Review: Lee Daniels’ The Butler

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Disclaimer: I’m white and I wasn’t alive during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s.

It wasn’t until I moved to North Carolina in 1987 that I even knew there was a difference between black and white. As a transplanted fifteen-year-old I was immediately on the perimeter of my new environment, an observer at best, but never assimilated.

  1. Why was there a high school populated by only black students? And why didn’t anyone else find this strange? And when the marching band from said “black school” performed, they didn’t actually play any music or march; they all set down their instruments on the field and then danced to the cadence of a well-populated drum line. When I asked why they weren’t following the same guidelines as the other marching bands in our district I was dismissed with, “Oh. That’s just they way they do it.”
  2. What were the reasons my younger siblings were being bussed across town to attend school when an elementary school was located one mile from our home? Didn’t we desegregate schools a long time ago?
  3. Why did all the kids separate themselves during homeroom, in between classes and at lunch like a Whitman’s Sampler box? Preps. Jocks. Nerds. Drama kids. Blacks.

I watched the trailer for Lee Daniels’ The Butler and immediately felt drawn to the theatre to see it.

Forest Whitaker is undeniably perfect as the lead and gives a spot-on performance as the complex, conflicted and proud Cecil Gaines.

If closing the chapter on the Oprah Winfrey Show opened a new chapter in Oprah’s acting career, then please more. She’s remarkable and brings such realness (can I say that?) to her role as Gloria Gaines.

Actor David Oyelowo delivers a powerful interpretation of the “prodigal son:” Louis Gaines (although we question who’s really the prodigal before the movie ends).

There are so many cameo performances I won’t take the time to list them, but they are at least fun to see, if not a bit distracting from the plot since you keep thinking about the celebrity and not the role they’re portraying. I will say that no one steals the spotlight. On-screen time is probably a five-minute maximum, if that, for any one of those roles.

I daresay that the performances aren’t remarkable at all. There’s nothing you’re going to see depicted in this movie that will have you on the edge of your seat. You’re not going to be swept up in a euphoric moment of Hollywood magic. No flashing lights or explosions of magnitude or riveting dialogue will have you spellbound. And you certainly won’t leave the theatre feeling better about yourself (if you’re white, that is).

It’s long (132 minutes), a bit slow-paced, sometimes feels repetitive in nature and the most action you see are news reels being played as if in real time.

So why bother? Isn’t it just another movie about the Civil Rights Movement with some extra hype because of the A-listed actors playing all the parts?

My conclusion is pretty much yes.

This is a movie about the Civil Rights Movement. And yes, there are Hollywood heavyweights playing the parts.

This is a story of the parts of America we tend to brush under the rug. The part of our history we excuse away because it was another time. The parts and pieces of a past whose consequences are still being felt by so many of our own. The ugly truth that we are quick to condemn others for doing yet can’t quite look our whole past in the mirror and accept. This is OUR story – the one we prefer to depict more comfortably with black caricatures like we saw portrayed in The Help.

I reviewed and loved The Help, but it lacked a lot. It still had at its center a white heroine come to save the day of the overworked and underpaid black woman. And all this time later, I am still disturbed that Aibileen, the true heroine of that (albeit fictional) story, was given as her quotable line a grammatically incorrect phrase that became the mantra and rallying point of movie-goers, book readers and meme creators everywhere: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

The Butler gives us none of that.

The Butler is boring. It’s not an engaging story. I knew I was in a theatre the entire time.

What The Butler does give us is real life family love, disagreement, opinions, conflict, laughter, division, hurts, addiction, loss, devotion to country, and ultimately reconciliation and all through the viewing lens of a hardworking black American family.

(It also gives us a biased and an unfair depiction of the white man and the Hollywood pendulum of unfortunate caricatures swings to the white end of the spectrum.)

Real life isn’t Hollywood. Real life isn’t glamorous. Real life hurts. Real life is rewarding. Real life is confusing. Real life takes time.

And real life – if we’re being brutally honest – is sometimes embarrassing.

I cried throughout this movie. There were scenes during which I cried more uncontrollably than others, but mostly I just cried silently, inwardly affected by my own confrontation with America’s ugly past.

What do I continue to confront with each new book or movie or theatrical encounter I have with the Civil Rights Movement?

Skin: the thin layer of tissue forming the natural outer covering of the body of a person

Truth: We bought, sold, owned, disowned, raped, murdered, lynched, maimed, abused (verbally, physically, sexually, and emotionally), tortured and condemned other human beings based solely on the color of their skin.

That’s it. That’s the crux of the matter, and it is that matter that never sits with me. I can’t comprehend it. I can’t excuse it or dismiss it. I can’t tolerate the footage I see of it. I can’t be anything but heartbroken by it.

And that is why no matter how poorly told is the story (because all versions have their flaws, inconsistencies and biases) – this story is ours to embrace with all its ugly parts, admitting faults and write new chapters with the ongoing storyline determined not by the color of one’s “outer covering,” but by the quality of a person’s inner parts.

So despite the long list of differences we might attribute to one another I choose to remember what H. G. Wells said:

“Our true nationality is mankind.”

Pedro & Marcy

PedroandMarcy

Ahhh – movie stardom. It’s a dream we all share at some point or another in our lifetime, and few actually achieve it. But for Pedro and Marcy, their dream came true in this true feature my daughter made up, filmed, edited, and cast my niece and nephew as Pedro & Marcy.

Enjoy. And keep your fingers crossed because I’m personally hoping for a sequel.

 

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Finally! I finally made it to the theatre to see this long-awaited and much-anticipated movie. I read the book in two sittings, so couldn’t wait to devour the movie just as quickly, and am, therefore, a bit disappointed that The Hobbit is slated for three separate movies.

The story told in The Hobbit, is told by Bilbo Baggins, himself. It’s his story. It’s his recollection of his own personal adventure, kind of like his journal of events. In fact, Bilbo wrote it all down for his nephew, Frodo, to have a written account of said adventure. It’s an easy and fun read. (see note above: I read it in two sittings)

The Lord of the Rings, on the other hand, is like reading an advanced college textbook; you’ve got to commit. You must rely on the footnotes and the appendices just to understand what you’re reading. It is a comprehensive history of Middle Earth and the rise of the dark period encapsulated in Frodo’s own personal journey to return the ring to the mountain where it was forged. It’s an amazing and brilliant text.

When I learned that The Hobbit would be a trilogy, my first question was, “How?” Because there simply isn’t enough material contained in the book, alone, to warrant three separate 2.5+ hour movies, and I’m sure there will be extended versions available on DVD later. The very next thought I thought I had was, “They’re probably taking a lot of information from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and the The Histories of Middle Earth to fill in the gaps.”

And that, my friends, is exactly what Peter Jackson has done, with some liberties, as well.

This first installment is beautifully filmed, well-cast, and full of lots of action. Some of which action is true to the book, and other bits that never actually happened, like the mountains fighting one another? Orcs chasing them into the mountain pass before arriving at Rivendell? Okay, I won’t get picky. It was all very believable, and could have been written by Mr. Tolkien, if only he’d thought of it first.

I love Martin Freeman‘s Bilbo; he’s marvelous and says so much with his physical acting without saying a word. His facial expressions in the opening scenes inside Bilbo’s house in the Shire are priceless and his comedic instincts were rewarded with plenty of laughter.

It was also really lovely to see several characters again in their familiar, but new, setting: Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Frodo, and even Gollum. We love them long after the last page has been read and the final credits have rolled. (Can Legolas please come back, too?)

If I’m going to be particular, I thought the movie was too slow, and felt dragged out. This is not the big screen book version of The Hobbit at all. This is Peter Jackson’s telling of Bilbo’s adventures. Not Bilbo Baggins’ telling of his own story.

If you’re down with that, and are willing to wait another 18 months for all installments, be sure and send the franchise your thanks with a ticket; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

My Last Day of 2012

I couldn’t have enjoyed my last day of 2012 more. I was on a personal retreat from the rest of the planet with no cell phone, no internet, and nobody else around for miles. I invested three nights and two days in myself, and accomplished a LOT.

  1. I worked on my memoir for the majority of the day, and am now thousands of words closer to a complete first draft (my editor will be so pleased)
  2. I finished reading the final 2/3 of Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  3. I pondered and thoughtfully wrote out my intentions for 2013
  4. I savored two steaming bowls of borscht
  5. I breathed deeply
  6. I reflected on all that has happened in 2012 and how I’ve grown from every experience
  7. I watched Sleepless in Seattle

During the movie’s New Year’s Eve scene I happened to glance at the clock, and realized I was crossing into my own new year at exactly the same time as Tom Hanks’ character is shaking his son, Jonah, awake to see the ball drop. Coincidence? Absolutely.

Becky: Men never get this movie.

Here were a few of my observations as I watched this fabulous movie all over again.

  1. Nora Ephron knew how to make movie magic.
  2. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are dynamic together. And separately.
  3. There were a LOT of sweat pants worn during this movie by a vast number of characters.
  4. Rosie O’Donnell is hilarious and I want her to come to dinner at my house.
  5. I’m so glad technology has advanced beyond 1993.
  6. As cool as it is to cut off apple peels in one long strip, does everyone now know you should eat them instead?
  7. Is it true that it’s easier for a woman to get killed by a terrorist than married after the age of 40?
  8. I need to watch some all Cary Grant movies again.
  9. Taking risks doesn’t mean you’re stupid or crazy or desperate; it means you believe in yourself.

As a tribute to my commitments for 2013, this post stands as sentinel: I’ll be writing much more frequently, and hope you’ll keep me accountable. I spent a sleepless night, myself, after the movie ended; I was too excited for 2013 to get going. It’s going to be a fantastic year and I’m delighted to share portions of the journey together with you.

What goals, intentions or commitments have you made to yourself for the new year? Did you write them down?

Les Miserables, The Movie – A Review

We decided to be one of the first bazillion other movie-goers on Christmas day to see the brand new rendition of Les Miserables, loosely based on the musical version of the book of the same name by Victor Hugo. On a side note, my book club recently read this masterpiece, but I missed the discussion because of a lame bronchial infection.

I had been deliriously excited to see the movie since I first saw the preview forever ago. And once I saw the extended trailer with all the interviews on how the music was recorded and how it was going to be revolutionary (French Revolution, excepted) I don’t think there’s an “I Dreamed A Dream” lover alive who wasn’t ready to knock down the doors of their nearest theatre to claim the best seats, popcorn at the ready.

In advance of my review, here is my rating: four out of five stars.

But don’t worry about spoilers, I don’t think there could be any for this masterpiece. My comments will largely be centered on individual performances, as well as the overall presentation.

We  couldn’t have been in a better setting for our performance. It was a unique privilege to sit in the beautiful historic Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, California, while every song was sung. And from the first note, to the rousing and inspirational finish, I was mesmerized.

I cried. Multiple times.

My Criticism

1. There was no dialogue. None.

This is an epic story and please don’t get me wrong; I LOVE the music. It’s some of my favorite options for the shower and for road trips. However, a story of this depth and magnitude (my unabridged version is 1463 pages long) offers so much more than what can ever be conveyed through music, alone.

2. Russell Crowe

I assume there’s no need to elaborate here, but I will because I can. Really Mr. Tom Hooper? You couldn’t do any better than this? While I’m sure Mr. Crowe has many redeeming qualities, singing clearly isn’t one of them. And neither, I might add, is giving true life to the vastly complex character of Javert. Russell Crowe fell from the screen long before his leap into the churning waters below. His death couldn’t come fast enough because enduring his screen time was a painful reminder that I wasn’t in Paris alongside the other participants.

I Loved

1. Anne Hathaway as Fantine

Wow. There aren’t many words to describe the performance given by Ms. Hathaway. From the first moment she’s on screen until her triumphant last, Fantine is the focal point. Anne Hathaway’s ability to internalize and then to portray through her eyes Fantine’s struggle, simultaneously emotional, physical, spiritual and psychological, is remarkable and heartbreaking. Ms. Hathaway’s performance of I Dreamed A Dream is worth your admission price, alone.

2. Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean

I’m not gonna lie. From the moment Hugh Jackman stepped onto the big screen as Wolverine, I thought he was dreamy and could do no wrong. But I was skeptical of him playing THE role of year: Jean Valjean. Who could pull off such a feat? To convey such a range of emotions and depth of character, and then to elevate the extreme low point to the opposite end of the spectrum? Hugh Jackman not only did it, he knocked it out of the park. If only he’d had someone play opposite him with as much emotional fortitude, but even without the support of Russell Crowe, Mr. Jackman gave a performance of a lifetime. Bravo.

3. Eddie Redmayne as Marius

I’ve never heard of Eddie Redmayne, but apparently he’s got quite the list of credentials, which will now – justifiably – grow ever longer. One of the beautiful elements of this film is the up close camera work that attends each of the characters as the story rolls. Because it is truly a film of grand scenes and emotionally-driven musical numbers, the ability to truly see the performers’ faces as they sing was a gift that I do not take lightly. You would be hard-pressed to find an emotionless reaction to Eddie Redmayne’s performance of Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. I was so moved by his Marius and how deeply he felt the loss of not only his friends, but of what he perceived to be the entire cause for which they died. An exceptional and standout interpretation by Mr. Redmayne.

4. Samantha Barks as Eponine

There are two female roles with substance and worth noting in this production, and Eponine is #2 alongside that of Fantine. I looked up Samantha Barks and learned that she played Eponine in Les Miserables in Concert: The 25th Anniversary, opposite Nick Jonas (yes, you read that correctly). Ms. Barks’ lovely and rich voice delivered an Eponine that was so real I cried when she sang of flowers.

5. And a big honorable mention to the partnership of Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the innkeepers: the Thenardiers

Helena Bonham Carter has a proven track record for delivering wickedly bad women. We love her for it. We expect it of her. And we reward her with our viewing. But partnered with the equally talented Mr. Cohen, this dynamic duo absolutely stole the show every time they had a scene. And the few lines of dialogue we’re given are from these two, immediately leaving us wanting more.

In Summary

There you have it. I have only those two complaints. The movie is breathtakingly beautiful. From the scenery to the costumes to the musical score to the individual and collective performances, it was virtually flawless. I simply wanted more depth to the story, more explanation, more dialogue, more character building, more substance. If you aren’t familiar with the story I think you would be lost in the music, with little to support you as they rush from one song to the next. I wanted to slow down and learn more, but for what this cast and crew have accomplished, I add my praise and commendation.

Be sure to see this one on the big screen for its grandeur and for the surround sound. Just be sure and see it. I can’t wait to see it sweep the Oscars.

More Hunger Games Discussion!

You’re like junkies, I tell you. Hunger Games junkies. And I’m an enabler. Here’s a video discussion my friend Kristen & I recorded for the 10 to 20 site. We have both read all three books and both saw the movie. There are no spoilers in our conversation – just an honest discussion about our sometimes differing opinions on the movie adaptation. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as we enjoyed discussing the story.

What do you think about the format? Would you like to have more video on allarminda? On what topics? I can’t wait to hear your feedback!

The Hunger Games – Movie Review

Since I read the book my objective is simple: to compare the two mediums and to assess how Hollywood did in their translation of the story to the big screen from the written page. If you haven’t yet, please read my review of The Hunger Games trilogy here. This movie review is intended for those of you familiar with either the book and/or the movie.

Let’s jump right into my opinions.

Casting

There was a lot of discussion leading up to the movie as to whether or not those cast in significant roles would be able to pull it off. Woody Harrelson was a big question mark for me as Haymitch, but I have to say that I thought he was great. It’s probably been since Cheers that I liked anything by Mr. Harrelson, yet his Haymitch, whose dependence on his beverages until Katniss and Peeta needed him for coaching and for securing donations while they were in the arena was convincing. I expect his significance to grow with the next movie and I now believe Mr. Harrelson to be up to the challenge.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, Amandla Stenberg as Rue, Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket all brought a depth to their characters I found refreshing and surprising. The opening scenes of the reaping are especially poignant and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance at the onset of the movie sets the tone for her deep commitment to Katniss’ indomitable spirit and determination to survive for the principles, and the people, she believes to be true.

Stanley Tucci deserves a separate shout-out for his role as Caesar Flickerman. I adore Stanley Tucci and will go see a movie just because he’s in it and he did not disappoint as the convincing moderator of the Games. With his blue hair, exceptionally perfect smile, and emotionally-charged questions for the tributes, it’s no wonder he’s a favorite with everyone watching the Games, myself included.

Adaptation

In my opinion, this is one of the best book to movie adaptations in recent memory. It was faithful to Ms. Collins’ book down to exact words and phrases used, and the interpretation of Panem and its Capitol citizens was accurate and engaging for the visual senses. Certainly the written material provided a lot of latitude to go crazy on the set and still have reasonable boundaries. The stark differences between life in the outlying districts and within the Capitol walls were effectively depicted. However, I found it amusingly odd that in such a high-tech world as the Capitol that they should still be so reliant on coal mining – reminiscent of circa 1940 when you jump into Katniss’ District 12.

I really really appreciated the transition between the arena of the Games and the control center for the Games. This was not done in the book, but an excellent addition for the benefit of movie plot advancement. By creating this new visual, the true manipulation of the tributes’ lives by the Gamemakers is overtly shown, as well as the manipulation of Seneca Crane, head Gamemaker, by President Snow, leaving nothing to the imagination where the book sometimes lacked in meaningful structure.

Violence is the premise of the story. And not just normal violence, either. Kill or be killed. 12-18 year-olds fighting to the death for the ultimate prize: a lifetime of luxury in the face of extreme poverty all in exchange for their youth, their mental stability, and their freedom. It was the graphic depictions of the killings that left me so unsettled in the book, and yet the translation to the big screen was masterfully done. There was plenty of blood shown, and we usually knew the method used for said heinous acts, but we weren’t subjected to watching, to waiting, to listening, as we were in the book, which at times felt a bit sadistic on the part of Ms. Collins. Shifting the focus away from the violent nature of the tributes’ eliminations provided the larger movie framework of meaning and purpose and intent behind the Games; a framework I never felt the book accurately provided.

The Movie Experience

During our 2 1/2 hours with a full theatre what surprised me most were the reactions of the live audience members. There were literal cheers of jubilation and triumph throughout the theatre when tributes were slaughtered. This is particularly interesting because the movie did not build up nearly enough emotional engagement with the other tributes to have warranted such an emotional response. Clearly viewers brought these feelings with them and were reacting on a visceral level to what they had related to in the book.

Given the subject matter, this disturbed me, and even caused me to question out loud, “Really?” at one particular such group outburst. At what point do we culturally draw the line between art and life? Do our youth not see the correlation to war as a game? Did we completely miss the mark and are so accustomed to violence against one another that the tragic loss of any life is no longer regarded as valuable as long as there is a modicum of entertainment value included? While I respect the fact that in our subconscious attempt to understand war and violence we seek after it in some sort of perverted way. But to outright dismiss its impact on those directly involved, their families, and even ourselves is to become one with the art and game of war as we step into our defined roles as citizens of the Capitol, whose only perspective is self-serving and morally corrupt.

Verdict

I can think of no other time in my movie-watching history that this has happened, but I liked the movie better than I did the book. There are other book to movie adaptations that are excellent and allow me to enjoy either version, but never one in which I prefer the movie. I think for many of the reasons I tried to illuminate above, but mainly for the framework of reason The Hunger Games movie creates – and the ability they provided to draw out emotions not well-represented in the book – did I feel this way. I’d love to know your opinion of the movie, and how you liked it compared to the book.

More About “The Help” – A Movie Review

I finally saw the movie version of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. I resisted seeing it initially because I hadn’t read the book, but I finished the book months ago, and even wrote my review of it here.

The movie was engaging, the acting was superb, and the adaptation to the book was mostly accurate, with some slight modifications for easier screen viewing. My personal favorite performance was Sissy Spacek as Missus Walters. If you haven’t had a chance to see the movie, I highly recommend you do so. I still prefer the book over the movie.

Enough about the movie. I want to get to what’s really on my mind. When I posted my opinion of Mrs. Stockett’s book, I got a response from Christina that has, quite literally, given me pause. I never replied to Christina, because I wanted to ponder my opinion, watch the movie, compare it to the book, and determine a more thoughtful and deliberate response. Here, for your perusal, is Christina’s comment:

For the sake of full disclosure, let me remind my readers that I am a white female, raised on the Maison-Dixon line border, and I reside in the south. Until I relocated to North Carolina as a 15-year-old, I honestly didn’t know race issues existed, and not because I’d never met anyone of African-American heritage. Things (opinions, attitudes, language) were just different here than they had been in Maryland.

I do not see myself as an expert on racial issues, nor do I think I have anything to share besides an honest personal opinion of a story, and the public reaction to that story. Christina referenced an article written by Roxane Gay, in which Ms. Gay shares her very strong opinion of The Help. I got the impression from Ms. Gay that The Help was an abysmal failure by a white female author to appropriately and accurately portray the lives, emotions, and reality of black women living in Mississippi in the 1960s.

Among other feelings, Ms. Gay suggests that the “The Help provides us with a deeply sanitized view of the segregated south in the early 1960s,” and “gives the impression that life was difficult in Mississippi in the 1960s for women, white and black, but still somewhat bearable because that’s just how things were.” She also suggests that to ease the viewer through those uncomfortable moments of truth, sprinkled throughout the movie was “a great deal of easy humor or contrived touching emotional moments.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with Ms. Gay, but I don’t necessarily agree with her, either. Race is a difficult subject. It’s an issue that is part of our past, and therefore, part of our present, and future, as well. Culturally, and individually, how we choose to view our racial roots says a lot about our willingness to look beyond color to see the beauty within each of us as human beings.

But I would posit that any story – regardless of its storyteller – that creates a wave within our larger cultural community is positive. We are each at different places along the divide of racial inequalities, and how we view the world around us. I cannot assume that everyone else (or anyone else, for that matter) sees others in exactly the same way that I see them. Nor can I assume that others interpret life in the same way that I do. For this very reason, it seems that any opportunity for one individual to grow in perception and understanding toward greater knowledge and acceptance of the past that is our present, is a good thing.

I am allowed to like The Help, just as much as Christina is allowed to like The Help, and we need not feel guilty about enjoying a story that increased, if only marginally, our broader awareness of what really happened in America during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. My original review of the book states:

The horrific events and circumstances surrounding the civil rights movement cannot be sugar-coated, and I did feel that The Help only gave us a glimpse of reality.

There is no guilt or shame or thoughtlessness for appreciating a story well-told, or for recommending the book to others. What would be shameful is to ignore the opportunity to educate ourselves on all the finer details of our American history rich with accounts of bravery, courageous acts, and sacrifice in the face of bigotry. Am I ashamed of that part of my heritage? Yes, but that does not mean I cannot have a visceral reaction to the story, regardless of the skin color of its author. If I draw a line there, am I not taking a step backward, instead of stepping toward a future in which we’re all color blind?

 

Carolina Theatre = Community Connection

I wrote the following as a contributing writer on www.linkingtriad.com:

What have I been waiting for all these years?! I’m certain I must be the last person in Greensboro to take advantage of the Carolina Theatre’s Classic Movie Series they produce every December! For the first time EVER, I attended the fabulous and wonderful movie, “White Christmas,” starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. I love that movie, but it’s been years since I last saw it, and I can’t think of a more perfect setting in which to ever see it again.

The beautiful Carolina Theatre, which seats around 1000, had a huge crowd in the house for the show. Armed with their popcorn and beverages, Greensboro presented itself well Thursday night. I thought I was just going to the movies, accompanied by family and friends, and that we’d enjoy seeing the show on the (really) big screen, and drive home satisfied.

Here’s what else we got:

  • We experienced the movie like never before as the entire live audience erupted in applause every time a big dance number was performed on the screen!
  • Cheers were common throughout the show, as movie-goers didn’t hold back their visceral connections to this beautiful story.
  • As the final big scene unfolded and Bing Crosby sang out, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Guess what happened? Voices all around me (and mine included) joined in, and downtown Greensboro’s Carolina Theatre became an extension of the movie set, itself.
  • The thunderous concluding applause communicated the mutual feeling we each shared: community is about connecting with your neighbors, and what better way to connect than to share a classic movie?

In what other ways have you connected with your neighbors for the holidays this year?

“Tangled” is Right

tangled-movie-poster-imdbI’m as devoted a Disney fan as they come. I grew up taking the Mickey Mouse Club in high dosages, I wrote my senior paper on the man, himself (and received a perfect grade for it), and rarely does a day pass that I don’t quote The Emporer’s New Groove.

Having said all that – it’s taken me a year to write this review of Tangled, Disney’s animated feature released in theatres for the 2010 holiday season. If I could have watched the movie superficially, I’m sure I would have loved it, like almost everyone else I know who saw it. It’s quite possible I’m the only one with a negative review. But I couldn’t watch like everyone else. I saw it all through my own tangled past.

Superficiality aside, Tangled delivers a messy message to the viewers (mainly children) trapped in the story as lovely as the golden hair of its heroine: Rapunzel, and as light and airy as the lanterns that glitter the sky each year on her birthday. I played along, too, for about the first ten minutes of the movie. Then the entire tone of the story changed dramatically as I witnessed the abduction of the baby girl, Rapunzel, by the perverse and wicked Mother Gothel.

Freakish parenting nightmares, yes, but the fairytale drama was working for me until. . . their song. It’s the song Mother Gothel sings to Rapunzel upon learning Rapunzel’s only birthday wish is to leave the tower for one day. “Mother knows best,” is what she reminds Rapunzel, while deliberately using words of affection and endearment like “dear,” and “darling.” Interestingly, only in these two instances does Mother Gothel use a kind term when addressing Rapunzel, while the majority of the song is used to deride and insult the very child she professes to love. Compare these words: fragile, little, pet, sloppy, under-dressed, immature, clumsy, gullible, naive, grubby, ditzy, and chubby.

When Mother Gothel falsely croons the words, “Oh, I love you very much, dear,” no one doubts Rapunzel’s melodic reply, “I love you more,” is genuine, sincere, and heartfelt. Therein lies the rub.  I realize my issue with Tangled is my own, and potentially anyone else’s, who just like me, lived in an unhealthy and abusive relationship where love was used as a weapon. Because that is exactly what Mother Gothel does. She uses love as a tool to get what she wants, and in so doing instills in Rapunzel a tangled lullaby of love that is not love.

Rapunzel’s lullaby can belong to any of us that have been hurt by what we thought was love, and the imprint on our lives cannot be reversed, no matter how many times we sing it to be true.

Flower, gleam and glow
Let your power shine
Make the clock reverse
Bring back what once was mine

Heal what has been hurt
Change the Fates’ design
Save what has been lost
Bring back what once was mine

What once was mine

While this tale of misappropriated motherhood shows a triumphant Rapunzel cutting her hair in an attempt to claim her independence, I know from personal experience that just because you cut your hair after you are physically free, it does not cut through the larger tangled mess that remains inside. I won’t hold my breath for the movie sequel highlighting Rapunzel’s visits to the royal therapist.

“The Mighty Macs” – A Review

The-Mighty-Macs-Movie-PosterWho produces G-rated movies anymore?! I am always delighted to find a family-friendly film that doesn’t leave you screaming and running for the doors of the theatre, desperate for a refund you’ll never get.

Granted, I don’t hear about much in the way of movies and television shows because, well, you need a television, but honestly, I didn’t even know this movie existed. But I do think it’s the movies we oftentimes don’t hear about that are most worth our time to watch. I’m not into watching movies for the sake of watching a movie. The way I see it – I will never get back those two hours, so I want it to be time well spent with my family.

The Mighty Macs delivers. I love a true story well told, and Carla Gugino as Coach Kathy Rush is convincing. For that matter, the casting director should be incredibly proud, because everyone played their roles very well, but if I had to pick a favorite after Carla Gugino, it would be Ellen Burstyn as Mother St. John.

I didn’t realize the world was waiting for a female version of Hoosiers, but it has arrived, and I am convinced it will be played for girls’ sports teams’ gatherings for years to come. But female sports teams aren’t the only ones who will benefit from having seen this movie. Anyone who has ever felt like the underdog will relate, but that’s the obvious connection, and I don’t really think Tim Chambers (the guy who wrote and directed the film) needed to say, “You can come out on top!”

What he – and so many of us – needs to say is this: “No matter who you are, or where you’re from, and regardless of your religion, race or social status, YOU are the one who can do whatever you choose. Society cannot, need not, and should not dictate YOUR dreams.”

Do yourself and your family a favor: watch The Mighty Macs, and feel good knowing those two hours are ones you’ll return to time and again as you remind yourself to seek your own win against all odds.

Beastly Movie

Warning. Proceed reading with caution if you are a female between the ages of eleven and seventeen, and/or you ever thought Twilight was a good idea. This review of  Beastly contains highly opinionated comments and some spoilers.

I love the story of Beauty and the Beast. Everyone can relate on some level to feeling insecure, being alone, or even, at times, wishing to be prettier. And that’s about it for my positive comments on this retelling of such a popular fairytale gone oh so very wrong.

I’m pretty sure Alex Pettyfer was only cast to ensure every young woman with vision and a pulse would pay money to see him without his shirt while he’s doing a couple of gimme pull-ups for the effect. Kyle is cocky, arrogant, and channels his teen angst for dad against everyone at school, while happily spending daddy’s money on lots of extra hair product. (And speaking of dad – who knew that news anchormen in New York City made so much money?! Really, people?)

Kendra – the resident witch of the story – was so aptly played by Mary-Kate Olsen. I completely believed her white face paint was her real skin. Totally. Who lets witches into school, anyway? But in the closing scene when her hooker heels fill the camera lens as she steps off the elevator at daddy’s office, it became clear to me: she’s the modern-day Mary Poppins for delinquents, on some personal crusade to force petty individuals to be nice or else. What, exactly, is her motivation? I never quite got that.

Since the Disney version of the story was copied in more ways than one (yes, even including some lines!), there was bound to be a current version of Mrs. Potts. No teapot, but Zola does have an endearing accent, plus some children in need of their own green cards. And while we’re copying characters, the role of Lumier will be played by Neil Patrick Harris, and we’ll call him Will. But let’s up the ante and make him blind! Yeah – great idea! Even blind people could see through that poor performance. Maybe it was the fact that he focused his eyes on every character with whom he spoke? I don’t know, I suppose the story’s underlying metaphor of it’s what you can’t see that matters the most had to be crammed down our throats in more obvious ways. Lest you misunderstand me – I like Neil Patrick Harris, and of all the performances I enjoyed his the most, but watching him see for the first time at the end of the movie was enough to make me want to gouge out my own eyes.

Lindy. Lindy. Lindy. No offense to the High School Musical loving crowd, but I think Vanessa Hudgens might be just as bad in this movie, and possibly a little bit worse. But I could be completely wrong. Maybe it was all bad directing on the part of Daniel Barnz.

Some lingering questions:

1. Who was the adult male with whom Lindy was feeding the homeless? I assumed that was her dad until her real dad showed up as a drug addict a few scenes later.

2. Don’t you think it’s a little creepy that Hunter is stalking outside Lindy’s apartment and just happens to be there when her dad shoots the thug? How convenient.

3. What’s with the bad girl image Lindy suddenly adopts when she gets to Hunter’s house? FYI – not so believable. She should stick with her vanilla performance.

4. Speaking of creepy – anyone else okay with the fact that Hunter is building a rooftop greenhouse directly over Lindy’s skylight and can look down into her room whenever he wants?

5. Did anyone else find it laughable that as soon as Hunter changes back into Kyle and Lindy realizes all her dreams will now come true – the two of them take off on a world tour?! I guess I’m supposed to willingly suspend the fact that they’re both high school students without a dime to their name, and neither one of them had any sort of healthy closure with their fathers?

I could go on, but why? At the end of the day, my daughter and her BFF loved the movie, and I loved being with them. I never have to watch the movie again, and at its worst it still wasn’t as painful as sitting through Twilight.