Do We Need a "Ben-Hur" Remake? Not Really -- At All

If Downey and company want a more "Christian" version of, they haven't watched the classic Wyler film.
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"IT WAS Jimmy Fallon's choice for the reasons you reasoned. Your story was right on."

The above quote -- concerning Barbra Streisand sitting at Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show desk -- comes from somebody inside the Streisand camp. Somebody I trust, who would just ignore me if I were wrong -- Mr. Dick Guttman.

I have been inundated with messages telling me it had to be Barbra who insisted on sitting at the desk, to assure her best angle.

I know Barbra has re-arranged things in the past, and I do think she still cares about her looks, but considering the historic nature of the event -- half a century since her last Tonight Show appearance -- I believe she was willing to let her mere presence and her voice do the job.

Anyway, I've seen her from the "bad" side. It's not bad at all. But we are all of us sensitive to what we consider our "flaws."

Oh, what does Barbra care about all this yadda-yadda? If the stars (and the CDs) are in alignment, her new album, Partners is expected to debut at No.1 next week. If it happens, she will be in the lead as the female singer with the most No.1 albums. From any angle, that's historic.

•MAYBE IT might have been a good idea for somebody from the beleaguered (and justifiably so!) NFL to talk to singer Rihanna privately, before canceling her performance on Thursday Night Football. Yes, Rhianna has been a victim of violence at the hands of singer Chris Brown. Yes, man against woman (and child) violence is on everybody's mind, thanks to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and concerned women everywhere. But Rhianna has nothing to do with any of it.

A smooth phone call, maybe asking her to make a public statement before her performance, would have gone a long way. She's angry, and I don't blame her. She is being victimized all over again.

On the other hand, tweeting "F---you!" to the NFL wasn't exactly Rhianna's finest moment. Although, I think her closing, "The audacity!" will become a pop culture phrase. I see it now -- insulted? Response? "The audacity!"

•GREAT MATERIAL, literary or cinematic, always cries out for reinvention. And no problem, most of the time. (I, for one, can't wait to see Selena Gomez and Justin Beiber in a remake of Camille.)

But'd rather they wouldn't. I have to say the planned remake of Ben-Hur is one of those "Oh, no they didn't" moments.

Nothing could top William Wyler's 1959 version of Lew Wallace's 1880 classic book. It had already been done in 1925, starring Ramon Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. But Wyler's Charlton Heston epic stands alone. In every way, it is perfect cinema, casting, script -- the lot.

•FOR Ben-Hur 2016, we have Timur Bekmambetov as director and Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) as the much put-upon Judah Ben Hur. (Just don't lean on a loose tile, kid!)

Roma Downey, the former Touched By An Angel actress, is an executive producer on this. Downey and her hubby Mark Burnett were the producers of TV's The Bible. Oh, you know -- the one in which Satan looked just like President Obama.

If Downey and company want a more "Christian" version of Ben-Hur," they haven't watched the classic Wyler film. Even if you don't "believe," Mr. Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Martha Scott, Sam Jaffe and Haya Harareet, move you tremendously. The stirring score by Miklos Rozsa helps. You feel you are a better person for having seen the original, which won 11 Oscars.

Maybe you'll do a good deed. Or maybe you'll just want to participate in a chariot race.

•THERE'S LITERATURE that reads like literature. It's wordy, passionate, breathless (sometimes while reading this sort of thing, one must pause and absorb -- Donna Tartt's novels, for instance.) Then there is spare literature. Economic, to the point. Hemingway, and some of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Raymond Chandler.

I recently read We Are Not Ourselves, a much-talked-about first novel by Matthew Thomas. His style is more on the spare side. The emotions, however, are epic. This is the story -- a fairly simple story -- of a woman who works all her life to rise above her unhappy, dissatisfying childhood and adolescence. To have the best house, the perfect child and husband. To be better than her own parents. (Things don't work out.)

The book spans many years, but stays completely true to the origin of the character, the woman who wants only to banish her beginnings, burnish her present, ensure her future. There is not one wasted word in We Are Not Ourselves. No unnecessary adjectives, no endless exposition. Without bells, whistles or flourishes, this is so fluid, so straight to the point and so wrenching in its denouement that closing it, I felt I had lived the lives myself. I suppose I had, too. The dreams of Matthew Thomas's not-always-likeable but inevitably admirable protagonist, Eileen Tumulty, are the dreams of so many Americans who believed in the Big Dream of success and upward mobility. And then life slaps you down.

Again, this is a first novel! I eagerly await Mr. Thomas's second, third, etc. He is a master writer for the 21st century.

Oh, and before I get any e-mails telling me Raymond Chandler is not "literature," save your fingers. It's literature to me. That's what counts here.

I FIRST met Tea Leoni in 1995 in Los Angeles when she ran past me and jumped naked into our host's swimming pool!

What an entrance! She swam to the side and offered her hand up for me to shake. It has always been a joy to know this irrepressible girl. I cheered when she married one of my favorite actors, David Duchovny. They had two children and 17 years of wedlock before divorcing this year.

Tea did TV's The Naked Truth and the movies A League of Their Own...Flirting With Disaster... Deep Impact and Jurassic Park III, to name a few.

In the coming TV series Madame Secretary, she'll be playing America's Secretary of State. It debuts on CBS this Sunday night. As a woman who goes home to her supportive husband, after toiling in the White House, Tea's Madam Secretary will bow to the exigencies of work and compromise -- something Miss Leoni knows all about

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