Tag Archives: Sidney Poitier

Guess Who

Matt was excited to watch Ellen last week, a particular episode celebrating the 20th anniversary of her sitcom’s coming out episode. He and I reminisced on the episode and how very 90s it was in its approach to homosexuality. Last year we saw a movie at an LGBTQ film festival that felt very 90s in its approach, which really disappointed us. You would hope by this day in age that we no longer have to assure people that gay isn’t something you can catch, and that it doesn’t make you queer to support someone who is, and “tolerating” someone else’s sexuality is really pretty basic.

I just watched the equivalent in a movie about race, a film that feels miles out of date beyond its 2005 release. Guess Who is the inverse remake of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but without any of the thought or the grace.

Theresa (Zoe Saldana) brings her boyfriend home to meet the parents. She hasn’t told them that Simon (Ashton Kutcher) is white – and that turns out to be a bad gamble when 536_m1225688364dad Percy (Bernie Mac) goes ballistic. Not to say that there’s not friction about interracial relationships anymore; that’s clearly not the case. Jordan Peele had a thing or two to say about them in this year’s Get Out. But Guess Who is a dinosaur, an anachronistic way of looking at the world that’s cringe-worthy in its assumptions (it also manages to be misogynist and homophobic in its first 10 minutes). The only good thing to come out of it was Zoe Saldana, who has had a successful (and redeeming) career – and no one who’s seen this would say she hasn’t paid her dues. She’s paid in full.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner is a lot to live up to, and you don’t begin to do it with the likes of Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher, whose red kabbalah bracelet had to be digitally edited out of the movie to the tune of $100K. Starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, and Sidney Poitier, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner struck a nerve in America. Miscegenation laws were literally just being struck down (thanks to Loving!), and the film was still being shown in theatres when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated (which necessitated a quick edit of the film – one scene mentions him by name).

Compared to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was groundbreaking in its time, Guess Who lacks social relevance. It’s a dead fish. And it’s not even funny.

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Father-Daughter Movies

TMPFathers and daughters, a topic rife with the opportunity for Hallmark sap, hard to get right, but so rewarding when it strikes just the right chord. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for hosting another great Thursday Movie Picks theme, from two guys who are neither fathers nor daughters, and one fatherless daughter…because who better to judge?

 

Sean:

lethalweaponLethal Weapon – awarded to the whole series as a body of work. These movies are up-and-down but they are fun stupid films that keep adding more and more extraneous characters as sequelitis sets in. Luckily for me this week, Murtagh has a daughter that factors into the secondary drama of almost every movie, from possible love interest for Riggs in the first one, condom ad star in one of the middle ones, and baby mama to Chris Rock in the last one! And possibly more that I have forgotten. So on the list they all go just to be safe.

Taken – Liam Neeson’s tough old guy shtick started right here as far as I can tell, as the tough old dad of a coed “taken” by European gangsters. And like Liam says in the most awesome phone call ever made to a kidnapper, he uses his skills to track down all involved and kill them good. Spoiler alert: it seems that except for saving his daughter’s life he really hasn’t been a good father, but luckily there are sequels where as far as I know he saves her again, or saves his wife, or something. As usual, they should have stopped after the first one but instead really ran this concept into the ground and made me not care at all anymore.

Star Wars – so we don’t actually know at this point that Leia is Darth Vader’s daughter, and I’m pretty sure George Lucas did not have that plan or even the idea at any point when making this movie. As far as I can remember, though, this movie is the only one of the original 3 films in which this father and daughter “team” share a few scenes, so that’s why it makes the list over Return of the Jedi (where Leia actually learns who’s her daddy). Plus it’s such a classic movie! Even the terrible prequels couldn’t ruin it for me. So it makes the list. Can you tell I struggled this week?

Matt

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner- Back in December, I wrote a post describing Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracey)’s conflict with his own values. He raised his daughter (Katharine Houghton) right- no race is superior to another and anyone who thought they were was foolish and ignorant. Matt realizes he may have done a little too good a job when she brings home a charming black doctor played by the great Sidney Poitier whom she wants to marry. While this unexpected situatGuess who's Coming to Dinnerion may expose some hidden bigotry on Matt’s part, mostly he can’t help but admire his new son-in-law to be and mostly objects to the union because of the unimaginable challenges his daughter will surely be facing. Although he’d hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain, he eventually learns to let go and trust his daughter to be strong enough to face the world. The movie can’t help but show its age a little nearly fifty years later but not in the ways that count.

American Beauty- Lester and Jane Burnham (Kevin Spacey and Thora Birch)  aren’t as close as they used to be. In fact, she asks her boyfriend to kill her father in the first scene. Lester’s a little too busy with his middle-aged angst and Jane with her adolescent angst for the two to really connect and Lester only starts taking interest in her life when he develops an obsessive crush on her best friend. He may not deserve a World’s Best Dad mug but I love that his dying thoughts are of her and happy that she thinks she’s in love. Tragically, his last words to her are “You’d better watch yourself or you’re going to become a real bitch just like your mother”.

Kick-Ass- I have serious reservations about Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage)’s parenting style but, unlike Lester, at least he never forgets to tell his daughter (Chloe Moretz) that he loves her. It helps to have common interests. In this case, taking down the D’Amico family and enjoy the sweet taste of bloody revenge with their hot chocolate. Big DKick-Assaddy has turned Hit Girl into one foul-mouthed ass-kicking 11 year-old who knows how to take a shot to the chest.  Marcus may feel that Big Daddy owed his father a childhood but at least he died leaving his daughter the two most important things: the ability to take care of herself and the knowledge that her Daddy loves her.

Jay

The Descendants – This movie is so emotionally loaded and frought, it shreds me to pieces to watch it. Matt’s wife has just been fatally injured in a boat accident. She’s in a coma, waiting to die, while Matt runs around picking up all the pieces. Two really big pieces are his darling daughters who Matt bewilderingly tries to care for though he identifies only as the “back-up parent, the understudy”. The older daughter initially seems to be pretty hostile toward her father, but we soon see she’s really just covering for a secret she’s keeping from him. Turns out coma wife has been unfaithful. So Matt’s already confused and complicated relationships with his daughters become even more so, leaning on the elder for support and understanding, while trying desperately to shield the younger from the ugly truth about her mother as they all struggle to say goodbye amid the complications of anger and blame. Meanwhile, there’s another father-daughter relationship at play: that of coma wife, and her own dear dad, who copes with grief by putting his daughter on a pedestal and lashing out at all others, blaming not just Matt, but his own granddaughters, for his daughter’s not-quite-perfect life. It’s frustrating for we, the viewers, who know that his daughter is far from blameless, and even more difficult for Matt and the oldest daughter who manage to keep the truth to themselves in a show of compassion, allowing him to kiss his little girl goodbye with only the tenderest of feelings.

Crash – You may remember there are a kajillion intersecting plot lines in this movie, most involving some kind of racial prejudice, but I’ll always be thankful to this movie for introducing me to Michael Pena. He plays Daniel, a locksmith who gets cut absolutely no slack by any of his customers because he’s Hispanic, and this makes the white folk (like Sandra Bullock) jumpy. Even the Persian shop owner gives him hell, misunderstanding a bit about a broken door that needs to be replaced, assuming that the locksmith is trying to screw him over. After a hard day’s work, he goes home to a rough neighbourhood where his crazy-cute daughter is hiding under her bed, frightened by the gunfire overheard. He soothes her with a story about an invisible, impenetrable cloak that will keep her safe. When the Persian shop is re-vandalized, the owner gets himself a gun and blames the guy on the work order. He shows up at Daniel’s house and opens fire – just as the little girl jumps into her father’s arms. For a very long moment we – and they – fear that the girl has been shot, but actually, she has saved the day with her heroic magic cape. Okay, not actually true. The real saving grace? Another daughter – the Persian’s – who protected her father the only way she knew how – by loading his gun with blanks.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – Not a straight forward relationship by any means, it’s still clear that father Wink and daughter Hushpuppy have a relationship central to this story. His treatment of her sometimes seems neglectful, even brutal, but is actually pretty typical within the context of their fictional community where children are encouraged to roam free among the livestock and wildlife. In fact, her father’s occasional disappearances seem to be related to his ill-health more than his disinterest. His ways are rough, but he’s really just preparing her for a time when he’s no longer around, and she seeks his approval by being strong and independant – at the tender age of 6. When the big storm comes, he’s there, with a pair of water wings and a shotgun that he fires at the clouds, trying to chase them away and make his daughter feel better. When Wink’s time is almost up, he tries to find her a safe place to go, but she insists on returning to his side, witnessing his remaining heartbeats.

My father-daughter picks IN OUTER SPACE can be found here.

Cop Movies!

Sean

TMPThere’s nothing like cop week to get the dirty taste of dance movies out of your mouth! Thanks Wandering Through the Shelves for sponsoring yet another thoughtful Thursday theme, and for giving me the perfect excuse for subjecting my wife to all the explodey movies she normally turns her cute little nose up at.
badboys

Bad Boys: Mike & Marcus (Will Smith & Martin Lawrence) are two “loose cannon” cops, not to mention best friends, who spend so much time together they sound like an old married couple – the kind constantly threatening to get a divorce. But damn if they don’t pull together in times of trouble! Legend has it that this script was originally intended for Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey – now just imagine that movie for a minute, if you will.

heatHeat: Bank robbers start to feel “the heat” from cops when their latest robbery turns out to be a little sloppy. Lieutenant Al Pacino is on to them but Robert De Niro needs one last heist before he can retire (isn’t that always the way?). Then of course De Niro makes his fatal mistake – he goes against the golden rule ‘Never have anything in your life that you can’t walk out on in thirty seconds flat, if you spot the heat coming around the corner.’ Die-Hard-quotes-8

Die Hard: It’s Die Hard, what else do you have to say? It’s Christmas AND he’s off duty (plus he’s NYPD visiting LA), but John McClane (Bruce Willis) is still a bad-ass motherfucker who will single-handedly END YOU.

Jay

I watched a lot of cop movies this week and it turns out that a lot of my favourite jams just happen to have cops in them. Actually, if you look hard enough, probably there’s a cop or two in nearly every movie. There were cops in dance movie Billy Elliot, and cops in teen comedy Superbad, and more cops than you can shake a stick at in the black and white movies we watched a while back. They’re everywhere, even in outer space, but above all, they’re immediately below 🙂
Fargo Marge Gunderson is probably my favourite cop-hero of all time. She doesn’t do the ass-slide over the hoods of cars, she doesn’t use karate to subdue perps twice her size, and she doesn’t cause millions of dollars in damage as she careens her car wildly through populated city fargostreets. She’s just a quiet woman getting er done – you know, kind of like a real cop would do. Frances McDormand is crazy-talented, and I love watching her waddle through this movie with her quaint sense of humour, her helmet hair, the meals she shares with her husband. She doesn’t thump her chest or swing her dick around but she’s persistent and dogged and we enjoy watching her unravel this case – poor used car salesman Jerry (William H. Macy); he never really stood a chance against such a humbly formidable opponent.

The Departed This one is kind of on the other end of the spectrum, isn’t it? Two young cops join the force – one, Matt Damon, has a pristine record but works as a mole for mob boss Jack Nicholson. The other, Leonardo DiCaprio, comes from a rough background which helps him go deep under cover, infiltrating the gang, and feeding information back to the only two cops who thedepartedknow he’s actually a good guy – Martin Sheen and Mark Wahlberg. What ends up happening is that these two chase each other, relentlessly trying to uncover the mole while staying hidden themselves. It’s tense, degrading work, and losing means you pay with your life. Honestly, my favourite cop is probably the one played by Mark Wahlberg. He just goes so off the hook, unpredictable, balls to the wall, you have to admire it. The ending leads me to believe that he’s not clean. But is he a disgruntled ex-cop gone rogue or is he somebody’s rat? Either way, “If a gun is pointed at you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a cop or a criminal.”

21 Jump Street Aaaaaand switching gears again, one of my favourite cop buddy movies of recent years, and probably ever (although, for the record, I also super love Hot Fuzz, and if Matt hadn’t jumped on it, I’d have tried my best to beat Sean to it).  This movie is self-referential and 21jumpstreetmocks the very genre it masters, but it’s never a mere homage. It’s smarter than a spoof, much like Hot Fuzz I suppose, and isn’t afraid to pay respect to its roots, embracing them even, and making them part of the fun. There’s never a moment when the film stops winking at us, trading in the cop movie clichés for cops in bike shorts doing slow-speed chases through grass, having cases thrown out on sad technicalities (“You have the right to remain an attorney.” – “Well, you DO have the right to be an attorney if you want to.”), bullet-riddled tankers that somehow fail to explode. I didn’t like Channing Tatum before this, and I still only like him in this (and I believe that includes the sequel) but for some reason the chemistry between he and Jonah Hill just really works.

Matt

As long as I can rembmer, I wanted to be a cop. I used to play cops and robbers in the schoolyard- usually with people who didn’t even know they were playing. When I was about to 12 I had to rethink my career goals when I realized that my eyesight wasn’t nearly good enough and would never be able to drive a car or see who I’m shooting at but the dream was fun while it lasted. I didn’t know much about police work back then but I did watch a lot of cop movies. Thanks to Wandering Through the Shelves for giving me an excuse to revisit them this week.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)- In the Heat of the Night is nearly 50 years old but its oepning scenes couldn’t be timelier. There’s been a murder in Sparta, Mississippi and the police go out and arrest the first black man they see. Of course, the suspect turns out to be an off-duty Philadelphia homicide detective who they call Mr. Tibbs. If Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger’s characters ever managed to become buddies, this wouIn the Heat of the Nightld have been a contender for the best cop buddy movie of all time. Instead, What we get instead is much more interesting- a classic that manages to say a lot about race relations in the deep South in a time where you had to pretty careful what you said about race in the deep South. Best of all, it never forgets to deliver an engaging murder mystery

Hot FuzzHot Fuzz (2007)– According to TV ads, Hot Fuzz is “from the guys who have watched every action movie ever made”. Satire works best when a writer understands its subject so Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg were smart enough to take aim at a genre that they clearly knew well- and loved! Pegg plays a big city cop witha love of police work who is paired with a smalltown cop with a love of police movies (espeically Bad Boys 2). You can feel the love for buddy movies in almost every scene as Wright does his best to recreate the look and feel of a mainstream action movie and filling it with unexpected laugh-out loud moments throughout. To me, this is still pegg and Wrse7enight’s funniest movie.

Se7en (1995)– Between Sean and I, we have three picks from 1995 – a year that seems to have been a golden age for cop movies. Unlike most movies about serial killers, the cops (played of course by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt)- not the killings- are the focus. Freeman, days away from retirement, has lost faith in humanity long before John Doe’s first killing and Pitton his first week on the job, still believes he can make a difference. Over the course of one week and seven brutal killings, both men will have to examine their beliefs. Se7en also has the distinction of being the first film in director David Fincher’s twenty-year winning streak. The final “What’s in the box?” scene is so powerful that even Pitt’s overacting couldn’t derail it.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Matt and Christina Drayton (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn)’s daughter has come home from university with some exciting news: She’s met a guy! She’s only known him for 10 days but she thinks she’s in love and would like to get married. They’ve never seen her so happy so, even though this is pretty sudden, this is great news. What’s his name? Dr. John Prentice. Oooohh, a doctor? What’s he like? Well, Mom and Dad,  There’s just one little thing. It’s not a big deal but you might want to sit down. He’s, well, he’s black.

You probably still could pull enough drama out of this concept to make a movie today but, in 1967, no one else had really tried to make a movie about inter-racial marraiges in a positive light. Hell, it was even still illegal in 14 states when they started filming. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was a huge success, disproving the conventional wisdom of major studios at the time that films with black actors and black themes would not be interesting to mainstream audiences. It was also nominated for 10 Oscars. But how does it hold up today?

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner has been the subject of some controversey in recent years. Both Herman Koch’s novel The Dinner (read it if you get the chance) and Lee Daniels’ The Butler feature impassioned dinner table debates over the film’s message. Dr. Prentice is played by the great Sidney Poitier as polite, well-spoken, and successful. Of course her parents learn to love him, modern haters claim. Prentice is as non-threatening as can be, with some criticizing the character as too “assimilated” or even “too white”.

I will not address these criticisms except to suggest that they may miss the point. This was a pretty forward-thinking movie for 1967 but it was still 1967 and it was made with a white audience in mind and it’s what’s going on with Tracy and Hepburn’s characters that make things interesting. A less interesting movie would have potrayed them as a couple of overt bigots, leaving it up to Poitier’s character to shatter their prejudices. Instead, Matt and Christina are San Fransisco intellectuals ( he runs a newspaper, she runs an art gallery) and self-appointed liberals. Matt’s daughter describes him as a “life-long liberal who has spent his entire life fighting discrimination”. But what happens when a black man asks him for his daughter’s hand in marraige? One friend of the family watches the whole drama with amusement, “watching a broken-down phony liberal come face-to-face with his principles”.

The haters aren’t wrong. It is dated. The music is corny, the backyard scenes are so obviously filmed on a set that it’s almost hilarious, and a couple of scenes are just plain silly. But the dilemma that Matt and Christina face still rings true. Spencer Tracy is especially compelling as he lashes out at everyone, angry mostly at himself as he comes to realize that maybe he wasn’t as enlightened as he thought, now that he himself has to make the changes that he keeps insisting America must make. Maybe because Poitier has such screen-presence, it can be easy to put the focus on Dr. Prentice but the film’s main struggle is really between the Drayton’s and their own values. Watching this unfold is what makes Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner a Hollywood classic, one that I make a point of revisiting every couple of years and that will endure long after we’ve all forgotten about Lee Daniels’ The Butler.