Tuesday, December 17, 2019

book to film: the talented mr. ripley

Patricia Highsmith wrote The Talented Mr. Ripley in in 1955. She based it loosely on Henry James’s The Ambassadors (which I now have to add to my to-read list). The lead character, Tom Ripley, proved so popular, that she brought him back for four more novels.
When the reader first meets Tom he is living close to the bone in New York City, subsisting on his “friends,” or running various schemes, including mail fraud. But Tom isn’t really great at his schemes, and he doesn’t like people, and he doesn’t have any true friends, just people he can sponge on. Tom’s prospects begin to look up when he runs into the rich Mr. Greenleaf, the father of an acquaintance, Dickie Greenleaf. Mr. Greenleaf wants his son, who he believes is frittering away his life in Italy by dabbling in painting, to come home, get serious, and work at the family shipping business. Tom exaggerates his friendship with Dickie, and agrees to track him down in the (fictional) Italian seaside port of Mongibello – staked with cash from Mr. Greenleaf.
Tom Ripley, (Matt Damon), Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law), and Marge Sherwood (Gwyneth Paltrow) in the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley
Tom doesn’t seem to have any real desire to fulfill his quest and bring home the prodigal son, but he does head to Mongibello and soon meets Dickie and his friend Marge Sherwood. Marge and Tom take an immediate dislike to each other as Tom tries to ingratiate himself with the open and (initially) clueless Dickie. Tom’s motives aren’t clear, to himself or the reader. His strongest motivating factor seems to be survival and acquiring money. He comes from nothing and is determined to not only be able to live, but live well. Dickie enjoys palling around with Tom at first, as a way to avoid Marge’s not-so-subtle attempts to take their relationship to the next level. In the meantime, Tom has been studying Dickie, to the point of copying his mannerisms and attire. One day Dickie walks into his bedroom to find Tom in his clothes – it is from that moment that their newfound friendship begins to sour. Dickie may not be the brightest bulb on the tree, but he can sense that Tom is not the real deal, not from his side of the tracks.
There is definitely an undercurrent of sexuality to Tom’s obsession with Dickie, which was made more blatant in the 1999 film version, directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Matt Damon (Tom), Jude Law (Dickie), and Gwyneth Paltrow (Marge). I had seen the film years ago and didn’t love it. I will say that Jude Law has never looked better on film. It’s a first-class production, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, and Jack Davenport in supporting roles. I just didn’t find Damon to be very compelling. Ripley may be a cipher, but I felt Damon just played him as a blank space. I rewatched it recently, and it’s better than I remember, but Damon is definitely still its weakest link. There is also apparently a French version of the story, Plein Soleil (Purple Noon), filmed in 1960, directed by René Clément and starring Alain Delon that might be fun to track down sometime.
But back to the book . . . even though Tom bristles at memories of being called a “sissie” and is repulsed by Marge, he seems less attracted to Dickie the man than to Dickie’s lifestyle and all its trappings. Tom is first and foremost a parasite. His love of fine clothes and having money to spend will lead to murder and mayhem as he travels across Italy to escape his past and past identity. Tom Ripley is an anti-hero and sociopath who at times may put off the reader, who may find many of his crimes brutal and unnecessary, but Highsmith is such a gifted writer that she effortlessly pulls us into his thoughts and his fears. Will he avoid capture? Do we want him to? I can’t say I liked Tom Ripley much, but I am looking forward to checking out his further adventures.
p.s. Fleabag’s “Hot Priest” Andrew Scott will be portraying Tom Ripley in a new series, Ripley, on Showtime in 2020. So I have to start subscribing to that channel now?
This post first appeared on Cannonball Read 11

ronan farrow’s catch and kill

Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill reads like a spy novel. The full title is Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators. And Farrow lays out quite a conspiracy. He takes the reader inside the world of investigative reporting – in his case for NBC News. Not only does NBC prove to ultimately be hostile towards allowing Farrow to tell the full story of his investigation into allegation of sexual abuse by Harvey Weinstein, but it is also a hotbed of abuse culture, including its main asset at the time, Matt Lauer.
“Catch and Kill” is a term used to describe a media outlet purchasing a controversial story and then burying it. It is standard practice with tabloids, as Farrow recounts how it had been used frequently by the National Enquirer over the years to protect well-known, powerful figures like Weinstein, Donald Trump, and others from salacious stories about them.
Ronan Farrow, author of Catch and Kill
The bulk of Catch and Kill is about Farrow’s unrelenting quest to give voice to the victims of Hollywood mogul and alleged serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. This is the real core of the book and it is fascinating. Farrow writes very engagingly, and the reader feels his urgency as he not only faces opposition from the higher-ups at NBC to tell the stories of Rose MacGowan and other women who have come forward to relate their experiences with Weinstein, but how he was also under surveillance from Weinstein’s minions, including an Israeli intelligence service dubbed Black Cube. Creepy stuff. Interestingly, it is print journalism that comes to the rescue, as Farrow, fed up and shut out from NBC, takes his findings to the New Yorker, where his story is ultimately published, helping to give a bigger voice to the #MeToo movement.
The weakest part of the book is actually the Matt Lauer section. Although it must have seemed like a good idea to include it, with Lauer’s  link to NBC and the underlining of seemingly sanctioned toxic behavior by powerful men in the entertainment industry, I think it would have worked better as a New Yorker article or another book. The Weinstein story is huge and the Lauer chapter seems like a digression from the main plot. But that quibble aside, I can still highly recommend Catch and Kill.
Farrow is clearly dedicated to championing the vulnerable and bringing their stories to light. It is shocking and discouraging  to read how deep the conspiracy was to silence all of Weinstein’s accusers, particularly Rose MacGowan. Hopefully Farrow’s book can help to not only corroborate her story but ultimately bring her some sense of peace and justice. Farrow (sometimes working with Jane Mayer) has reported on predatory behavior by Les Moonves at CBS, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He also exposed the link between the MIT Media Lab and Jeffrey Epstein. And this top researcher never stops researching. Farrow has a Catch and Kill podcast with expanded reporting on the topics covered in the book. I can’t wait to read about where he sets his sights next.

This story first appeared on Cannonball Read 11

demi moore, inside out

Reading Demi Moore’s memoir Inside Out is like having a seat in the room while she is undergoing therapy. And yoga. And flirting with Bruce Willis. And being abused by her parents. And, strangest of all, not spending much time in Hollywood. But you do get a pretty good picture of her home and life in Hailey, Idaho, which she clearly loves, an oasis she has created for her family and herself.

Demi Moore, Inside Out: A Memoir

Inside Out flows, but it is not exactly an easy book to read. Real pain and trauma is spread throughout its pages. Moore had an extremely difficult childhood, raised by parents (mostly her mother) who at best ignored her, at worst practically pimped her out as a young girl. It is amazing to think how far she has come, considering her rough start. Moore is unflinchingly honest in her revelations and discoveries about her family’s and her own weaknesses. She tends to downplay her own achievements, certainly as an actress, so it is hard for the reader who might want to learn some more details behind how she got her role in Ghost as much as how Joel Schumacher helped her kick her booze and cocaine habit during the filming of St. Elmo’s Fire. She was successful at both, and stayed sober for years. Her substance abuse issues would crop up again later in her life, in her 40s, when she was married to Ashton Kutcher, who apparently enabled bad choices and then chose to look away when things got to be too much for her to handle.
Where Moore allows herself to feel proud of herself and crow a bit are when she talks about her love of being pregnant, a mother, and her love for her daughters. She also toots her own horn a little when she discusses her iconic Vanity Fair (August 1991) cover shoot by Annie Liebovitz, taken when she was seven months pregnant. The cover was quite controversial at the time, and paved the way for women to celebrate their “baby bumps” – wearing more form-conscious fashion, something we take for granted now. Moore also was one of the first actresses to earn $10 million for a single film in Hollywood. She starred in numerous blockbusters in the 90s: Ghost, A Few Good Men, Indecent Proposal, Disclosure, as well as producing If These Walls Could Talk and the Austin Powers movies.

“Demi’s Birthday Suit” Vanity Fair, August 1992

She appeared nude again for Vanity Fair, photographed by Liebovitz, covered in body paint, a year later. The photo was a testament to bouncing back from pregnancy weight as well as highlighting Moore’s intense workout regimen, which was highlighted throughout her movie career, most notably in G.I. Jane and Striptease. Moore describes herself as an obsessive personality, who has not just battled drugs and an eating disorder, but also working out too much, to the point of making herself ill. It is hard to determine how much Hollywood’s fixation with women’s bodies and her own trauma from childhood sexual abuse played a part in her feelings about herself and her body. But she is not afraid to ask the question or try to find the answer.
What might have been the most gossipy part of the book – her relationships with high-profile men like Emilio Estevez, Bruce Willis, and Ashton Kutcher – are less about fun times than highlighting her or their inability to connect. At the end of Inside Out I don’t feel sorry for Moore, but I do feel empathy. And maybe a little hope, as she continues on her path to self-discovery.

This review first appeared on Cannonball Read 11

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

books to film: pal joey and BUtterfield 8

After recently reading Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, I decided that I not only wanted to continue with my book-to-film theme, but keep it centered in New York City, too. That led me to John O'Hara's  Pal Joey and BUtterfield 8.

John O'Hara - Four Novels of the 1930s

I had heard for years that the 1957 film version of Pal Joey was nothing like the 1940 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical - Gene Kelly apparently portrayed him as a genuine no-good crumb (as Joey would say). In the film Frank Sinatra isn't exactly an angel, but he has enough of the proverbial heart of gold to win the love of sweet Kim Novak. Not only does the original O'Hara text outline Joey's not-so-nice persona, but it is an epistolary novel, including a series of Joey Evans' missives to his "dear pal Ted." Down on his luck nightclub MC and singer Joey Evans is always trying to get his more successful friend Ted to help him get a job in New York, where Ted seems to be doing very well in his own musical career, but clearly Ted isn't biting. The novel started as a story that O'Hara submitted to The New Yorker, first published in 1938. It was so popular he wrote more and more, until they were compiled published as a novel in 1940. To the delight of the reader, your pal Joey writes like he talks, which, a la Derek Zoolander, is not too good:
Dear Friend Ted
That is if I can call you friend after the last two weeks for it is a hard thing to do considering. I do not know if you realize what has happen to me oweing to your lack of consideration. Maybe it is not lack of consideration. Maybe it is on purpose. Well if it is on purpose all I have to say is maybe you are the one that will be the loser and not me as I was going to do certan things for you but now it does not look like I will be able to do them.
From the 1957 film, Frank Sinatra as your pal Joey with mice Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth

Pal Joey is a mostly funny read. Joey is grasping, but mostly clueless. He does seem to have a pretty good talent for the music and jazz of the time, but his human relations skills are less than zero, especially with the "mice" (Joey's slang for girls) that he encounters along the way. Joey doesn't seem to be doing much better with his career by the end of the novel than he did when it started, which adds to the realism, and even humor of the piece. Joey may have been a heel, but his persona has lived on entertainingly in print, stage, and screen.

1935's BUtterfield 8 was made into a successful film in 1960, starring Elizabeth Taylor (who won the Oscar for Best Actress) and then-husband Eddie Fisher, right before she went on to make the blockbuster Cleopatra. The story centers on Gloria Wandrous, a young woman who lives her life freely - sleeping with men that she likes, while searching for a meaningful life. Gloria is a complicated person. It is revealed, midway through the novel, that she was a victim of child sexual abuse. She is quite frank and flirtatious with her closest friend, commercial artist Eddie, who seems to be her only true friend. Gloria is getting tired of her itinerant life and believes that she has fallen in love with her latest lover, married man Weston Liggett. But will she be able to get past her malaise and open herself to love and a life with Liggett?

From the 1960 film, Elizabeth Taylor in her Oscar-winning turn as Gloria Wandrous in BUtterfield 8
“On this Sunday morning in May, this girl who later was to be the cause of a sensation in New York, awoke much too early for her night before. One minute she was asleep, the next she was completely awake and dumped into despair. It was the kind of despair that she had known perhaps two thousand times before, there being 365 mornings in a calendar year.”
The book, although interesting to read and progressive for its time, has problems. Gloria is racist and abusive to her mother's black maid as a matter of course. She is the recipient of sexist behavior, which is not surprising, considering the time the story takes place, but that same sexism is also ultimately worked into the plot. Why is Gloria made to "pay" for her choices and behavior while her partner, Liggett, seems to get off scot free? That can happen frequently in life, but did the reader in 1935 accept her fate as unjust or inevitable? Events in the 1960 film may have been depicted as tragic, but seemed equally cliché. BUtterfield 8 seems a precursor, almost a companion story to Breakfast at Tiffany's. The authors each presented interesting, free-spirited women as their protagonists, but in the end, don't seem to know what to do with them.

This post also appears on Cannonball Read 11