Belcourt Theater

Capra Classics at Belcourt

"It's a Wonderful Life" and five other Capra Classics play at Belcourt in December.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” and five other Capra Classics play at Belcourt in December.

There are many reasons my spirit needs refreshing this holiday season, and here comes the Belcourt to my rescue with a series of Capra classics. It kicks off with the quintessential “It’s a Wonderful Life,” during which I’ll do my best not to perform each part. Next, they’ll have “It Happened One Night” starring Claudette Colbert as a runaway debutante and Clark Gable as her amorous yet grumpy suitor–it’s a great romantic teaser.  They’ll have heart throbs Jean Arthur and Gary Cooper in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.”  Jimmy Stewart performs a successful filibuster and earns five stars for patriotism in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” “Lost Horizon” was not memorable for me, but I’m willing to give it another shot.  The crown jewel of course is “You Can’t Take It With You” with Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, and my gal Jean Arthur. It’s a morality tale that will put all your holiday money woes to shame.

Viewing Capra’s films now, I want to call him naive, dangerously optimistic, clueless of troubles that Americans would face. But he made his films during the Depression, when people needed a tonic to boost their spirits and give them something to hold onto. In Capra’s cinematic world, all men and women are essentially good, and class conflicts can be assuaged with a battle between harmonicas. It reminds us of how cinema often reflects the culture and spirit of the people, for at it’s best, it shows us what we need most.

Belcourt often makes a signature drink for these events, and I wonder what they’ll come up with… (“I’ll have a mulled wine, heavy on the cinnamon, light on the cloves!”)

After viewing all six films, I’ll feel like Frank Capra whispered to me, “Friend, you are a divine mingle-mangle of guts and stardust. So hang in there! If doors opened for me, they can open for anyone.”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” will run Dec. 19-25. The rest will run in times TBA Dec. 26-Jan.1.

Hee Haw!

Dear White People and Post-Screening Convo with Director

When I see white people flaunting their privilege and denying racism, it’s a like a bad car wreck–I can’t look away, and I can’t keep my mouth shut. That’s how I ended up cross stitching KLINGON furiously in an effort to blow off steam after engaging in a Facebook debate with a white Republican about an article: “How Not to Wear a Racist Halloween Costume This Year: A Simple Guide for White People.” The very first, ill fated comment was this: “good thing only white people are racist. and nobody else in the world of the many many many ethnicities is racist against any of the others” [sic]. One-hundred and eight comments later, things had gotten ugly enough for me to place a one-day moratorium on my use of the social network.

I see great danger when people deny the systemic, institutionalized forms of racism and insist, like this person did, that “anyone who believes a race has supremacy is beyond ignorant. power and prejudice exist all over the world” [sic.] He stuck to his guns for 24 hours, which I’d normally say is respectable. Not so in this case.

The insistence that if we all treat our neighbors equally, the world will be a better place is naive and grandiose, and it denies that the scales are tipped within institutions like schools, in the criminal justice system, even in the arts. This is week in Nashville and all over the country, Dear White People, a film by Justin Simien, premiers. It’s “a satire about being a black face in a white place,” but hopefully one with bite. It’s the winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent and screened at screened at MOMA’s prestigious New Directors/New Films series.

The Belcourt will host two post-screening discussions:

On Fri, Oct 24, after the 7:55pm screening of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, a discussion will be held with director Justin Simien (via Skype). Moderated by Jonathan Waters, senior lecturer, Vanderbilt University's cinema and media arts program.
On Sun, Oct 26, after the 10:30pm screening of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE, a discussion will be held with Dr. Frank Dobson, director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center at Vanderbilt University.

This is great news, and I’m delighted that the Belcourt is doing its part in promoting dialogue around race. A bonus: the film looks to be very funny. Check out this preview and more like it.

Skeleton Twins Shines at Belcourt

The Skeleton Twins, now playing at the Belcourt, does what so many productions aspire to: it captures the tender, difficult love of siblings without veering into hackneyed territory. Here’s the skeleton plot: Twins Milo (Bill Hader) and Maggie (Kristen Wiig) haven’t communicated in ten years and are both just barely holding on to any semblance of a will to live. One of them loses it before the other, and they’re reunited in their hometown, where Maggie lives with her bro husband Lance (played hilariously by Luke Wilson). They revisit old issues, as siblings are wont to do, but withhold the crazy explosive episodes until they’re earned, and the details of their pasts are revealed incrementally but naturally. Maggie is living what looks to be the perfect life: a hardworking, doting husband, a beautiful house, a steady job, time to pursue scuba diving and french cooking classes, and they’re trying to have a baby. But off the bat, we know she’s unhappy, and the sudden presence of her falling-apart brother seems to push her into confrontation with the person she loathes the most: herself.

The action of the film is punctuated by silent flashbacks of the twins as children (Maggie putting lipstick on Milo, Maggie holding her breath under water). These feel a tiny bit ham fisted in the end, but overall, they’re done elegantly and serve to remind us of how simple relationships are when we’re kids, before we begin to, as Maggie says, walk through life trying not to be disappointed. Sound familiar? Written by Craig Johnson in what looks like his breakout script, the dialogue is by turns wry and moving, but always surprising.

For me, the film is a candid study of siblings. Maggie and Milo have decades of blame and resentment damming them up, but there’s also a desperate desire to be understood and recognized by the other. They’re so equally flawed and equally unwilling to own up to their shit that I didn’t want to take sides. I was pulling for both of them, and maybe it’s because Hader and Wiig complement each other so well. The former SNL costars are neck-to-neck in ability, pulling off a solidly wonderful joint performance. Perhaps only these two can enact a dramatic lip synching of “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” that manages to be corny only in that it’s hilarious and touching and perfect.

Check out this quick interview with them from Rotten Tomatoes. Then get to the next showing.