Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Beguiled: The White-washing Issue

The Beguiled is opening this weekend and while it looks enticing, and I plan on seeing it, with the film's opening comes the public outcry of another case of whitewashing. 

The Beguiled is based on the 1966 book by Thomas Cullinan, originally titled The Painted Devil.

The Beguiled—a gothic thriller set in the antebellum south—is a remake of a Clint Eastwood film about a Civil War deserter taken in by a school marm & her few remaining students. In the remake Colin Farrell takes on Eastwood's role with Nicole Kidman as the headmistress, Kirsten Dunst as a sheltered young teacher, and Elle Fanning as a young girl coming of age. 

Stuck in a broken down school, all the females are thrown into a flutter at the sight of the sexy Farrell. The air is filled with flying hormones. You can approve or disapprove of the old trope of women backstabbing and sneaking around behind each others backs in order to get a man's attention, the much desired male gaze (which is perhaps not that antiquated, I hear The Bachelor can get a trifle competitive) but the main problem the movie's critics have with the film isn't what's on the screen but what's not. The problem stems from writer/director Sofia Coppola making a movie set in the deep South in the Civil War era without any black people in it. Huh? How do you make a film about white southerners without showing the slaves who helped them maintain their southern charm? 

Coppola has been particularly criticized because she removed a black character that did appear in the original, a slave named Hallie who we see here shaving John Burney. 

Hallie, played by Mae Mercer, isn't just any old slave. As you can see, she's gorgeous. Judging from this still, all the sexual tension crackling in that house, crackled between these two as well. 

Why did Sofia Coppola remove her? 

Coppola explained her point of view to BuzzFeed—
“I didn’t want to brush over such an important topic in a light way. Young girls watch my films and this was not the depiction of an African-American character I would want to show them. I was clear about my decision—because I want to be respectful to that history.”
Ira Madison III offers a defense of sorts in the Daily Beast: 

In the ’60s and ’70s, it was standard to stick a token black character into a narrative to show the “pains” of slavery or being a black person in America. This hardly ever worked and most depictions, like 1971’s The Beguiled, are incredibly offensive in a modern context. Today, with films such as 12 Years a Slave and series like Underground, we’ve gotten three-dimensional, harsh, and humanizing portrayals of black women and men in bondage. But in a film about a Union soldier who terrorizes the young girls of an academy, that type of portrayal would be more than out of place—it would be horrific. There’s an odd irony in demanding the inclusion of a slave in a dream-like narrative while also wanting Hollywood to produce more accurate, savagely cruel depictions of slavery. For Coppola, it’s a catch-22. She’s damned if she includes a slave character and produces a demeaning portrayal of a black woman, but she’s damned if she decides to excise that character altogether as well.
Madison goes on to make the most important point. White men and white women don't tell the best stories about people of color. How could they? Whitewashing will stop when Hollywood gives diverse voices a chance—a real chance—of telling those stories themselves.
Gone are the days when we needed a Steven Spielberg to make a film like The Color Purple or a George Lucas to back Red Tails. We should demand that studios and producers give those opportunities to black filmmakers instead of looking for meager scraps from white people who don’t fully grasp our stories and will portray them horribly. 
So for now, we have Coppola making a female-centric story, one in which the females are white. I honestly don't know how I feel about it, whether Coppola could have included Hallie's character in an authentic manner without history washing! Hallie's role would be horrible, because the world treated black people horribly. That's historically accurate, whether we want to look at it or not. I do know I'm pleased to see a movie helmed by a woman featuring a strong female cast. Coppola's explanation makes a fair amount of sense to me. What do you think?

The AP just released this short video interview with the director and Nicole Kidman talking about the film and the female gaze. Whitewashing doesn't come up. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

My Cousin Rachel—Costume Design: The Woman in Black

Much like the titular character she plays in My Cousin Rachel, the beautiful Rachel Weisz is not the type to wear her heart on her sleeve. Weisz exudes a sense of mystery, of being the keeper of some dark, delicious secret that only she knows. Perfect casting for the secretive, seductive cousin Rachel.

Now, I know by now, you've heard the film is more melodrama than psychodrama, that it's not about to knock Wonder Woman off its perch BUT book loving ladies & gents that you are, I have no doubt you'll be seeing it someday. Even if that day is only when it finally comes to DVD or your fave streaming service. We have to see it if only for Rachel Weisz performance. 

Here's what David Edelstein said about that.

Weisz is riveting. Quick, vivacious, disarmingly informal, this Rachel is certainly not using stereotypically feminine wiles. She’s chummy with Philip but not flirty. She wears modest black outfits, as befits her mourning. And she asks for no money. But she finds herself showered with it, more and more as Philip’s ardor grows. Because Weisz is one of the least artificial actresses alive, you find yourself constantly asking: She can’t be as evil as the movie is suggesting, can she?

That being said, let's take a look at the costume design. Let's face it, sumptuous costumes are one big reason we love period costume dramas. To help Weisz portray the exotic widow who returns to Cornwall from Italy in the current screen adaptation of Daphne DuMaurier's classic, it was up to costumer designer Dinah Collin to dress Rachel as Rachel. It doesn't hurt that as a widow she naturally wears a lot of black. The black lace veil is a nice seductive touch. There's just something about black lace that shouts sex. Add a veil and, well, that's a whole other level of intrigue. 

It's the unveiling that gives the veil its power.

Scroll down to see a featurette on the costume design

According to the Telegraph... 
Rachel’s look in the film is regal, elegant and subtly integral to whipping up intrigue. “One of the things which came up in discussions was that we thought she should look like something from outer space to the Cornish locals,” says Collin of the way she sought to play up Rachel’s Italian sophistication. “We went to the National Portrait gallery to establish where in the 19th century her style should be. We wanted her to look really elegant but also classic so we set her in the 1840s.”

By way of contrast to all the austerely beautiful black come several shots of Rachel in nightdresses which Collin created from piecing together authentic white cotton lace from the period. It is in these moments where the tension between the character’s innocence and sensuality reaches a crescendo, a point underlined by the reveal/ conceal feel of all that billowing white prettiness.

One of the film’s most memorable scenes sees Phillip giving Rachel a precious set of heirloom pearls. “The pearls are a big subject matter,” says Collins. “We had them made based on a painting we found from 1835. They were supposed to have been worn by his mother but we didn't want it to be fussy.” The effect of the pearl necklace is enhanced by the off-shoulder neckline of Rachel’s black dress, which allowed for Weisz’s porcelain-pale decolletage to create a striking contrast.
Inspired by a portrait? What portrait? All I know is I would kill for that neck!

Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Dying Up Here ... turns out there's a lot of drama in comedy!

"You had to be there." Isn't that what we say when we regale our friends with some truly hilarious story and it just sort of falls flat? 

I really hope that doesn't happen to I'm Dying Up Here, a new series on Showtime about a group of comics trying to hit it big in comedy. It's set in L.A., in 1973. Three episodes in, I'm already addicted. As a Los Angeleno who turned 20 in 1973, I hope it's not just because I was there!

Here's how Showtime describes the series loosely based on the nonfiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder.

I’M DYING UP HERE explores the struggles of “making it big” in the 1970’s L.A. comedy scene. Every night, a group of up-and-coming comedians wait to perform at Goldie’s, the hottest stand-up club in town. But first they’ll have to win over Goldie, who rules the Sunset Strip with an iron fist. Stand-up is a drug for these comedians, and they’re willing to sacrifice everything to get their fix. They brave the pain of sharing their innermost thoughts and darkest secrets, hoping that someone, anyone, will laugh. Executive produced by Jim Carrey.

Okay, so I wasn't exactly there. I was a year too young to get into any of the 21 and over clubs—and too much of a goody two shoes to have a fake ID. I wasn't a comic, didn't date a comic—although a friend and I did once have drinks at a comedy club with Tom Dreesen—but for those of us of a certain age, living in L.A. at the time, the show very much feels like we were there. Goldie's is a thinly disguised The Comedy Store, Goldie inspired by Mitzi Shore, the infamous club owner who saw her comedy club as a star making machine, a school for comics where the comedians should be grateful for getting a platform to hone their art. "School" Goldie tells the comics, "doesn't pay the students." 

We recognize the clothes, the patter, the whole vibe. If not 'this is your life', the show, with its Boogie Nights opening, is at least a very solid reflection of the world we recall. And for us boomers, longing for our high-waisted flared & faded blue jeans, nostalgic for curly perms, that's a far-out place to be. 

Good, bad or indifferent, I'm hooked on I'm Dying Up Here. It's not just the excellent reconstruction of the period, or that everyone in L.A. loves TV shows about L.A., or that Canters is half a mile up Fairfax Blvd from where I live—or that I remember witnessing firsthand the famous gathering of comics at the deli after closing time. There's the comedy—sometimes their off stage jabs are funnier than the bits and pieces of their acts—and the drama but it's mostly due to the ensemble of characters who have already wormed their way into my thoughts. 

Goldie, the sometimes nurturing, mostly ball-breaking mother hen owner is played by Melissa Leo who has her own personal issues, a daughter who ran away from home half a dozen years ago. You can see the pain in Leo's eyes. Or it could just be smoke in her character Goldie's eyes as she constantly has a cigarette in her hand. In the second episode Goldie pulled out her gold cigarette case—tap tap tap—and lit up right in the middle of lunch. So seventies!  

My husband reminded me the actors are not allowed to smoke real cigarettes on set, instead they're taking drags from vegetable & clove cigarettes, which in his opinion, are even worse than the regular smokes he gave up a year and a half ago!

Cassie (Ari Graynor) the only female comic in the regular bunch, she's fighting to find her voice and fighting Goldie to give her some decent stage time. There's no women's card. Goldie isn't going to give Cassie a break just because they're both female.

Bill Hobbs (Andrew Santino) is the big fish; your basic white male comic. He's almost ready for Carson's couch but an event in the pilot episode & his own self-defeating attitude puts the kibosh on that. Oh, and Bill and Cassie are sleeping with each other. UPDATE: I just learned he's the real deal too. I'm watching his comedy special on Showtime as I write this: Andrew Santino: Home Field Advantage

Adam (R.J. Cyler) a gifted & ambitious young black comic whose willingness to do handiwork for Goldie (none of the comics are getting paid for doing the comedy gig!) has tongues wagging.

Edgar Martinez (Al Madrigal) is the Mexican comic. A true blue stand-up comic as well as an actor, you can catch Madrigal's hilarious Shrimpin Ain't Easy comedy special on HULU. He's a bit of an asshole on the show, always trying to psych the other comedians out.

Eddie (Michael Angarano) and Ron (Clarke Duke) are a couple of starving young comics out from Boston, so broke they're living in a closet for $60 a month. They're so broke, heaven was winning a year's worth of Rice A Roni as a consolation prize on The Price is Right. 

Erik Griffin and Jon Daly round out the regulars, the struggling comics. 

No one is getting paid. Everyone complains about the order they go on stage. Everyone's struggling for their art. In the meantime they screw each other—literally and figuratively—fight and makeup. Turns out there's a lot of drama in comedy. 

The Jim Carrey produced show airs Sunday nights at 10pm, you can catch up at Showtime On Demand. Anyone watching it? Is it as awesome as I think it is, or did you have to be there?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Matinee: To Die For starring Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman turns the big Five-O this week. Her birthday is June 20th, making Nicole a fellow Gemini. In the happy position of reaching midlife while being affixed in the firmament, her recent foray into tv, Big Little Lies a whopping success, the upcoming The Beguiled pronounced a huge hit at Cannes, Nicole Kidman is also happily married to a cute & sexy country music star. A true movie star, Kidman has been working in film and television since she was sixteen years old and had been working for a dozen years when she won her first Golden Globe for To Die For in 1995. Based on the book by Joyce Maynard, To Die For is in some ways an early model of reality TV and the glamorization of the news as entertainment.  

At the time Roger Ebert gave the Gus Van Sant directed film 3 and 1/2 stars praising Nicole Kidman's performance as Suzanne, the small suburban town weather woman who lives only to become a famous tv personality. Nothing, but nothing—and no one—will stand in her way.
 'Kidman is superb at making Suzanne into someone who is not only stupid, vain and egomaniacal (we've seen that before) but also vulnerably human. She represents, on a large scale, feelings we have all had in smaller and sneakier ways. She simply lacks skill in concealing them...
Finally, though, the movie is about Suzanne, and Nicole Kidman's work here is inspired. Her clothes, her makeup, her hair, her speech, her manner, even the way she carries herself (as if aware of the eyes of millions) are all brought to a perfect pitch: Her Suzanne is so utterly absorbed in being herself that there is an eerie conviction, even in the comedy. She plays Suzanne as the kind of woman who pities us - because we aren't her, and you know what? We never will be.'

It's been awhile since I've seen this movie and while I knew Matt Dillon played the husband Suzanne wants to get rid of, I didn't remember that both Joaquin Phoenix and Casey Affleck play a couple of high school stoners that Suzanne twists around her little finger to help her. 

Check out the Phoenix & Affleck's reaction to their first sighting of Kidman in the clip above. Am I the only one who can't remember Joaquin Phoenix ever being young?

Seeing these three together has got to be worth the price of admission! The price of admission being about $3 to watch today's Saturday Matinee on iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, Amazon and Vudu.

Let's watch the trailer. And if you end up watching the movie, give me a holler, let me know what you think.

Happy Saturday & Happy Movie Watching!

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Husband's Secret: Now that Blake Lively has been cast as Cecilia, who should play John Paul?

While I was away I missed the very big news that Blake Lively has been cast as Cecilia in the upcoming adaptation of The Husband's Secret based on the Liane Moriarty bestseller. I've read the book, in fact, I'm rereading it right now. I'll probably have to reread it again when the film actually comes out!

According to Variety's announcement, "the story follows a wife, mother, and chronic perfectionist who inadvertently discovers that her husband has been keeping a secret from her for years … a secret that leads her to realize that her life is built on a foundation of lies and murder."

Honestly? I've completely forgotten the plot BUT I know, like all of Moriarty's books, it's a very entertaining read while
one is reading it. Even if it doesn't stay with one. Well, this one anyway. I think it's probably more me than Moriarty's writing. I confess, having just turned 64,  my memory isn't what it used to be. Yes, it's likely to be an age thing.

Speaking of age, Blake, at thirty, is about 15 years younger than Cecilia is meant to be. Cecilia was twenty when she brought back a small piece of the Berlin Wall from a visit in 1990, so she'd have to be at least forty odd now, but that's Hollywood, eh? I expect we won't hear about Cecilia and her friend actually buying a tiny piece of the wall which she later gives to her serious and smart young daughter Esther. Remember how people sold tiny rocks supposedly from the wall, many of which were fakes? The time period resonates with me because I was in Berlin in September of 1989, just before the wall fell. Even then, as a tourist, walking into East Berlin, past armed military guards was a tense experience. But I digress! Back to the book and casting —

Who do you think should play Cecilia's husband, John Paul? Since Blake Lively* is disappointingly not Australian (I imagine they'll shift locations to the US like they did with Big Little Lies) can we at least have a genuine Aussie man? Chris Hemsworth, I'm talking to you!

* Blake Lively is also an executive producer on the project which means she'll have some casting input. Will she want to hire on hubby Ryan Reynolds as John Paul? 

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