“The Beguiled”

A remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film starring Colin Farrell, “Beguiled” is atmoshperic and Freudian,and a tad silly. Kirsten Dunst’s character is the least plausible. Why would a woman, who wishes to escape her claustrophobic five-student classroom, not act out when her lover is poisoned before they can run Westward Ho? Edwina (Dunst) was emotional enough when she pushed him down the staircase, emotional enough when he ripped her bodice of its pearl buttons. Can this lonely soul just sew his shroud without any retribution or outcry ?

“Character development” this critic screams, again for Colin Farrell, our Union mercenary of Irish origin, Corporal John McBurney. He is a wounded “player”, who plays all seven females, no matter their age with flattery and teasing unctuousness. He is not unlikeable, just into self-preservation and self-gratification. The women/girls are all beguiled as shown in a wonderful table scene where each try to compete for his favor.

The eleven-year-old mushroom picker, Amy, portrayed beautifully by Oona Laurence, is a picture of braided hair and sweetness as the apron-clad rescuer. Amy helps the leg-wounded corporal hobble to The Farnsworth Seminary for Young Ladies, where he is treated and allowed to convalesce instead of taken to a Confederate prison camp. The young Amy introduces him to her classmates: the musical Jane ( Angourie Rice), the bright Marie (Addison Riecke), the playful yet solicitous, Emily (Emma Howard), and the lusty coquette, Alicia ( Elle Fanning).

Headmistress Miss Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) takes full charge. She is herself charmed by McBurney. One of the funniest lines,however, comes out of her mouth as she tells teacher Edwina to bring the saw and the anatomy book. Fear and prayer mix with suspense to create an odd tone here. Miss Martha feels driven to act. She asks for suggestions, and the girls by in.

The cinematography is pretty: all haze, Spanish moss, and wild garden. The school’s antebellum splendor is punctuated with six huge Ionic columns – all fluted and more welcoming than the monstrous, filigreed, iron gate. Shots of girls playing at the water pump, hoeing lackadaisically, hanging frocks on the clothesline, and singing in the candlelit music room are lovely. Director Sofia Coppola has an eye for the scene be it French lessons or firelight brandies. For me, Coppola elicited the mushroom picker in Truffaut’s film “The Wild Child”. Six Ionic columns with their staunch flutes seem to hold this edifice aloft. The females under Ms. Martha ultimately do the same.

1864 Virginia has these Southern belles calling the Union soldiers “blue bellies” and vocalizing that their charge could be dangerous. Rape and rapine are both feared. McBurney says that he is pleased to be a prisoner. This soon changes as he lay on their fainting couch. The sounds of water splashing and cloth being rung out, and the in and out of breath, soft hummings and giggles and window peerings set the stage, and remind us of the quiet of this century. Birdsong and cannon booms mingle. Cicadas win out, and rise again.

The corporal has lines galore: ” Tell me a little about yourself? I have never come across such delicate beauty.” If the roses and flowers of this school need trimming, he sharpens his tool to assist. “I have missed being with you”, our wounded soldier whispers to Edwina. He is found in Alicia’s bed before his words evaporate. McBurney’s leg is re-mangled when Edwina pushes him down the stairs. Once he awakens to his fate he screams the question: “Are you ladies learning about castration?” He shoots down a crystal chandelier in his fury, yet Colin Farrell does not seem like a real threat. The women are in control. As they wait under the Ionic facade, for the Confederate soldiers to take the body away, we wonder why they needed to tie the help sign around the iron gate. The women have this!

“Lion”

Though this film cries for editing, a five-year-old lost in the streets of Calcutta is quite a harrowing adventure to view. The fact that it is a true story makes each scene all the more mesmerizing. Based on the memoir “A Long Way Home”, we are carried across two continents, India and Australia, in following the life path of our lost urchin.

Divided into two parts, “Lion” focuses on the wet-eyed Indian pre-schooler and the twenty-year-old Australian college student in meshing the past with the future. Dev Patel is Saroo, as soulfully lost as his younger self  (played hauntingly by Sunny Pawar)  is adrift and forsaken. Screenwriter Luke Davies adapts Saroo Brierley’s story of his adoption and his search for his biological family with just enough tension and circumstance. The early scenes are riveting and dream-like at the same time. A five-year-olds’ awareness of danger and the balance of wanting to please is astoundingly captured. That this little boy was not  is made more sobering with the final screen numbers: over eighty thousand children go missing every year in India.

Director Garth Davis draws out the best in his actors. Sunny Pawar is mesmerizing. His “I can lift anything” is all boy. Dev Patel as college student, both depressed and in love, draws memories. His friendships are lovely, his respect for past and present made clear and celebrated. It is Guddu (Abhisek Bharate) who will  remain in this viewer’s mind. How does a teenager forgive himself for botched responsibility? Or did he not return to his brother’s bench because he was killed by a train that very night ?  “Lion” will send filmgoers to the page, like so many good films have done.

Nicole Kidman is so self-possessed as Susan Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive mother, that we forget her stardom. Likewise, David Wenham  loses himself in his part as adoptive father. The reality they create as idealistic nurturers is painfully beautiful. Their second adopted son, Mantosh (Kesha Jadhav), helps underscore the many pitfalls  damaged children have in adjusting to familiar life. Kidman’s motherly tears of joy and of anguish are high performance art.

The cinematography of the vast beauty of India is seen in overhead, aerial shots. Google maps are given some practical play. Street scenes of threatening dogs, cardboard pallets, and gangs of homeless children running from guards, or worse, temper the picture. My favorite scene was of the kind man eating in the restaurant window. Saroo sits on the curb and mimics his soup spoon rising and falling. Lovely camera work captures  a social worker in interview, a crowded orphanage, candles and prayers to Krishna, and the prize of an apple core. Monsoon rains under a bridge and the opening of a refrigerator in Australia catch strong emotions. Flashbacks are smoothly done by association. Memory is all. When we hear the words, “Come with me”, we cheer with the village. This Aussie film is up-lifting and worth our privileged time.

 

 

 

 

“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.