Movie Review – Angels in America

Angels in America (2003)
Written by Tony Kushner
Directed by Mike Nichols

Theater & queerness have always gone together. With my American Theater on Film series wrapping up to make room for our Pride film run coming in June, this is a perfect transition. Airing as a mini-series on HBO in 2003, Angels in America was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name. It’s a story primarily about being a gay man amid the rise of Ronald Reagan & the Christian conservative movement, all while AIDS is ravaging the LGBTQ community. It’s an epic play, premiering in parts with Part I debuting in 1991, followed by Part II in 1992. Altogether it’s six hours which is quite bold for a theater piece. Yet, the AIDS crisis was deserving of such a dense, heavy piece. How could it not be? 

Continue reading “Movie Review – Angels in America”

Movie Review – Glengarry Glen Ross

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Written by David Mamet
Directed by James Foley

Capitalism. What a nightmare. We don’t talk enough about avarice in America. That frenzied, hateful greed fuels some people’s minds & souls. They can never find fulfillment in contentment, being happy and appreciative of what they have, spurred on by institutions that depend on this hunger to never be satiated. Playwright David Mamet does an incredible job of depicting this inhumanity in Glengarry Glen Ross. His characters are trapped on a broken hamster wheel, given expectations they cannot possibly meet, and punished for trying to find a loophole in the system to avoid the inevitable outcome. Unemployment is not an accidental byproduct of capitalism but an intended outcome. It makes people live in terror that they will fall to the bottom of the ladder, and they learn to treat everyone else around them with hatred as they see them as competitors for the same crumbs.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Glengarry Glen Ross”

Movie Review – M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly (1993)
Written by David Henry Hwang
Directed by David Cronenberg

In 1986, France was caught up in a scandal involving one of their diplomats in China. Bernard Boursicot has been engaged in an affair with Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. Shi was a male singer who performed primarily in female roles, and Boursicot insisted that he believed Shi was a woman the whole time. This seems incredulous as both men admitted to having sex together numerous times. Furthermore, Boursicot claimed that Shi could retract his testicles and shape his genitals to resemble female anatomy. However, the French diplomat engaged in same-sex intercourse while in boarding school as a teenager. Only after graduation did Boursicot choose to be with women, as he claimed he thought homosexuality was a rite of passage among the youths at his school.

Continue reading “Movie Review – M. Butterfly”

Movie Review – The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie (1987)
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by Paul Newman

“Write what you know” is some advice often given to writers struggling to know where to start. Tennessee Williams was an artist who often practiced this, sometimes literally but also metaphorically. In the case of The Glass Menagerie, it was a very personal play that touched on his relationship with his mother and sister. He kept coming back to it in different forms until he found the way that worked, even writing a screenplay (The Gentleman Caller) that would be repurposed for the play. The result is a moving story of a family displaced from the American South struggling to find their way in an increasingly cold, cruel world.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Glass Menagerie”

Movie Review – Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman (1985)
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff

Some pieces of art are monolithic in that you know some things about them even if you don’t actively seek them out. They just made such an impact on the culture and became interwoven into our language and our contemporary understanding. I can’t point to exactly when I first knew of Death of a Salesman, but one of my earlier memories was it being referenced in Seinfeld. In an episode, Jerry says George reminds him of Biff Loman from the play. I was a teenager and had never read the play, so I can’t say I ever fully comprehended that one. It made the play stick out to me, though, as it must be important, at a minimum, to understand some aspect of the “discourse.” But time flowed on, and I never sat down to experience Death of a Salesman until now.

Continue reading “Movie Review – Death of a Salesman”

Movie Review – True West

True West (1984)
Written by Sam Shepard
Directed by Allan A. Goldstein

Sam Shepard was a playwright that seemed to know what to say about the time he was living in perfectly. He was particularly interested in the transformation of the American West from a mythic landscape used to feed the imaginations of Americans to its incorporation as just another part of the urban & suburban sprawl that took over the country. In his screenplay for Paris, Texas, his protagonist emerges from the desert only to disappear back into it at the story’s conclusion, in a parallel to John Ford’s The Searchers. People who cannot change their perspectives and, at minimum, understand the times they live in will be left on the sidelines, drifting away until forgotten. 

Continue reading “Movie Review – True West”

Movie Review – The Iceman Cometh

The Iceman Cometh (1973)
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by John Frankenheimer

You are not alone if you’ve felt increasing anxiety over world events in the last few years. Additionally, this is not the first time in human history that societal shifts have led people to become fixated on watching it unfold, standing on the sidelines, unsure of what to do. Eugene O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh between June and November 1939 while living in Danville, California. During this time, the Nazis invaded Poland, the Great Depression ravaged American workers’ lives, and Southeast Asia became fertile ground for the next salvo of the coming world war. O’Neill, in a letter to his daughter Oona said about this period, “The war news has affected my ability to concentrate on my job. With so much tragic drama happening in the world, it is hard to take theater seriously.” O’Neill had an understanding that he’d written something personal with The Iceman Cometh but also touched on universal anxieties of the era. He delayed production of the play until World War II ended because the playwright understood he had written something that spoke to people living in the wake of devastation.

Continue reading “Movie Review – The Iceman Cometh”

Movie Review – Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
Written by Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Sidney Lumet

There are some pieces of art that, when you finally experience them, you know you’ve seen or read, or heard something that will resonate through centuries. I had never read a word of Eugene O’Neill, but I knew a bit about him and that he’d written this play and The Iceman Cometh, among others. I could have told you this was about a family of four people. That was where my knowledge stopped. I knew this would have to be a part of this series on film adaptations of American theater, and now I understand why it had to be. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is among the best I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about the entire scale of art in general. This movie connected with me in a way a lot of contemporary cinema fails to over & over again. I credit that to the bravery of O’Neill in writing genuinely human characters. Everyone is a villain here, everyone is a hero, and everyone’s a victim, and in this way, it mirrors all our lives. 

Continue reading “Movie Review – Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

Movie Review – A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Written by Lorraine Hansberry
Directed by Daniel Petrie

The history of Black people in America is a roller coaster of emotions. That’s being said by someone who can only speak about it from an outside perspective. I’m white, so I know I’ll never fully comprehend what it means to be Black in that nation. I can say that the popular perception of the struggle for Civil Rights is entirely out of whack, at least in the white circles I lived & worked inside of in Tennessee. There’s this penchant to view these things as the “ancient past” when the brutality to hold onto segregation happened during my parents & grandparents’ lifetimes. There’s an anxiety in the white mind that leads to statements like “stop living in the past,” never mind the Southern obsession with the Confederacy, and wanting to cherish its insipid ideology. The telling of the past that doesn’t seek to soothe & fantasize about history is what people bristle at. It’s simply the truth; horrible things happened in the past, and a thread running through reality connects to the present day.

Continue reading “Movie Review – A Raisin in the Sun”

Movie Review – Picnic

Picnic (1955)
Written by William Inge and Daniel Taradash
Directed by Joshua Logan

We come to the first movie in the American Theater on Film series that doesn’t work. I wondered why I didn’t hear as much about Picnic as other entries in this series I’m doing, and now it makes sense. Picnic is attempting something ambitious, it is one of the better movies in the series for cinematic visuals, but its core ideas are muddled and clunkily handled. There are cinematographic moments here that are absolutely stunning, and that’s what makes it sting so badly that the story itself is not well done. It should not surprise me that Picnic looks so good as it was the fantastic James Wong Howe behind the camera, one of the all-time great cinematographers. Does that man know how to light and frame a scene!

Continue reading “Movie Review – Picnic”