“Talk to Me” and Get a Free DVD for Your Troubles!

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Released in 2007, Talk to Me tells the story of Washington, D.C. radio icon Ralph “Petey” Greene (1931-1984), who was an ex-con, recovering addict and community activist – and his manager Dewey Hughes, who in later years would be known as one of the founders of the Radio One urban radio network.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou), Talk to Me stars Don Cheadle as Greene alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor as Hughes. Rounding out the main cast are Taraji P. Henson and Martin Sheen.

Even while the film is set around the turbulent times of 1960’s and 70’s, make no mistake, Cheadle and Ejiofor are center stage as their professional and personal relationship plays out on screen. The film creates an effective central tension between the two with Greene, focusing on his role as a truth-teller and ‘voice of the people,’ while business manager Hughes has bigger plans for the irreverent radio personality.

As far as filmed biopics go, this one is pretty solid, thanks in large part to the strength of the aforementioned performances. However, it should be noted that there are more than a few controversies around the “truthiness” of the film and the events that actually took place. To be sure, this is something commonplace for life stories given the Hollywood treatment – so I will allow you the viewer to make of it what you will. I WAS going to make a statement about this not being a documentary, but I thought the wiser of that statement …

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But now for the fun part … drop me a line in the Comments section and be eligible to receive one (1) DVD copy of Talk To Me! The packaging (plastic wrapping) has been remove, but the video is unwatched. You have until next Friday, August 29th 5:00PM EST to submit your comment(s). I will pick a name at random and announce that evening.

To make it a little more interesting, I ask that the comment focus on the following question:

If a family raises objections to a biopic, are you more or less inclined to go and see it?

DVD Pick: Moguls and Movie Stars (2010)

I luv history.

I luv movies.

So really it was just a matter of time when I would suck it an commit seven straight hours of my life to watching and reacting to this TCM Original Production, Moguls and Movie Stars, an in-depth look at the birth of the motion picture industry from 1889 until 1970, which I guess is a solid marker for cinema’s “modern era.”

Hollywood Sign

Click on the links below for a synopsis of each episode:

Episode One: Peepshow Pioneers (1889-1907)

Episode Two: The Birth of Hollywood (1907-1920)

Episode Three: The Dream Merchants

Episode Four: Brother Can You Spare a Dream (1929-1941)

Episode Five: Warriors & Peacemakers (1941-1950)

Episode Six: The Attack of Small Screens (1950-1960)

Episode Seven: Fade Out, Fade In (1960-1969)

This is a must-see film for anyone who considers themselves a cinephile. After all, through this wonderful medium, we have been able to chronicle an entire human century of existence.

Video Review: Pitch Perfect (2012)

Okay I admit it – I was a Season 1 “Gleek.” And while my enthusiasm for the television series has waned what has not waned is my love for the good ole singing and dancing numbers that sometimes accompany film and television. So when I found out about the film Pitch Perfect you can imagine my anticipation with seeing it.

Pitch Perfect

About 90 minutes later, while I found the number routines quite fun, the “narrative” left me a little flat. Not that I think there was much concern for that anyways because most of us were there for the song and dance anyways.

Add to that the fact I am pretty sure I am not the target demo for this film (being well past my teens and all) I can excuse some of the plot contrivances common among teen comedies – most notably the whole “boy meets girl” scenario, band of misfits, etc. – for the sake of some unadulterated fun.

Pitch Perfect was directed by Jason Moore and is loosely based on the non-fiction book of the same title written by Mickey Rapkin. Largely set on the fictional campus Barden University, the film opens at Lincoln Center in New York City; we are smack dab into the final round of a nationwide a cappella competition. The Barden Bellas, the all-female group, experience an unfortunate onstage incident which makes them the laughing stock of their campus and the fodder of ridicule especially at the hands of the award-winning all male rival group on campus – the Treblemakers.

Pitch Perfect

Desperate to right the wrong done to them the Barden Bellas set out on a mission to bring in some new blood – this is where “the misfits” enter, headed y teen wannabe DJ Beca (Anna Kendrick) and “Fat Amy” (Rebel Wilson). It instantly becomes a clash between old and new and rivalries heightened as the march toward a cappella greatness continues …

Ironically, there are a couple of references to another teen oriented comedy from nearly 30 years ago, The Breakfast Club (DANG it is that long ago? I’m old). Unfortunately for me, this reference to that film was a reminder on some level what this kind of genre can be at its most earnest (minus the singing and dancing of course). Okay so maybe that is not a fair comparison to make since Pitch Perfect is not a film that takes itself too seriously. All the more fun!

In addition to some good musical numbers and solid performances by the leads, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the a cappella group from my alma mater – The Hullabahoos – have a cameo in the film. WA-HOO-WA!

But as I said earlier despite this (unfair) comparison, Pitch Perfect ultimately strikes the right note.

 

 

‘Austen-tacious’ Adaptation: Mansfield Park (1999)

Okay so playing on the words audacious and ostentatious may be a little much – let’s just say that the 1999 adaptation of Austen’s Mansfield Park is certainly a different take on the piece.

However, if taken exclusively on its own merit, I found it an engaging and entertaining viewing experience. Normally, I am a little sensitive (and critical) of the cinematic liberties taken with books that I cherish (e.g., 1940 MGM Pride and Prejudice). But for some reason, probably because it was so well executed, Mansfield Park receives a special dispensation in my book.

Plot-wise, the film version is more ‘loosely based on’ than a facsimile of the source material; in the end, the finished product comes across as more of a social justice commentary/female empowerment piece, as envisioned by writer/director Patricia Rozema (Kit Kittredge: An American GirlGrey Gardens).

The principal cast features Frances O’Connor (Fanny Price), Embeth Davitz (Mary Crawford), Lindsay Duncan (in dual roles of Mrs. Price and Lady Bertram), Alessandro Nivola (Henry Crawford), Jonny Lee Miller (Edmund Bertram) and Harold Pinter (Lord Bertram).

The basic fact that Fanny Price is sent away from a life of poverty in Portsmouth to be brought up by her wealthy aunt and uncle is one element that remains intact from text to screen.

Also consistent is that within the household, Fanny holds an inferior position to that of her cousins (Tom, Edmund, Maria, Julia). Tom, Maria and Julia are spoiled and frivolous, but it is Edmund, the gentle soul whose calling is the church, who shows any kindness to Fanny.

However, unlike Austen’s shy and retiring Fanny, Rozema has made her Fanny witty, self-assured and one who gives her opinions very decidedly.  In many respects, these are aspects taken from the life of the author (Jane Austen) herself.

But I digress – back to the story. Years pass and Lord Bertram, must travel to Antigua on an urgent business matter. This event, combined with  the arrival of the worldly Crawfords (Mary and Henry), and the return of reckless Tom and his desire to put on a performance of Lovers’ Vows, throw Mansfield and its inhabitants’ into total chaos. Fanny is way in as all that is happening around her.

Aside from the changing of Fanny’s nature, another deviating element in this adaptation is the depiction of some social ills, as seen in Lady Bertram’s use of drugs and what some have described as a homoerotic element to the relationship between Mary Crawford and Fanny Price.

Perhaps the most pronounced, and startling insertion into the film is the subplot of the ills of slavery. This storyline finds its way into Mansfield’s drawing room conversations as well as serving as a means of dividing Tom Bertram and his father.

These modern touches to Mansfield Park may have turned some people off, but I for one, really enjoyed seeing a period piece with some contemporary ’embellishments;’ they were well written and convincingly delivered by the actors.

Have you seen this version of Mansfield Park? If so, what did you think of it?

Now on Video: Midnight in Paris (2011)

In the opening sequence of Midnight in Paris, we are introduced to the City of Lights via picture-postcard montage. Instead of finding this trite and cliché, quite the opposite happens … what we see is a love letter of sorts to a place that simultaneously inhabits the present, past and most importantly, our own imaginations.

The irony of course is that in a city known for love and romance is that the relationship between the main character Gil (as played by ‘Allen-in-Proxy’ Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) is anything BUT romantic. They are a couple with very different worldviews. When we first meet Gil, he is a struggling writer – struggling in the sense that he is a hack Hollywood writer who wants to be taken seriously as a novelist. His hope is that the move to Paris will inspire him, like those literary greats who have come before him – especially those of the Jazz Age, a period of time which he greatly admires.

After a night of drinking with Inez and a couple of her friends, he decides to traverse the city on his own; he soon finds himself lost and on the steps of an old church. Suddenly, the bell tolls midnight; this is when the magic begins …

A cab pulls up and Gil is taken away by cab to 1920’s Paris where he meets the Fitzgeralds (Scott and Zelda), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Dali among others.

He also finds love in the form of Adriana (portrayed by Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso’s muses.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald

This leaves Gil in an interesting predicament- torn between his present life and staying in the past. It basically seems that as his life in the ‘past’ is gaining momentum, his present life is falling to pieces. However, with a trip back to Adriana’s “ideal” era (1890s) comes a revelation that leads him to the following epiphany – while there is no harm in looking to the past with a sense of romance and nostalgia, be careful not to inhabit it for the sake of the present. Be sure to relish the here and now – it is the time that matters most.

How this stacks up against Allen’s best work is something that I am not prepared to do. I never considered myself a Woody Allen devotee, having only really discovered him in the latter portion of his career. On balance, the results for me have been mixed at best. In the case of Midnight in Paris, I would say that it probably ranks among one of my favorites during this period of his work. Allen really seemed to capture the spirit of the time.

Among the actors the performances that stood out for me were that of Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen. It is a credit to their craft that I found them to be so obnoxious. In the case of McAdams’ Inez, one may even wonder how the likes of Gil ended up with her in the first place.

One detail in the film that I found interesting was the introduction of the ‘icons of the Jazz Age.’ At times I felt it was a roll call of sorts … just to be sure the audience knew who they were. This is a minor quibble at best and did not take away from my enjoyment of the film at all.

In the end, Midnight in Paris can be summed up as a beautiful, fantastic trip around a magnificent city.


Midnight in Paris is currently available on DVD and BluRay.

 

New Criterion Releases

Truth be told, besides my recent purchase of the Limited Edition of the Complete Harry Potter (I know I should have waited), I have not purchased too many video disks lately. Most of my home cinema viewing has been courtesy of Netflix and DVRed programming from cable.

But this week I decided to take a look and see what the Criterion Collection has on offer in the way of upcoming releases. Of this list, a couple of titles stood out as ‘possible’ purchases, including:

 

A Night to Remember (1958) directed by Roy Ward Baker. It is a ‘straight to the acts’ yet still dramatic retelling of the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic. When I first saw this film I was taken with the fact that there is no real star; it attempts to tell the story in almost a documentary style. This makes sense, because the film is based on a book that documented the first hand accounts of passengers who were aboard the ship. Release Date: March 27 2012

 

 

Box Set: David Lean Directs Noël Coward. This set looks awesome. It contains four movies including: Brief Encounter (1945, a personal favorite of mine), In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945). Of these titles the one film that I have not seen is This Happy Breed. I am strongly leaning towards making this purchase. Release Date: March 27 2012

 

 

 

An honorable mention goes to the Chris Marker double-bill of La Jetée/Sans Soleil (1963/1983). The noted work for me is the sci-fi film told via a series of stills, La Jetée. This film left such an impression with me when I first saw it in film class while at university; the time travel story was later adapted by Terry Gilliam in Twelve Monkeys. My main reservation when considering purchasing this disk is that the film that interests me most (La Jetée) is only 27 minutes long. That said, the travelogue Sans Soleil may be an interesting watch. Release Date: February 7 2012

 

As is standard, these titles have received the full ‘Criterion Treatment’ – they are chock-full of extras and supplemental materials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Could I Forget

I was reminded of another great Sidney Lumet film – again this is a film I saw in my religious studies course in high school (I think it was Freshman year).At the time I found it a little slow and plodding but upon reflection, it was a very good well-played courtroom drama.

Video Pick: 12 Angry Men (1957)

In memory of the life and work of Sidney Lumet who passed away last week, I decided to make my next video recommendation one of my favorites from his filmography. My reason for selecting this film is, that for me, it brings me back to a wonderful and equally frightening time in my life – my senior year in high school.

The time of my life was wonderful because I was actively partaking in the “rite of passage” of transitioning from being my parents’ daughter and yet, it was daunting and a little frightening because that meant I was taking a major first step into the wider world known as adulthood.

 


12 Angry Men | Movie Trailer | Review

 

What spoke to me above all else about 12 Angry Men was how the story unfolded and ultimately culminated in the triumph of the human conscience and the defeat of bias, prejudice and preconceptions. The film achieved this in a somewhat realistic and evenhanded way. It showed me in a way that we are all constantly in a battle with the angels of our better selves and that sometimes, they will prevail.

For an 17-18 year old who is about to enter this generally cynical world wishing to retain some level of “goodness” (or even to be able to define what that truly means), this message really spoke to me.  Ironically, this film was shown as part of our school’s “religious studies” curriculum; yet in spite of this, I feel like 12 Angry Men strips the notion of morality bare to an essential fundamental coda – in this hectic world, you still can listen to and act on that better part of yourself. A true life lesson indeed.

Movie Selection: The Snake Pit (1948) Starring Olivia de Havilland

Olivia deHavilland is one of my favorite actresses. While I was in high school I made it a personal goal to watch every film in her filmography. So far I am steady at 22 feature films. For me, of that set, one of her finest (if not the finest) performances is that of Virginia Cunnigham in Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit.

The audience is first introduced to Virginia when she has been recently hospitalized by her husband after suffering a nervous breakdown. We soon discover that the source of her breakdown is rooted in a series of events from the distant and recent past culminating in her recent episode.

The layers of her psyche are peeled away with the aid Doctor “Kik” (portrayed by Leo Genn) and his us he of psychotherapy.

There are many reasons to like this film in addition to merely being a fan of the lead actress. After doing a little research I discovered that this film shed light on the conditions of mental hospitals and consequently helped usher in reforms in many state mental health institutions. So it worked on a level beyond that of mere entertainment

With all the praise and the pleasure I have in watching the film, I must provide this caveat: by today’s standards some of the ideas about what may aid in “curing” Virginia may come across as partially laughable.

My favorite scenes: Ward 33 the shot showing Virginia in the “pit” and also nearer to the end the scene at the dance and the patient singing “I’m Going Home.”

Romantic Literature

It must be obvious to readers of this blog – I love romantic pictures .. especially those that are adapted beautifully from some great bits of literature. I was browsing the BBC America site this evening and followed this link:

http://bbcamerica.com/content/382/index.jsp

Mind you it is a Miramax advert for the upcoming DVD release Cherie starring Michelle Pfeiffer, it is something I thought you might like. Click on the images and read the short synopses of books and their novel adaptations.