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Screen Savor: From Stage to Screen

four-DSC4080Four (2012)

The full-length feature film debut by writer/director Joshua Sanchez, Four (Wolfe), is an adaptation of gay playwright Christopher Shinn’s award-winning first play. An intimate portrait of four characters’ lives intersecting on the fourth of July, Four features solid performances, but feels too self-conscious on the whole.

Restless gay teen June (Emory Cohen), who is hoping to make his own fireworks, has arranged an online hook-up with bisexual, African-American married man Joe (Wendell Pierce). They meet up near a payphone and drive off in Joe’s BMW convertible. June, an only son, admits to not being out to his parents. Joe, who is outgoing and fatherly, appears to be genuinely interested in the boy, although it could be motivated by the promise of sex.

Across town, Joe’s obedient and responsible daughter Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) is at home taking care of her un-well mother. She has been led to believe that Joe is out of town at a work-related conference. Abigayle and Dexter (E.J. Bonilla), an athletic classmate with bad grades and a record, talk on the phone, and eventually meet at a basketball court.

A portrait of “the myths of first love, first sex,” one of Four’s strengths is the way that the characters can’t seem to say the right things to each other, giving the dialogue an authenticity. Both couples eventually end up having sex with their respective partners, but instead of making them more comfortable with each other, it has the opposite effect. Everything comes to a head in a diner parking lot when Abigayle sees her father getting into his car with June in the passenger seat.

Following an uncomfortable scene in a gay bar, where June bumps into former best friend Todd (Liam Benzvi), June declares that he doesn’t know what he wants. Unfortunately, the same can be said about Four. Issues of race, class and sexuality collide with the prospect of living an authentic life, but Four feels unauthentic and stagey, in spite of being set in various locations.

chicago
Chicago (2002)

When Kander & Ebb’s Tony Award-winning musical Chicago finally hit the big screen in 2002 after a few failed attempts to do so, it was a massive success. The winner of six Oscars, including Best Picture, Chicago seemed to signal the return of the big-screen movie musical. While there were a few exceptions (Sweeney Todd and Dreamgirls), for the most part audiences got stuck with stinkers such as Mamma Mia!, Rent, The Phantom of the Opera, Nine and Les Miserables (be warned, the Jersey Boys movie is waiting in the wings).

What made Chicago even more impressive is that neither of the lead actresses, Renée Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was known for their Broadway musical fire power (although Zeta-Jones did eventually make her mark in a 2009 revival of A Little Night Music). Nevertheless, under the direction of Rob Marshall, the duo glittered as murderous jazz-age mamas Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, respectively (with Zeta-Jones winning an Oscar).
Supporting players John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, Christine Baranski and Richard Gere all make the most of the Kander & Ebb songs, including “The Cellblock Tango,” “All That Jazz,” and “Nowadays,” to name a few.

Now available in a Blu-ray+DVD+Digital HD/Ultraviolet Diamond Edition, with more than two hours of new content, Chicago (Miramax/Lionsgate) holds up well (better than the city itself). Special features include commentary by Marshall and Condon, which is one of the few worth listening to as it is fascinating and offers incredible insights into the film. You will also find the deleted “Class” scene, and much more. Bill Condon’s inspired Oscar-nominated screenplay transforms wannabe performer Roxie’s musical numbers into her own overactive fantasy life. As inmates Roxie and Velma compete for the spotlight and the sympathies of the public and the press, they sing and dance to their (and our) hearts’ content.


Gregg Shapiro

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