Molly Haskell is an extraordinarily insightful writer, especially about three topics: film, women, and the South. All three come together in her newest book, Frankly, My Dear, about the history of Gone with the Wind. The story behind the scenes is just as gripping as what went on in the book, with tyrannical, micro-managing producer David O. Selznick and four different directors, and every actress in Hollywood angling to play the greatest role of a generation, Scarlett O’Hara. Haskell tells the stories behind the book and movie and she analyzes what it is that makes Margaret Mitchell’s characters and what they illustrate about race, gender, and the deepest conflicts in American history that continue to fascinate us.
Children and their families are lining up across the country to see “Dora Live,” an interactive adventure that leads Dora the Explorer, her cousin Diego, Boots the monkey, and all their friends on a fun-filled journey in “Search for the City of Lost Toys.” As it prepares to open in my home town of Washington D.C., I was able to interview the performers who portray both Dora and Diego, who told me how much they enjoy appearing in a show that has such an enthusiastic audience.
Susan Oliveras plays Dora, the curious and adventuresome young explorer.
Tell me about what you were doing before Dora.
I am a Brooklyn native, born and raised, and I went to the performing arts high school, the “Fame” school. I got my bachelor’s in music from Five Towns College. After I graduated I started auditioning for any show and I’ve been on the road ever since. I did a couple of seasons with “Sesame Street Live” and got to tour the world, then I did Royal Caribbean cruises as a singer-dancer. Then I came home and start auditioning for other things.
Was the audition for Dora different from others?
Yes! It was a lot of fun because you get to play around at the audition and a different tone because of the nature of the show. So everyone was just very very friendly and playful. I would go in and sing pop songs, and then they asked me to sing a selection from the show. They played it for me a couple of times, and I sang it on the spot and then I did a dance audition and then I had to come back and do it for the director, and then come back again and do it for the producer and director.
Is this a show with a story and songs?
In some ways it is exactly like a musical that any adult would see. It has a story line told with characters and music. Dora has lost her teddy bear, her favorite toy, and she goes on a journey to find it through the number pyramid, the mixed-up jungle, and then the City of Lost Toys, which has every toy ever lost by any child, so that’s like the golden city. And she has her friends, Boots the monkey, her best friend and cousin Diego, and of course her map and backpack.
What does Dora’s famous backpack look like in the show?
It’s taller than me! It is a huge prop with someone inside operating it, making the mouth and eye movement and an actor doing the voice.
What is the audience reaction like to the show?
I don’t need a career as a rock star because I feel like I’ve had that! They’re screaming — of course in delight, calling Dora’s name as soon as I step on stage. They know all the songs and sing along. They come in their Dora gear, t-shirts and sometimes dressed like the characters. In Chicago I looked in the audience and someone was dressed in a Boots costume. It was adorable!
Is that distracting?
The show thrives on audience participation. The story could not move on if the children don’t respond to the questions we are asking. We encourage them to shout it out — this is a place where you don’t have to raise your hand and be called on. I can really hear their answers and respond to them and react to them.
The way you feel about “Seven Pounds” will depend on the way you feel about the choice made by the main character at the end of the film. Some may consider it admirable and selfless but for me the choice, while understandable, is unforgivable. And that makes it impossible for me to recommend the film.
Will Smith stars as a man who has clearly faced some deep tragedy, and his sensitive portrayal of loss and regret is heart-wrenching. As the movie goes back and forth in time and place, we begin to piece together his past. He is an IRS investigator who at one time had another job, another home, another life. Now he has a desperation that all but consumes him, a fury for some sort of completion or expiation. He says he has the power to fundamentally change the circumstances of some people and we see the way he decides which ones deserve that help.
One of those people is Emily (Rosario Dawson), $56,000 behind on her payments to the IRS because of medical bills for a congenital heart weakness. As he gets to know her in order to decide whether to and how to help her, he finds himself drawn to her. Despite her illness, she has a life force that warms and centers him and he finds himself disconcerted at being helped as well as helping.
The movie is undeniably touching, skillfully and sincerely made. But its decision to portray behavior that is at best morally compromised as an idealized sacrifice is a poor choice as an ethical matter and as a narrative matter. The issue of how we can find redemption after causing great harm is an important subject and it deserves a more thoughtful exploration than this ultimately superficial film. SPOILER ALERT It is not the obviousness and phoniness and manipulation that bothers me as much as the clueless and even condescending immorality of it. No one thinks that suicide, even to benefit others, is a legitimately redemptive act, and it is contemptible and irresponsible of the movie to suggest otherwise.
Like its title character, this film has had highly improbable success, ending up with the Best Picture Oscar for 2008. The title character is Jamal (Dev Patel) a “slumdog” orphan child who grew up in the streets of Mumbai and works as a “chai wallah,” delivering drinks to the workers at a call center. When he manages to be not only a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” but manages to answer the questions correctly, everyone thinks he must be cheating. He has had no education and seen very little of the world. How could he know all the answers?
As it does in every country, it starts off with the easy ones. Who was the star of “Zanjeer?” You might as well ask an American child who was in “High School Musical,” that is if “High School Musical” or “Hannah Montana” starred some star who was a combination of Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jordan. What is interesting there is not that Jamal knows the answer but how important that answer is to him. As we find out how much the star of that film meant to Jamal as a child (played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), we learn about his sense of integrity and capacity for devotion. And then we go back to the show, and each question and answer leads us to another story from Jamal’s life.
After their mother is killed by anti-Muslim fanatics, Jamal, his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), and his friend Latika (Freida Pinto) go on the run to stay safe. They are befriended by a man who turns out to be a heartless exploiter of children, turning them into beggars and prostitutes and subjecting them to the most horrific abuse imaginable. Jamal and Salim escape, but Latika is left behind.
For a while, Salim and Jamal make a living leading tourists through the Taj Mahal, making up “facts” about its history, something of a counterpoint to the “facts” he is able to draw later as a contestant on for the show. But the man they escaped from is still after them. And Jamal never gives up on finding Latika again.
The contrast between the fairy tale element of the story and the heart-wrenching harshness of Jamal’s circumstances make the environment as vivid and central a character as any human in the story. The music, the textures, the intensity of images and colors, the juxtaposition of the bleakest poverty and the most brutal cruelty with the most tender but enduring feelings of love and hope are what make this film feel like a triumph of joy over despair.