By Charles Chandler
There is a solid sheet of ice on my driveway and the City Sand Truck went flying by so it must be February in Newaygo County. Not to despair because we are walking this ole winter on out of here and spring is right around the corner. This has to be true because last Monday when fishing for winter steelhead on the Muskegon the Cardinals were singing.
The month of February is all about perspective and hope. We have Groundhog day with hope for an early spring. We have Valentine's day and for the guys, we hope we find that perfect card and gift for our sweeties. The great college basketball games are underway and all the coaches are hoping for a spot on the bracket that will take them to March Madness. One of my favorites February events is the Academy Awards Ceremony. This is the event where all the beautiful and talented people hope they get to walk up those stairs and grasp that small golden statue.
The year the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has nominated eight movies and the nominees are:
Kevin Feige, Producer
Sean McKittrick, Jason Blum, Raymond Mansfield, Jordan Peele, and Spike Lee, Producers
Graham King, Producer
Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday and Yorgos Lanthimos, Producers
Jim Burke, Charles B. Wessler, Brian Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Producers
Gabriela Rodríguez and Alfonso Cuarón, Producers
A STAR IS BORN
Bill Gerber, Bradley Cooper, and Lynette Howell Taylor, Producers
Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Adam McKay, and Kevin Messick, Producers
We are big movie fans and usually try to see about three or four of the nominees before the Academy Awards on February 24th. “The “Green Book”” was first up because this correspondent grew up in the segregated south and is all too familiar with the racism that is presented in this movie. I wanted to see how Hollywood would portray that Jim Crow world where an African American could be jailed for being in a particular town after dark. Another reason for choosing this movie first is because the subject is so timely and hopefully it is a reminder of our collective progress against racism. A supporting argument that we have made some progress is watching the State of Virginia’s leadership struggling with a political and moral crisis because Gov. Ralph Northam and the State's Attorney General, Mark Herring, admitted to wearing blackface for some college photos.
Many in the Academy and the movie industry have considerable expectations and hope for this movie and the cast. “The “Green Book” has already developed a serious resume, as it has received five Academy Award nominations, for best picture, best original screenplay, best editing, best lead actor (Mortensen) and best supporting actor (Mahershala Ali). Three wins, in the best comedy, best supporting actor and best screenplay categories at the Golden Globe Awards and won the Producers Guild's Darryl F. Zanuck Award for the top feature film of 2018.
Apparently the critics like this movie and by the box office count so do the fans.
“The Green Book” has a rating of PG-13 and is inspired by a true story. It is about a road trip that takes place around 1962. The movie begins in New York at the Copacabana nightclub where Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), works as a bouncer. Tony is a streetwise but lovable family man from a myopic and racist Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx. He appears to enjoy his job of pitching troublesome patrons out on their head. However, he is soon out of work as the famous night club closes for a little remodeling. This puts Tony on the street where he demonstrates he is a “standup guy” with strong family values. You see this when he pawns his watch and gives it to his beautiful and progressive wife (Linda Cardellini) for grocery money rather than taking a job “doing things” for the local mob.
Enter Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), a reclusive world-class pianist that lives in an opulent apartment over Carnegie Hall. “Doc” Shirley an African-American is about to set out on a concert tour through the Deep South where he’ll perform in concert halls, country clubs and private homes. He needs a driver, valet, and fixer and is aware of Tony Lip’s reputation. Sparks fly when these two polar opposites meet to work out the terms and conditions of Tony Lip’s employment. Soon they sort things out, load into a 1962 Cadillac Sedan Deville, are handed the “The “Green Book” and begin their road trip.
This famous “Green Book” is the guide that African Americans used to help them travel safely across a segregated and racist America. Ali brings elegance to the role and presents as a quiet sophisticated, driven man with and underlying vulnerability. Mortensen brings Tony the Lip alive as the very unsophisticated, chain smoking, presumptuous and streetwise New Yorker. Tony has a big appetite and prattles endlessly while he constantly mangles the English language. A match made in heaven.
Given my personal experience with the subject, I probably have too much baggage to give this movie an objective review. My expectations that Hollywood could use a Comedic Drama formula to cover the emotional and cultural depth of this event were unrealistic. In my humble opinion, I felt like I had already seen the movie. It felt like a mash-up of Driving Miss Daisy and the Odd Couple. The theme song for this movie should have been “Getting to Know You." There were way too many stereotypes and predictability for my liking. For example, seeing a white man driving an elegant African American down a narrow southern asphalt road in a Cadillac Sedan Deville eating fried chicken seemed a bit too much and would have been trolling for trouble during those days.
I also argue that the movie should have been for Adults Only rather than PG 13 because of the examples of the role models in the movie. Tony Lip is a lovable lug but he is also, a chain-smoking, functionally illiterate, pistol-packing, police hitting racist. (When will Hollywood say no to Big Tobacco?) Dr. Don Shirley is a recluse that doesn’t appear to fit in any world except on the concert stage.
And, who drinks a fifth of scotch every night and gets up and plays jazz and classical music the next day?
The scene where Tony Lip has to rescue a nude Doc from the cops down at the local ‘Y’ is complicated and would probably be a challenge to explain to a 13-year-old. Not addressed in that scene was the fact that The American Public Health Association mandated that from 1926 until 1962, males would swim in the nude, not only at YMCA, but also in thousands of high school pools around the country.
The name “Green Book” is a also a big red herring. Director Peter Farrelly, writers Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie missed a wonderful opportunity to stress how important the “Green Book” was to the African American Travelling Public.“From 1936 to 1967 this book was a most popular travel guide and by 1962 it included information on all 50 states and had a circulation of about 2 million people.
The “Green Book” was not just about lodging and restaurants. It was a survival guide and included information about Beauty shops, sanitariums, drug stores, haberdashers, liquor stores, nightclubs, gas stations, Sundown Towns and so one." Another example of misuse of the primary plot device was that Dr. Don Shirley only glanced at the “Green Book” and driver Tony L only used occasionally when trying to find lodging.
Further I feel that this movie is dated and has missed many opportunities to be a great movie. "After all we have had an African American President and the “Black Panther” a Marvel superhero has been a box office smash. I truly felt it was way behind the curve and its treatment of racism reflects the Academy’s ongoing challenges with voter diversity. However, it appears that a lot of Academy voters still like these types of period movies.
As stated earlier “The Green Book” has developed a serious resume and scored big wins at the Producers Guild and the Golden Globes. In the 29 years, the Producers Guild's award has correctly named the Best Picture Academy Award winner 21 times.
But enough from me already, it is February the month of hope. I hope this movie doesn’t get the award for Best Picture and also hope we have an early spring.
You go and see this movie and see what you think. A soft theater seat and a bag of warm popcorn is a great way to wait out this little February cold snap.
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