The Hate U Give (NOW PLAYING) starring Amandla Stenberg, Regina Hall, Russell Hornsby, Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae & Common

It’s not everyday that you watch a film re: the development of an individual’s race consciousness! This isn’t just for fans of the YA book (which many adults also read); it’s for anyone who has had to  deal w/ unfairness, violence, and/or navigate two worlds (cultures, languages, etc.) and come out resilient on the other side. In my audience two weeks ago, there were viewers of ALL ages, incl. several families (black, Latino, Asian) w/ pre-teens and teens. It’s realistic, emotional, intelligent, and still hopeful re: our future (and that of the protagonist- Starr). Like ALL good films, it takes the viewer on a journey (BUT this time it’s through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive, and curious 16 y.o. black girl). After the film ended, a black woman in her 50s commented (in a pleasantly surprised tone) to her gal pal: “This is what happens when there’s a black writer, producer, and director.” You don’t need to be black (or in a minority group) to appreciate this film (of course), BUT it does speak esp. to a modern, American, black audience. 

I was impressed by all the actors, esp. Stenberg (who is already quite experienced for a 20 y.o. in Hollywood) and Hornsby (who I saw on Broadway several years ago in Fences). The Carter family (which is blended) is such a strong and loving unit- this is VERY rare to see in modern film! Hall gets a few moments to shine; she’s NOT just the one-note wife/mom. Common (known for his music) does pretty well w/ his role as Starr’s uncle (and cop). It’s good to see Issa Rae getting more exposure (on big screen). The chemistry between the kids and parents was really good. The costumes, music, settings, and extras ALL contribute to giving this film its authenticity. Don’t miss this film- it has its pulse on what’s (sadly) going on now in our society! 

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Brief Encounter (1945)

What to say re: this film? It’s simply magical (even when you view it for the second time)! I saw it again (on TCM) last week; it’s also available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. The lead actors (who are in their early to mid-30s) are Brits who actually look like regular people. An upper-middle class housewife, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson), meets doctor, Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), at a train station cafe when he helps remove a piece of dirt from her eye. Laura doesn’t think much of it, but then they keep running into each other in town. They talk, share lunch (and laughs), and go to movies (matinees) on Thursday afternoons. They (and the audience) realize that this relationship can’t go anywhere; they’re both married w/ two young kids. In fact, Laura’s husband (Fred) is depicted as a nice man; Alec’s two sons and wife are unseen (though she is described as “small, dark, and delicate”). Laura and Alec soon fall in love- neither can deny their feelings! 

I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. -Laura (in voiceover) re: falling in love w/ Alec

It’s awfully easy to lie when you know that you’re trusted implicitly. So very easy, and so very degrading. -Laura (in voiceover) re: lying to Fred for the first time

Unlike most movies of the ’40s, we hear Laura’s perspective (in voiceover), getting us into the mind of a woman. David Lean (who went on to direct some epic films) decided to shoot this like a film noir. Laura and Alec are sometimes partly obscured by shadow. Perhaps this is done to show the danger in their pairing? Music is an element used very effectively as well; it adds to the drama in pivotal moments. 

Though this film is emotional, it doesn’t come off as showy or cloying (which is an achievement in itself). When Alec and Laura share their first kiss, the camera (perhaps respectfully?) pulls back to give them space. Fitting w/ the morals (and maybe also censors), their relationship is unconsummated. Brief Encounter has inspired many films (and spoofs) over the years. Check it out if haven’t before- you won’t regret it!  

[1] Johnson’s soulful eyes and capacity for displaying emotion is brilliantly used here… 

[2] Lean uses only a few sets and locations. It’s as if Laura and Alec are caged in by their surroundings and their emotions and can never escape…

[4] The story wonderfully explores the idea that sometimes it is easier to feel close and understood by someone you meet by chance as opposed to those who are close to us. People may not like the truism, but it’s human nature. 

-Excerpts from IMDB comments

 

Red River (1948) starring John Wayne & Montgomery Clift

[1] The film is considered a Western take on The Mutiny on the Bounty. The relationship between Tom Dunson and Matt Garth is deeply complex. Although they’re prepared to kill each other, deep down they still respect for one another. This relationship is based on control, idealism, respect, and trust.

[2] Wayne and Clift play beautifully off against each other. Father and surrogate son, first working together and then having a big difference of opinion on the cattle drive. Clift started a film career in Red River playing sensitive people who you can only trod on just so long before they take action. 

[3] If anyone doubts John Wayne as an actor of note then they need look no further than his performance here as Dunson. Tough and durable in essence the character is, but Wayne manages to fuse those traits with a believable earthy determination that layers the character perfectly. With Wayne all the way, matching him stride for stride, is Montgomery Clift as Matthew Garth, sensitive without being overly so, it’s the perfect foil to Wayne’s machismo showing. Walter Brennan and John Ireland also shine bright in support, while a special mention has to go to a wonderful turn from Joanne Dru as Tess Millay…

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Fourteen years after starting his cattle ranch in Texas, Thomas Dunson (John Wayne) is ready to drive his 10,000 head of cattle to market (1,000 mi. away in Missouri). Back then Dunson, his sidekick Nadine Groot (veteran character actor Walter Brennan) and a teenage boy, Matthew Garth (an orphan/survivor of an Indian attack on a wagon train) started off with only two head of cattle. Dunson is a harsh task master, demanding a great deal from the men signed up for the drive. Matt is a grown man now (who fought in the Civil War); he has his own mind and soon runs up against Dunson who won’t listen to advice from anyone. One of the drovers, Cherry Valance (John Ireland), proposes that they head toward Abilene. When the cattle stampede, Dunson goes to “gun-whip” one of the hands, but Matt intervenes. The men start taking sides and Matt ends up in charge w/ Dunson vowing to kill him. In the scene where Clift tells him he’s taking over the drive, Wayne turned his back on him and said in a low voice, “I’m gonna kill you, Matt.” This went against director Howard Hawks’ idea to have Wayne cringe, but the actor refused to appear cowardly and played it his way. The improvised moment left Clift astonished, but Hawks liked it (and it was used in the final cut).

Bet I ate ten pounds in the last sixteen days. Before this shenanigan is over, I’ll probably eat enough land to incorporate me in the Union. The state of Groot. -Groot complains (re: traveling through dirt roads)

You’re fast with that gun, Matt. Awful fast. But your heart’s soft. Too soft. Might get you hurt some day. -Cherry comments / Could be. I wouldn’t count on it. -Matt replies

There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun: a Swiss watch or a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch? Cherry jokes w/ Matt

This is the kind of Western for the classic movie fan who avoids (or doesn’t usually enjoy) the Western genre! After seeing Wayne’s performance, rival director John Ford commented to Hawks: “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” This led to Ford casting Wayne in more complex/multi-layered roles, incl. The Searchers (1956), and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). Hawks originally offered the role of Dunson to Gary Cooper, but he declined it (b/c he didn’t believe the ruthless nature of the character would’ve suited his screen image). This was the debut of Clift (26 y.o. during filming and looking gorgeous), who was known as a talented theater actor. He learned to ride horses while at military prep school, but that was a different kind of riding than this role. Hawks always had high praise for how hard Clift worked (on his cowboy skills) for this picture. After seeing the final version of Red River, Clift found his performance mediocre, but recognized it as a star-making role. He later said: “I watched myself in Red River and knew I was going to be famous, so I decided I would get drunk anonymously one last time.” Burt Lancaster (a former acrobat) was first offered the role of Matt, but he had already signed on to star in the iconic film noir, The Killers (1946), which was his debut. 

There was concern that the leads (Wayne and Clift) would’t get along, since they were opposed on all political issues and both were outspoken on their views. The actors agreed not to discuss politics during shooting. Clift sometimes joined Wayne and Hawks in the nightly poker games they organized. Clift later said: “They tried to draw me into their circle, but I couldn’t go along with them. The machismo thing repelled me b/c it seemed so forced and unnecessary.” In Life Magazine, Wayne described Clift as “an arrogant little bastard.” 

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (NOW PLAYING) starring Melissa McCarthy

[1] A quirky black comedy everyone will enjoy, but still full of emotion and heart.

[2] McCarthy really shines in her role as author Lee Israel and effortlessly portrays the loneliness and insecurity of her character. Her rapport with Grant (and even with the cat) is wonderful, and the writing is clever

[3] The screenplay has a wonderful way of portraying Israel and Jack Hock as criminals, but at the same time making them both very human and very vulnerable, each in their own way. There is a scene between them near the end that tore me up. I hope this film finds the accolades it deserves, it’s great to finally see a gem in a year of remakes, CGI and dull comedies.

-Excerpts form IMDB reviews

Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) made her living in the 70’s and 80’s writing biographies of the famous (Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, Estee Lauder, etc.) With bills mounting, and facing loss income, she begins drinking heavily and sinking into a deep depression when (by chance) she discovers that a lot of money can be made by selling letters of the famous (such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward). Lee is assisted by her flamboyant/energetic friend, Jack Hock (British actor Richard E. Grant). Jane Curtin has a cameo as Lee’s literary agent. 

This is an adaptation of the memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Israel herself. McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone, was attached to the project before she was; he recommended her when Julianne Moore backed out. I got a chance to see this little gem of a film (at a free press screening) 3 weeks ago. I think it will appeal to indie fans, esp. teachers, librarians, classic film buffs, and those who write for a career (or even for fun). McCarthy wears (terribly cut/styled) wigs, frumpy clothes, and takes on a difficult/hard-edged personality. She seems to almost disappear into the role! This is the type of (unlikable) role usually written for a male protagonist. This film is playing (in limited release), so check it out if you can, or put it on your list for future streaming.

National Theatre Live: Frankenstein (2011) starring Benedict Cumberbatch & Jonny Lee Miller

[1] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein has lasted because of the profound themes in her story – the morality of science, parental responsibilities, man’s vanity, the removal of the divine from creation etc. Nick Dear’s writing takes these all on, keeping the story’s political punch alive. 

[2] …great comic timing in his depiction of the more playful parts of the Creature’s growing pains, and real tendresse and anxiety as the Creature battles his own internal conflict between love and revenge.

-Victoria Sadler (Huffington Post, 10/29/13)

Frankenstein (adapted by Nick Dear from Mary Shelley’s novel) returned to movie screens this past week (10/22 & 10/29) just in time for Halloween. I almost forgot that this was on (until I looked up my local movie listings this afternoon)! In my audience, I saw several older couples (as I’d expect to see at live theater), along w/ two young ladies (Japanese), and a few other women in their 20s and 30s. Filmed in 2011 at the National Theatre in London, this (sold-out) production has been seen by about 500,000 worldwide. Directed by Oscar winner Danny Boyle, Frankenstein features Cumberbatch and Miller (who seem to be good friends; both have played Sherlock) alternating between the roles of Victor Frankenstein and the Creature. FYI: I saw the version where Cumberbatch (long before he was a household name in either the UK or US) was the Creature.

[1] …it’s rather like seeing The Tempest rewritten from Caliban’s point of view.

[2] Cumberbatch’s Creature is unforgettable. “Tall as a pine tree,” as the text insists, he has humour as well as pathos… But there is also an epic grandeur about Cumberbatch. As he quotes Paradise Lost, his voice savours every syllable of Milton’s words…

-Michael Billington (The Guardian, 2/23/11)

Wherever the Creature goes, people scream in fear and/or beat him, until he comes upon the hut of a blind man, De Lacey (veteran actor Karl Johnson). This is a poor former professor (w/ a lot of old books) who lives w/ his farmer son, Klaus, and daughter-in-law, Agatha. De Lacey is kind and gentle w/ the Creature, teaching him in secret for about a year. The Creature clears away rocks (so the couple can till the soil) and fetches wood for making fire. The old man even tells the Creature that if he “is a good man,” then someday he’ll have someone to love. One day, De Lacey insists upon introducing him to the family. It goes wrong- quickly and like the “emperors and heroes in the stories” he’s read, the Creature vows “revenge.”

I should be Adam. God was proud of Adam. But Satan’s the one I sympathise with. For I was cast out, like Satan, though I did no wrong. And when I see others content, I feel the bile rise in my throat, and it tastes like Satan’s bile! -The Creature explains to Victor 

The central question of this story: Who is the real monster- the Creature or Frankenstein himself? The young scholar Frankenstein rejects his creation, cursing it and throwing it out into the streets (along w/ a notebook of experiments). While Victor has been engaged to Elizabeth (a pretty, strong-willed, yet empathetic Naomie Harris), he barely speaks w/ her or shows any kind of affection. The outcast/lonely Creature desperately wants someone to love, asking Victor to make “a mate” for him. At first, Victor is repulsed by the notion, but quickly becomes intrigued at the thought of “the perfect woman.” They shake hands (strike a bargain) and Victor goes off to England, then Scotland, to do his work. From here, the play gets even darker in tone! (Now I’m curious about the original book.)

[1] Using the first 30 minutes to display the creature gradually “building” his own personality, Dear places the “voice” and troubled psychological aspect of the creature right at the centre of the adaptation, with Dear smartly showing Frankenstein and the towns people’s interactions from the outcast point of view of the creature. Whilst the screenplay does show that Frankenstein and the towns people turn the creature into “the monster” that they fear, due to being focused on the permanently damaged exterior and not the welcoming, and repairable interior of the creature.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives an unexpectedly subtle, vulnerable performance, with the opening of the film solely focusing on the creature rising from the dead, allowing Cumberbatch to place the viewer deep inside the skin of the character, thanks to Cuberbatch slowly showing the creature transform from being speechless and native, to using human skills such as lying to his deadly advantage.

[2] An intense, must-see thrilling performance from both Cumberbatch and Miller. The dialogues filled with static chemistry, a beautiful and perfect mix between beauty and horror, a destabilized yet animated stage that shows all facets of life and death. A hypnotizing and cutting-edge play, a real work of art that is absolutely not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews