New Movies: ANNIE, UNBROKEN and SELMA

The new ANNIE movie

The new ANNIE movie

One of the best things about living in New York City is that we get to see  a lot of movies that go into “limited release” before the rest of the country.  This week I’ve been to three brand new movies.

When it was first announced that a remake of ANNIE was being made, and that it would contain a lot of changes, a theater-loving friend asked me if I liked the idea.  After all, I was a fan of ANNIE since Andrea McArdle first sang “Tomorrow” on the Tony Awards broadcast in 1977 and the original cast of orphans sang “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile.”

A lot of theater fans, I’ve found, get extremely snarky or downright hostile whenever one of their favorite shows gets altered in any way.  Well, I don’t.  The moment I heard there was going to be a new ANNIE, I’ve been all for it!  I couldn’t wait to see this new ANNIE, played by Quvenzhané Wallis, get her chance to sing out and shine.

Shine she does!  This child is luminous in the role and the changes in the script are cool.  In this incarnation of the movie, Annie Bennett is a foundling who was left not on the steps of an orphanage in 1922, abandoned six years ago in front of an Italian restaurant.  She doesn’t remember her real mom and dad but goes to the restaurant regularly in the hope they’ll show up again.  You’ll find yourself rooting for her with everything you’ve got from that moment.

Annie is living in a group home with the booze-guzzling Miss Hannigan, a wee bit over-played by Cameron Diaz, who has no problem announcing to her charges that she’s only in it for the fee she gets per foster kid.  Annie literally runs into Jamie Foxx, a billionaire running for mayor whose numbers are down in the polls, when a car almost hits her and he saves her from harm.  A pedestrian gets it on camera and puts it on YouTube.  The candidate’s numbers soar, he takes her in as a gimmick to raise them further, and you can figure out what happens next.

This is a very different ANNIE storyline, but I once read that every ANNIE movie or show, starting with the first one starring Mitzi Green that my mother’s generation enjoyed, differed from each other.  No matter.  They all tell the story of the lovable orphan who’s been living the “hard-knock life.”  This one’s a welcome addition and a riveting  movie.  Quvenzhané does a spectacular job!  BRAVA, little one!

Possible Oscar contender: UNBROKEN

Possible Oscar contender: UNBROKEN

The other two movies I’ve seen this week are both possible contenders for Best Picture Oscars.  UNBROKEN tells the story of Olympian Louis Zamperini.  His older brother, who is on the high school track team, realizes perhaps there’s more talent in the young Louis, who is fast becoming a minor-league juvenile delinquent in their California hometown, when he sees him running away from a confrontation.  The older boy takes the younger one under his wing and encourages him to run, not away from the police but for the track team.  His belief in his little brother is well-founded: Louis winds up not in jail, where he was heading, but at the Berlin Olympics in 1936!

Later, during World War II in the Pacific, Louis, played by Jack O’Connell, and his crew are on a rescue mission looking for downed airmen when their plane is hit and they have to bail out over the ocean.  Somehow, Louis and two others manage to get out of their downed aircraft and inflate two life boats.  Then they begin to drift – for 45 days!  They attempt to survive by wrestling fish for food.  At one point a Japanese plane sees the raft and begins shooting at it.  The three men dive into the ocean to take cover.  The ocean is filled with sharks.  One of the other two men ultimately dies of starvation and exposure.  It’s a miracle that Zamperini and the third man survived this ordeal, though their rescue, by a Japanese ship, is only the beginning of more ordeals, as they are sent to a POW camp run by a sadist named Watanabe.  Takamasa Ishihara plays the evil, misguided Watanabe and deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination for it.

I have heard that the Japanese government is not happy with this movie as they don’t like the way they are depicted.  Well, I’m not happy with the idea that our POW’s were treated like pieces of garbage for Watanabe’s entertainment, and feel that if the Japanese don’t like their depiction in this movie, they should have thought about that back when their camp personnel were behaving so dishonorably in the first place.  Watanabe’s behavior towards Zamperini is beyond disgraceful, but, as the title says, our Olympian remains unbroken.

The second possible Best Picture Oscar contender: SELMA.

The second possible Best Picture Oscar contender: SELMA.

SELMA was the third movie I saw, and it was riveting.  I was three years old when the March on Selma took place in Alabama and, though I had heard about it, I was too young to remember any of it.  This movie provided me with the details for the first time.

Oprah Winfrey plays Annie Lee Cooper, a Black woman who is trying in vain to register to vote in Selma in 1964.  Bizarre rules are in place in Alabama to prevent Blacks from voting.  They have to have a “sponsor” vouch for them, someone who is already registered to vote.  They are subjected to a quiz rigged so that they can’t possibly pass.  The woman is asked what the Preamble to the Constitution is – and recites it.  She is asked how many judges there are in Alabama and replies, correctly, “67.”  Then the White jerk who runs the voting office ensures she fails the quiz by demanding, “Name them.”

Reverend Martin Luther King is called in to help lead the protest march against the practices that prevent the Blacks from voting.  He’s wonderfully played by David Oyelowo.  I felt like I was watching the actual Martin Luther King.  His wife, Coretta Scott King, is portrayed by Carmen Ejogo, who also played her once before in the movie BOYCOTT.

The FBI is monitoring every move King and his family make.  My favorite scenes in this movie are the exchanges between King and the foul-mouthed Lyndon Johnson, played by Tom Wilkinson.  Johnson could change the situation for Blacks in the Deep South with a stroke of his pen but he isn’t really interested, at first, in doing so.

There is an attempt to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, but it becomes violent.  As the group marches over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the police lie in wait for the marchers and the situation becomes hideously violent.  They even go after people while on horseback.  If you think the idea of a cop chasing you is bad, just imagine a cop who’s after you while on a horse…

Martin Luther King, of course, remains a voice of reason in the midst of all this turmoil and deals with the marchers, the press, and even The President of the United States in order to straighten everything else.

I’m rooting for Oyelowo to get a Best Actor nomination for his portrayal of King, Ejogo to be up for Best Actress, and Wilkinson to be given a nod for Best Supporting Actor.

I’m hoping UNBROKEN and SELMA both are nominated for Best Picture. If they are, I’m not sure which one would be selected.  They’re both awesome movies.  We shall see!

 

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