Marshall

Posted on October 12, 2017 at 5:25 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Allegations of rape and attempted murder, fights and beatings, gun
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 13, 2017
Date Released to DVD: January 8, 2018
Copyright 2017 Open Road

“It’s a real life Bigger Thomas,” says a character describing the new case assigned to a young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman). Bigger Thomas was the young black protagonist who could not escape the fundamental racism of American society in Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son, accused of rape and murder. In this real-life case, a black chauffeur named Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown of “This is Us”) was accused of rape and attempted murder of his employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), a wealthy Connecticut socialite. Marshall, then the entire legal staff of the NAACP, was going from town to town representing black defendants, many whom “confessed” after being beaten and starved, but, Marshall insists, only those who are innocent. They do not have time or resources to devote to those who did what they are accused of.

This case is unusual because it is in the North and because it is so high-profile. It has been a front page story in the newspapers and many white families are firing their domestic employees because they are so terrified.

Connecticut may not have the overt, explicit racism of the Jim Crow laws, but in some ways that makes fighting its version of bigotry more difficult. The judge (James Cromwell) refuses Marshall the normally automatic courtesy of allowing him to represent Spell in court without being a member of the state bar association. Instead, a local lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) must argue the case, even though he has no experience in criminal trials and is very reluctant to get involved. “That must be difficult,” Marshall tells him wryly. “To have a reputation to think of.” Marshall may sit at the counsel’s table but may not address the judge or examine witnesses. He says that not being allowed to speak is the worst blow he has had as a lawyer, worse than having to enter the courthouse by the back door.

This is an absorbing drama on many levels, working purely as an “Anatomy of a Murder”-style courtroom mystery, as a historical depiction of the roots and mechanics of social change, and as the personal story of the two young lawyers facing enormous professional and personal challenges, developing a friendship, and becoming better at what they do.

The screenplay by father and son Michael and Joseph Koskoff is forthright in addressing the complicated ethics of preparing a defense for an individual client that many not always be consistent with the larger political imperatives. It also delicately if not always sucessfully skirts the complicated problem faced by contemporary films based on real-life events: if the white character teaches the black character, it’s condescending, but if the black character teaches the white character it’s “magical Negro.” In real life, Samuel Friedman was already active in civil rights cases before the Spell case, and he was slender and athletic. But for dramatic purposes, here he is played by Josh Gad and his character only takes insurance cases. We first see him winning for an insurance company on a technicality that leaves the disabled plaintiff without any damage payment. And Marshall’s character changes very little over the course of the film. He is sophisticated, tough, smart, and confident all the way through which is great as a tribute to one of the towering figures of the 20th century, but without some kind of character arc like the one given to Friedman, the risk is that he becomes a supporting character in the movie that has his name in the title. Fortunately Boseman is intensely charismatic and a gifted actor who is able to bring a great deal to the role, and he and Gad have a strong chemistry that benefits and is benefited by director Reginald Hudlin’s gift for understanding when comedy is needed to lessen the tension. Brown is also excellent in a role far removed from the high educated and successful characters on “This is Us” and “People v. O.J.” Indeed, the entire cast is outstanding, especially Hudson, Ahna O’Reilly as a juror, and Barrett Doss as Marshall’s host and friend.

The film balances the personal, the political, and the professional lives of its heroes and is frank about the opportunism — and the opportunity — of their choices. It places it in the context of its time, as Friedman’s family in Eastern Europe is captured by the Nazis and white thugs attack both lawyers. It makes its case as effectively as Friedman and Marshall make theirs — that courage and persistence bring change and that there are good people out there who will work, with all of our help, to make it happen.

Parent should know that this story concerns a real-life trial for rape and attempted murder with sexual references and situations, themes of racism including beatings and police brutality, some strong language, domestic violence, and some strong and racist language.

Family discussion: Why did Marshall represent only innocent clients? Did Spell have a fair trial? What has improved since that time? What has not?

If you like this, try: “Separate But Equal” and “Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP”

NOTE: Read my interview with Boseman and director Reginald Hudlin at rogerebert.com

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New for Easter — Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade

Posted on March 20, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Just in time for Easter — Scrat and his Ice Age friends have a new adventure with a hunt for an egg, Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade. Just 20 minutes long, it is a delightful family treat.

Harried prehistoric bird mom Ethel entrusts her precious, soon-to-hatch egg to Sid. When she recommends him to her neighbors – Condor Mom, Cholly Bear and Gladys Glypto – business booms at his new egg-sitting service. However, dastardly pirate bunny Squint, who is seeking revenge on the ICE AGE gang, steals, camouflages and hides all the eggs. Once again, with Squint’s twin brother, Clint, assisting Manny, Diego and the rest of the gang come to the rescue and take off on a daring mission that turns into the world’s first Easter egg hunt.

I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Egg in the subject line and tell me your favorite animated film. Don’t forget your address! (U.S. addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on March 29, 2017. Good luck!

Reminder: My policy on conflicts

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Where You’ve Seen Them Before: Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s enchanting live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” features a magnificent cast. Here’s where you’ve seen or heard them before:

Emma Watson (Belle): We watched her grow up as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, but she has also appeared in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Bling Ring.”

Dan Stevens (Beast/Prince): He is best known as handsome (and tragically killed) Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” but he also played Colin in the web series “High Maintenance” and stars as David Haller in the superhero series “Legion.”  We’ll see him next week with Anne Hathaway in the unusual monster movie, “Colossal.”

Kevin Kline (Belle’s father Maurice): An Oscar-winner for “A Fish Called Wanda,” Kline also starred in “Pirates of Penzance,” “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Ice Storm,” “Grand Canyon,” and “The Big Chill.”  I loved seeing his reunion with Meryl Streep in “Ricki and the Flash.”

Josh Gad (LeFou):He  starred in “Book of Mormon” on Broadway and is best known as Olaf in “Frozen.”  We recently heard him as the voice of the main character in “A Dog’s Purpose,” and I recommend his underrated film with Emma Stone and Rainn Wilson, “The Rocker.”

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Plumette): The star of “Belle” and “Beyond the Lights” will appear in the eagerly anticipated “A Wrinkle in Time,” due next year.

Audra McDonald (Madame Garderobe): McDonald is a stage actress and singer who has won five Tony Awards (so far), for both musical and dramatic roles.  She also appeared in “Ricki and the Flash,” as Kline’s second wife.

Ewan McGregor (Lumiere): This versatile actor has played Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars,” a drug addict in “Trainspotting,” a fairy tale soldier in “Jack the Giant Slayer,” and Jesus in “Last Days in the Desert.”

Ian McKellen (Cogsworth): He played Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” movies and Magneto in the “X-Men” movies.  He is a classically trained British actor who has played Richard III and King Lear.

Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts): An Oscar-winner for both writing and acting, Thompson starred in “Love Actually,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “The Remains of the Day.”

Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza): His voice can be heard in commercials for Verizon, and he has played Meryl Streep’s husband (“Julie & Julia”), “Hunger Games'” flamboyant emcee Caesar Flickerman, and a restaurant owner in “Big Night.”

Luke Evans (Gaston): This Welsh actor has extensive stage experience and onscreen has played two Greek gods, Apollo in Clash of the Titans (2010) and Zeus in Immortals (2011).

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Actors Where You’ve Seen Them Before

Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017
Copyright Disney 2017

Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

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