Show Boat (1951) starring Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, & Howard Keel

The Cotton Blossom, owned by the Hawks family, is a show boat known for musical entertainment traveling down the Mississippi River. Julie LaVerne (Ava Gardner) and her husband, Steve (Robert Sterling), are the leading actors of the show. After a jealous boat hand calls the local police on Julie (who’s father was white and mother black), they’re forced to leave; interracial marriages were forbidden (in the 1890s). Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson), Captain Andy’s (Joe E. Brown) pretty young daughter, becomes the new attraction; she has a great smile, a good voice, and learned much by watching Julie. Her leading man is Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel), a charming/handsome gambler, who is impressed w/ her at first sight. The two fall quickly in love and marry, w/o the approval of her mother, Parthy (Agnes Moorhead).

Nolie soon faces reality; gambling means more to her husband than anything. She confronts him after he gambles away their fortune; he leaves in the middle of the night. Nolie runs into two old friends, Ellie May and Frank (Marge and Gower Champion), who sang and danced on the show boat. They’re going to perform at a nightclub; Nolie tags along. None of them know that Julie is working at the same club; she is backstage and recognizes the song Nolie sings. Julie leaves the club abruptly, angering the manager and owner, b/c she hears that Nolie needs a job.

A few yeard later, Julie meets Gaylord on a gambling boat, and realizes that he’s Nolie’s runaway husband. Julie gives him a piece of her mind, and shows him an ad w/ the captain, Nolie, and his little daughter. Gaylord swears that he never knew he had a child. Julie begs him, if he ever sees her old friend, to never tell how low she has sunk. Gaylord decides to go to Natchez (where the show boat is docked) and seek forgiveness from his family.

I’ve seen this colorful MGM musical (written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) maybe 3 times. I recall loving the songs (and having the CD); my favorite songs are “Ol’ Man River” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage.” Looking at it today (on TCM), there are some pretty good performances (esp. from Gardner). The role of Julie (who passes as white) is tragic, though she is beautiful, talented, and loyal (esp. to Steve, who eventually leaves her). She turns to alcohol and her singing suffers. At the end, Julie is left w/ nothing, b/c this society has no place for her.

[1] Ava is, as always, ridiculously and insanely gorgeous. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of her than I did. It’s a stretch for a white woman to play a bi-racial woman, but she did it with what seemed like such ease. She accompanies so much with a look (which is evident as she watches Gay and Nolie sail off together with Kim — you all know what I’m talking about). 

[2] Now for Marge & Gower Champion: who couldn’t love them? Gower is this sort of… fluid-like creature with a stature and grace like Fred Astaire, but instead of Astaire’s “lanky movements” that defined his style, he somehow executes the more athletic, brisk movements that defined Gene Kelly’s style. And Marge has to be just about the cutest little person I have ever seen (great facial expressions!) and one of the most talented dancers… I’ve ever seen grace a screen. “I Could Fall Back on You” and “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” are two of the most outstanding moments in the movie. You’ll love them.

[3] Musically of course, the film is a masterpiece and though my favourite tune is “Make Believe”, I was extremely impressed by the version of Ol Man River sung by the actor William Warfield who must have had one of the most brilliant voices I have ever hear! I confess to never having heard of this gentleman prior to seeing the film and had imagined the singer to be Paul Robeson. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Some Trivia Behind the Film

  • The original production of Showboat opened in the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances.
  • Even though the character of “Magnolia” is supposed to look up to “Julie” in an older-sister type of relationship, in reality, Kathryn Grayson and Ava Gardner were born in the same year.
  • The Breen Censorship Office tried to raise an objection against the use of the “miscegenation sequence,” but they were unable to do so because the 1936 film had already used it (setting a precedent).
  • Lena Horne mentions in her biography that she wanted to do the role of Julie badly, but only got as far as performing a single number in the “Clouds” film in the opening “Show Boat” vignette. America was still a segregated nation in 1950; interracial romance was taboo onscreen.
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What To Watch Next (OCT 2018)?

Colette (now playing in limited release) starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, & Eleanor Tomlinson

After marrying a successful Parisian writer known commonly as “Willy” (West), Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Knightley) is transplanted from her childhood home in rural France to the intellectual and artistic splendor of Paris. Soon after, Willy convinces Colette to ghostwrite for him. She pens a semi-autobiographical novel about a witty and brazen country girl named Claudine, sparking a bestseller and a cultural sensation. After its success, Colette and Willy become the talk of Paris and their adventures inspire additional Claudine novels. Colette’s fight over creative ownership and gender roles drives her to overcome societal constraints, revolutionizing literature, fashion and sexual expression. -Summary from Bleecker Street 

First Man (opening OCT 12th) starring Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber & Ciaran Hinds

This is a biopic of astronaut Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a Midwestern family man and former pilot, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the moon. Though it’s directed by La La Land’s Damien Chazelle, there are NO songs or dances (no worries- LOL)! Critics are suggesting that you watch this in IMAX (if possible). 

Museo (now playing) starring Gael Garcia Bernal

Two 30-something slacker pals (living w/ parents in Mexico City) decide to pull an art heist. This is based on a true story- WOW! This film has been getting good buzz, and I’m a big fan of GGB.

The Hate U Give (opening OCT 19th) starring Amandla Stenberg, Common, Regina Hall, Issa Rae & Russell Hornsby

This looks to be an unique twist on the coming-of-age story (already being praised highly by critics). It was based on best-selling novel by a young black woman, Angie Thomas. A working-class black teen girl from the inner-city, Starr (attending a mostly white private school), experiences the awakening of her racial consciousness after witnessing the killing of her childhood best friend, a black boy, by a police officer.

Venom (opening OCT 5th) starring Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Woody Harrelson, & Jenny Slate

I learned that Venom was in Spider-Man 3, though this movie is considered to be outside the Marvel universe. Mild-mannered investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), uncovers a secret government experiment and eventually merges w/ a symbiote called Venom. I’m curious to see it mainly for Riz Ahmed (who plays villainous scientist Carlton Drake).

Hostiles (2017) starring Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, & Wes Studi

The quietest moments of his [writer/director Scott Cooper’s] movie are often the best. Wow, Majors, what a find! He had the ability to command the screen w/o showboating. -Grace Randolph (Beyond the Trailer)

It has everything I want in my modern revisionist westerns. It’s slow-paced and quiet, beautifully filmed, uses realistic graphic violence and is extremely sad from the opening scene to the end credits. -Kellen Quigly (YouTube)

This is a movie is about PTSD in the Old West. It’s about the harshness of war. Captain Joe Blocker is introduced as a man who represses any feeling that isn’t hatred, guilt, grief or wrath. War has tortured his soul and landed him in a pit, and for a long time, instead climbing out, he just continued to dig the hole deeper and deeper… -Mark Mirabella (YouTube)

Synopsis: In 1892, after almost 20 yrs of fighting the Cheyenne, Apache, and Comanche natives, US Cavalry Captain, Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale), is ordered by his superior, Col. Biggs (Stephen Lang), to escort an elderly/ailing Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi)- the man he MOST despises- and his family from New Mexico to the chief’s ancestral home in Montana (Valley of the Bears). Joseph’s unwelcome assignment is complicated when a grieving widow, Rosalee Quaid (Rosamund Pike), joins his band of soldiers and travelers. Then, an aggressive pack of Comanches attack and other dangerous events occur. On a path filled w/ hostiles, can this soldier complete his final duty w/ his life (and mind) intact? 

Director Scott Cooper, who was at the helm of 2009’s Crazy Heart starring Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaalseems VERY comfortable w/ the Western genre. This film (which I missed seeing in theaters late last Fall) contains MANY beautiful wide shots of landscapes. Cooper’s characters are much more complicated than what you’d find in a typical (think John Ford/John Wayne) Western. Though it’s well-made, it can seem slow and (according to some critics)- a BIT self-indulgent. I feel that about 10-15 mins could’ve been edited out. The themes here are quite dark, so if you’re looking for an escape, this is NOT the film for you! From the first scene of Hostiles, viewers know that things are going to get real. 

The performances of the ensemble of actors is the main reason to see this film, along w/ its dialogue (some of which is quite deep and unexpected). Rosalee, though she suffered so much and is racked w/ grief, still held to her faith in God (as she explains to Blocker in a quietly effective scene). I thought Pike (as usual) did VERY well w/ her role; Rosalee  grew and changed over the month-long journey. Traveling w/ the Indians, she came to see them as real people, NOT merely savages to be feared. I was pleasantly surprised by how well a bearded Rory Cochrane (Blocker’s oldest friend- Master Sgt. Thomas Mertz) portrayed a depressed soldier. He often drinks heavily, suffers from PTSD (as does Blocker), and feels that life is NOT worth living anymore. A grad from West Point, played by up-and-comer Jesse Plemons (Lt. Rudy Kidder), is articulate, capable, BUT maybe too kind-hearted for his own good. There are a few light moments involving Timothee Chalamet (Philippe DeJardin, a French immigrant turned Army private); his role is VERY minor. The standout soldier (and actor) is newcomer Jonathan Majors (Corp. Henry Woodson- a strong/loyal/religious African-American who has served yrs under Blocker). Majors has that X factor; the viewer’s eye is drawn to him even when he’s NOT saying anything. He gets to have one of the best scenes in the 3rd (final) act opposite Bale.

On this journey, we also meet Ben Foster (disgraced soldier/murderer Philip Wills); he and Blocker served together yrs ago. Wills (wearing chains and stripped of his rank) ran away from his post and brutally killed several innocent people. At a small town, Lt. Col. McCowan (Peter Mullan) asks Blocker to escort Wills to a fort for his punishment (hanging), and Blocker quickly agrees. It’s obvious that Blocker feels contempt for Wills, BUT the prisoner is quick to point out that they’re BOTH killers, and the roles could be easily reversed. Foster (a quite gifted actor) should’ve gotten some more to do. There is a volatility and sense of unease which he creates w/ Wills,

The native actors, incl. Canadian Adam Beach (who has appeared on many films/TV shows) and Q’orianka Kilcher (The New World- also co-starring Bale), don’t have a LOT of dialogue, BUT are portrayed in a realistic/sympathetic manner. Studi (who is a film/TV vet) has a kind of solemnity, strength, and can also be vulnerable. He has come a long way from the villainous/warrior Magua viewers loved to hate (The Last of the Mohicans). This tale is (mainly) about the personal journey of one white man- Blocker- who comes to see the natives as fellow humans.

The film rests on Bale’s (always capable) broad shoulders, and he doesn’t disappoint. He even learned some of the Cheyenne language, which he speaks w/Studi (who I wished had been a BIT more developed). MANY of us have watched Bale grow-up onscreen; he has evolved from a slim/fresh-faced/wide-eyed teen to a muscular/middle-aged/powerhouse actor. For his portrayal of Blocker, Bale has tapped into his dark side; there is anger, resentment, hate, worry, and (in time) empathy and kindness on his face. Rosalee (w/ whom he forms a connection) is a catalyst for change in his life, as is the suicide of Mertz. I thought that Blocker’s change of heart was TOO abrupt, BUT this film is worth a watch. 

BlacKkKlansman (2018) starring John David Washington, Adam Driver, & Topher Grace

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in theaters).

It’s relevant. It’s not a relic of the past. This is happening today. -Spike Lee re: the racism shown in his latest film

No film has channeled the hateful pulse of our moment… -Variety magazine (@Variety)

I thought it was one of Spike Lee’s most cogent films. I also thought it was the film with the most white gaze ever, and that’s not a complaint. -Monique Jones (@moniqueblognet)

There’s a moment… where Ron Stallworth, the protagonist, says we could never have a President like David Duke. It hits you like a ton of bricks because we now have something even worse: a President who thinks like Duke, only he camouflages it more effectively. -Adam Best (@adamcbest)

I’m a pretty big fan of Spike Lee; he has made some of my favorite (and also arguably, most socially relevant) films of the past three decades. As fans/critics have noted, his films ignore or minimize the “white gaze,” meaning characters behave as themselves, not responding only to “mainstream” American society. Since this is a based-on-real-events movie, his style is more subdued (though there are interesting touches that we’ve come to expect). The music (composed by Terence Blanchard) is very well-suited to the events and tone of the film. It deals w/ quite serious topics, yet has pops of (dark) humor that my audience really enjoyed. 

“We have to support Denzel’s son,” I emailed to my gal pal (a few days before we went to see this movie on opening weekend). John David (who plays Ron Stallworth, the first black policeman in Colorado Springs) speaks and moves like Denzel, yet has the face of  his mother, Pauletta. J.D. (as he is known) is 33 y.o. and a former NFL player who appeared on HBO’s Ballers. There is something fresh, wide-eyed (naive), yet also confident in his performance. He gets some really cool outfits as his “street clothes;” it’s the late ’70s after all. 

Adam Driver (now 35 y.o.) can be a polarizing figure, but after this role- I’m a fan! The lanky former Marine gives a very strong, yet subtle performance as Flip (Ron’s more experienced/skeptical undercover partner). In time, Flip comes to terms w/ his identity. I need to watch more of Driver’s indie films on Netflix. No offense to Star Wars fans, BUT franchises don’t give actors much room to stretch.

Topher Grace, who plays a young David Duke, wasn’t my favorite part of the film. He said that he had a tough time getting into the mindset of such a hateful man. The important thing to remember re: Duke is that he sought to change the image of the KKK- make it more mainstream. He was polite, well-spoken, usually wore suits and- eventually- reached a high level of politics. The other members of “The Organization” were a mixed bag, ranging from a low IQ hillbilly to gun nut, and a relaxed/friendly guy (who wants to grow local membership). One man’s wife yearns to play a bigger role to support the cause, so white women aren’t solely victims in this movie.

Corey Hawkins, an up and coming actor from this (DC) area, has a great speech near the start of the film. I’m excited also to see what he does next! Ron’s love interest, President of the Black Student Union at a local university, Patrice (Laura Harrier), also did a fine job. Some critics of Lee have (rightly) commented on his not-so-fully developed women characters in the past. He has addressed the (touchy, yet serious) topic, explaining how having matured (nearly 30 yrs in film-making)  and becoming a husband and father have helped w/ this issue. 

Fans of TV cop dramas will be in for an extra treat. Robert John Burke (Law & Order: SVU) plays the head of the Intelligence Division. Frederick Weller (In Plain Sight) plays a patrolman. Nicholas Turturro (NYPD Blue) has a brief, yet crucial role; his older brother (John) is a mainstay in many Spike Lee films. There are more surprises in this film- don’t want to give too much away.

Sorry to Bother You (2018) starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, & Danny Glover

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in select theaters).

If you liked Get Out (where Lakeith Stanfield had a small, yet crucial role), then I highly recommend this movie. If you love to laugh (yet don’t want to shut off your brain), check it out. My friend and I got tickets to an early screening w/ Q&A by director Boots Riley and actor Danny Glover (who was a surprise guest; he was in DC for an education conference). As w/ Blindspotting (currently in theaters), Sorry to Bother You was filmed in the quickly gentrifying city of Oakland, CA. While Blindspotting is a realistic slice of life film, Sorry (written/directed by first timer Riley) is a social satire w/ fantasy/sci-fi elements. That’s NOT something you see everyday! 

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is a broke 20-ish man in need of a job to pay rent on his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage-turned-apt he shares w/ long-time girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People), a struggling artist who hold up signs (her day job). After some bluffing, he lands a job at a telemarketing firm where employees get paid on commission. An older co-worker, Langston (veteran actor Danny Glover; he grew up w/ Riley’s father), advises him to “use his white voice” in order to land more sales. Though skeptical, Cash gives it a try- it works! He gets Detroit and his best friend- Sal (Jermaine Fowler)- jobs as telemarketers. Along w/ new friend/co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead), they plan to organize fellow employees, so everyone can get paid a fair wage w/ health benefits. Cash gets promoted to “power caller” (upstairs)- that’s when his problems really begin. 

It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others.

I walked into this movie at an advance screening expecting something unique, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer brilliance of this satirical masterwork. Hilarious from beginning to end while also subversive…

The film brings an interesting and unique take on the world minorities live as they are forced within a socioeconomic ladder. Cassius Green, played by Keith Stanfield, is faced with selling out and abandoning his friends. Through this the audience sees he is drastically changed as his success transforms him to the very thing he resented.

This movie is strange and extremely fast paced. The directing style is unlike any movie I have ever seen, and it moves just fast enough to keep you on your toes while not moving too fast for you to comprehend. There are so many themes within this movie, and all of them are shown within either a comedic context, a darker context, or both. All in all this is a movie about capitalism and how companies are driven to make money rather than care about the well-being of their workers. This is shown through more extreme absurdist examples as the movie goes on… 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews