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Movie review ‘Green Book’ a real trip

Published January 23. 2019 02:27PM

“Green Book” is a road movie about travels through the southern United States when there was no light left on at motels along the highway for persons of color.

In the film, which is based on a true story, Dr. Don Shirley (played by the remarkable Mahershala Ali) is a jazz concert pianist booked for a concert tour in the Midwest and the racially segregated south of the U.S. in 1962. Dr. Shirley hires a driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (played by the great Viggo Mortensen), who doubles as a bodyguard. They travel in a 1962 turquoise four-door Cadillac DeVille.

In the Hollywood tradition of the buddy road movie, the two are polar opposites, a seemingly mismatched pair who must learn to get along. Along the way, they learn life lessons, as will you as the moviegoer.

Dr. Don Shirley is a cultured, dignified and articulate African-American who has a doctorate in music. Tony is a loudmouthed, profane and uncouth Italian from the Bronx who was a bouncer at New York City’s Copacabana nightclub.

The two work out their differences as they face the challenges of racism, and bond with Tony becoming a staunch defender of Dr. Shirley. Dr. Shirley helps Tony write letters to Tony’s wife, Dolores (Linda Cardellini).

“Green Book,” which is a drama-comedy, is directed by Peter Farrelly, better known as director of raunchy movie comedies, including “Stuck on You,” 2003; “Shallow Hal,” 2001; “Me, Myself & Irene,” 2000; “There’s Something About Mary,” 1998, and “Dumb and Dumber,” 1994.

The screenplay for “Green Book” was written by Farrelly, Brian Currie and Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga. The film is based on interviews that Nick did with Vallelonga’s father, Tony, and letters that Tony wrote to Dolores.

The title of the film, “Green Book,” is derived from “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a guidebook (1936-66) by Victor Hugo Green, a United States Postal worker, about motels and restaurants where African-Americans could stay during the era when policies of whites-only were enforced for most public places throughout the South.

Viggo Mortensen (Oscar nominee, actor, “Captain Fantastic,” 2017; Oscar nominee, actor, “Eastern Promises,” 2007; “A History of Violence,” 2005; “Witness,” 1985) is believable, hilarious and astounding as Tony Vallelonga. Mortensen, one of contemporary cinema’s most memorable presences, really makes the role his own.

Mahershala Ali (Oscar recipient, supporting actor, “Moonlight,” 2016; TV’s “True Detective,” 2019) is also a memorable presence, and believable, incredibly smooth and riveting as Dr. Don Shirley. Ali, one of contemporary cinema’s finest actors, plays the role with an impassive face masking a deep sensitivity.

Mortensen and Ali are terrific in scenes together.

Excellent in a supporting role is Cardellini as Dolores, wife of Tony Vallelonga.

The soundtrack includes a bevy of scene-setting songs, including “One Mint Julep” by The Clovers; “Happy Talk” from the musical, “South Pacific,” and “Go to the Mardi Gras” by Professor Longhair.

“Green Book” received Oscar nominations for best picture, best actor for Mortenson, best supporting actor for Ali, best original screenplay and best film editing. The National Board of Review chose “Green Book” as the best film of 2018.

“Green Book” is a wonderful road trip buddy film when it wasn’t that easy for a black man and a white man to be buddies.

“Green Book” is a time-travel trip back to an era in the United States that is important to be aware of. It’s thought-provoking, fascinating and ultimately optimistic. Don’t miss it.

“Green Book,” MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for thematic content, language including racial epithets, smoking, some violence and suggestive material; Genre: Biography, Drama, Comedy; Run time: 2 hrs., 10 mins. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Green Book” director Peter Farrelly cast Nick Vallelonga’s brother, Frank Vallelonga, as Rudy, Tony Vallelonga’s brother. Rudy Vallelonga plays his and Tony’s father, Nicola. Nick Vallelonga plays the role of Mob Boss Augie. Tony Vallelonga appeared in “The Godfather,” “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” “Goodfellas” and as New York Crime Boss Carmine Lupartazzi in the HBO series “The Sopranos.” The “Green Book” score composer Kris Bowers taught Mahershala Ali to play the piano for his role as Dr. Don Shirley. Bowers played the piano for close-up photography.

Unreel, Jan. 25:

“Serenity,” R: Steven Knight directs Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Diane Lane and Jason Clarke in the thriller. The ex-wife of a fishing boat captain seeks help. But all may not be as it seems.

“The Kid Who Would Be King,” PG: Joe Cornish directs Rebecca Ferguson, Tom Taylor, Patrick Stewart and Rhianna Dorris in the adventure film. A group of youths try to stop a medieval menace.

Four popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.

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