CIVIL WAR WITHIN THE CIVIL WAR

Razor-tongued Judith Crist, of national critical reputation at the time of the release of The Beguiled in 1976, wrote:  “A must for sadists and women-haters.”  Passing over whether that is an apt description of the earlier film with Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel, I am curious about how many of my readers would describe Sofia Coppola’s current version in the same way.

Under the firm yet delicate hand of Coppola, this Beguiled, from the novel by Thomas Cullinan  is a mood piece.  Pace and rhythm, atmosphere and setting, are  beautifully sustained and controlled.  If Nicole Kidman’s off-set comments are accurate  —  that Coppola captains a relaxed ship  —  the final edited result here is an impressive achievement.  (I remain confused about one aspect of the production design and/or the photography.  The backgrounds of the external shots invariably resemble still photographs  —  not process shots but stills.  They are consistent and fit the mood.  Was their intention beyond consistency and fitness?  I would enjoy hearing from readers about this also.)

The story is set in the Confederacy during the Civil War at a girls’ boarding school  —    currently two instructors (Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst) and four students.  They rescue and nurse back to health a wounded Union soldier, and the male presence among them surfaces repressions, rivalries and jealousies.  SPOILER ALERT:  They heal the captain’s wounded leg, but Miss Martha (Kidman with stalwart nursing skills) will eventually amputate it. Captain McBurney (Farrell)  —  though pathological in his fury  — is more fortunate than he realizes because this is a substitute Freudian amputation.

Elle Fanning is uncomfortably good as the most nubile of the students.  Dunst is pitch perfect in her special loneliness; Farrell is perfectly cast and always excellent; and Kidman is at her best in one of her most subtle performances.

A.O. Scoot in the New York Times describes The Beguiled as a comedy.  This is debatable, even in the limited sense in which he apparently intended.  But his description of the look of the film and of Coppola’s intent and achievement are both admirable:  “Mist and cannon smoke from a distant battlefield hang amid the Spanish moss.  The atmosphere is too genteel to be gothic, but it is haunted nonetheless, by intimations of disorder, lust and violence.”  And Sofia Coppola’s film “is less a hothouse flower than a bonsai garden,a work of cool, exquisite artifice that evokes wildness on a small, controlled scale.”  (New York Times, 6/23/17.)

The Beguiled                     The Beguiled
Sofia Coppola                       Don Siegel
2017                                      1976

NEXT FRIDAY POST August 11

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

1976

AMERICA AGAIN AND FRANCE ENCORE, PLUS SWEDEN

RECENTLY VIEWED

ALEXANDER
Oliver Stone
2004

 

Alexander marks my first disappointment in Colin Farrell.  I never believe he is the world’s greatest warrior.  He creates a consistent and very human character.  But he lacks charisma.  He lacks that heroic madness, if you will, that must have been Alexander’s.

He is also handicapped by his voice.  As a field commander ordering his troops he must do much shouting, even yelling.  He is always hoarse for those moments.  This is a natural phenomenon; but life is not art, and the actor is hard to listen to.  (He is always understandable, however.)

The storyline, though distractingly cluttered by flashbacks, follows familiar legends and available history.  Philip, Alexander’s father and Philip’s death; Aristotle, his teacher;  his breaking of the horse Bucephalus; his friend and possibly-more-than-friend Hephaistios (the film is delightfully ambiguous here); the long march to India.  Jonathan Rhys-Davies is threateningly impressive as Cassander.  Jared Leto conveys Hephaistios well with almost no dialog.  Christopher Plummer is a believable, enjoyable Aristotle.  As our narrator Ptolemy, Anthony Hopkins continues to follow in the footsteps of, say, Lee J. Cobb, Anthony Quinn  —  you name others:  playing not the role but a great actor playing the role.  This thespian failing came late for the heretofore marvelous Quinn but unusually early to John Malkovich who seems to have had the balance to step back from this particular professional pit.

Angelina Jolie  —   as Colin Farrell’s mother, God save the mark  —  is surprisingly effective at every over-the-top moment.  An alive and colorful performance.

I find myself wondering what kind of search was made before casting Connor Paolo as young Alexander.  The resemblance to Farrell is remarkable, or rather, the certainty that this is just how Farrell/Alexander would have looked at that age.

The film I recently viewed was described on its sleeve as a director’s cut.  There is apparently an even longer director’s cut, much longer.  At this time I cannot know how the performances I have described would play out in a longer version.

*     *     *     *     *

Les Cousins(The Cousins)
Claude Chabrol
1959

I recently viewed this early New Wave-er for the first time in many years.  If it occasionally appears somewhat obvious now, this tale of the country cousin come to town and the city cousin and  his student cohorts who seek to corrupt him, is still gripping  —  nay, harrowing.  I had not grasped before how deliberate is their destruction of Charles.  They want him to fail because his very goodness makes them feel judged.  Both cousins are appealing.  They are, after all, Gérard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy (hélas, both gone now).  Their role reversals (from the previous year’s Le Beau Serge) is an interesting counterpoint.

*     *     *     *     *

Force Majeure
Ruben Östlund
2014

This is a powerful domestic drama which looks at tensions within a Swedish family during a brief vacation at a Swiss ski resort.  An avalanche, which can be as symbolic as you wish, triggers long-submerged resentment and emotional outbreak.  Some of the year’s best ensemble playing, rivaling Land Ho!, is delivered by Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli as the husband and wife and Kristofer Hirju and Fanni Metelius as their visiting friends.  The children are good too (Vincent Wettergren and Clara Wettergren) and are never trivialized by sentimentality.

Don’t miss this.

* * * * *

And if you are in northeast Ohio don’t miss Kurtiss Hare’s presentation of National Gallery at 7:00 P.M. tonight at the Lincoln Theatre in Massillon, Ohio, part of his ReelMassillon series.

NEXT Friday POST December 19.

Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick

FOURTH TIME AROUND

Rick’s Journal   (MY FILM CAREER)

Pinocchio
Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske
1940

I feel shaken by my disappointment in a recent viewing of Pinocchio.  This time around I found myself unusually disturbed by the kind of thing which has always concerned me even in my favorite Disney films, in this case Jiminy Cricket”s hangup on female posteriors and his being turned on by the cancan puppets.  Not long before watching Pinocchio again I had written a blog about embarrassing sidekicks as a Hollywood convention.  Jiminy is a prime example.  He is indispensable to this plot; but he’s coarse; he’s shrewd but ignorant; and in our little Italian village of bygone days, he is quintessentially American.  There is also an almost sexual tinge to the almost religious Blue Fairy  —  not as blatant as with Tinker Bell but it’s there; just ask Jiminy.

There is good music.  There is glorious color, carefully preserved and restored over many years.  There is staggering invention.  In Geppetto’s shop the number of different clocks, music boxes and toys is as multifarious as nature’s profligacy.  There is not time to appreciate them all.  They fly past as throwaways.

Two factors startlingly new for me with this viewing:  1)  The two villains who turn Pinocchio over to the stereotypically Italian Stromboli are not humans.  One is a cat, the other a fox.  It has never bothered me before and still doesn’t.  Readers, response?  2)  I have personally become so respectful of whales that I now have difficulty accepting a whale as a villain.

The Halliwell guide has this to say:  “Charming, fascinating, superbly organized cartoon feature without a single second of boredom.”  Halliwell gives it four stars.  So does Maltin, quoted in Halliwell:  “A film of amazing detail and brilliant conception.”  Otis Ferguson is also quoted in Halliwell:  “The limits of the animated cartoon have been blown so wide open that some of the original wonder of pictures has been restored.”

Those glowing comments express how I have always felt about Pinocchio and hope to feel again.

*

OUTSTANDING ACTING ON THE CURRENT SCREEN:  the cast of Saving Mr. Banks.  Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks are excellent.  But as the Disney creative crew, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak and and Jason Schwartzman are superb.  More remarkable yet:  the faces of  Annie Rose Buckley as Ginty and Ruth Wilson as her mother.  And then there’s  Colin Farrell who has the job of making his flawed, failed character likeable and loveable. The film depends on our believing that he is the center of his little girl’s universe and Colin Farrell does his job.

NEXT FRIDAY POST, February 7
Until then,
See you at the movies,
Rick