Bloomberg News

Mogul’s ‘Versailles’ Nightmare; Catty Hathaway: Movies

July 21, 2012

'The Queen of Versailles'

Billionaire and "time share king" David Siegel with his former beauty queen wife, Jackie, in the master bedroom of their current 26,000 square foot home in Orlando, Florida. They loved to buy antiques together and spent 10 years collecting a warehouse full of furniture for the 90,000 square foot palace they were constructing when the financial crisis hit. Photographer: Lauren Greenfield/Magnolia Pictures via Bloomberg

Jackie Siegel, the busty, Botoxed trophy wife who steals Lauren Greenfield’s irresistible documentary “The Queen of Versailles,” recalls a family vacation taken after her billionaire husband’s time-share empire went south.

“What,” her young son demanded as he boarded his first commercial flight, “are all these people doing on our plane?”

Charming -- if you’re Marie Antoinette. When the gauche, noveau riche Siegels face their inevitable comeuppance, we can’t help but enjoy a twinge of schadenfreude.

Filmed over three years beginning in 2007, “Versailles” opens with a boom -- the housing boom. David Siegel, a self-made Florida billionaire and founder of Westgate Resorts, is building a $75 million, 90,000-square-foot mansion outside Orlando.

Modeled on both the original Versailles and Las Vegas’s Paris hotel, the Siegels’s behemoth was to be the largest home in America. Jackie, a former cocktail waitress 30 years younger than her husband, boasts of closets that could shame most living rooms.

Stop Gap

Then 2008 happens. The housing bubble bursts, Siegel’s company, which sells time-share vacations, lays off workers, and the dream home sits unfinished, a brick and mortar metaphor for our grasping, mortgaged times.

What might be little more than, say, fodder for a “60 Minutes” segment becomes, in Greenfield’s telling, a resonant character study.

David, the gruff mogul with a working-class background, greed-is-good drive and eye for beauty-pageant types, earns our attention, if not affection, with his thorough lack of sentiment.

“Nothing makes me happy these days,” he says late in the film, his self-worth seemingly wrapped completely in his fortunes. (Siegel, now 77, is suing the director, Magnolia Pictures and Bravo Media for what he claims is a damaging and false depiction of his company).

The queen, of course, is Jackie, a bottle-blonde shopaholic in too-tight outfits. As endearing as she is vulgar and exasperating, Jackie Siegel surprises us at every turn.

“My husband told me when I turned 40 he’s going to trade me in for two 20-year-olds,” Jackie says at one point. Her husband’s joke isn’t even remotely funny, and the beauty of the film is that we know she knows.

“The Queen of Versailles,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **** (Evans)

‘Dark Knight’

Filmed on a scale and with a solemnity that dwarfs Mt. Rushmore, “The Dark Knight Rises” provides not quite three hours of pounding excitement.

The movie is a sledgehammer. Your head is the anvil.

It feels very much like the last Batman picture, “The Dark Knight” (2008). There’s the same trio of splendid actors -- Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman -- occasionally acting. There’s recessive Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, who martyrs himself to save the people of his city.

Marion Cotillard is a rich investor in an energy project that turns deadly. Tom Hardy plays the main villain in a metal pig-snout mask that would render expression impossible if he were given something to express.

Anne Hathaway

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is more winning as a Robin-like young cop. Best of all, Anne Hathaway, as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, brings to this movie what Heath Ledger brought to the last one: a touch of lightness and mocking humor. Amid the gloom, she sparkles.

The picture is effective; I certainly wasn’t bored. But its frantic mixture of 9/11, the financial crisis, Abu Ghraib, the Paris Commune, the Bolshevik Revolution and “A Tale of Two Cities” is a pop-culture hodgepodge that doesn’t pop -- it thuds.

It’s also confusing. The director, Christopher Nolan, can stage mayhem on a colossal scale, but he doesn’t know where to place the camera to make a simple fistfight or a gunfight intelligible.

The Imax process doesn’t permit long takes; maybe that’s why the editing is too fast to follow. Or maybe it’s just inept. You pretty much have to accept everything that happens on faith, which is the movie’s theme.

The ending isn’t as corny as “The Dark Knight,” but it’s still about a big mope’s desire to furnish the little people with hope. If fate hadn’t led Bruce Wayne to become Batman, he would have made a fine pastor.

Is that what Nolan wants, too? Is that why this movie feels so condescending?

“The Dark Knight Rises,” from Warner Bros., is playing across the U.S. Rating: **1/2 (Seligman)

‘Well Digger’s Daughter’

“The Well Digger’s Daughter” is a remake of a 1940 film by Marcel Pagnol about a poor girl seduced by a roue.

The new version is French “Masterpiece Theatre,” a period piece (it’s set at the beginning of World War I) in which poppies sway in the fields and even the dirt looks clean.

The movie is coated with a sludge of lilting music by Alexandre Desplat. Neither intellectually nor psychologically respectable, it still managed to suck me in.

Daniel Auteuil adapted, directed and awarded himself the juicy role of the well digger who, in the movie’s most famous scene, gives the haughty parents of his daughter’s seducer a piece of his mind.

Jean-Pierre Darroussin is touching as the cad’s father, caught between his conscience and his harridan of a wife. As the fallen daughter, Astrid Berges-Frisbey has the eyes-downcast beauty a man could lose his head over and a stiff-necked primness that would send him packing fast.

Auteuil has wisely made no attempt to update the material. The emotions that swirl around notions of proper sexual behavior make no sense in contemporary terms. They were probably wishful thinking even in 1940.

“The Well Digger’s Daughter,” from Kino Lorber, is playing in New York and Seattle. Rating: *** (Seligman)


What the Stars Mean:

****   Excellent
***    Very Good
**     Good
*      Mediocre
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)

(Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg on N.Y. weekend and Lewis Lapham on books.)

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at gregeaevans@yahoo.com. Craig Seligman at cseligman@mindspring.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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