Atticus Finch and #FatherDaughterGoals

In the wake of Harper Lee’s death this morning, I thought it’d be a good time to talk about a film that’s pretty up there on my list of favorites.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why is this girl talking about that book/movie I was forced to read/watch multiple times throughout my educational career? Well, that’s how I used to feel too. I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in middle school and I remember mostly skimming the book and then looking it up on sparks notes – C’mon, we all did it at one time or another! A few years later, when I was in high school, I was assigned to read the book again. This time, I decided to actually read it and promptly, fell in love.

I had seen the movie before I had heard anything about the book. I didn’t remember too much about it, but having fallen in love with the book, I felt like the film required a second viewing. I watched it with my dad and I’m not ashamed to say that by the end, I was tearing up a little. Well, I mean if we’re being honest, I was balling. It instantly became one of my favorite movies. It had all the things I love: great acting, coming of age fun and a story that really meant something.

So, here is my plea to you if you’re not in love with it. Give it another chance. Just because it’s a staple, we seem to discount it and forget just how powerful and poignant it  still is. And, of course, sadly, many of the racial tensions it comments on are still alive and well in our country today.

Here are just a few things you’ll miss by not watching To Kill a Mockingbird:

GREGORY PECK GIVES AN OSCAR WORTHY PERFORMANCE

I love Gregory Peck and before I really became obsessed with To Kill a Mockingbird, I knew him mostly from Roman Holiday in which he is fantastic. But Mockingbird introduced me to a different Gregory Peck, a more resolute, calm, and infinitely wise one. The scenes between him and his on-screen daughter, Scout (Mary Badham) should be required viewing for…well, everyone.

Here’s a little throwback to his 1963 Oscar Speech:

 

THE FILM’S SCORE IS ONE OF THE BEST EVER WRITTEN

As I’ve said before, music can have an enormous impact on a film. If it’s the right score, the music almost acts as another character. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein’s score is inextricable from the film’s themes and characters. When I saw the film in theaters a few years ago at the TCM Film Festival, the open sequence almost made me tear up — mostly because of the music. Watch and I think you’ll agree:

 

IT’S ONE OF THE BEST COURTROOM DRAMAS EVER MADE

The courtroom scenes in this film have major tension. And the performances of Brock Peters and Collin Wilcox Paxton are a huge part of that. They’re understated and intense. Gripping and thought provoking. And the film certainly inspired all the courtroom dramas that came after.

 

IT’S ABOUT SOMETHING

This seems almost ridiculous to say because all films should be about something. But, this film in particular just comments on so many things so beautifully. It’s about growing up, it’s about the south, it’s about the depression, it’s about civil rights, it’s about humanity.

 

AND IT ACHIEVES MAJOR #FatherDaughterGoals

This movie will always hold a special place in my heart if only because I shared it with my dad. The film is about a father and his children, but I, of course, always related to Scout, being a girl. I’m lucky that my dad has a lot in common with Atticus Finch.

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If you haven’t seen it or if you have, but were too young to appreciate it, then I urge you to give it another shot. If you have any problems with it, you can take it up with me!!

Vintage trailer below…

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Why I Now Appreciate Mike Nichol’s “Working Girl”

Now, this is not a joke. I grew up making fun of Mike Nichol’s 1988 film, Working Girl. As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, my mom and I don’t always see eye to eye, movie taste-wise. And as a kid, I saw this film over and over and over again. My brothers and dad routinely poked fun at the film, much to my mom’s chagrin.

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I didn’t understand why my mom would keep coming back to it. She knew what was going to happen. She knew where the bony ass line was…even though she could never correctly quote it. When I was in my last semester of college, I came across the film while searching for something to watch – procrastination at its finest. I almost went past it, but, looking for something I could watch while pretending to study, I thought Working Girl would be just innocuous enough to work.

I. WAS. WRONG. I got absolutely no studying done that day – not even pretend studying. I was too busy watching Working Girl, really watching it for the first time and I found myself relating to it….A LOT. That semester, I had been interning at a company and essentially been an assistant to the assistants working there. I know it’s not the only reason I saw the film in a new light, but it certainly helped. I was Melanie Griffith’s character Tess McGill, ultra driven and a little bit naive. I don’t think I’d ever have the gumption to go where she goes in the film, but I could certainly see why she made the choices she made.

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For those who don’t know the film, Working Girl follows Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith), a driven secretary who thinks she’s found the perfect position. Her boss is a woman, Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) who says she wants Tess’s ideas and that she wants to help her get where she wants to go. However, when Katherine breaks her leg in a skiing accident, Tess finds out that Katherine intends to purport one of Tess’s ideas as her own. As such, Tess takes matters into her own hands, pretending to have her boss’s job. She meets Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) who helps her start to make the deal and also maybe falls in love with her…

The film is interesting in the lens of the current discussion of feminism in this country, of the wage gap and truly equal rights for women. Tess McGill’s predicament is still relevant today, sadly. The film is really about her empowerment and her realization that if you want something, you sometimes have to take it without being asked. She has to work to be taken seriously and her boyfriend at the beginning of the film, played by Alec Baldwin, doesn’t seem to understand that.

There are many reasons I love this film as just pure entertainment. The performances are wonderful. Whoever got Harrison Ford involved, kudos to you! He is truly at his swoon worthiest – equal parts tough and lovably vulnerable. If you need evidence…

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I was never Melanie Griffith’s biggest fan, but I’ve since come around to her in this film. As Tess McGill, she is all of us.

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Sigourney Weaver should really get an award for being such a lovable bitch in this film. She makes you laugh and pisses you off at the same time. Quite a feat.

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And not many people mention her, but Joan Cusack is also fabulous. She plays Tess’s friend and though she wears WAY TOO MUCH makeup, she’s still the Joan we all know and love!

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Side note – Kevin Spacey is in one scene as a coke addled wall street guy trying to take advantage of Tess. Let’s just say he makes the most of it.

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Additionally, I love the music of this film. I used to be turned off by how 80’s it all was, but now I can’t help feeling elated, listening to “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon. I don’t want to give away the end of the film if you’ve never seen it, but let me just say, you’ll feel good. Check out Carly’s music video for the film:

If you’ve never seen this film or you’ve just discounted it as I did for many years, I’d consider giving it another chance. I think this film does require some experience and maturity to fully appreciate. It’s become a favorite of mine and now, years later, I can apologize to my mom and finally say, I understand why you watched it to death. And now, we can watch it together.

The only criticism I might make of the film is that they made Jack Trainor way too perfect. He set unrealistic standards for all men everywhere. Not that I didn’t love it…

Vintage trailer below:

 

The Merits of “Gone With the Wind”

Fiddle Dee-dee!

This last weekend, I attended the American Cinematheque’s annual screening of Gone With the Wind. Before the film, James Curtis, the author of William Cameron Menzies: The Shape of Things to Come, congratulated us. Why? He told us that although there’s been a lot of talk about Star Wars: The Force Awakens taking the #1 box office success crown, that is not in any way accurate, when you factor in inflation. With inflation, The Force Awakens is #14 and #1 is still Gone With the Wind. And we who attended the Aero Theatre on Saturday night were the most recent people to contribute to that figure.

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I was so happy to see that Gone With the Wind attracted such a large crowd. The theater was almost completely full and that made the experience so much more enjoyable. Gone with the Wind isn’t just meant to be seen on the big screen; it’s meant to be experienced with a full audience. I first saw the film a few years ago when it was shown at the TCM Film Festival. I remember that I didn’t want to go. It was between Gone with the Wind and something else I can’t recall. My dad and I argued, but he ultimately convinced me that I should give it a chance.

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I saw it in Grauman’s Chinese theater with a completely full audience and had the time of my life. It was one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a theater. I was genuinely surprised at the depth of the characters and the grey moral area they were treading. And funnily enough, I loved the script. The reason I say it’s funny is that the project went through many writers – so many writers that it’s a miracle the film is coherent. Somehow, despite all the obstacles, everything came together on this film.

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There are many moments in Gone with the Wind that are controversial. Before I even attended this last weekend’s screening, a friend had commented on my Facebook post, calling the film racist. She wasn’t wrong. The portrayals of the slaves in the film are very stereotypical and not very nuanced – they were “happy slaves.” However, I do believe that you need to look at films in the context of when they were made. While the roles for these African American actors could have and should have been better, at least Gone with the Wind was giving them roles. And of course, Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy, was the first African American woman to win an Academy Award.

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Additionally, there are many moments in the film that are morally ambiguous. Rhett basically raping Scarlett is one of those moments. There are uncomfortable moments in the film and I’m astonished that they got past the censors of the day. However, moral ambiguity makes for interesting characters because people are complex. They don’t just do things for one reason.

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Scarlett, though she’s a horrible person for much of the film, is very complex. I actually find her a very tragic character because she’s so passionate about what she wants and will do anything she can to get it, but she’s ultimately reaching for something that doesn’t exist. When she finally realizes what she does want, which is Rhett, it’s too late. There’s a scene in the film where she tells Rhett all the reasons why she’s going to hell. It makes you see Scarlett in a different light. She understands on some level that she’s done wrong, but not enough to put someone else’s needs in front of her own.

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The cast really makes the movie. Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Olivia De Havilland sell the story. Clark Gable did not even want to be in the film though, calling it a “woman’s picture.” It would be very hard to imagine it without him. Vivien Leigh beat out every young actress of the time for this role. She put everything she had into this part and her performance is enough reason to watch the film. Olivia de Havilland is also wonderful in the film, the only character who is completely sympathetic (although Melanie, her character, did marry her cousin. Ew!).

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My dad told me one of the things he thought didn’t work in the film was the casting of Leslie Howard as Ashley. Leslie Howard actually hated the part; he thought he was too old for Ashley. I actually don’t mind him though because I think it makes Scarlett’s wanting of him even more hilarious. She’s so blind to her own feelings and of what would make her most happy.

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Also, the music of the film is pretty incredible. Max Steiner wrote an unbelievably beautiful and sweeping score. It’s intrinsically connected to the film. You can’t have one without the other.

There are so many stories behind this film and I really recommend watching the documentaries included on the Special Edition DVD. Honestly, the making of this film is probably more interesting than the film itself. It was a true epic; the last of its kind made is probably Titanic. It appealed to audiences because it had a little something for everyone. How many films can you say that about today?

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If you have the chance to see this film in a theater, I would urge you to do so! It’s a totally different experience and you can’t fully appreciate the film on a television or god forbid, a computer screen.

75th Anniversary Trailer below…