Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Coming of Age Movies

There was a time when I was just young and dumb. Then, that one thing happened and I became wise to the ways of the world. That's how it happens, right? At least that's how it often happens in the movies. Generally, it goes like this: when that summer began I was but a boy (or a girl), but when it ended I was a man (or woman). Let's face it. We love these types of movies. I do, anyway. That's why I love this week's topic for the Thursday Movie Picks hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves - coming of age movies. This is one category where my only struggle was whittling my post down to three movies from dozens, if not hundreds of choices. After all, some of my favorite movies of all time fit the bill. Out of respect for my fellow bloggers who may very well pick some of these movies, I'll refrain from giving you a rundown.

You know what that means.

As per usual, I'm trying to dig a little deeper and find those movies that have not been as widely seen. Therefore, as the rules allow me to, I'm going to go with some hidden gems. If you have not seen, or even heard of, these movies before keep them in mind when looking to watch some youngsters go through that pivotal time in their lives when they shed their innocence. Here are my picks in chronological order:

Cooley High
The Person Coming of Age: Preach
Made in 1975, but set in 1964 Chicago, we follow high school students Preach (Glynn Turman, with the glasses in the picture) and his best friend Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, far right) on their misadventures. This includes cutting school, drinking, picking up girls, and run-ins with the local thugs. Through it all, Preach gets some valuable life lessons for all the trouble he goes through. It's equal parts funny and poignant without resorting to the flamboyance of the hugely popular Blaxploitation flicks of the era. By the way, it also includes the original version of the song "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye" by little known Motown artist G. C. Cameron. The song would become a number 1 hit for Boyz II Men in 1991.

The Last American Virgin
The Person Coming of Age: Gary
Many a movie has been made about boys efforting to lose their virginity. For some of us, especially Gary (Lawrence Monoson), this is epic undertaking filled with failure. We follow him as he pals around with buddies Rick and David and lusts after Karen. The wonderful thing about this movie is that it has the courage to not give us a happy-go-lucky finish (minor spoiler, I guess), and even sneaks in some social commentary. Well, it helps that the raunchy bits are hilarious. I like it so much, it made my list of Top 10 Movies About Virginity. Read my full review of it, here.

The Person Coming of Age: Troy
Here, we follow Troy as she tries desperately to keep up with her four brothers and has her own misadventures on the streets of Brooklyn, where she lives. There's also some marital strife between mom and dad weighing on her and the entire family. I've become a champion for this movie as of late. That's because it's been often criticized as being one of director Spike Lee's lesser films. I agree it's not in the upper echelon of Spike Lee Joints, it's his most personal and touching film to date. It's the one which you're least likely to come away from thinking he's pushing some socio-political agenda. And this is coming from a huge Lee fan. He depicts a place filled with rich and varied characters and lets a little girl grow up right before our eyes.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Under the Skin

Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
2014. Rated R, 108 minutes.
Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy McWilliams
Adam Pearson
Joe Szula
Krystof Hadek
Paul Brannigan
Danny McCaskill

So there's this woman from another planet. Ironically enough, since she's played by Scarlett Johansson, seems to share a characteristic with a black widow. Sort of. She rides around town picking up random men, luring them back to her den of I don't know what. Once there, she starts peeling off her clothes while backing away from them. You know us guys. we can't get naked fast enough while in lustful pursuit. Unfortunately for them, these dudes never catch her. Instead, they find themselves uncontrollably walking into a pool of murky liquid, murky meaning jet black, until they are fully submerged and eventually destroyed. Once that happens, she's off looking for the next sucker. Plot-wise, that's all there is. The only other thing to note is that there is a motorcycle guy who seems to be her helper, or handler, or something. Since the two never actually speak, it's not quite clear.

Not quite clear is an accurate description of the literal happenings of Under the Skin. we can follow the events easily, but rhyme and reason eludes straightforward readings. Out loud wonderings of just what the hell is going on might be oft-prompted. This isn't a movie that reveals itself willingly. In other words, I can see lots of people dismissing it as artsy-fartsy nonsense. These people would have a  valid point as it doesn't fit narrow preconceptions of what movies should be. However, what's wonderful about it will be lost on them. They will have become that student in Enter the Dragon, not at all seeing what was being shown to him by the great Bruce Lee pointing toward the moon. They will have concentrated on the finger and missed all the heavenly glory.

By now, you're probably wondering what I'm babbling about, especially if you haven't seen this movie. My point is that this is a movie steeped in metaphor and open to multiple interpretations. My initial reading is that this is an examination of the way men view and treat women who are highly sexual beings. This is evident in the fates of the men she seduces. She literally destroys them. It has long been held that promiscuous women are somehow evil in comparison to their "studly" male counterparts. Men who have not even been involved with a woman they suspect of such behavior often see them as jaded objects, only good for one thing. They may even approach these women in a way enforcing that belief and/or try to use sex as a weapon within the power struggle between genders. There is even the question of how much a woman's (or anyone's, for that matter) self worth is linked to their genitalia. All of this, of course, leads to the film's finale. Without spoiling it, hopefully, I'll say that it involves a man's attempt at an act that often strips the humanity from its victims. In this case, that becomes a literal occurrence. Because of the stark visuals involved with this scene, there is also a subtle hint at how racism might also come into play.

To keep all of this a downright mesmerizing experience is a perfect blend of tone and performance. Tonally, UtS has a dreamlike quality. It's all rather surreal and sparsely populated. Dialogue is also kept to a minimum. Conversations are mostly short, all simple, quiet, and effective. There are also long stretches where nothing is said at all. We merely watch people act and react. In lots of movies, this would be utterly boring. Here, it works marvelously. A lot of it, most everything I've mentioned to this point, is due to the work of director Jonathan Glazer and his team on the technical side of things. However, tons of credit should also be given to our star, Johansson. She takes what could have been a big, showy role that found her impersonating Mae West's grand gestures and innuendos or Sharon Stone's hyper-sexuality, and she purposely and perfectly undersells it. Part of her appeal as an actress is that she's a gorgeous woman. As talented as she is, there's just no way around it. However, she never flaunts her looks. She addresses the men she comes across in a totally natural manner that plays to their egos, general wants, and desires, not her anatomy. It's a performance likely too understated to be fully appreciated by award-giving bodies, yet playing it any other way might have made things cartoonish and rendered the movie a failure.

UtS manages the impossible. It's a woozy affair that seems to meander along with little purpose other than being odd. While doing so, it somehow draws us to the edge of our seats and keeps us suspended there as we wonder where all of this is going. When it gets there, we have to take a deep breath and contemplate what we just saw. If we're unable to make heads or tails of it, we might be extremely disappointed with the film, quickly dismissing it for not making much sense. If we can, we'll love it for both its simultaneous simplicity and complexity. We will have a movie that we can approach and debate from a number of different angles. At least, that's why I love it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Gay on Film Blogathon: Tee and Lorraine

John at Hitchcock's World is at it again. He's come up with another wonderful blogathon. I swear the dude is taking up most of my December. It's in a good way, though, so I don't mind. He's already run two blogathons based on women in film. Now, he continues his quest to see all of us on equal footing with the Gay on Film Blogathon. It's all about strong gay characters in the cinematic universe. Yes, there are rules. In John's words...

  1. Pick one gay character or couple to write about from a movie of your choice. If you wish, you can do multiple articles highlighting different characters or couples.
  2. Once you have made your choices, you will need to make a case for why you think they are strong characters and a positive image of homosexuality.
  3. No stereotypes. Writing about a "camp gay" or any other stereotypical image of homosexuality will not be tolerated. If you do so you will be disqualified.
  4. Include a banner with your post. There are several to choose from below. If you wish, you can design one of your own provided it includes the title of this blogathon and imagery fitting to the subject matter.

Of course, I always like to bend the rules and find something you probably weren't expecting and may not have even known about. Therefore, I'm going with...

Tee & Lorraine
(The Women of Brewster Place, 1989)

The rule-bending part comes in what these two ladies appeared in. It exists today as a singular movie on DVD. However, in 1989, The Women of Brewster Place was a TV miniseries based on a 1982 novel by Gloria Naylor. It was a ratings success based heavily on the fact that it starred everyone's favorite talk show host, Oprah Winfrey, on her way to goddess status. The movie revolves around her character Mattie Michael and a number of other women who live in a piece of decaying urban tenement known as Brewster Place. However, Tee and Lorraine are not initially among them.

As things progress, Tee (played by Paula Kelly, pictured on the left above) and Lorraine (Lonette McKee, right) move into Brewster Place. It isn't immediately clear to their new neighbors that they are a couple. However, they are soon found out by next door neighbor/town-gossip Miss Sophie (Olivia Cole) who spies on them through the window they occasionally leave open. Of course, once Miss Sophie knows, everybody knows. Not surprisingly, their lesbianism is framed in them unflattering light. In keeping with the times, they are seen as people who have something seriously wrong with them, "others" to be outcast, possibly diseased.

I chose these two ladies because through it all, they are a normal couple trying to persevere under adverse conditions. These conditions cause some strain in their relationship, even threatens to tear them apart. Lorraine doesn't want to be seen as different. She wants to blend in and be friends with her neighbors. All of the disdainful talk and scornful looks cast in her direction deeply bothers her. In addition to her own emotions, she has the more tangible worry about her career as a teacher. This is a time when being outed would probably lead to her being fired. Tee, short for Theresa, is the stronger of the two. She is fully accepting of who she is and encourages Lorraine to be the same way. She really doesn't give a damn if the neighborhood hens accept her or not.

Eventually, an argument between the two leads to a heinous crime committed against Lorraine by one of the neighborhood thugs. This, in turn, leads to the galvanization of the women who were once all against Lorraine and Tee and an all out attack on the daunting brick wall that keeps them in Brewster Place. There are also some larger socio-economic issues being explored by this, but the fact remains that the very women who shunned them have come to their aid at the end. There is also the idea that in order for progress to be made, there must be suffering.

For me personally, it's one of the earliest representations of homosexuality I encountered that wasn't played for comedic effect and/or portrayed almost entirely as a stereotype. This couple was presented as a pair of people dealing with discrimination which struck a chord with me. They were dealing with what the heroes of Civil Rights in America dealt with. Other than their sexuality, they seemed to be no different than women I had known all my life. Neither was excessively masculine, or obviously damaged in a way that might be construed to "cause" her to be a lesbian. They just were. That's a good a reason as any to include them in this blogathon.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Quick and Dirties

Weird things going on that I'm sure doesn't happen anywhere else. My kids have been taking up more and more computer time with some strangeness they call homework. My own time on the computer has been increasingly used for work stuff. 'Tis does not feel like the season, yet. Anyhoo, what all this means is that even though I'm still watching movies I haven't had time to write out full blown reviews of them. This has led to the introduction of these - The Quick and Dirties. These are going to be one paragraph reviews that cut to the chase. I'll try to make my opinion on these movies crystal clear because, as you know, the scoring system around here recently became extinct. However, don't look for super in-depth analysis.

For the first installment, we're tackling a quartet of movies that, for some reason or another, fell onto the back burner.

Directed by Neil Burger.
2014. Rated PG-13, 139 minutes.
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Ray Stevenson, Zoe Kravitz, Mekhi Phifer, Miles Teller, Maggie Q.
Yet another movie adapted from a YA novel where the government is trying to control all aspects of our lives. In this case, teens are tested and herded into one of several roles in society where they'll remain for the rest of their lives. The issue is that the test results of our heroine Tris Pryor (Woodley) means she's actually a fit for more than one role. THIS MEANS SHE'S DIVERGENT! GASP! It's an interesting concept which the movie never takes advantage of, nor explains sufficiently. We get that it means she's different from everyone else, but what that actually means is unclear. What great threat does she pose or power does she possess that we should care about? In a metaphoric sense, I understand it's a rallying cry urging us to maintain our individuality. Unfortunately, it never makes this work in the literal sense needed to make the movie work. Not having read the source material, I imagine these things were left out of the cinematic version for some odd reason. Maybe they're being saved for the sequel. Worse than that, for a movie espousing the virtues of self expression it has an oddly cookie-cutter feel to it.

Draft Day
Directed by Ivan Reitman.
2014. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Ellen Burstyn, Sam Elliot.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the troubled Cleveland Browns. Today is, obviously, the day of the NFL Draft. Do they try to move up to the number one pick and get the hotshot quarterback everyone has been salivating over? Do they stand pat and get the guy the coaches have been studying for months? or do they take the guy Sonny knows is the right guy and whom he has a bleeding heart for? And what about the secret office romance he's been carrying on with Ali Parker (Garner), the team salary cap manager? There is a "you are there" quality that NFL fans might enjoy. However, it's highly questionable whether the way any of this plays out is plausible in any way. This is not its biggest drawback, though. That distinction belongs to its overwhelming predictability. Within the first twenty minutes we've figured out everything that's going to happen for the next hour and a half. The movie dutifully sets up every character so that their story-lines, if they have one, can only end one way. Therefore, instead of being a gripping, gritty drama about the inner workings of a professional sports franchise, we get a less than thrilling melodrama.

Directed by Robert Schwentke.
2013. Rated PG-13, 96 minutes.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges, Mary Louise-Parker, Kevin Bacon, Stephanie Szostak, Marisa Miller, James Hong, Devin Ratray.
When Boston police officer Nick Walker is killed in the line of duty, he finds himself assigned to the Rest in Peace Department helping to send evil spirits to their damnation of something like that. Of course, he goes all Ryan Reynolds. In his new unit, he's the rookie and is paired with hardened vet Roycephus Pulsipher. This guy is played by Jeff Bridges doing Rooster Cogburn, but in an action-comedy instead of a Coen Brothers flick. R.I.P.D. wants to be Men in Black, but never quite gets there. The chemistry between our leads is very good, keeping it from being a total dud. There are also some fun action sequences. Sadly, it still manages to take its absurd premise a bit too seriously instead of throwing all caution to the wind. Call it an opportunity missed. Maybe it would've worked better had Reynolds recorded a snazzy rap song for the theme song. Here come the R.I.P.'s, here come the R.I.P.'s, here come the R.I.P.'s. Now freeze.

Transformers: Age of Extinction
Directed by Michael Bay.
2014. Rated PG-13, 165 minutes.
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Miles, Thomas Lennon.
More giant robots fighting. This time, some of them are dinosaurs. Everything goes boom. Mark Wahlberg stands in for Shia LaBeouf. Other puny humans make silly jokes. It's as bad as you've heard. It's probably worse than that, really.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Women in Film Blogathon Part II: Kasi Lemmons

If you're familiar with Hitchcock's World, you know that John churns out blogathons left and right. Therefore, it should be no surprise that he's at it again. This one is a sequel to one he did earlier this year, Women in Film. For that one, all about strong female characters, I added a dash of color to the proceedings and posted about Troy Carmichael from Spike Lee's Crooklyn. For part two, we move from in front of the camera to behind it.  This time, it's all about female directors. The actual full name of this thing, by the way, is Women in Film Blogathon Part II: The Director's Chair. Cool. However, before I jump in, John did give me some rules to abide by:

  1. Only one director per post. However, if you wish you can do multiple submissions covering different directors.
  2. Try not to focus too much on one particular film by your chosen director. For instance if you're writing about Kathryn Bigelow please don't just send me a review of The Hurt Locker. You don't have to go through their entire filmography but you should discuss enough of their movies to demonstrate an understanding of their style.
  3. You can pick a director from any time period or any country you wish.
  4. Include the above banner in your entry.

No problem. Let's just get down to giving some ladies their props.

Props. Do the cool kids still say that? Probably not. Moving on...

I'm sure a number of you saw the title of this post and said "What's a Kasi Lemmons?" She's an African-American director who actually has far more acting credits to her name than directing. Take a closer look at that face above. There's a good chance you've seen her in something. She played Agent Ardelia Mapp in the classic The Silence of the Lambs. In Candyman, she was best friend Bernadette. Before playing in either of those, she was Jackie, the love interest of Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss. Lemmons also had roles in Spike Lee's School Daze, Robert Townsend's The Five Heartbeats, and Gridlock'd which featured three stirring performances by Tim Roth, Thandie Newton, and the immortal Tupac Shakur. In addition to these, she's done a healthy amount of guest spots on TV, going back as far as Spencer for Hire.

This isn't about her acting, but her directing. Admittedly, she is not the most prolific director. Over a span of seventeen years since making her debut feature as a director, 1997's Eve's Bayou, she's only helmed four movies. However, to each project she brings a welcome ambition and the ability to let her characters breathe. That said, she's not perfect. Here's my brief thoughts on her filmography.

Eve's Bayou
Eve, played by Jurnee Smollett, is a young girl who begins the movie by telling us that she killed her father when she was ten years old. From there, it's all about familial relationships, and more importantly, the ways in which memory can be distorted. The cast features Samuel L. Jackson as that dad. It also includes Diahann Carroll, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan, a very young Meagan Good, and Lemmons real-life husband Vondie Curtis-Hall. As far as I'm concerned, this one is downright brilliant. To back me up, it won Lemmons the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and was the highest grossing independent film of 1997. It was also nominated for, and probably should have won Outstanding Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards. Laughably, Soul Food beat out four far better movies for the award: Eve's Bayou, Amistad, Rosewood, and Love Jones. Sigh.

The Caveman's Valentine
Lemmons reunites with Samuel L. Jackson for the story of Romulus, a homeless guy who once studied at Julliard but is current suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Somehow, he finds himself investigating a murder. Truth told, I haven't seen this one, but I do plan to do so and post a review in the coming weeks (probably in January). Reviews haven't been too kind to it, though. the basic consensus is that it's too ambitious for its own good. Okay, I'll bite and let you know what I think.

Talk to Me
This one is a biopic about Washington D.C. radio personality Ralph "Petey" Greene, played brilliantly by Don Cheadle. Greene was an ex-con who became a huge success on radio and also had a promising career as a stand-up comedian and talk show host. Not merely content with telling Petey's story, it also becomes a bromance between our hero and bestest buddy Dewey Hughes played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Regardless of what I eventually think of The Caveman's Valentine, this one is big-time winner, in my book. It's a lively romp that takes a look at not just one man's transformation, but also at that of society as much of the movie takes place within the time frame right before and right after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. For this, Lemmons was awarded Best Director by the African American Film Critics and Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture by the NAACP Image Awards. It's cast was also honored nicely. Cheadle and Ejiofor won Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, from the African American Film Critics with Ejiofor also winning Best Supporting Male at the Independent Spirit Awards. Cheadle was nominated at the same awards for Best Male Lead while both men, plus all received acting nominations from the NAACP. The entire cast was honored by taking home Best Ensemble at the Gotham Awards.

Black Nativity
If there is one true dud in Lemmons' filmography, this is it. Black Nativity tells the story of a teenage boy from Baltimore sent to live with grandparents he never met in New York after his mom gets evicted. It's a musical based on a play by one of the most important poets in American history, Langston Hughes. Unfortunately, it doesn't work out too well. There are a couple of silver linings, here. One is that Angela Bassett still managed to snag an Image Award from the NAACP. By the way, the cast also features Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese Gibson, and of course, her hubby. The other is that history has shown that after a misstep, Lemmons rebounds in a major way. Therefore, I'm anxiously awaiting her next movie. By the way, since this is a Christmas movie, I'll actually be posting a full review of this in the next two weeks.

With hubby

Thanks to John, once again, for giving me a chance to shine a light on a wonderful woman in film. After all, female directors are rare enough. Black female directors are rarer, still. I'm proud that Lemmons has achieved some successes as such throughout her career. Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to check out her work from the director's chair and to be on the lookout for her future projects. Finally, it's important to note that even though she is fully cognizant of her skin color, she doesn't let that define her. Rather than go on pontificating on what that means, I'll leave you with some of her own words...

"I don't wake up every day saying I'm a Black woman because it's too given, but I wake up every day feeling like an artist."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Directed by Doug Liman.
2014. Rated PG-13, 113 minutes.
Tom Cruise
Emily Blunt
Bill Paxton
Brendan Gleeson
Kick Gurry
Dragomir Mrsic
Charlotte Riley
Jonas Armstrong

If you saw Groundhog Day, and possibly if you haven't, you know that the protagonist is doomed to relive the same day over and over again while everyone else is oblivious to what's going on. Imagine this happening to someone in the midst of war. Also imagine victory in that war, and the fate of humanity, hinging on whether this person could figure out how to defeat the enemy on that day. Such is the lot drawn by William Cage (Cruise). He's an officer that gets demoted all the way to the rank of private when he tries to flee after being told he's going to combat in the war against an alien invader. Not only does he find himself stripped of rank, but in a unit that is shipping out the very next day regardless of whether he's trained or not. Shortly after dropping into battle, he finds himself getting killed. Don't fret because he also wakes up at the start of the previous day. And yeah, pretty much the same thing happens again and again with him sometimes advancing a few steps further, sometimes a few less, than the previous try. Eventually, he manages to reach Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Blunt), also known as the "Full Metal Bitch" for an act of heroism she performed during combat. She explains it all to him because she used to have the same ability/problem before somehow losing it. So here's the deal: every time our hero dies, the day starts over and he's the only one who knows this. The question is can the two of them figure out how to defeat the aliens?

One thing that Edge of Tomorrow does to great effect is play up the humorous aspects of the situation. Even though the situation itself is dire, the movie is actually hilarious. When our day starts over, as it inevitably does, we're presented with a very nice variation in the way things happen. These sequences are all nicely abbreviated focusing on one aspect or the other. However, it's not all fun and games. Even through our laughter, we can sense a growing frustration and desperation in our main character. Through our hero's repeated and comically presented deaths is an odd way to approach character development, but it works perfectly. Within the first thirty minutes, we get to know this guy fairly well despite not having spent a ton of time with him. As the time we do spend with Cage grows, so does our sympathy for him. His plight is well presented. We buy into him.

Helping us to buy into him is none other than Tom Cruise. Ironically, it's all the qualities that seem to be the antithesis of Cruise's persona that draw us in. Cage is certainly not the smug, supremely confident hero that the actor has made a living playing. He's much more unsure of himself which gives him a humbleness Cruise rarely displays. He doesn't have all the answers. For a long time, he doesn't appear to have any of the answers. This plants the seed of doubt needed for the movie to maintain enough tension to keep us in the film. Cage also seriously considers giving up on even attempting to save the world. This is a very human, very endearing quality. We sense the weight that has been thrust upon his shoulders. We can almost see it as it mounts. We can definitely see him crumble beneath its heft several times. Combined with the humorous approach to things, especially early, it all becomes a nice send-up of the character he normally plays.

Opposite Cruise, Emily Blunt turns in fantastic work as the far more seasoned soldier of the two. As someone who has been on the front lines of this war for quite some time, all of the movie's sense of urgency is channeled through her. She gives purpose to both Cruise and the film itself. Blunt, her physique suitably bulked up and toned down, is also the emotional center of the movie. However, she manages to be this without falling into the conventional methods of crying and behaving hysterically as many female characters tend to do. Though there is eventually a hint of romance, this isn't the focus of, nor reason for, her existence. The writers, as well as director Doug Liman, deserve tons of credit for bringing such a woman to the screen. Emily Blunt is to be lauded for breathing life into her.

Story-wise, the humor keeps us bouncing along. It also helps keep us intrigued. Our plot also gets some help by being exciting in the action department. The aliens they are fighting are nicely rendered and appropriately vicious. However, I'd be lying if I said they didn't remind me of the giant bugs from Starship Troopers. While highly enjoyable, the movie does hit a few snags along the way. First, there are the plot holes wrapped around our hero's powers. Then, the repetitive nature of the movie occasionally takes its toll and makes Edge of Tomorrow feel like it goes on just a tad too long. The biggest issue might be the forced happiness that sort of undermines everything that went on before it. Given how things play out, it feels like just a bit of a cheat. None of these things are deal breakers. In fact, they might not even be noticeable because you're having such a good time with it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Adapted From Plays

I don't know about where you live, but around here it's been rather dreary. The good Lord, or Mother Nature, or Al Gore has painted the sky with the drabbest of grays which has persisted for days. Hopefully, the sun will come out tomorrow. I don't think I'll bet my bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun, but who knows. When it does, maybe a colorful arc will appear in the sky. Then I can look somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, and the dreams that you dreamed of once in a lullaby and see the blue birds fly.

If you've been paying attention, you really know that I have a quirky sense of humor. You can probably skip the rest of this paragraph. If you're a normal person, and not quite sure of what's going on, don't worry. I'll explain. The latest incarnation of Annie is about to hit the big screen and, of course, "Tomorrow" is the production's most iconic song. After twisting up some its lyrics, I was now thinking of musicals. Naturally, Annie singing "Tomorrow" isn't a far cry from Dorothy...or Patti LaBelle...belting out "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Yeah, I desecrated those lyrics, too. All of this begs the question, why was I thinking about Annie, anyway?

The reason I had Annie on the brain, I mean reasons with an "s," is because the trailer just played on TV in my house and the wonderful theme provided to us for this week's Thursday Movie Picks hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves. This week, we're talking movies adapted from plays. Cool. I can ratttle these off like nothing. Annie, Dreamgirls, Grease, Little Shop of Horrors, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Sweeney Todd...this is easy.

Oh, wait...rules...what?

Yes, boys and girls, Wanderer played a trick on me and threw some rules into the mix. Well, there's really only one rule. Obey it, anyway. It's a simple one, so that helps. None of the three movies selected are allowed to be either a musical, or adapted from the work of Shakespeare.

Woah, woah, woah!

Whaddya mean, no musicals?
Are you telling me there are movies adapted from plays that aren't musicals or Shakespeare? I don't believe you. I'm whistling to distract you while I open another tab and do a quick search for "movies adapted from plays." Well, I'll be damned. Whaddya know? There are some.

Okay, fine.

In protest of not being able to suggest a cheery musical or dust off my dazzling knowledge of Shakespeare, I'm only picking movies made before I was born. I know that's a weak protest, but deal with it. Besides, these movies are all great.

A Streetcar Named Desire
Adapted from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
It's simple, really. Blanche is having some personal issues so she travels from Mississippi to New Orleans to visit her sister Stella. There's a couple things wrong with this picture. Stella has some serious problems of her own. One of those problems is her caveman of a husband, Stanley. Here, we blessed to witness Marlon Brando give one of cinema's greatest performances. It's widely credited with introducing the world to method acting. You know what else? All three of his main castmates, Vivien Leigh, Karl Malden, and Kim Hunter all won Oscars for their work, here, but Brando did not. Hmph. Stupid Academy.

Inherit the Wind
Adapted from Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee
Speaking of great performances, we get a double dose of them, here. Frederic March as the blustery lawyer Matthew Harrison Brady takes on Spencer Tracy as the much more subtle Henry Drummond. Both are magnificent. The two men are arguing the legality of teaching the theory of evolution in a world where it is punishable by law to do so. Though that particular subject is no longer playing out in our courts, Evolution vs. Creation is still something many people debate. Therefore, despite the black and white picture and stodgy old white men everywhere, the movie doesn't feel as dated as it probably should.

A Raisin in the Sun
Adapted from A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
Yes, great performances are definitely a theme within the theme this week. This time, we get Sidney Poitier as Walter and the recently late, but still great Ruby Dee as his wife Ruth. They are a struggling couple with a young son and living in an apartment with Walter's mother and sister. So yeah, it's crowded in there. They're trying to figure out how to change their station in life and all around getting on each other's nerves. It's another wonderful piece of art that touches on many things that were going in American society. Some of them are still going on.