Saturday, March 12, 2016

Alabama films on the small and large screens

On the small screen
I've eaten grits now. I had them for the first time when they were served as part of the buffet breakfast at a motel in Alabama. I could have eaten them earlier on this trip, but I saved them in anticipation of the wonderful 1992 comedy, My Cousin Vinny Grits, or more specifically the preparation of grits, provide an important clue in the courtroom murder mystery in the film.

It's a fish out of water story, as an untried New York lawyer comes to a small town in Alabama to defend his cousin, who's accused of killing a  "good old boy." The movie has fun with stereotypes of New Yorkers and Southerners, but isn't mean spirited toward either. Differences in class and race are also subtlety played with, but not religion. At the time, Joe Pesci was one of the most unlikely movie stars, but he's quite good in the film. So is Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film (a time the Academy got it right).

The film, rated R for lots of language, was not only set in Alabama but also filmed there --
unlike the Reese Witherspoon comedy I've never seen, Sweet Home Alabama, which was mainly filmed in Georgia. Another comedy I've avoided, Crazy in Alabama starring Melanie Griffith, was filmed in LA and LA (Los Angeles and Louisiana). I have seen the dramedy Fried Green Tomatoes, based on the Fannie Flagg novel, which is also set in Alabama but was filmed in Georgia.

Some critically acclaimed films have been both set and filmed in Alabama: Tim Burton's 2003 Big Fish with Albert Finney, John Sayles' 2007 Honeydripper with Danny Glover, Walter Matthau's 1996 The Grass Harp with Walter Matthau, and 1994's Blue Sky which won Jessica Lange an Oscar. Bob Rafelson (who directed episodes of The Monkees) set and filmed Stay Hungry in Alabama. The film was about body building and introduced audiences to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A couple of Christian films in the last couple of years were set and filmed in Alabama: 2013's Grace Unplugged (which was reviewed here at Movie Churches), and 2015's Woodlawn. Far from a Christian film, Will Ferrell's 2006 comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby filmed scenes at the Talladega race track and has a bizarre discussion about whether one should pray to "the Baby Jesus."

A number of films about the Civil Rights movement have been set and filmed in Alabama, including a film about the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1990's The Long Walk Home, with Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg, and a film about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Selma, which played a large part in triggering a debate about race and the Oscars.

Lillian Hellman's plays about her native state have been made into films: 1948's Another Part of the Forest with Fredric March and 1941's The Little Foxes. Neither of these movies were filmed in Alabama.

The most famous Alabama novel and film is probably Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Though it is, of course, a greatly beloved film, I was amused by a recent take on the film from the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle that argued that Gregory Peck's Atticus Finch just isn't a very good lawyer. The movie was filmed in Alabama and Los Angeles.

On the big screen
In Mobile, we went to see the Disney animated film, Zootopia, at Wynnsong Cinemas (part of the Carmike Theater chain). It was our first time at a theater in the chain, and it was good to see they are continuing the trend of the last five to ten years of comfortable seats and quality sound and projection.

Wynnsong seems to have policies to encourage a polite and comfortable environment, though in high school I would not have been at all thrilled with the rule that after 8:00 pm those under the age of 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

As we were taking pictures of theater, we were approached by one of the managers, Andy, and we told him about our project. He had suggestions for theaters in future states (and bar suggestions for our Dean and Mindy walk into a bar blog. Thanks, Andy!).

Zootopia, not surprisingly, wasn't packed with spiritual references, but there were a couple. A rural fox character refers to "speaking in tongues," and another fox says that for a train to work would be "a miracle." When it does start, he says, "Hallelujah!"

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