despite his failings as a husband.  You see, as Jones built his following and ascended to god status with many of them who called him Father, his sexual appetites also grew.  Such is the peril of power.  And he also had an appetite for drugs which led to his paranoia as he went from preaching Socialism and the need to help others to the evils of the United States government and the end of the world which led him to move his followers to a remote part of Guyana.

When the media started to become interested in the People's Temple and Jones was threatened with a series of articles that would supposedly expose him, he decided it was time to make the move to Guyana and all might have been OK had he not gotten into a custody battle with an ex-lover and her husband over her son, who was presumed also the son of Jones, and whom Jones had taken to Guyana.  That and a group of people worried about the welfare of their loved ones in Jonestown led to the fateful journey of Congressman Leo Ryan, his aides and members of the media to visit Jonestown to check on the child and other Jonestown residents.

Jones had been preaching to his flock that one day they might all have to commit suicide and, though the visit started out well, things all went to hell...and we know how it all turned out as almost all of his followers drank cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.  Ironically, the expression "drinking the Kool-Aid" was spawned from this event, as in those who are forced to change their opinions or do something they don't want to do because of peer pressure.  Knowing where that expression came from, it's a rather offensive idiom and ironically, it wasn't Kool-Aid at all, it was Flavor-Aid.

How does a man who started out to do good in the world turn into such a monster, forcing his followers to kill their children and then themselves?

Guinn doesn't offer any ready answers but he ends the book this way:

"...Was Jim Jones always bad, or was he gradually corrupted by a combination of ambition, drugs, and hubris?  There is no definitive answer: Jones was a complicated man who rarely revealed all of his often contradictory dimensions to anyone.
      It seems certain that, at some level, Jones truly hated racial and economic inequality.  As a teenager he preached against such evils in rough Richmond (Indiana) neighborhoods where he stood to gain nothing by it other than insults and beatings.  In Indianapolis, Jones fought, often single-handedly, to bring about integration in a highly segregated city, and to a great extent succeeded.  Under Jones's leadership, Peoples Temple acted on the biblical precepts of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked...In one of the deepest, most dangerous jungles in the world, one thousand Americans, many of them recent big-city ghetto dwellers who had never so much as mowed a lawn, for almost four years, built and maintained a farm settlement that came very close to being self-sustaining...
      Yet he was also a demagogue who ultimately betrayed his followers...
      But there was something unique about Jones and those who chose to follow him.  Traditionally, demagogues succeed by appealing to the worst traits in others:  Follow me and you'll have more, or, follow me and I'll protect what you already have against those who want to take it away from you.
       Jim Jones attracted followers by appealing to the best in their nature, a desire for everyone to share equally."

And yet...

Here's my take..."Absolute power corrupts absolutely." [Lord Acton)

Rosy the Reviewer says...a well-written, engrossing look at a frightening event in our history and the man who orchestrated it.  This book will stand as the definitive work on Jim Jones and the Jonestown tragedy.

Thanks for reading!

 See you next Friday 

for my review of  

"The Big Sick"


 The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project."

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