The Color Purple

Posted on December 24, 2023 at 5:04 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexual content, violence and language
Profanity: Strong and racist language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness
Violence/ Scariness: Domestic violence, attack, character beaten by police
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2023

Copyright Warner Brothers 2023
Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple is the acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning story of Celie, a young Black woman in the rural Georgia of the early 1900s. Through her letters, written to her sister Nettie, we learned the story of her horrific abuse, told in the simple language of someone who had no education and little sense that she deserved better.

The book was made into a dramatic film directed by Stephen Spielberg, with Whoopi Goldberg as Celie and Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, who becomes Celie’s step-daughter-in-law. It then became a successful Broadway musical with music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, and a book by Marsha Norman. “American Idol” favorite Fantasia Barrino was a replacement Celie and Danielle Brooks played Sofia.

And now it is a movie again, with Barrino and Books repeating their Broadway roles. This version is unexpectedly joyous and heartwarming. That is in large part thanks to director Blitz Bazawule, who shows us the characters’ strengths with the musical numbers before the storyline does. It is also thanks to the raise-the-roof, powerhouse performances from Barrino, Brooks, and Henspn, any one of which would blow the doors of of a theater, and all three together lift our spirits like a gospel choir. Every note is pure and thrilling. Every one is a revelation. Henson has the showiest part and she brings her endless movie star charisma to Shug the performer. But she also brings infinite compassion and gentleness to the intimate moments. Any lesser performer might make us question why someone as flamboyant and apparently hedonistic as Shug would find what no one else in Georgia seems to see in Celie. But Henson makes us understand why she gives Celie two things she has never had before, respect and a sense that she is worthy of love. She makes Shug another character who has made choices for her own survival but maintains a core of warmth.

Brooks is bursting with life force as Sofia, until her insistence on respect from others brings her devastating repercussions from the only white characters we see in the film. We learn from her story about abuse from outside that creates ripple effects in their community. We also see with Mister’s relationship with his father, how abuse is passed on through generations. And, with his son (Corey Hawkins), how healing through generations is also possible.

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as young Celie and Halle Bailey (“The Little Mermaid”) as the her sister Nettie show us that having one person care is enough to make a difference. Mister throws Nettie out and she leaves with a missionary family for Africa and their separation is more devastating to Celie than her abuse by Mister, again underscoring the critical importance of a sustaining relationship.

The movie is frank about Celie’s abuse, including repeated rape by the man she believes is her father and then by the man her father sells her to, known to her only as Mister. But this version is more about Celie’s growing understanding of her own power, including the power of forgiveness. We also see other characters show resilience, generosity, and remorse. If the conclusion, as in the book and the previous movie, seems to tie things up a little too quickly, by that time we are so happy for Celie and so moved by the music we are fine with it.

Parents should know that this movie includes extreme abuse of a very young woman including rape and battery and having her children taken away. The film also includes misogynistic and racist attacks, a character beat up by police, betrayal, drinking and drunkenness, and strong language.

Family discussion: What are the events that make Celie understand that she could say no and that she deserved better? Why did Shug see more in Celie than anyone else? What made Mister change his mind?

If you like this, try: the book and the Spielberg movie

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The Last Voyage of the Demeter

Posted on August 10, 2023 at 5:56 pm

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for bloody violence
Profanity: Mild old-fashioned language including racist epithet
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence with many jump scares and disturbing, graphic images, many characters murdered including a child, fires
Diversity Issues: An issue in the film
Date Released to Theaters: August 11, 2023

Copyright Universal 2023
There have been more than 80 movies about Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many, many more inspired but the original story of the Transylvanian nobleman who sleeps by day, never drinks wine, but sucks the blood from human victims unless they’re lucky enough to be carrying garlic and crosses. We’ve seen decadent but elegant vampires, sexy vampires, teenage vampires, even cute cartoon vampires. And now we have “The Last Voyage of the Demeter,” a title that gives away the ending away. That is a good thing if what you are looking for is seeing the ship’s crew picked off one by one, signaled with ominous music. Otherwise, skip it.

It is beautiful to look at. The cinematography of Roman Osin and Tom Stern and the settings from production designer Edward Thomas have created an evocative world of 1890s sailing ships and their ports. But the dialogue is clunky, the story is predictable, and most of the characters are one-dimensional. It just makes films that really make you appreciate the artistry of the best of a beast in an enclosed, isolated space films like “Alien” and “The Thing” even more.

Corey Hawkins is the exception as Clemens, a last-minute addition to the crew when one member is spooked by the dragon insignias on a crate being loaded onto the ship. He is an educated man of science with expertise in celestial navigation and medicine. As the other crew members talk about what they are going to to with the bonus money they will get for an on-time delivery of the cargo, Clemens says what he wants money cannot buy — he wants “to understand the world.”

Also on board, at least a the beginning of the voyage, are the Captain (Liam Cunningham), who has decided this will be his last trip, his young grandson (“C’mon C’mon’s” soulful-eyed Woody Norman), and the crew member picked to take over the Captain’s job, David Dastmalchian and Wojchec

The ship sets sail with high spirits and good humor. But then things start to get unsettling, weird and very scary. We know this already because we see what is happening, but just in case we get suspenseful music and portentous dialogue, both heavy-handed.

There are animals on board, including a beloved dog. Something attacks them. Suspicion falls on the new crew member. Inside one of the crates is…a badly injured woman, unconscious and infected. Clemens gives her blood transfusions while crew members suggest tossing her overboard. He wants to take her to the nearest port but no one wants to miss the on-time bonus. So they keep sailing.

And that means we have one dark, stormy night after another, and that means one victim after another. The woman finally regains consciousness to provide some exposition. Her name is Anna (“Game of Thrones'” Aisling Franciosi) and she is a snack, not just in the current slang sense meaning attractive but in the sense of being a nosh for the personification of evil in the crate with the dragon on it.

This version of Dracula is not the kind to be warded off with a cross or a Bible. He can appear and disappear, and as he gets stronger, there are other powers, too. But he does not have enough powers to make this movie more than a series of jump scares and graphic injuries.

Parents should know that this is a horror movie with a vampire, so almost all of the characters are killed in very graphic and disturbing ways. This includes a child and a beloved pet and characters who sacrifice themselves to save others. Some characters burst into flames. There is some crude talk and a racist epithet.

Family discussion: Who had to make the most difficult choice? Which version of Dracula do you like the best?

If you like this, try: Some of the other Dracula movies including the classic with Bela Lugosi and “Nosferatu” — and the book by Bram Stoker

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