The Wiz has one of the worst reputations in film history. It was a commercial and critical flop and is said to have ended not only Diana Ross' film career but Hollywood's investment in musicals and the era of black-centric movies that had recently evolved from blaxploitation to character driven drama and comedy. Made in 1978, it is the film version of the staged musical that took Broadway and the Tony's by storm in 1975. The staged production starred a teenage Stephanie Mills (who would later become an R&B sensation) who was also signed to play Dorothy in the film version. That role went to Diana Ross who critics, and even some involved with the production, felt was too old for the part. She was supported by an outstanding cast including a young and vibrant Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow and Ted Ross reprising his Tony award winning roll as the Cowardly Lion. Unfortunately, Joel Schumacher wrote a flimsy script using very little of the play's libretto and instead infused it with “feel good” jargon from motivational guru Werner Erhard including the song “Believe in Yourself.” The critics nailed the film and Ross' performance with brutal accuracy but also gave high praise to its practical production including costumes, choreography, and cinematography. In fact, it was nominated for 4 Oscars but failed to win any. As a child I was mesmerized by this film. Dorothy did seem too old in the beginning but as she began dancing down the yellow brick road her joy and beauty emerged until I thought she herself was magical. I remember rejoicing in the new “modern” versions of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. They felt so tangible and textured - more so than The Wizard of Oz of 1939. The Munchkins were kids, like me! And the people of Emerald City were extravagantly beautiful. I remember being frightened and on the edge of ...Continue Reading
The Woman in the Window
Have you ever had a dream where you committed a horrible crime or just got into some really big trouble and then wake up and for a few moments actually think it really happened? That is a terrible feeling. My first impulse is to make a contingency plan for what I’m going to do next. There is nothing like the relief of realizing it was just a dream. Your sense of identity, your subconscious, and your grasp on reality are all kind of in flux in that momentary state. I find that fascinating—the way our minds play tricks on us.
I remember once seeing an episode of a crime show where real footage was shown of the interrogation of a 13-year old boy after his sister was found murdered. The boy learned of the murder from them. The detectives kept grilling him for hours. All they told him was that his teenage sister was found murdered and they knew he did it. They said they found the murder weapon—a knife with dried blood on it with his fingerprints all over it. At first he pleaded that he didn’t know what they were talking about. He pleaded his innocence loudly and repeatedly; the tears were streaming down his face. But after a few hours he started to question his own memory of things and he became much more subdued. Finally he confessed that he did murder his sister because of some latent resentment over something in their past. They had convinced him of something a few hours before he knew to be untrue and they got a confession out of him. He supplied them with details as to how he did it. As it turns out, the boy didn’t murder his sister and the detectives were sued by the boy’s parents who had no knowledge of what they had planned to say to him.Continue Reading
Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.
Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.Continue Reading
To Kill A Mockingbird
One of the great American books, To Kill A Mockingbird, makes for one of the great American films. Horton Foote (Tender Mercies) compactly adapts Harper Lee’s dense semi-autobiographical novel. Now an adult, Scout Finch recounts two summers in her childhood during the Depression in a sleepy little Alabama town. She and her brother Jem befriend a boy named Dill (based on Lee’s lifelong friend, Truman Capote), while her father Atticus, a righteous lawyer (righteous, in an admirable way), defends a black man accused of rape. Scout learns many simple lessons and the film, with such simple qualities, packs a gentle emotional wallop.
This was 1962 disguised as the Depression. An innocent ‘62, pre-assignation of JFK and MLK; pre-Vietnam War making the front pages; pre-Black Panthers and "black power." When the naÃ¯ve still believed that one crusading white man could potentially save a black man’s life. And though in the end Atticus doesn’t actually succeed (thematically it has something to do with why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird), it has enough of an impact on a child that she could grow up to be a great writer. Though in real life, unfortunately, Harper Lee would never write another book again, instead becoming Capote’s babysitter (Lee, along with Emily Bronte and John Kennedy Toole, would be one of the great one-hit wonders in literature history).Continue Reading
Toy Story 3
All children take their play very seriously, and you might be one of the many adults who look back on playtime as one of the most engaging and memorable aspects of your youth. Children create a world and mimic what they see when they are playing, and this activity is, without a doubt, a fundamental building block for our species. When Toy Story came out in '95 it was a big success. The story of a group of toys who were loyal to their owner and overcame outlandish obstacles was brilliant. Seeing toys that actually felt emotions and had attachment issues helped me understand and define my relationship to my mother. It also urged me to take care of my toys and stop chopping off Barbie's hair. The family featured had a single-mother, which was an interesting dynamic and something that many children can relate to. It also gave me a silly curiosity growing up; I checked on my toys to see if they actually had a life of their own. The documentary The Pixar Story explains the company's success with its animation techniques and its first film, Toy Story. Toy Story 3, made over a decade later than the first, would become one of the highest grossing animated films, and one of three to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.
For those of you who haven't seen Toy Story 1 or 2, let me indulge myself with a brief synopsis. The first film is about the anxiety of being replaced. Woody and his preschool-appropriate buddies fear that Andy will get a new toy for his birthday and replace one of them. He gets a Buzz Lightyear action figure and goes through a brief phase of being obsessed with space and the new toy. The quarrels between the delusional Buzz (who thinks he's a real space ranger) and the former favorite, Woody, leads to a huge accident. The two end up outside and in the hands of a kid who likes to torture toys. They decide to work together in order to get home before their family moves to their new house, or the sinister kid across the street blows them up.Continue Reading
John Hodge’s brilliant screenplay, based on the cult novel by the same name written by Irvine Welsh, is the story of a group of young friends, drug addicts, and overall petty criminals from Edinburgh who play hard and fast. The plot is a maturation story about one of these needle lovers, "Renton” (McGregor), who begins to realize that his life could be so much more in normalcy.
The screenplay does a wonderful job of capturing the lifestyle, while not passing judgment on it. Through Renton’s colorful self-actualizing voiceover, we’re given the chance to look into the bare souls of the wild, wayward and lost.Continue Reading
We've all seen the gang leader film a few hundred times. We've seen him in "tha hood" starting fights, we've seen him in a classroom getting into trouble and reporting to the principal's office, we've seen him ride slick cars, and we've seen him lead labor unions into civil uproar.
Place him in South Africa - we have a teenager named Tsotsi (meaning"thug") who doesn't know emotion and lives alone in the ghettos outside of Johannesburg. Place him in a wealthy city, and he steals a woman's Mercedes, as well as shoots her. Riding off, he finds himself not alone - the woman's baby is left in the backseat, and he is left by himself to take care of him. The film follows his journey as he learns how to care for someone other than himself, and the lessons and people that come along the way.Continue Reading
Back in 1958 Vertigo was considered a misfire from the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, but now over 50 years later, with a strong restoration and a number of clever reissues, many deem it one of Hitch’s best films and maybe his most personal. Like Notorious before it, underneath the suspense it’s a love story, but a twisted kind of love, obsession. Jimmy Stewart finishes off his Hitchcock trifecta after The Man Who Knew Too Much and Rear Window (not counting the much earlier Rope), putting a twist on his everyman and giving one of the most complicated psychological performances of his career. Vertigo also proves to be career peaks for the stunning Kim Novak and for film composer Bernard Herrman. If you can get past some of the plottyness of the film's first act Vertigo proves to be a film worth obsessing over.
The film is based on the novel The Living And The Dead by the French writing team of Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud, who also wrote the deliberately Hitchcockian thriller Les Diaboliques (whose film version by Henri-Georges Clouzot had a big impact on Hitch and helped to push him in the more shocking direction that lead to Psycho and later Frenzy).Continue Reading
Warm and wonderful, Pedro Almodovar's Volver resonates with his favorite subjects: women, secrets and the transformative power of love. Framed with light suspense, rich imagery and sensuous color are amazing performances by the entire cast, most notably a voluptuous Penelope Cruz. Her courageous and spirited Raimunda is a struggling mother stuck in a bad marriage and bravely fulfilling the role of matriarch, not only to her sister and daughter but to a community of women loosely tied by tradition and committed through love. When her mother reappears as a ghost, Raimunda's life gets infinitely more complicated.
Violence and religious mysticism are catalysts and cards to the emotional evolution of all the characters but are hardly the point. As secrets are unveiled, the once shelled lives become full again with redemption and understanding and life seems to right itself, as if waiting for the perfect miracle. The weak become strong, the strong - weak, youth gains wisdom and age renews its joy for life.Continue Reading
Recent attention to the children's situation in war-torn Uganda has been spoken about in art events and documentaries such as Invisible Children, and there's a reason for that – international events, especially in Africa, are becoming more and more cared for as history school books fail to cover these contemporary aspects of our global issues.
War Dance, Sean and Andrea Fine's documentary about children competing in the Kampala Music Festival, has been received ambivalent critical review. New York Times' Stephen Holden sums up the conflict: the film "is so gorgeous that its beauty distracts from the anguish it reveals… in spite of its slickness, is an honorable, sometimes inspiring exploration of the primal healing power of music and dance in an African tribal culture."Continue Reading