Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
Before March 17 when Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast arrives in theaters, Christian rights groups are calling for a boycott. The reason? The film features a gay character, LeFou, played by Josh Gad, who is the comedic sidekick to the village bully, Gaston, played by Luke Evans. According to news reports, Franklin Graham, son of evangelist preacher Billy Graham, called for the boycott in a Facebook post on March 2 saying, “They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children – watch out!” By Friday, March 3, when online reviews began to appear, Graham’s post had been shared 88,000 times and a drive in theater in Alabama said it will not screen the film. On Life Petitions, Christian groups are calling for people not only to boycott the film but to boycott anything Disney.
I saw the film on March 2 and posted my review the following day. (Click to read.) Like so many other reviews, mine was a rave, praising Director Bill Condon’s vision which resulted in a film that actually is better than the animated version. (Note that even in that film, LeFou’s sexual orientation was always a question.) LeFou and Gaston are now played by real actors and some of the dialogue does convey the thought that LeFou is attracted to Gaston. Yet those factors alone might not have created momentum for a boycott.
Our political environment has shifted dramatically since 1991 when the animated film premiered. We are currently living in a time when diversity is no longer acceptable. What is acceptable is singling out and vilifying those who are different. So gay people are now fair game and if some groups choose to use a Disney film to make their point, they will. Whether the boycott will be successful remains to be seen.
Most parents take their responsibilities seriously and quite rightly monitor what their children watch in movies, on TV, and on the Internet. But shielding a child from a film that makes a passing reference to being gay is not the right strategy. There’s so much going on in the film – music, special effects, dancing, etc. – that small children will be engaged and focus on the primary relationship between Belle and the Beast. But what if a child does ask about LeFou and Gaston? A teaching moment! That’s the time to have that conversation, dishing out as much information as is age appropriate. Unless a parent expects a child to never encounter a gay person in school, college, or in the workplace, avoiding these discussions not only is just plain wrong but will result in a young person being totally ill-equipped to manage in the world.
Of course, parents can put whatever spin they want on such a conversation. One would hope they would take a page from Pope Francis who famously said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gays. (In case anyone asks, the Pope is Christian.)
Top photo: Josh Gad and Luke Evans in Beauty and the Beast. Courtesy of Disney Pictures.
Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of six books for parents of young adolescents including The Roller-Coaster Years, Parenting 911, Cliques, and Boy Crazy! and Good Parents, Tough Times.
As a dog-walker, pet-sitter, and pet parent myself, I take more than a small interest in canines – in real life or on camera. From Rin-Tin-Tin, to Lassie, to Bear the crime fighting dog on Person of Interest, man’s best friend has always shone in Hollywood. Here are some of the best examples to make it to the silver screen.
Old Yeller (1957) This coming of age Disney drama was based on the Newberry award winning novel of the same name. In 1860’s post-Civil War Texas, Travis and Arliss befriend a lovable mutt they name “Old Yeller,” for his coloring. They have a series of adventures and Yeller saves the boys multiple times whilst becoming a beloved member of the family. But sadly, there’s that darn hydrophobia (aka rabies) out there… Warning this is generally considered one of the biggest tear-jerker films of all time, so stock up on Kleenex.
101 Dalmations(1961) We all know the story. When their puppies are kidnapped by the evil Cruella De Vil (one of the most memorable and iconic villains of all time) Dalmatian couple Pongo and Perdita set out to find them. Along the way they rescue over 84 other additional puppies as well. Hence the title. This animated adventure from Disney based on the 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmations by Dodie Smith was an instant classic. It was reissued in theatres four times in 1969, 1979,1985, and 1991 as well as being made into a live action remake in 1996.
Best in Show (2000) This mockumentary follows five entrants into a snooty dog show and the bizarre antics that follow. The antics in question are actually all on the part of the dog owners and human handlers – the dogs themselves are a lot more level-headed. The legendary Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman) starred, directed and co-wrote this hysterically funny comedy with Eugene Levy (Splash, American Pie), who starred as well. The cast is a plethora of comedic riches with mesmerizing turns by Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, Michael McKean, Jennifer Coolidge, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Michael McKean, and Catherine O’Hara.
My Dog Skip (2000) Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name. In the 1940s,Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz of Malcolm in the Middle and Agent Cody Banks) is a lonely nine year-old with a veteran father (Kevin Bacon) and extroverted mom (Diane Lane). The latter decides against the wishes of the former to give Willie a Jack Russell Terrier for his birthday. Willie names the dog Skip and he quickly becomes the best and most important friend of Willie’s childhood.
Eight Below (2006) Professor McClaren (Bruce Greenwood of Double Jeopardy and Star Trek) travels to a remote Antarctic base in search of a meteorite. Local guide Jerry (the late Paul Walker of The Fast and the Furious franchise) decides the only way to make the trip is via dog sled. McClaren gets his meteorite, but is injured in the process and Jerry’s sled dogs rescue him. Back at base, the humans are evacuated due to an incoming storm, but the dogs are left behind – and then the humans can’t come back. Which leaves eight beautiful, brave, and smart Huskies abandoned to survive by themselves for months on end in the harshest environment on earth. Thank god they are, after all, Huskies. Loosely based on true events that happened to an ill-fated Japanese expedition to the Antarctica, it received good reviews and was a box office hit.
Top photo from Bigstock
Winnie’s book, The Dog-Walking Diaries – A Year in the Life of an Autistic Dog-Walker, can be bought for the dog lover in your life by clicking here to purchase on Amazon.
If you wear a dress, and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess.
So the great Demi-god Maui (the one and only Dwayne Johnson) informs our titular heroine Moana (newcomer Auli’I Cravalho). And he is of course right. Moana is after all the Chief’s daughter and destined to rule her people making her royalty. Moreover, she’s the singing heroine of an animated Disney film, and that’s always automatic princess.
But Moana in other ways isn’t your typical princess. Being an Ancient Polynesian she never wears a gown, she lives in a hut rather than a castle, and there’s no prince on her horizons. In fact, she doesn’t even want one; Moana’s great dream is to sail beyond the Reef of her home island and reclaim her people’s history of voyaging. No Moana’s story is one of Adventure rather than Romance. She’s been Chosen by the very Ocean itself (depicted here as a living entity and fabulous character in its own right) to save her people from the growing darkness. Shape-shifting Demigod Maui, stole the heart of the earth goddess and loosed horrific monsters upon the world. Moana is set to make him return the heart and stop the threat. Maui takes some convincing. It’s the old couple pairing but Johnson’s hilarious portrayal of his cowardly lion/braggart demi-god and Cravalaho’s fresh earnest presence, find new joy in the formula.
And Disney has some creative tricks up its sleeve; twists and turns in the narrative that deepen the story, and visuals that can literally take your breath away. The color scheme of Moana is so rich and vibrant at times you can almost taste it, with the ocean waters incandescent. But then they find new ground as well in such techniques as Maui’s living tattoos that tell stories. A bioluminescent land of monsters with a giant bling-ed out Crab. A creature of living Lava and flame. It’s an embarrassment of riches that needs to be seen on the Big Screen. So this holiday season, take a break from the cold and dark and board Moana’s boat across the Polynesian islands.
Aloha! Disney’s next big animated epic Moana (featuring Dwayne Johnson as the famed Hawaiian God Maui himself) comes out November 23. Clever timing not only to release a family friendly movie around the holiday season, but also now that the weather’s getting darker and chillier to beguile audiences with one of the world’s dreamiest tropical location shots. In fact Hawaii has long been the setting for a wide variety of movies including the following.
From Here to Eternity(1953) Fred Zinneman (Oklahoma! High Noon, A Man For All Seasons) directed this adaption of the James Jones novel. The film follows the personal issues of three U.S soldiers stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to Pearl Harbor. The all-star cast sported Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra as the three men while Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed played the women in the their lives. The supporting cast included Ernest Borgnine, George Reeves, and Claude Akins, among others. Small wonder it was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and won eight including Best Picture, Best Director, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Frank Sinatra) and Supporting Actress (Donna Reed). It’s also now considered one of the best films ever made and the scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr on the beach is a cultural icon.
Blue Hawaii(1961) First and foremost among Elvis’s legendary Hawaiian films is this musical comedy. Chadwick Gates (Elvis) is a returning veteran whose mother Sarah Lee (Angela Lansbury) wants him to take over the family fruit company. Chad instead goes to work as a tour guide at his girlfriend Maile’s (Joan Blackman) travel agency. Reviews were mixed but the healthy box office receipts inspired the studio to send Elvis back to the Big Island for two more films Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise Hawaiian Style. Meanwhile the movie’s soundtrack spent twenty weeks at #1 on the Billboard Pop Album charts and was nominated for a Grammy as well.
The North Shore (1987) Rick Kane (Matt Adler of Flight of the Navigator and White Water Summer) is a teenage kid from Arizona who uses his winnings from a wave tank surfing contest to fly out to Hawaii in hopes of becoming a surfing pro. He quickly learns the real ocean is a lot different than a wave tank and he’s got a lot to learn. Fortunately he comes under the tutelage of legendary soul surfer Chandler (Gregory Harrison). The film has gone on to become a cult hit for its awesome surfing sequences and use of real life professional surfers like Corky Carroll, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, among many more.
Picture Bride(1995) Kayo Hatta directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Picture Bride with Mari Hatta. It follows a young woman named Riyo (Youki Kodho) who arrives in Hawaii as a “Picture Bride” for a man she’s never met before. To Riyo’s disappointment her intended Matsuji (Akira Takayama) turns out to be considerably older than she anticipated. Meanwhile, racial tensions and labor disputes are rife on the sugar plantation where Riyo and Matsuji work. Critically acclaimed with an over 80% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, it also won the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and was an Official Selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Descendants (2011) Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, Nebraska) directed this comedy-drama starring George Clooney and adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Land Baron Matt King (Clooney) is considering selling a land trust of 25,000 pristine acres his family owns on Kaui. While this is going on his wife Elizabeth is now in a coma because of a tragic boating accident and Matt is shocked to learn from his eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley in the role that launched her career) that his wife was having an affair. It won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay and two Golden Globe awards for Best Picture and Best Actor for Clooney.
Before Howard Ashman and Alan Menken hit pay dirt with Little Shop of Horrors, long before they became synonymous with reinvigorating Disney animated movies, 1979’s God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, based on the Kurt Vonnegut book, appeared briefly Off Broadway. Vonnegut’s sharp irreverence, couched first in science fiction, then as fantasy and finally as wry, humanist observation, was almost a rite of passage for a generation of smart young people enmeshed in alternative culture.
The author was older than many admirers, often referring to traumatic World War II experience beyond their ken, but shared with them a social conscience that emerged like a pendulum swinging between cynicism and idealism. This volume in particular might have been written by Bernie Sanders supporters.
Santino Fontana (Eliot)and the office staff
In the first minutes of the production, Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana) enters with a pratfall and haplessly donates $50,000 of his family’s foundation to a poet seeking immeasurably less.“Go and tell the truth,” he instructs the nonplussed writer. He’s devoted and he’s loaded/So we haven’t a complaint…sings his staff.
The Rosewater Foundation, created by Eliot’s U.S. Senator father (Clark Johnson) to help descendants avoid paying taxes on the estate, is based in New York City, not Rosewater, Indiana where the family manse stands empty. Though it’s “handled” by a large legal firm, Eliot has inherited control. He wears the crown uncomfortably and is often drunk. Obsessions include Volunteer Fire Departments (we learn why later) and a science fiction novelist named Kilgore Trout who is quoted and later appears as the voice of “real” sanity. (James Earl Jones). A psychiatrist deems Eliot incurable for reasons of not gratefully toeing the gilded line.
Despite, or perhaps because of, advantages, the young man couldn’t be more of thepeople. As written and expertly acted, Eliot seems like sweet, slightly obtuse Charlie Brown with an adult conscience. Equally uneasy in the upper echelon lifestyle curetted by loving wife Sylvia (Brynn O’Malley), frustration builds until our hero decides he must go in search of his destiny and disappears. Letters arrive from Hamlet to Ophelia, the escapee’s perception of himself and Sylvia. The other is Volunteer Fire Departments. We learn about this fixation later.
Skylar Astin (Norman Mushari)
Meanwhile, Norman Mushari (Skylar Astin), a young lawyer at the firm, learns of a codicil in the Rosewater Foundation set-up that states Eliot can be replaced by another family member if he’s proved mentally unstable. The ambitious associate recalls what his professors told him about getting ahead in law. “… just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.” One practically sees Eureka! flash over his head.
Leap-frogging Volunteer Fire Departments across the country (including a delightfully staged musical number), Eliot also has a eureka moment and returns to his depressed hometown. He opens the house, sets up an office, and becomes Rosewater’s defacto therapist and philanthropist (black telephone), as well as a member of the Volunteer Fire Department (red telephone.)
Brynn O’Malley (Sylvia) and the townspeople
We meet and compassionately hear from raggle-taggle citizens who grow to think of him as a Saint. Aspiring to be supportive, Sylvia arrives, and tries, how she tries to fit in! Eventually, however, his patrician spouse has a meltdown at a meticulously planned soiree when her guests prefer Cheese Nips to pate and coke to champagne. Brynn O’Malley’s deadpan apoplexy is as convincing as her love for and incomprehension of Eliot.
Kate Wetherhead (Caroline Rosewater), Kevin Del Aguila (Fred Rosewater)
While Eliot is altruistically fulfilling himself, Norman has found Fred (Kevin Del Aguila) and Caroline (Kate Wetherhead) Rosewater, in, wait for it, Pisquontuit, Rhode Island. The couple are bickering malcontents not adverse to swindling rich relatives. Both actors are marvelous in the deftly staged “Rhode Island Tango” and apple-pie-corny “Plain Clean Average Americans.” It appears to be a slam dunk, but of course, is not.
Narrative displays several signature Vonnegut themes, the familiar device of God-like narration (James Earl Jones), and characters found in other books by the author. Lack of this awareness in no way impedes enjoyment. There’s also a brief scene from one of Kilgore Trout’s space adventures – a disconnect, but very funny. Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics are literate, specific, and filled with heart. Alan Menken’s music is, well, fine. This was their first collaboration.
Santino Fontana, James Earl Jones (Kilgore Trout) and company members
Santino Fontana’s embodiment of Eliot is consistently engaging and sympathetic. Really, one wants to take him home to mom. The actor is completely natural and has an appealing voice.
Skylar Ashton (Norman Mushari), who looks too much like Fontana, is a solid player but could have more fun with numbers like “Mushari’s Waltz” in which his ballet seems restrained.
James Earl Jones literally lends resonance to the piece. His Kilgore Trout is a credible curmudgeon.
Of the townsfolk, Rebecca Naomi Jones (Mary Moody), Liz McCartney (Diana Moon Glampers), and Kevin Ligon (Selbert Peach) shine.
Director Michael Mayer uses Donayle Werle’s simply structured Set with skill and aesthetic variety. A fire pole and hose are used to great effect. Small stage business adds immeasurably. Heart and humor go hand in hand.
Choreography by Lorin Latarro is beguiling. Leon Rothenberg’s Sound Design couldn’t be crisper or better balanced.
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in `t.” Hamlet
The world is celebrating the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and the Folger Theatre has joined in with a production that would probably have the Bard himself laughing in the aisle. For fans who appreciate all things Shakespeare, the Reduced Shakespeare Company needs no introduction. Those just discovering this troupe are in for a treat. The new production, a premiere of William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), continues the group’s humorous and creative way of weaving together Shakespeare’s plots and characters with contemporary references thrown in. The result is a lightning-fast, razor-sharp laugh-fest.
The fun starts immediately as the three sneaker-clad actors – Reed Martin, Teddy Spencer, and Austin Tichenor – bound onto the stage, holding aloft the famed lost play, half a foot thick, the pages loosely bound together. We’re told about all the references within this “faux-bio,” – 101 Venetians, The Real Merry Housewives of Windsor, and, of course, CATS. The many references to Disney are certainly funny but also underline how Shakespeare’s influence is a cultural phenomenon. Spencer, who spends time dressed as the Little Mermaid, Ariel, calls Walt Disney “a modern day Shakespeare” and runs down the similarities between Will’s plays and Walt’s films. The Winter’s Tale? Frozen!
This scripted play has the feel of improv, particularly those bits that involve audience members. Two arrive late and incur the players’ rebuke and empathy: “You rue the day you took the Metro.” Since the two offenders left during intermission, we surmise they were plants. But two others – dubbed Dale and Gale – were obviously not, called onto stage during one segment to wave blue fabric to create the sea while the actors shot water pistols into the audience. (If you are not inclined to participate, make sure you’re not in the front row.)
The costumes add to the frivolity, particularly those that have the actors cross-dressing. The changes are made in rapid fashion so that the flow of the play is never affected. Particularly appealing are the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, one a puppet that is manipulated by Tichenor and resembles the witch from Disney’s Snow White.
Part of the fun is seeing characters from different Shakespeare plays interact. We have Puck (Martin) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a grudge match with The Tempest’s Ariel (Spencer); Hamlet up against Lady Macbeth; and Viola (Twelfth Night) alongside Richard III.
My one quibble is that the play runs a tad too long – one hour and 45 minutes with an intermission. Although the actors maintained their energy in the second act, several of the scenes, particularly those with Puck and Ariel, began to seem repetitive. Trimming fifteen minutes and presenting the entire thing in one act would have been a better approach.
Still there were plenty of laughs up to and including the end. And these days, heaven knows, we can all use a good laugh.
Photos by Teresa Wood
William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) Folger Theatre 201 East Capitol Street, SE 202-544-7077
Jon Favreau has become something of a Hollywood It Man (again) with recent films including the Iron Man movies and 2014’s raw Chef. With Disney’s new release The Jungle Book, he will undoubtedly add another hit to this list. In this latest directorial effort, Favreau brings us the familiar story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy orphaned in the jungle as just a baby, saved from the savagery of the elements by Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), a panther with his best interests at heart. Mowgli spends his childhood living comfortably as just another pup in a wolf pack, being taught the code of the pack and the essentials of survival.
One of these lessons is co-existing all manner of species, everything from alligators to peacocks to water buffalo. This “man cub” is surprisingly successful at this comingling, with the exception of a particularly nasty Bengal tiger, the intimidating Shere Khan (voiced by a perfect Idris Elba, whom I love, even when his character is this evil). Despite the passing of several years, Shere Khan harbors a deep grudge against our young protagonist, and goes to great and sad lengths to even a perceived score. Ultimately, Mowgli must leave his pack and all that he knows.
In the adventures that follow, Mowgli encounters a menagerie of new friends and foes as he makes his way through uncharted (figurative and literal) terrain. This allows Disney to surprise us with an array of celebrity voices, everyone from Bill Murray as the bumbling bear Baloo to Scarlett Johansson as a sinister reptile. All of the voices are well done here, but it’s Bill Murray and Christopher Walken – as King Louie, a power-hungry orangutan – who really shine. Baloo’s character almost seems made for Murray, pairing his lackadaisical attitude with an inexorable charm. He gets all of the laughs of the film and he deserves them.
But the true star of this version is the lush, deeply-hued animation. When Mowgli glides through thick jungle canopy, we can almost feel the humidity hanging on our skin. When he and Baloo playfully splash each other in the river, or when he runs his hands through his wolf mother’s fur, there’s no need to suspend disbelief. It’s as if they are together, that the entire film’s scenery is indeed that lush and dramatic, that flames lapping at tree branches might burn. While in hindsight you recognize these all as computer-generated images, you won’t think a thing of it in the moment. It’s all that vivid.
Which is also why younger children will find this a scary film to watch, particularly in IMAX 3D (as we viewed it). The speed with which the dark action unfurls does not lend itself to such grand projection; it was almost as if our eyes had trouble keeping pace. The callous and intimidating Shere Khan would be so on a flat screen TV – now imagine him being 50 feet tall. At times, it was just too intense.
But if you’ve a soft spot for the epic and the nostalgic, and dark, scary scenes don’t rattle you, you will appreciate this film and the rich world Favreau has created. Enjoy the journey.