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
Date Released to DVD: March 11, 2019

Copyright 2018 Universal
Before I tell you how good the Oscar-winning Green Book 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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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Race and Diversity

PBS: John Lewis — Get In the Way

Posted on February 7, 2017 at 3:16 pm

Congressman John Lewis was the youngest person to speak at the March on Washington organized by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This week, PBS will show a documentary about Lewis, a key figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and a genuine statesman and hero. Despite more than 40 arrests, physical attacks, and serious injuries, John Lewis remained a devoted advocate of the philosophy of nonviolence. He was one of the leaders of the SNCC and a Freedom Rider and his three-volume memoir March is a best-seller and the first graphic book to be given a National Book Award.

A film by Kathleen Dowdey, “John Lewis – Get in the Way” is the first biographical documentary about John Lewis, an inspiring portrait of one man cast into extraordinary times and his unhesitating dedication to seeking justice for the marginalized and ignored. The film spans more than half a century, tracing Lewis’ journey of courage, confrontations and hard-won triumphs.

At the age of 15, John Lewis’ life changed forever when he heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the radio. It was 1955, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Lewis listened with rapt attention as the young preacher called for resistance to the harsh injustice of segregation. Notably, Dr. King exhorted those listening to fight not with weapons but with proven tools of nonviolence.

Lewis embraced Dr. King’s spiritual call with a fervor that would determine the course of the rest of his life. A student activist in the vanguard of the Civil Rights Movement, Lewis was arrested and jailed for the first time during the Nashville lunch counter sit-ins in 1960. A front-line general during the 1961 Freedom Rides, he was repeatedly assaulted by angry, unrestrained mobs.

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Biography Race and Diversity Television

Selma

Posted on December 24, 2014 at 5:55 pm

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic material including violence, a suggestive moment, and brief strong language
Profanity: Some strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Very brutal violence including abuse and beatings by law enforcement and individuals, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2014
Date Released to DVD: May 4, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00S1MYWBW
Copyright 2014 Cloud Eight Films

“Selma,” director Ava DuVernay’s film about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital at Montgomery, to make the case for the right to vote, is superb as biography, as history, and as drama. It is one of the best movies of this year and this decade.

And somehow it has arrived just as we need it most, as Americans continue to struggle to reconcile our notions of equality. This film is a powerful reminder of the Civil Rights Movement cry that “we’re not where we want to be, we’re not where we’re going to be, but, thank God, we’re not where we were.” It is a reminder of the difference one person can make, and the inescapability of an idea whose time has come. And it should also be a powerful reminder that the voting rights people fought — and died — must be exercised to carry that dream forward.

This is a story of politics and race and history, but it is also very much the story of a man who just wanted to be “a pastor in a small college town” but found himself called to lead a movement, even though he put himself, his followers, and his family at risk. King has to try to keep his supporters together, increasingly difficult as the very progress he has made has made them impatient and independent.

British actor David Oyelowo makes Dr. King into a real person, polite and respectful but also canny and insistent in his meetings with President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) in the Oval Office, devoted and compassionate with the members of the movement, stirring and inspirational at the pulpit and podium, and at his most vulnerable when he is alone with his wife, Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo, who played the same role in the superb “Boycott”). Even over the course of the few weeks covered by this film, we see Dr. King constantly assessing, re-evaluating, learning, and growing.

We also see that wiliest of politicians, LBJ, outmaneuvered by King, partly because he refused to give up but also because for the first time there was television coverage of what was going on and the rest of the country, 70 million viewers, were no longer able to pretend that this country was living up to its ideals of justice and equality. Even with the passage of the monumental Civil Rights Act, which required equal treatment without regard to race or gender in public accommodations and the workplace, the inability to vote imposed an insurmountable barrier to meaningful change. At the beginning of the film, we see Annie Lee Cooper carefully, deliberately filling in her application to register to vote. When the contemptuous official quizzes her on the number of county judges in the state, she is prepared with the answer. Clearly, she has tried this before and done her homework. She gives the correct number: 67. He responds, “Name them.”

“This voting thing is just going to have to wait,” Johnson explains. “You have one problem. I have a hundred and one.” He tries to persuade King that his War on Poverty is of central importance to black citizens. King understood that without the right to vote, blacks would continue to be excluded.

Everyone tries to stop him. The FBI sends tapes to Mrs. King that purport to reveal King’s affairs. There are constant threats and supporters are murdered. A church is bombed, killing Four Little Girls. The first time they try to walk to Montgomery, the 600 marchers are attacked by the police with tear gas and billy clubs wrapped in barbed wire.

But television cameras send pictures of the police brutality to 70 million viewers across the country. The images put even more pressure on Johnson, who finally brings Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth) to the Oval Office, to force some progress on the man whose inaugural address included the words, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Today we live in a world that is saturated in images and opinions, often angry ones. This film, like King’s patient but insistent voice, is a clarion call, the story of a man, a movement, and a journey that can and must continue.

Parents should know that the movie’s themes include historic depiction of virulent racism including verbal and physical attacks and murder, strong language including racist epithets, brief sexual sounds and discussion of affairs.

Family Discussion: How did Dr. King make President Johnson change his mind? How did President Johnson make George Wallace change his mind?

If you like this, try: Other films about the Civil Rights movement including “Boycott” (also featuring Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King), “Separate But Equal,” and “Eyes on the Prize”

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Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Epic/Historical Politics Race and Diversity

Watch “The Jackie Robinson Story” on the Anniversary of His First Major League Game

Posted on April 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Today Major League Baseball celebrates the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game as a Brooklyn Dodger.  Continuing a tradition begun in 2007, all uniformed personnel in the league wear Robinson’s number 42.  Branch Rickey (soon to be played by Harrison Ford in an upcoming movie) was the Dodgers’ General Manager who broke the color barrier in place since the 1880’s by offering Robinson a place on the team.  Robinson was a star player who helped take the team to six World Series and one championship.  He won the first Rookie of the Year award and was the first African-American to win MVP.  While many of his teammates were supportive, others on the team and in the stands were not, and Robinson was subjected to bigotry and racism.  He handled an unimaginably difficult situation with grace and courage and after his baseball career continued to be a pioneer in business.

Robinson starred in the movie version of his own story, with Ruby Dee as his wife, and it is well worth watching, as is the made for television film The Court Martial of Jackie Robinson, about his experiences in the segregated military, where he refused to sit in the back of a bus.  This time, Ruby Dee played his mother.

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Biography Neglected gem Sports

‘The Help’ — Viola Davis

Posted on July 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

In my opinion, Viola Davis is the finest actress in movies today.  In “Doubt,” she gave the best performance of the year in one short but very powerful scene as the mother of a boy who may have been abused.  She has made an indelible impression in brief appearances in movies as sympathetic therapists in “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” and “Trust,” best friends in “Eat Pray Love” and “Nights in Rodanthe,” as a mayor in “Law Abiding Citizen” and as a space ship captain in “Solaris.”  It was truly a thrill to speak to her about playing the strong, quiet, principled maid Aibileen in “The Help.”

Like the other people working on the movie, she was very aware of the about the influence of the setting.  “It’s easier to do this because you’re in Mississippi.  It’s a different world.  A different energy that informs everything you do.  Going into Baptist Town you feel the spirits of the past.”

We asked about developing a Mississippi accent.  “The accent is a work in progress.  I was born in South Carolina and raised in Rhode Island. It’s my mother’s voice I hear in my head.  I don’t want the accent to be as strong as it is in the book.  I’ve read the criticism about the dialect online.  I don’t want anything to distract from the character.  I want to make it accessible.”  Her research about the era included books, the Eyes on The Prize PBS series, “a documentary about maids, my mother, relatives, everybody.”  She also remembered a teacher in college who was part of Freedom summer and came back to campus to talk about it.

Asked about the challenges of the story, she frankly acknowledged, “There’s a lot of pressure.  There are two stories going on.  It’s the experience of a lot of Caucasians with substitute mothers and the story of these maids, my mother’s story, who these women were when they went home.  That’s the part that makes it a dirty secret, not palatable.  That’s the story of those who worked for other people.  Abeline was born in 1911.  By she has has 53 years of incredible history.  You feel an incredible responsibility not to make it sanitized.  That’s what Hollywood always does.”

And she spoke of the challenges of playing a character who by nature and culture seldom says what she is thinking.  “Your internal dialog has got to be different from what you say…. makes it so rich.”  It was sometimes very difficult to do.  “You feel the rage, the frustration, the repression, the intense level of sadness, of going to your grave without ever realizing your dreams and hopes.  Now we can speak our minds more.  To be silent so much – it’s hard not to carry that rage when you leave the set.”

 

 

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