“Colette”

The Belle Époque Era never looked more gorgeous than in this new period piece based on the first marriage of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The interiors are resplendent; the outside nature scenes verdant. And Keira Knightley has never been better. Add a beautiful original score and this is a not-to-be-missed film.

Colette was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, but many do not know the early story of her first husband, Henri Gautier Villars and how he acquired fame  through ghost writers. His best ghost writer was his young and talented wife, Colette. When she asked for her name to be placed on her Claudine novels, he refused. Like, “The Wife” ( reviewed Sept. 19th, 2018) woman as kingmakers  is the theme of the year, as rightly so given the manosphere times.

Director and co-writer Wash Westmoreland highlights fluid gender and has Colette’s husband, played remarkably by Dominic West, sanction Colette’s lesbian trysts as long as he profits, both physically and financially. He is quite the libertine in frequenting prostitutes and keeping creditors at bay. He sells soap, perfume, fans, and even candy under the Claudine name. “ Since when is scandal  bad thing?”, he coos. When he bends to pick up the post, he inadvertently farts to Colette dismay. “ Intimacy in all its abandon, my dear.” is his response. The writing is good.

West plays Willy, a soldier friend of Colette’s father. He romances the nineteen-year-old Colette with fawning visits and presents. One gift being a snow globe containing the Eiffel Tower. Later, Willy describes the tower as a gigantic erection that he is rather jealous of….and so it goes. Writers Richard Glatzer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, and Westmoreland are having fun.

This is a character driven film, and Knightley is a period piece’s dream. She tells Willy that she can read him like the top of an optimologist’s chart. Colette’s mother, Sido ( Fiona Shaw) , played with great nuance after her cruel, step-mother role in the film “Lizzie”, understands her son-in-law, too. “ A mess, a profligate” , Sido ( Colette’s real mother’s name was Adele)  calls him. Willy sells the rights to Colette’s Claudine novels for a mere 5,000 francs, and Colette tells him that he has “killed our child”. We learn from the film’s endnotes that Colette never spoke to Willy again.

Cinematographer Gile Nuttgens does his magic with a cat on an unmade bed, a bejeweled tortoise, velvet sets all in candle glow. Add an original Thomas Ades’ musical score to the lushness and we have a feast of movement interspersed with the silence of writing desks and ink wells. Denise Hough and Eleanor Tomlinson are both deliciously dressed and willing consorts to Colette. I loved it as a feminist coming-of -age story.

“Genius”

” A stone, a leaf, an unfound door” haunted me when I first read Thomas Wolfe’s ” Look  Homeword, Angel”. The prose, or poetry, was transfixing. Its editor Maxwell Perkins was not in my thoughts at the time.

I will be reading the 1978 National Book Award Winner, “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg purely because I loved the film based on it!  Contrary to most of the British and American film critics, I was mesmerized by the  hazy color pallet, the stark profiles against gauzy light, the rain drenched and smoke filtered cinematography.  The way Colin Firth  ( Max Perkins) opened the doors to every room in his house was masterful, just like the man himself.

His daughters were lovely and Laura Linney, as his wife Louise, was just as full of wisdom as her husband. They were part of The Great Generation. Self-doubt and self-sacrifice did not keep them from becoming the sounding boards for values and virtues. Screenwriter John Logan makes this clear when he has Max in not- too -prim- fashion tell Tom Wolfe ( Jude Law), his surrogate son , that sleeping with “working girls” counts ( as wrong).

Perkins works from the premise that the work is Wolfe’s and that his job as editor is to bring good books to the readers.  We believe this even as we watch Max skillfully manipulate Tom into changing his book’s  title.   Max nudges , never demands: “Scott changed his title:  Give it a think.”

I loved seeing the red copy-editing and marginalia. This was his ( Perkins’) work.  As old -fashioned  as red pencils are , I know that work and there is joy and drudgery in it. This film showed its importance.

One of my favorite scenes was when editor and writer were on the commuter train out of Grand Central Station. Wolfe is telling Max “until I met you, I never had a friend.” He compares himself to Caliban- “monstrous and deformed, alien, hurt and stunned into poetry.” Max continues Caliban ‘s story by quoting his own memorized Shakespeare. We have soul mates in their love of words.

Jude Law does manic well, and his southern draw is praise worthy. In the first half of the film, we are as enthralled with the Wolfe ‘s genius as Perkins is. Wolfe is a life force of tumbling, expressive feeling. Almost, the polar opposite of the staid, reflective Perkins. Both, however, are work obsessed, and the women in their lives suffer and bemoan the hours spent without them. Unlike, Louise Perkins, whose frustration comes from the fear that Max  is missing out on his daughters’ lives;Nicole Kidman’s Mrs. Ailine Bernstein is less sympathetic. Bernstein has left her husband and children to become Wolfe’s mistress and muse. She is manipulative and feels that her sacrifice of dignity must be rewarded by Thomas’ devotion. Kidman has never been a favorite of mine and this portrayal does not change my feelings for her talent.

When she tells Max that Tom ” liberates you, and when he leaves you, you will never feel so,alive again”, she delivers her lines spitefully. When she says , ” I’ve been edited” , she delivers without humor or irony. ” After him there is a great hush”, could have been the best line of the film, but it came across as only pathetic- devoid of any other meaning.

Other than letting Ms. Kidman do her thing, Director Michael Grandage orchestrates this literary drama with verve and discipline. The setting of New York City in 1929 is all black umbrellas, bread lines, fire escapes, cigarette butts and black wing tips. Charles Scribners and Sons’ library-like offices and rows of typists all get the viewer ready for the ” all aboard” call. Once Law enters Max’s office the talk never stops. Wolfe’s exuberance  is heady and flamboyant. He whisks us away with his talent. He is emotionally “out there” .  Only later, do we see him as self-indulgent and superior, cruelly calling Louise’s playwrighting, an anemic literary form. He is grandiose in his own estimation of himself.

Max reads as he walks, reads as he rides, reads as he derides Tom’s  four-page paragraphs. Two years it takes to whittle 5,000 pages. I especially liked the oral give and take as Max and Tom wrestle with compromise as they prepare his second novel. Max tells Tom that he doesn’t need the lightening bolt. He doesn’t need the rhetorical. If a boy falls in love for the first time does he go to sea life to describe it ?Perkins doesn’t think so. Tom should cut the Wordsworth and get to the point. Tom says he hates to see words go. Max says Wolfe loves the images. If Max were Tolstoy’s editor there would only be War and not the Peace, he rejoins. It is a great scene.

Perkins reassures Tom that cavemen told stories so that no one would be scared of the dark. Stories are not frivolous ; they illuminate our lives. Later, he cajoles Tom for not knowing how to ache for others. Maxwell Perkins is the real star of  this script. As the editor of Hemingway , played beautifully by Dominic West, and of F.Scott Fitzerald, played rather dourly by Guy Pearce, Max Perkins showed he had a gift for making and keeping friends, but as he told his daughter Nancy, “some people just go away.” Well, Maxwell Perkins and his tears  will stay with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Money Monster”

Despite having one of the worst titles, “Money Monster” sings the duel farces of the modern world : media overkill and stock market graft. Throw in the anger of  capital inequality and Dominic West’s face from “The Wire” and there is lots to think about.

But most will see  Director Jodie Foster’s fourth movie not for the message, but for the entertainment of seeing George Clooney parody the tipster from CNBC. He dances, throws a punch or two, and talks and talks like any bore who is supremely pleased with his status.  ” I haven’t eaten  dinner alone since 1990.” Then he changes. He becomes an almost father-like figure to the fourteen -dollar- an hour  renegade who straps an “explosive” vest on Clooney’s chest and aims a gun at his head all on live tv.

The tragi-comic tone is mixed with suspense, and the film is entertaining, when it should be frightening. Money’s rap wraps it up with ” Money, what makes the world go round..”  telling  us the saw we already know. When Lee Gates ( George Clooney) asks his ten million viewers to triple buy Ibis stock and save his life,  we see as the stock price goes down what a life is worth in this system.

Producer Patty played naturally by Julia Roberts sets the stage using logos and score boards and arranging  exactly what intel the viewers see. Roberts is the savvy woman who gets the job done and is underappreciated. Her remarks are quips of knowing. She feeds words into Gates’s earpiece, as he finds himself held hostage. ” Hard to believe you are the calm one in this relationship.”

That we don’t have a clue where our money is…with photons of light and financial planners leading the charge, our best laid plans may presage “glitches” that can produce strike outcomes, dictator overthrows, even death.

The police  negotiator and the SWAT team are poked fun at as much as the slogan “stock tips for the millennium”, yet who expects Hamlet-angst when dealing with  high -profile hostage situations. The catwalk and air vents provide the usual vantage points for  police sniper fire. Law enforcement  calls of ” take out the psycho” make one cringe.  In-house security thinks the action on camera is a stunt. The plan seems to be to shoot Gates in the kidney  to knock out the vest’s charge, and hope for the best.

Our victim wants to tell the world that our money system is all “fixed”. After losing his sixty-three-year -old mother, he now has lost his inheritance of sixty grand by following the investment advice of Lee Gates. He doesn’t really seek revenge or retribution. He is in pain and wants everyone to know.

When his pregnant girlfriend is brought in to reason with him, it backfires. Molly berates victim Kyle so badly that the scene will go down in cinematic history. Every bar stool watcher lowers his eyes at her  on-air diatribe. This kind of ” humor” panders to a younger audience like the rather silly erectile cream scene.

The New York Stock Exchange and ” high frequency trading ” are given their due. What is wrong with betting big is shown by the parcel truck driver’s sad  demise. Wall Street is ” tripping our nation” raps up as the credits scroll by. See “Money Monster” with ” The Big Short” and  check out the newest U-Tube  sensation.  This film is another  cultural wake-up call as “warm eyes and gentle souls” are mocked.