Something Better

A Raisin in the Sun (2008) is just as palpable as it was in 1959 or 1961. There was a 1989 TV movie with Danny Glover, but that was technically part of the American Playhouse TV series. Though A Raisin in the Sun (2008) is also a TV movie, it was originally shown at Sundance before airing on ABC. This time it was me that saw part of this version in school. We learned about the original play, but I don’t recall finishing the movie. A Raisin in the Sun (2008) has the same cast as the 2004 Broadway revival. Similar to the 1961 film, except this version feels more like a movie than a play put to film.

The script is mostly the same, but there’s more white people, racial tension, and a bit more from the Younger family outside of their cramped apartment. We see Walter Lee interact with his chauffeur employer, we see Lena leaving her job as a maid, we see Ruth seriously contemplate losing her baby, we see Beneatha attend college classes, and we even see young Travis talk to the mailman delivering their check. I was familiar with everyone in the predominantly black cast. They even got Morgan Freeman to do brief narration.

Sean Combs has proven himself as a dramatic actor, but it’s still weird seeing him in a period setting. Sanaa Lathan and Audra McDonald are just as committed as Walter Lee’s sister and wife respectively. I’m not used to seeing Phylicia Rashad as a grandmother, but she gives her all to the part. There’s also Bill Nunn as Bobo, Ron Cephas Jones as Willy, and Sean Patrick Thomas as George. I was especially impressed with David Oyelowo as Beneatha’s African suitor Asagai. John Stamos is an interesting choice to play Lindner, but he manages to be unlikable. The message in A Raisin in the Sun (2008) is the same, just with a little added intensity and realism.

A Raisin in the Sun 2008

The Younger’s meet with Mr. Lindner

Remake of: A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

A Dream Deferred

A Raisin in the Sun is all about the American dream from the perspective of an African American family. Lorraine Hansberry became the youngest playwright and the first black woman to have a play performed on Broadway. A Raisin in the Sun had a predominantly black cast that was pretty unheard of at the time. The 1961 film maintains the entire Broadway cast including Sidney Poitier. Although this was the first majority black movie I’ve seen with Poitier, it was actually my brother who recommended it after seeing most of it in school. A Raisin in the Sun refers to a poem by Langston Hughes who asked “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

The Younger family live in a cramped apartment in the Southside of Chicago, but they all have big dreams. Poitier plays the money obsessed father Walter Lee who wants a business of his own where he no longer has to serve anyone. A young Ruby Dee plays his longsuffering pregnant wife Ruth and Diana Sands plays his opinionated sister Beneatha who can’t decide what she wants to do with her life. Their young son Travis is played by newcomer Stephen Perry since the original actor was probably too old. Poitier was nominated for a Golden Globe and so was Claudia McNeil. I was especially impressed by McNeil who manages to hold the family together as the strong-willed matriarch Lena. The conflict of the movie comes when Lena receives a $10,000 insurance check from her late husband.

A Raisin in the Sun deals with all sorts of problems from a black perspective, but they’re just like any other family that wants more. Ivan Dixon is Beneatha’s African suitor Asagai who embraces their heritage and Louis Gossett Jr. is her wealthier suitor George who sees no problem in their community. This was actually the first film role for the future Oscar winner. Despite his pride and opposition, Walter embraces his mother’s decision to use the money for a house. Though the movie was directed by Daniel Petrie, the only white actor in the cast is the meek John Fiedler as Mark Lindner, a representative of their all-white neighborhood who asks them to reconsider. Walter’s final speech about finding a better life is a must watch for any race. A Raisin in the Sun has aged very well.

A Raisin in the Sun 1961

The Younger family

Chained Together

The Defiant Ones defies social conventions of the time. The late great Sidney Poitier made history as the first black actor nominated for Best Actor. My mom has recommended many Poitier films, but I always knew I needed to see The Defiant Ones. The clever premise examines what happens when a black man and a white man are chained together in the deep South. The theme of racial tension is fitting for director Stanley Kramer. If not for Gigi, The Defiant Ones would’ve had the best chance of winning Best Picture or Best Director. Best Cinematography – Black-and-White was deserving for finding beauty in the Southern swamps.

Best Original Screenplay was deserving since the movie hinges on the complex relationship between both escaped prisoners. Poitier was nominated for Best Actor alongside Tony Curtis who knew they both deserved top-billing. The black Noah Cullen and white John โ€œJokerโ€ Jackson are equals who clash before and after their prison truck crashes. Their chain forces them to cooperate, but the more they stay together, the more they grow to respect each other. Only Poitier could pull off a believable interracial friendship in 1958. Though Curtis deserves just as much admiration for his commitment.

Theodore Bikel was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor as the Sheriff who tirelessly hunts them down with the aid of bloodhounds. This was the last movie role for Alfalfa actor Carl Switzer before his untimely death. Lon Chaney Jr. notably plays a townsperson who stops a lynch mob and lets the men escape. They eventually find a mother and son who finally help them break their chains. Cara Williams is the only woman in the movie who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress since she forms an unhealthy romance with Joker. Despite being free, it was heartwarming to see Cullen and Joker continue to help each other till the end. Cullen singing “Long Gone” is the greatest act of defiance. The Defiant Ones is a simple drama that’s been replicated, but never duplicated.

The Defiant Ones

Cullen carries Joker through the swamp

My Extraordinary Ordinary Life

About Time is the feel good time travel movie of the 21st century. It’s about time I watched the movie. I’ve been curious to see About Time ever since I stumbled upon the trailer back in 2013. About Time is about one man’s journey to find happiness in his ordinary life. Third time director Richard Curtis is known for sentimental British romance. Domhnall Gleeson is a fitting romantic lead who plays the nervous Tim Lake. Tim has a perfectly loving family that includes his caring father James, mother Mary, confused Uncle Desmond, and fairy-like sister Kit Kat. Bill Nighy plays Tim’s father who very casually tells him all the men in their family can travel back in time.

Unlike most time travel movies, Tim can only go backwards in his own life by clenching his fists in a dark room. Unlike most romantic movies, About Time is refreshingly simple with very little conflict and no forced break ups. Tim just wants to get a girlfriend. So he improves his life similar to a time loop movie if it took place on more than one day. This is technically the earliest I’ve seen Margot Robbie as the first girl Tim fails to romance no matter how many chances he gets. This was also the earliest I’ve seen Vanessa Kirby. Tim eventually uses his power to help people like his jaded playwright flatmate played by Tom Hollander. His play sadly features Richard Griffiths in his final role.

Tim eventually falls for Mary played by the lovely American Rachel McAdams. Every attempt to woo Mary feels earned since they initially felt a connection without the use of time travel. Their relationship is genuine and heartfelt. About Time is honestly one of my new favorite genre-bending movies. Characters are hilarious beginning to end, the soundtrack is smashing, and I was so moved that I ended up crying. The only conflict is Tim realizing time travel can’t fix everything in his life. So he eventually learns from his dad that the key to happiness is appreciating life. About Time is a criminally underrated unconventional love story.

About Time

Tim and Mary as newlyweds

A Whale of a Tale

Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove has nothing to do with the original trilogy. It’s a direct-to-video reboot made 13 years later. Aside from name recognition, there’s no reason to call it Free Willy. I think it was only made to be a starring vehicle for Bindi Irwin, daughter of beloved Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. Escape from Pirate’s Cove is filled with animals other than the titular killer whale.

Willy is now a baby orca who gets separated from his pod. The movie once again sticks to animatronics and lower quality CGI. Kirra is an Australian girl sent to live with her grandpa in South Africa. Normally I’d be against movies like this, but Bindi is as much of a star as her late father. Kirra’s bond with Willy feels like the best way to carry on his legacy. Of course it helps to have veteran actor Beau Bridges in it.

I can respect the reboot for not just repeating what made the original movie so good. Willy becomes the star attraction at a pirate themed amusement park and a competing park owner is the greedy businessman. Kirra enlists the help of her reluctant grandpa, his park assistant, and an African boy to free Willy. There’s no big jump, just Willy being returned to his pod. Though I’m not sure the sentiment works as well after the failure to rehabilitate Keiko. Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove kept a family tradition alive.

Free Willy Escape form Pirate's Cove

Kirra says goodbye to Willy

Reboot of: Free Willy

The Whalers

Free Willy 3: The Rescue ends the unnecessary trilogy of the freed killer whale. It was dedicated to the real life rehabilitation of Keiko, but the famous orca died not long after his release. Although it was a noble cause, I don’t think anyone was asking for another Free Willy movie every 2 years. The quality began to dip with each passing entry. I can appreciate the animatronics, but Free Willy 3 feels cheap compared to the other movies. They couldn’t even afford a new Michael Jackson song.

Jason James Richter and August Schellenberg are the only returning cast members. The parents don’t appear and neither does Jesse’s half-brother from the second movie. Jesse is now working with Randolph on a research boat. Annie Corley is an unlikable researcher who fills the role of previous female companions. Since Jesse is now 16, child actor Vincent Berry represents the target demographic. Max is another bland kid who can’t compare to the original.

Willy finds a mate, but his pod is now threatened by whalers. Free Willy 3 makes the misguided decision to focus mostly on the bad guys. Rather than the usual greedy businessman, Patrick Kilpatrick is a single-minded whaler who hunts the orcas like Moby Dick. Since Max is the whaler’s son, most of the sequel is about him trying to change his father’s perspective. The life and death story wasn’t enough to keep the movie from tanking at the box-office. Free Willy 3 is all out of fresh ideas.

Free Willy 3

Jesse helps Willy

Preceded by: Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home

Save the Whales

Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home continues the story of the titular killer whale. Despite the fact that Willy has already been freed, Free Willy was a big enough success to spawn a franchise. Similar to the Jaws franchise, except there was also an animated series between the first and second movie. Free Willy 2 picks up with an older teenage Jesse who’s been officially adopted by the Greenwoods. Jason James Richter returns alongside most of the original cast. August Schellenberg, Michael Madsen, and Jayne Atkinson have expanded roles, but Lori Petty was busy swimming around a very different tank (girl).

Mykelti Williamson is mostly a glorified cameo who introduces a younger brother into the movie. Francis Capra plays Jesse’s annoying half-brother Elvis who essentially serves the same purpose Jesse once did. Though his connection to their late mother does bring some heart into the unnecessary sequel. Free Willy 2 does have the same effort put into it. Along with another less memorable Michael Jackson song called “Childhood.” Since Keiko was in the process of being freed, Willy is entirely animatronic along with his orca family Luna and Littlespot.

Jesse reconnects with Willy on a camping trip. Mary Kate Schellhardt plays Jesse’s girl Nadine that he impresses with his knowledge. Conflict only arrives when a carless company causes an oil spill. Without Petty, Elizabeth Peรฑa plays a different well-meaning whale doctor. Jon Tenney is the new greedy businessman and M. Emmet Walsh is a whaler who seek to profit off the orcas. Willy and his pod evade captivitivity, but it’s not as satisfying as his first big jump. So they add an oil fire just to build tension. Free Willy 2 is mostly an excuse to catch up with our whale friend.

Free Willy 2

Jesse meets Willy’s family

Preceded by: Free Willy & Followed by: Free Willy 3: The Rescue

A Boy and his Whale

Free Willy did for killer whales what Jaws did for sharks. There isn’t a single 90’s kid who doesn’t know the iconic image of a whale leaping over a boy. Free Willy is a quintessential animal movie, but I surprisingly never watched it when I was younger. Only Simpsons parodies and other media references. Since I already knew the ending, I guess I didn’t feel the need to watch the movie. Even though a movie called Free Willy has an obvious outcome, I needed to see everything in context. Free Willy has a lot of effort put into it for a family film. It’s nearly 2 hours with widescreen, Lauren Shuler Donner as producer, and an original song from Michael Jackson. “Will You Be There” is a sincere anthem that supports the film’s environmental message.

Willy is an orca ripped away from his pod and held in captivity at the Northwest Adventure Park (an obvious stand in for Sea World). Jesse is a troublemaking orphan who ends up working at the park as punishment for graffiti. Jesse and Willy are two lonely creatures who form a touching bond. Newcomer Jason James Richter is as good as the rest of the impressive cast. Jayne Atkinson and a less intimidating Michael Madsen are Jesse’s foster parents who attempt to connect with him. Before he was Bubba, Mykelti Williamson was Jesse’s well meaning social worker. Since it’s a 90’s movie, August Schellenberg is Jesse’s wise Native American mentor. Lori Petty continues her winning streak as a park trainer who helps Jesse train Willy to do tricks.

Even future screenwriter Michael Bacall and Halloween “scream queen” Danielle Harris have a small part in the movie. Richard Riehle and a non-Military Michael Ironside are greedy businessmen who seek to profit off Willy. When the killer whale grows increasingly homesick, they finally decide to free Willy. Seeing the big jump was more emotional than I was expecting. Willy is part animatronic, part orca actor Keiko. It’s honestly hard to tell the difference, especially when the final scene uses CGI. Free Willy was a major success that led to the real life release of Keiko into the wild. Sadly, Keiko didn’t have the happy ending that Willy had. Nevertheless, Free Willy is an inspiring whale tale.

Free Willy

Willy leaps over Jesse

Followed by: Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home

Is Greed Good?

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is just as relevant in 2010 as it was in 1987. Wall Street took place at the height of trading in 1985 and Money Never Sleeps takes place in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis. Making a sequel 23 years later is uncommon for a drama. Although Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas returned, Money Never Sleeps wasn’t the critical hit that the first movie was. It kind of came and went and I barely heard anything about it. Gordon Gekko is a rare Oscar winning role that Douglas manages to reprise about as well as the first movie.

Gekko is released from prison and the scene where he receives his 1980’s mobile phone is probably the best part of the movie. Everything else is a repeat with another mentor, mentee relationship that goes wrong. The equally troubled Shia LaBeouf replaces Charlie Sheen as the young stockbroker lead since he was inescapable at the time. Sheen does reprise his Bud Fox role, but it’s a distracting cameo between Two and Half Men episodes. Jake Moore invests in a clean energy program and has a relationship with Winnie Gekko.

Despite definitely having a son in the first movie, he’s already deceased in order to give Gekko a strained father-daughter relationship. The English Carey Mulligan puts on an American accent and tries a lot harder than Daryl Hannah. Since Gekko has a mostly believable redemptive arc, Josh Brolin is the replacement greedy businessman at odds with Jake. There’s also substantial roles for Susan Sarandon, Frank Langella, and Eli Wallach in his last film role. Donald Trump was supposed to cameo, but it would’ve been too distracting. Although there is effort put into it, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps nearly put me to sleep.

Wall Street Money Never Sleeps

Gordon Gekko, Jake Moore, and Bretton James attend a cocktail party

Preceded by: Wall Street

Greed, for Lack of a Better Word, is Good

Wall Street is the quintessential portrayal of 80’s greed. The 1980’s were known for money making schemes and giant brick phones. After the success of Platoon, director Oliver Stone chose an equally cutthroat battlefield to explore. Like Platoon, Stone drew inspiration from himself and his stockbroker father. I’m not the biggest Wall Street expert, but I understand how sleazy and underhanded it can get. Wall Street takes place in 1985 despite releasing in 1987 since insider trading was at an all time high at the time. Bud Fox is an aspiring New York City stockbroker who dreams of one day being as wealthy as businessman Gordon Gekko. Despite his reputation as a producer, Michael Douglas was born to play the unscrupulous corporate raider.

Gekko is a different kind of villain who establishes trust, then betrays you for financial gain. Douglas truly earned his Best Actor Academy Award win with his famous speech that “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Wall Street inspired a generation of stockbrokers who lived by Gekko’s divisive motto. Though confusing at times, the passionate acting helped me understand stock trading better. Charlie Sheen is equally committed as Bud who becomes just as greedy as his mentor who exchanges insider information. Sheen is on the same acting level as his father Martin Sheen who represents the honest working class union. His father’s Bluestar airline is what leads to redemption for Bud.

Wall Street is filled with great performances from John C. McGinley, Hal Holbrook, Terence Stamp, and James Spader, but there is one outlier. Daryl Hannah truly earned her Worst Supporting Actress Razzie win as Bud’s material obsessed girlfriend. Hannah was nowhere near as committed as Douglas and everyone knew it. Even her Blade Runner co-star Sean Young wanted her fired. She practically reads all of her lines with no character. Making Wall Street the only movie with an Oscar and a Razzie to its name. Fortunately the Oscar caliber work overshadows the minor miscast. When it comes to corporate greed, Wall Street has all the answers for how not to make a quick buck.

Wall Street

Bud Fox at the office with Gordon Gekko

Followed by: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps