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I have not read James Baldwin's novel, but director Barry Jenkins' visually stunning film adaptation makes me want to do so.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK offers the radical notion that a film about African-Americans can be interesting without giving them superpowers or making them amoral street thugs. Tish is 19 and pregnant with the love child of 22-year-old Fonny (a/k/a Lorenzo), who is incarcerated for a rape he clearly could not have committed. The family hires a young white lawyer to defend Fonny. At first, Atty. Hayward has little interest in his new client but becomes the young man's passionate defender when evidence of Fonny's innocence piles up. Meanwhile, his and Tish's respective families resort to often desperate measures (like stealing) to raise the money for Fonnie's legal defense, while fully aware that the justice system is rigged against poor young black men.
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK is socially conscious without beating us over the head with it. Instead, we see the real, harrowing effects of hard-wired, institutional racism on a single family as a microcosm of what African-Americans must deal with to this day. (The film takes place in the early 1970s). The trials and tribulations of the Rivers and Hunt families stay with the viewer long after the closing credits have run.
SHOPLIFTERS is about six people who live on the bottom rung of Tokyo's economic ladder. The adults work menial jobs and supplement their income by shoplifting--a skill they's also passed on to the kids as they have nothing else to pass on. And despite barely having enough to survive, they take in a little girl they find living in the streets in the dead of winter.
SHOPLIFTERS contains no CGI, no car chases, no space battles, no lurid sex scenes, no graphic violence, no vampires, no zombies, and no superheroes. And it is neither a sequel, a remake, nor a reboot. Rather, it is an understated, touching and profound study of six desperate people who found each other and created a "family of choice" way more loving and supportive than many of the DNA-based families in this world.
I would much rather see 20 more films like SHOPLIFTERS than another $50 million epic about some schmuck with superpowers.
This film began life in 1958 as a student-made short. It was pretty much what you would expect from such a venture: a clichÃ (C)d script rife with plot holes, acting as bad as a military training film, ultra-cheap special effects, half-assed photographyâ¦. You get the idea.
Now fast-forward 17 years, when the original film was tacked on to footage from an equally bad Bigfoot docudrama and sold to TV as a 90-minute feature. The "new" film starts with a narrative about the earliest rumblings of man dating back two million or so years. Not only is it badly written, but the forced earnestness of the youthful-sounding narrator makes it hilarious.
Next, we cut to a 1975-era high school classroom in which the teacher is (for whatever reason) doing a unit on mythical creatures. This leads to a monologue on Bigfoot with scenes of logging. Why? Because Bigfoot was seen at logging camps in the Pacific Northwest, you big silly! But wait, there's more: if you enjoy drawn-out scenes of touque-topped Canadians walking through the woods, boy, are you in for a treat! And for fans of MST3K, there's even a rock-climbing segment. Once the teacher finishes babbling about the Yeti, he brings in a guest speaker to tell of an experience he had some fifteen years ago. That's when the original film kicks in.
The 1958 monster is not actually Bigfoot. It's a ridiculous-looking mummy (with fangs, and a fried egg instead of an eye) that some high school students bring back to life when they dig up a Native American burial ground. (Oops!) The mummy goes on a killing spree becauseâ¦. Well, that's what mummies do, right? The kids call the local sheriff, who is surprisingly quick to believe their story, and go on a manhunt for the creature. They lure it out into the open with meat scraps (don't ask), then toss gasoline on the mummy and set it on fire. It goes up like a charcoal briquette. The end.
The film has two female characters who never really do anything. They're just kind of...there. Why? Perhaps they were dating the producer and director, who knows? Also, the "scientific" explanation for the mummy's resurrection really doesn't pass muster. It has something to do with ancient herbs put into the tomb that somehow kept the mummy dormant until our heroes come along. So, does that mean the mummy was buried alive? Who the hell knows? Certainly not the filmmakers.
Somebody thought it was a good idea to pad out a 17-year-old film-club project and put it on TV. Of course, it was 1975 and drug use was pervasive. Maybe that explains it.