Green Book

Posted on November 15, 2018 at 5:50 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material
Profanity: Strong language including racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: November 16, 2018

Copyright 2018 Universal
Before I tell you how good this movie is, let me tell you how many ways it could have gone wrong. First, it is based on the true story of a trip through the deep South in 1962, before the Civil Rights Act, taken by two men who were opposites in every way. One was Don Shirley, an elegant, sophisticated black musician with two PhDs who lived in an apartment filled with exquisite works of art above Carnegie Hall. The other was a crude, provincial Italian bouncer from Queens known as Tony Lips. It is almost impossible to make a story like that without falling into the White Savior trap or the Magical Negro trap.

Next, the movie is co-written by the real-life son of Tony Lips (real name, Tony Vallelonga), so there was a high risk of a lack of perspective, and probably a lack of experience. And the director, Peter Farrelly, is known for working with his brother, Bobby, on movies known for often-shockingly crude humor like “There’s Something About Mary,” “Dumb and Dumber,” and “Movie 43.”

And yet, they pulled it off. “Green Book” is wonderfully entertaining and guaranteed to warm even the hardest of hearts. The music is sublime, and the performances by Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lips are superb. Yes, lessons will be learned and racial harmony will be kumbaya-ed, but resistance is futile. This movie will win you over.

Tony needs a job, but not badly enough to accept an offer from some mob-connected friends. When he hears that a doctor needs a driver, he goes to the address for the interview and it is not a home but the legendary Carnegie Hall. It turns out that Don Shirley lives above the performance space, in an apartment filled with antiques and objects d’art. He is (twice) a doctor of music. He appears in a gold and white caftan and conducts the interview from an actual throne. He is sophisticated and a little effete. He is, as is usually the case in road and buddy movies and especially in buddy/road movies, the id to Tony’s unrestrained ego. He immediately knows that Tony is not the right guy and turns him down. But later, he offers him the job, even though when he tells Tony he is going South, Tony thinks he means Atlantic City.

It is 1962. The Civil Rights Act has not yet passed, meaning that the Jim Crow segregation laws are still in effect throughout the South, and there are very few hotels and restaurants that allow black customers. Don will be traveling with two other musicians (the group is called the Don Shirley Trio), and they are white and driving a separate car. The record label guy gives Tony a copy of the Green Book, a travel guide for black Americans who wish to “vacation without aggravation.” And he tells Tony that if Don does not make every single performance on the schedule, he will not get paid.

Tony, in an early scene put a glass in the garbage because a black plumber working in his kitchen drank some water from it, has lived a life as insular as Don’s has been urbane. Tony is expansive and chatty. Don is reserved and cerebral. Tony is devoted to his wife and family. Don is a loner. Tony loves food. Don loves music. Ahead are plenty of conflicts with each other and plenty of conflicts that will put them on the same side against pretty much everyone.

It teeters toward overly cutesy at times, as when Tony teaches Don the joys of fried chicken. But we see Tony’s spirit enlarge as he sees for the first time the beauty and brutality of America outside of New York, as he is touched by the music and Don’s artistry and horrified by the bigotry he faces. And we see Don open up a little to someone outside his world. Watching that opens our hearts a little, too.

Parents should know that this film includes depiction of Civil Rights Era racism with some peril and violence, strong and racist language, drinking, smoking, some sexual references and non-explicit situation.

Family discussion: Why did Don Shirley pick Tony? If you wrote a movie about your parents, what would it be?

If you like this, try: listen to the music of the Don Shirley Trio and watch “In the Heat of the Night”

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Rotten Tomatoes Welcomes More Diverse Critics

Posted on August 30, 2018 at 10:18 am

Rotten Tomatoes has made a very important step forward in promoting diversity with an announcement about its revised policy for accepting critics. As a critic who has been on Rotten Tomatoes almost since it began, I am delighted.

Copyright Rotten Tomatoes 2018

In revamping our Critics Criteria, we sought to bring the criteria into better alignment with the way media works today, to promote the inclusion of more voices that reflect the varied groups of people who consume entertainment, and to maintain the high standards we’ve always set for inclusion in the group of Tomatometer-approved critics.

When assessing applications from those wishing to be a Tomatometer-approved critic, or a Tomatometer-approved publication, we now take into consideration four key values as well as a revised set of eligibility requirements. These values are Insight, Audience, Quality, and Dedication, and you can find a full breakdown of each value here.

Movie critics in general, including those on Rotten Tomatoes, are overwhelmingly white males. Filmmakers like Meryl Streep and Brie Larson have complained that this lack of diversity does not fairly represent the experiences and perspectives of movie audiences. Rotten Tomatoes’ revised criteria reflect not just outreach to diverse voices but a thoughtful reassessment based on the wider range of platforms for criticism, including podcasts and videos. They make their commitment clear with a link in the announcement to invite other critics to apply.

This comes just after Chaz Ebert announced on Rogerebert.com its new gender-balanced roster of critics, five men and five women, including POCs, with more as contributors. I am very proud to be a part of this group, and to be the site’s first female assistant editor, and very happy to see critics as diverse as our readers.

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James Hong — From Groucho Marx and Clark Gable to the Eyeball Jar Guy in “Blade Runner”

Posted on August 22, 2018 at 8:00 am

James Hong is one of the few Asian actors who has been successful in Hollywood for decades, and the success of the all-Asian cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” has prompted a great story about him in Deadline.

He has worked on films with Clark Gable (Soldier of Fortune) and in TV with Jane Wyman in one of the only TV episode John Ford ever helmed (The Bamboo Cross) and many, many others, but it was Groucho Marx who gave Hong his start in the most unusual way. Marx had been alerted to a Chinese man out of Minnesota who was an impressionist. Marx booked Hong on his show You Bet Your Life, and Hong — doing spot on impressions of Peter Lorre, Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney and Groucho himself — was a huge hit with television audiences. So much so that Hong landed an agent — with Bessie Loo (the only agent for Asians at that time).

Hong battled racism in the industry and in the portrayals of Asian characters on screen, but too often had to settle for stereotypical parts.

He said the role of Mr. Ping in the Kung Fu Panda film franchise where he does voice over, “was a wonderful peak in my career” because even though it was animated, he was “sort of a leading character. I did the voice as a cross between a Jewish mother and a Chinese waiter.”

Asked what advice he would give to others coming up the ranks, he was adamant: “The young people have to fight and gain more ground. They have to continue to fight for better images and more roles. There are a few roles, but they are still not casting Asians in leading roles like businessmen,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “And I’m sure it will get better because China has all the money.”

 

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Trailer: The Green Book

Posted on August 21, 2018 at 5:09 am

Viggo Mortensen and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali star in “The Green Book,” based on the true story of black musician Don Shirley and the white driver/bodyguard who took him on tour through the America South of the early Civil Rights era. Before Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, public accommodations like hotels and buses were allowed to discriminate on the basis of race. The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guide to the places that black people could stay in the South without problems. (About Comics has re-published the original 1954 edition.)  The movie is directed and co-written by actor Peter Farrelly (“Twilight,” “The Big Kahuna”), and it will be in theaters this November.

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Behind the Scenes: Crazy Rich Asians

Posted on August 18, 2018 at 9:33 pm

I’m so happy that “Crazy Rich Asians” is such a great movie and so happy that audiences are enjoying it as much as I do. Some great behind-the-scenes commentary from director Jon M. Chu, with a lot of detail about what was real and what was done with digital effects:

In this scene, Rachel (Constance Wu) and the audience first see the mansion that is the home of her boyfriends’s crazy rich family.

And here he talks about one of the early scenes, where we see how the news of Nick Young’s girlfriend gets to Singapore. It reminded me of the telephone scene in “Bye Bye Birdie.” Look fast to see Chu’s baby son and also the author, Kevin Kwan.

The stars of the film talk about how much it means to them to be a part of a project with an all-Asian cast.

The Angry Asian Man blog has a fascinating description of what exactly was happening in the climactic mahjong scene.

One of my favorite critics, Inkoo Kang, writes about the film’s references and Easter eggs, and about the last film to feature an all-Asian cast, “The Joy Luck Club.” The success of “Crazy Rich Asians” means that we will not be waiting another 25 years for the next — and that this cast of exceptionally talented breakout stars will all be in other movies very soon.

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