It looks like a lot of fun — but caution, parents, there is some material in the show (based on the original play as well as the film) that may not be appropriate for younger children, including references to a possible teen pregnancy, concerns about promiscuity, and (spoiler alert) a “happy” ending that has a “good girl” acting like a “bad girl” to keep a boy.
The stars include “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens, “Dance With the Stars'” Julianne Hough, and “Akeelah and the Bee’s” Keke Palmer — plus, Jeannie from the “Ellen” show.
What connects us to each other? What creates a sense of obligation? Why is it that we somehow find ourselves alone when we don’t want to be and with others when we don’t want to be? Are there secrets that completely change the way we think about people we thought we knew?
And is it possible to be fair to the other people in our lives when we tell stories about them?
Writer Alan Bennett (“The History Boys,” “The Madness of King George”) got an urgent appeal from a disheveled woman in a kerchief. You know the kind of person I am talking about, the ones we ignore or pretend to ignore. She is not exactly homeless. She has a dilapidated, broken-down van parked on the street near his new home. His neighbors are not unkind. One even tries to bring her food. But for some reason, Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) likes Bennett. And for some equally inexplicable reason, he kind of doesn’t dislike her. And for another equally inexplicable reason, as frustrating and annoying and inconvenient and often infuriating as Miss Shepherd (as he always calls her) is, he finds it easier to deal with her than with his own mother, who is beset with her own cognitive challenges.
“A writer is doubled,” Bennett tells us, “the one who writes, the one who lives.” He is clearly most comfortable as the one who writes. And we get to see them both. Alex Jennings plays two slightly different variations on Bennett, the subtle variations of clothing and attitude showing us the tension as he wavers between being involved and observing. Part of him recoils from Miss Shepherd’s “multi-flavored aroma” with a thin layer of talcum powder. Part of him knows that she could lead to exactly what we are watching — a book, a radio play, a theatrical production, a movie with an Oscar-winning Dame in the title role. Yes, she asks if she can park temporarily in his driveway and stays for 15 years. But given the money he made from the story, who was sponging on who?
A writer will inevitably be drawn to the peculiar mix of sense and nonsense, sometimes called a word salad, coming from someone like Miss Shepherd. There’s something about the way she ends her mildly preposterous statements with equivocation. “I’m in an incognito position, possibly,” she tells Bennett. He will learn more about her past, but Bennett has enough respect for us and for Miss Shepherd that there is no attempt to try to explain her. It is just to help us do what he did instinctively, though perhaps reluctantly — to see the person inside the weirdness.
“A proper writer might welcome such an encounter.” Yes, he might. Yet, he thinks, “You won’t catch Harold Pinter pushing a van down the street.” Shouldn’t a writer get to pick his subject? “I don’t want to write about her,” he says. “I want to write about spies.” He knows that “you don’t put yourself into what you write; you find yourself.” And his two selves seem to come closer together as Miss Shepherd disintegrates further. If, as Arthur Miller wrote in “Death of a Salesman,” attention must be paid to people we would prefer to overlook, Bennett has done that for Miss Shepherd, with grace and humanity.
Parents should know that this film includes themes of mental and physical illness, fatal car accident, blackmail, and non-explicit sexual situations and bodily functions.
Family discussion: Why did Alan treat his mother and Miss Shepherd differently? Why does he let her stay? Why are there two Alans and what can we tell from the way they dress and speak?
If you like this, try: “The Madness of King George” by the same author and his early work in “Beyond the Fringe”
Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
Very strong and crude language
Drinking, smoking, drugs
A theme of the film is gang-related violence, guns, shooting, characters injured and killed
Race and gender issues are the theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
December 4, 2015
Date Released to DVD:
January 25, 2016
“WAKE UP!” Laurence Fishburne pleads at the end of Spike Lee’s incendiary movie, “School Daze,” not just one of Lee’s best films but one of the most important films of the 1980’s. He was not talking to his fellow students. He was not talking to the camera. He was talking to us in the audience. He was telling all of us to rise above fear and petty differences — and fear of petty differences and stop hurting each other.
That message is even more urgent now, and so “Chi-Raq” is an even more powerful call for all of us to wake up, and it is Lee’s best non-documentary film in many years. It is more than a film; it is an anguished wail of grief and fury and the most important film of 2015.
We call the great Illinois city on the shores of Lake Michigan Chicago, but as the opening lines of the movie explain, for the residents of a South Side community with more violent deaths than the US military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is Chi-Raq. In the film a little girl is killed by a stray bullet in a gang-related shooting. She is collateral damage. The week I saw the film, there was a funeral in the very community where it is set for a nine-year-old boy who was a deliberate murder target as an act of reprisal against his father. Even the ultimate symbol of Chicago gangster violence, Al Capone, never went that far. This is not a documentary and the mode of storytelling here is heightened, but there can be no credible claims that what it portrays is unfair or exaggerated.
They feel completely isolated from any kind of help from the outside. Businesses are afraid to come into their community, so there are not jobs or services. The government does not help. The newspapers do not tell their story. Their news is reported by rappers, and in a sensationally dynamic scene in a club a rapper known as Chi-Raq (a fierce Nick Cannon) tells the truth about what they see all around them.
Lee, working with co-screenwriter Kevin Willmott, brilliantly positions this vitally contemporary story as an updated version of a play written in 411 BC, “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes. Just as the savvy strategist of almost 25 centuries ago plotted with the other women of her community to bring an end to the Peloponnesian War by withholding sexual favors from all of the men, “Chi-Raq’s” Lysistrata (a sizzling performance by “Mad Men’s” Teyonah Parris) sits down with the women from the opposing gang (to continue the classical themes, the gangs are the Trojans and the Spartans) to get them to pledge that there will be no loving until there is no more shooting. The heightened classical overtones include a narrator/chorus who has a Greek-sounding name Dolmedes — inspired by the Blaxploitation hero Dolemite and played by Samuel L. Jackson in a series of natty, brightly colored suits. And then there is the dialog, all in verse, somewhere between rap and iambic pentameter, which actually have a pretty broad overlap.
Lee makes it clear that this is a widespread, even universal problem as women around the world join forces with Lysistrata. And no one escapes responsibility for the carnage, with a searing climax of tragedy and redemption. We see a mother (Jennifer Hudson) scrubbing her little girl’s blood off the street. We see people tweeting the details of a shooting as it happens. Lysistrata is inspired not just by her namesake but by the real-life Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who brought the Christian and Moslem women of Liberia together to stop the fighting in their country. Lee is very clear about who is to blame and who is responsible for making it better: all of us.
And when we see mothers holding pictures of their children killed by guns, we are seeing real mothers, holding pictures of their real children. All of the flash, music, sex, and spectacle are balanced with moments of intimacy, connection, and poignancy, and all are anchored in Lee’s passion for his community. That reality makes this a rare movie that can change the conversation.
Parents should know that this film features gang-related and other violence with tragic outcomes including characters injured and killed, explicit sexual references and situations with nudity, smoking, drinking, and drug use.
Family discussion: What is the best way for the community, the government, and business to stop gang-related violence? How can a movie like this make a difference?
If you like this, try: “School Days,” “Do the Right Thing,” and “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and read “Lysistrata”
James M. Barrie’s play “Peter Pan” premiered in 1904 and the story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up is still one of the best-loved of all time. This week the prequel “Pan” opens up in theaters, with Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara as Tiger Lily, and Garrett Hedlund as the young not-yet-captain Hook. And there’s a hit musical on Broadway called “Finding Neverland,” based on the Johnny Depp movie that was based on Barrie’s life, and the friendship with some children that inspired his most famous story.
There was also a theatrical Peter Pan prequel on Broadway called “Peter and the Starcatcher.”