Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Talk of the Town

So as I've written before, we're studying Death of a Salesman in my lit class right now. I spent each class reading the play thinking to myself: "wow, this would make a great movie"...and then, what do you know, my teacher whips out a film version of this classic story.
Don't get too excited, though...the 1985 made-for-TV movie is as big a let-down as getting socks for Christmas. It was only watchable because Dustin Hoffman, in all his brilliant glory, gives us the ultimate Willy Loman while the rather attractive young John Malkovich breaks our hearts as soul-searching Biff.

Here's what I'm thinking (Hollywood, you might want to take some notes): We need to give this timeless story a makeover, bring it into a 21st century context, strip it down visually while infusing some gritty realism, and tie it to a bitchin soundtack (you know, peppered with spot-on indie tracks like "Garden State"'s was...and then I'd like my boy Alan Silvestri to whip out a tear-jerking orchestral score like he did in "Forrest Gump" and "Cast Away"...if he's still got game).

Then we'll pop a few of my favorite people into the leads to really bring home the money. For Linda Loman, I'm feeling a solid Meryl Streep really can't go wrong with this lady, and if she pulls out those innocent rosy cheeks she was flashing in "Julie and Julia", then there probably isn't a woman in the world who could play this part better.
For Biff, I think Jesse Eisenberg will do. He's got the puppy dog face and the broad range to handle the job. Plus, as we observed in his recent film "The Social Network", there's just something so inherently human about the guy that makes him prime material for a tragedy like this.
My pick for Happy is a little bit out there, though, so just bear with about a little Tom Felton action? We already know he can play a cold-blooded kiss-ass from his sprightly work in the "Harry Potter" franchise, so why wouldn't he be able to pull off the womanizing suck-up of this story? The kid screams superficial sometimes and quivers in his vulnerability at others- exactly the type of persona that Happy Loman would need to exude.
Finally, I don't think I'd be alone in stating that Tom Hanks, an actor of practically immortal stature, would play a dead-on Willy Loman. The man can do anything, but I think his best niche is here in the realm of the tragedy of the mundane (as I so affectionately call it). The fate of the entire movie rests on the audience's ability to feel for this character, and no actor alive is better at making America fall in love than Mr. Hanks.

Anyway, that's what I want to see coming down the pipe someday. I don't think that's too much to ask of you, Hollywood. Make it happen.

I don't have enough thumbs to stick up for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)'s that good. There's nothing better than watching firmly-held stereotypes get so completely crushed...and in the hot racial period in which this film was released, it must have been the talk of the town. I mean, interracial marriage was illegal in 17 states the year this movie came out, so I can't even imagine the kind of stir it created when it shed such a favorable light on the subject.

The context of the film is almost more interesting than the film itself, if you ask me. Even if you don't consider the ground-breaking timing of the movie's release, you can still be blown away by the power of the people playing in it. Seriously- Sidney Poitier leads in this one. Sidney Poitier. That in itself makes the movie a big deal.

Mr. Poitier continues to be an American legend and celebrated cinematic hero: in 2009, President Obama even gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom (the country's highest civilian big deal). He broke the ice for African-Americans in film (though Hollywood still seems to lack a solid reservoir of African-American actors) and became the first black man to snag an Academy Award for Best Actor. But you probably know all that already if you happen to be here reading about classic movies...

His affluent character absolutely destroys the typecast black man of the time, so we can't help but applaud him all the way through. Still, two other performances constantly threaten to steal the screen from him, especially when you take a look at what was going on behind the cameras.

Dinner marked the seventh and final joint effort of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, as Tracy died just 17 days after the shoot wrapped. In the final scene, when Tracy delivers a passionate monologue to his motley dinner guests, we see Hepburn looking on with a face full of tears- real ones, because she knew that this would be the last time she would share the screen with her friend, and that he was not long for this world. The crew had to adjust the filming schedule so that Tracy could participate even as his health fell apart. Knowing that, I couldn't help but tear up as the final credits rolled.

I could probably go on for days about this picture, but I'll spare you the (additional) rambling. The weekend's coming up and I have a pretty tight work schedule, but I'm going to try my hardest to stop the days from getting away from me without fitting in some movies. I'm already falling miserably behind in this slightly impossible challenge.

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