The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit

Posted on July 28, 2009 at 12:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Bar fight
Diversity Issues: Set in Latino community of LA
Date Released to Theaters: 1998
Date Released to DVD: 1998
Amazon.com ASIN: 6305268851

This is a wonderful, magical movie!

Based on the short story and play by Ray Bradbury (who adapted for the screen), this is the story of five poor men who pool their resources to buy one magnificent, beautiful, white suit, each hoping it will make his dream come true.

One man is a political speaker, one is a musician, one is a con man, one is in love, and one is homeless and filthy.

Originally selected on the basis of size (all of them have to fit into the same suit), they find that they have more in common. All feel ignored and alone. As each gets to wear the suit for one hour, each finds it a thrilling and transforming experience.

The cast is sensational. Joe Mantegna plays the con man who puts the deal together with the thought of taking the suit on a one-way trip out of town, but who thinks better of it after he puts it on. Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) plays the musician whose guitar-playing draws every female in hearing range out into the street for a joyous dance. Newcomer Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez (now Clifton Collins, Jr.) is a delight as the young man who wears the suit to find the courage to approach the beautiful woman he has adored from afar. Activist Gregory Sierra (TV’s “Barney Miller”) finds that people cheer his speeches when he wears the suit. And under all that grime is Edward James Almos (“Stand and Deliver”) as a homeless man who embraces life (and the girlfriend of a mean guy called “El Toro”) when he wears the suit.

At the end of the evening, the young man says, “This morning I had no friends, but tonight I have many friends.” You will feel you have made some, too.

This movie gives families a great opportunity to talk about dreams, cooperation, and self-confidence, and to think a little bit about what they would do if they had a wonderful ice-cream suit.

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Happy Birthday William Shakespeare!

Posted on April 23, 2009 at 12:00 pm

It’s Shakespeare’s birthday! Try to talk like Shakespeare. Or check out Turner Classic Movie Channel’s list of their favorite Shakespeare adaptations. Can you name three movies inspired by Shakespeare set in high school? Two that became Broadway musicals? Or one set in outer space?

All of Shakespeare’s plays have been filmed, many more than once. Some of my favorites are:

1. Twelfth Night A shipwreck survivor disguises herself as a man and gets involved in many mix-ups as she finds herself falling for her boss and being fallen for by the woman he has asked her to woo on his behalf.

2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream An all-star cast appears in Shakespeare’s merriest romantic comedy, with the entanglements of three romantic couples and a little fairy dust.

3. The Taming of the Shrew Famously bombastic couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor play famously bombastic couple Petruchio and Kate in this raucous battle of the sexes. It is not only the shrew who is tamed.

4. Henry V Kenneth Branaugh’s fierce version of one of Shakespeare’s most thrillingly heroic stories is brilliantly done — and a lot of fun to compare with Laurence Olivier’s very different WWII-era version.

4. Hamlet Mel Gibson stars in one of several great versions of the play about the conflicted Danish prince.

5. Romeo & Juliet and Romeo + Juliet are two sensational takes on Shakespeare’s most famous love story.

6. The Merchant of Venice Al Pacino plays Shylock in the story of a money-lender driven to revenge by the defection of his daughter. Lynn Collins is luminous as the heroine Portia.

7. As You Like It Another woman-disguised-as-a-man story and another lovers-in-the-forest story — but this time transplanted by the film-makers to Japan in a very colorful production with a radiant Bryce Dallas Howard as Rosalind.

8. Macbeth Orson Welles’ version of the Scottish play is arresting and provocative.

9. The Tempest I’m still waiting for a worthy version of my favorite Shakespeare play, but until that happens, this version of the story of the shipwreck survivors on an island with a sorcerer and his daughter is worth seeing.

10. Shakespeare in Love This multi-award winner makes no pretense of historical accuracy but it is wise, exciting, and ravishingly romantic.

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Based on a play Classic For Your Netflix Queue Lists

Doubt

Posted on April 7, 2009 at 8:00 am

Before movies, there were plays, and before plays there were stories told around the campfire. One of the deepest human impulses is the need to tell our stories in part because of the way they help us make sense of the world. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end and stories have a purpose. Extraneous details are excluded and everything we are told is there to help us understand. The power of stories is that they provide something life cannot — certainty and a sense of control.

“Doubt” is a story that turns this upside down. The title refers not just to the question of proof of the ugly allegation at the heart of the story but to our own need for certainty and understanding in a world that is ambiguous and contradictory.

It takes place in 1964, a transitional moment just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and in the middle of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council that would bring great change to the practice of Catholicism. We smile now as school principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) , comes down firmly against ball point pens and “Frosty the Snowman” because we know how small those incursions on tradition are in comparison to the upheavals of the late 1960’s. Sister Aloysius wears the heavy, formal religious habit modeled after Italian mourning garb of the 19th century, with a black bonnet enclosing her head so completely it might as well be blinders.

Sister Aloysius, named for the patron saint of youth, knows about mortal sins far more serious than pens and secular Christmas songs. She thinks, no, she knows that one of the most horrifying has been committed in her school. She knows, without a doubt, that the priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has behaved inappropriately with a student. And he is not just any student; he is the first black child to enroll in the school.

Sister Aloysius is certain, but we are not, and the most compelling aspect of the movie, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, is the way that it keeps us from any kind of certainty. Every time you think you’ve made up your mind who is right, another scene challenges you assumptions. By the time the boy’s mother (Viola Davis, in one of the most mesmerizing performances of the year) gives her point of view, the movie becomes something of a Rubik’s cube, twisting not just facts but values in both directions at once. Like life.

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Based on a play Drama

Spinning Into Butter

Posted on March 26, 2009 at 2:45 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language
Profanity: Very strong language including racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: March 27, 2009

The best of intentions and a welcome willingness to engage on the touchiest issues is not enough to keep this movie from feeling more like a seminar than a story. It betrays its origins as a play, still talky and static. But its ideas are so provocative and its approach so sincere and constructive that it is worth a look.

Sarah Jessica Parker, far away from designer duds and trying to look serious and a little mousy, plays Sarah Daniels, the dean of a small liberal arts college with a genteel, Vermont campus. Some anonymous racist attacks are leveled at a new black student and there is disagreement within the faculty and administration about how to handle it. They schedules a campus-wide meeting, but the students are not invited to speak. A local news reporter (Mykelti Williamson) wants to cover the story but the administration is furious. In the middle of all of this is Sarah, who wants to explore the issue in a substantive and constructive way and acknowledges that she has some internal conflicts she is not proud of.

The title comes from the classic children’s story Little Black Sambo, now considered unacceptably racist. In that story, the tigers chase each other so fast that they spin into butter. Here, the way that the issue is addressed — or sidestepped — leads to a similar result, with everyone racing to avoid responsibility. Out of the best of intentions, at the beginning of the film, Sarah asks a student (the always-superb Victor Rasuk) to change his racial classification from NYrican to Puerto Rican to qualify for a scholarship. It is a good lead-in to a series of discussions, confrontations, and missed communications about America’s most sensitive and least-often honestly discussed issue. The best thing about this movie will be the conversations it inspires on the way home.

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Based on a play Drama Movies

Funny Face

Posted on February 9, 2009 at 8:00 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: All Ages
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Some mild sexism reflecting its era
Date Released to Theaters: 1957
Date Released to DVD: 2009
Amazon.com ASIN: B004IK30LO

My second DVD pick of the week for Valentine’s Day is the other new Audrey Hepburn release, “Funny Face,” a gorgeous musical set in Paris with Fred Astaire and songs by Gershwin. The title tune, and “How Long Has This Been Going On” and “S’Wonderful” have become standards, and the non-Gershwin numbers like “Think Pink” and “Bonjour Paris” are lively and well-staged.

It’s the story of a shy bookstore clerk with an interest in French philosophy who gets invited to Paris as a model and agrees to go only because it will give her a chance to meet the philosopher she most admires. She thinks that fashion is silly and superficial. But the photographer (Astaire, playing a character based on Richard Avedon) shows her the passion, dedication, professionalism, and artistry required and the philosopher shows her that he does not always practice what he preaches. The film is a delight. Be sure to watch for a rare screen appearance by Kay Thompson, the author of the “Eloise” books, as the magazine editor, and some real-life supermodels spoofing themselves.

Funny Face

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