By M. Scott Morris
The Disneynature team put life and limb on the line to bring “Bears” to theaters.
As I watched, I wondered how the filmmakers got their up-close-and-personal footage, and from past Disneynature efforts I knew there’d be a glimpse during the closing credits.
Apparently, standing up with your hands out to your sides and saying, “Go around” is enough to get a fully grown brown bear to leave you alone. Who knew?
The daring filmmakers spent a year tracking a new mother, Sky, and her cubs in the Alaskan wilderness. It’s easy to pull for the family, especially after narrator John C. Reilly tells us only half of new cubs make it a year.
That means Amber and Scout will face plenty of obstacles, including the harsh landscape, hungry wolves and other bears.
Sky and her cubs need to survive until the salmon come in to fill up their bellies so the bears can survive the next winter’s hibernation.
Reilly has an amiable voice, though I was annoyed by the script that assigned human motives to the bears when bear motives would’ve been better.
For the most part, “Bears” rolls across the screen in a slow, ambling pace, much like the way the bears move most of the time. If you’re feeling pushed or pulled by the hectic demands of daily life, this movie offers a short respite.
I was reminded of the nature shows Disney aired on Sunday evenings when I was a kid, but it was nice to see the bears and the Alaskan setting on a big screen.
The extended shot of the trio first leaving the den is amazing, and when the credits roll, the filmmakers show us how it was accomplished. “Bears” might inspire a few kids to dream of becoming Disneynature filmmakers, though I suspect it’ll have the opposite effect on others.
I give “Bears” a B minus.
It’s showing at the Cinemark in Tupelo, as well as Malcos in Oxford and Corinth.
Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.
When my wife and I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman play a gung-ho tornado chaser in “Twister,” we said, “It’s Brett Duke.”
He was a photographer we’d worked with at The Natchez Democrat, and the resemblance was hard to miss. The next time we watched a Hoffman film, we said, “There’s Brett Duke again,” but the comparison didn’t last.
Hoffman was the opposite of movie stars who grow rich by playing different versions of the same characters. Nothing’s wrong with that, but it wasn’t Hoffman’s game.
His art was to disappear into a role, so you weren’t watching him, you were watching Lester Bangs, Dean Trumbell, Truman Capote or whomever the script required him to be.
When he died in February, people from Hollywood to Broadway proclaimed him the greatest actor of his generation.
The loss was personal for Frank Vitolo, an actor and producer who splits time between New York and Snead, Ala.
He’s given acting workshops in Tupelo over the years. Pat Rasberry, Tupelo film commissioner, invited him to the Tupelo Film Festival to reminisce about his friend.
“I wouldn’t do it for anybody but Pat,” Frank said.
I spoke with him a few days before Friday’s screening of “Capote” and the Q&A session that followed. The festival continues today at the Malco.
Frank and “Phil” had known each other for more than 20 years, and both worked with the Labyrinth Theater Company in New York.
After Hoffman appeared in “Patch Adams” with Robin Williams, Frank suggested he do an action movie. It took a few years, but Hoffman was the bad guy for “Mission: Impossible III” with Tom Cruise.
“Tom had hired helicopters for the premier. Phil was like a little kid looking at them out the sun roof,” Frank said. “People were cheering and I said, ‘That’s for you. You’re the co-star.’ He said, ‘This is all Tom.’ He was so humble. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Frank happily gave away Hoffman’s acting secret, if you consider hard work a secret.
“For ‘Capote,’ the one he won the Oscar for, he read book after book after book and watched interview upon interview upon interview,” Frank said. “You know those notebooks, the marble on the front?”
“Composition books,” I said.
“He used to fill up composition books with notes about his character. Nobody could interpret the text of a script like Phil. He went so deep into who they were,” Frank said. “If he was going to play Scott Morris, he would find out how your wife brushes her teeth.”
When the entertainment world lost a giant talent, Frank lost a dear friend. The grief hasn’t gone far since February, but at least so many of the memories are sweet.
“Me and him laughed for the lifetime of 10 people,” Frank said. “I guarantee you, live 10 lifetimes, you won’t laugh as much as that.”
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (662) 678-1589
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – While also working full time as a Tupelo Police officer, Gale Stauffer earned his criminal justice degree.
“He went to ICC then graduated from Ole Miss,” said Stauffer’s mom, Debbie Brangenberg.
Sgt. Stauffer was killed and Officer Joseph Maher seriously injured during a shootout with a bank robbery suspect on Dec. 23.
In honor of Stauffer’s sacrifice and his commitment to education, CREATE Foundation formed the Gale Stauffer Memorial Scholarship. It was announced during an appreciation dinner for Lee County’s first responders at Summit Center on Thursday.
“We wanted a permanent reminder of what Officer Stauffer did for us,” said Greg Pirkle, chairman of the CREATE board of directors.
The scholarship will be for $10,000 a year, and Pirkle invited the business community and residents to contribute to the endowment fund. The children of Lee County’s first responders will be eligible.
“I’m so proud of this announcement,” Brangenberg said, “but it is difficult because we miss him so much.”
Stauffer’s wife, Beth Stauffer, didn’t attend the gathering, but sent a message with her husband’s partner and friend, Patrolman Clay Hassell.
“She asked if I would express my deep appreciation and gratitude for the overwhelming support she has received,” Hassell said.
Some 150 people gave a standing ovation to Stauffer’s family, as well as Officer Maher and his family.
Most of the people standing were, themselves, saluted throughout the event, which was meant to honor those who dedicate their lives to protecting others.
Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton said it’s easy to take first responders for granted, but when residents are seeking shelter from a storm, that’s when police officers, emergency personnel and firefighters go to work.
“They’re there regardless of the elements when we need them,” Shelton said.
Darrell Rankin, president of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, thanked those who “put that suit on, you strap it on and make yourself ready for the challenges of the day.”
He mentioned the police officer who responded to the shooting in downtown Nettleton that left three people dead on Wednesday.
“It reminds us of the heroes who are among us,” he said.
David Rumbarger, president of the Community Development Foundation, said that since his son has become a police officer, he’s learned what other families go through when someone they love willingly puts himself or herself in harm’s way.
He said he’s also learned that first responders form tight bonds and their coworkers become a second family.
In that spirit, he asked everyone in the room to hold hands and form a circle, then he prayed that God would protect those who protect everyone else.
TUPELO – The 11th Tupelo Film Festival will celebrate independent filmmakers today and Saturday at the Malco in Tupelo.
“This is an art form. When people make films on little budgets, they have to rely on ingenuity and creativity,” said Roy Turner, president of the Tupelo Film Festival Society. “You’ll get to see films made all over the country and all over the world.”
The festival began on Thursday and will continue with a free presentation at 10:30 a.m. today, when George Snider screens his children’s film, “Jake’s Safari,” at Screen 3.
That will be followed at 1 p.m. by a string of free Japanese films sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Mississippi.
Today’s competition will start at noon on Screen 3 with a block of documentary films. Turner has already seen some of the films in competition and was particularly moved by “Life, Liberty and Resilience,” a documentary on today’s schedule.
“A man tells the story of what it was like growing up and the injustice he suffered because of race,” Turner said. “Not only is it a powerful story, it’s also semi-local because he was born and raised in Columbus.”
Today’s events will close with a 7:30 p.m. screening of “Capote.” The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Truman Capote.
Frank Vitolo, a longtime Hoffman friend, will talk about Hoffman’s life and career during a Q&A session after the film.
Saturday’s events at Screen 4 include a 10 a.m. student workshop, followed by the Mississippi High School Film Competition beginning at 1:30 p.m. At 4 p.m., there will be a screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation,” a shot-for-shot remake by kids from south Mississippi.
Saturday’s competition will begin at noon on Screen 3. The last film of the day will be “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” a documentary about Sun Records. Jerry Phillips, son of the studio’s founder, Sam Phillips, will take part in a Q&A session after the screening.
“The festival is a unique experience,” Turner said. “In addition to watching the films, you get to meet the person who wrote the film or produced it or directed it or acted in it.”
The awards party will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the “Pod” behind the Malco. It’ll feature the West of Shake Rag Improv troupe and the Paul Tate Trio.
ON THE BIG SCREEN
• What: 11th Tupelo Film Festival
• When: Today and Saturday
• Where: Malco Theater, Tupelo
• Cost: $15/adult day pass, $7.50/student or senior day pass, $10/awards dinner. Student film screenings and workshops are all free.
• Information: tupelofilmfestival.net
By M. Scott Morris
Without the vocal talents of Kristin Chenoweth, I’d have to lower my grade for “Rio 2.”
She plays a poisonous frog named Gabi who’s in love with an obnoxious cockatoo named Nigel (Jermaine Clement). Pound for pound – rather, ounce for ounce – that little frog delivers massive comic relief, as well as an achingly funny love song.
The casting director deserves an award. In addition to our leads, Jesse Eisenberg as Blu and Anne Hathaway as Jewel, the cast includes Bruno Mars, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, Tracy Morgan, Andy García, Rita Moreno, Leslie Mann and Janelle Monáe.
Blu and Jewel think they and their three offspring are the last living Spix’s macaws on earth, then word comes about a lost flock deep in the Amazon.
A road trip – or, since they’re birds, an air trip – later, Jewel is reunited with her father (García) and old boyfriend (Mars). She and the kids thrive in the wild, but Blu’s a city bird who can’t please his father-in-law.
It’s like “Meet the Parents” with feathers. My kids and I became uncomfortable watching Blu continuously make a fool of himself. I thought his humiliations were too predictable, while the kids didn’t like seeing the poor guy suffer so much.
I told them Blu would get his act together. After all, someone had to stop the evil humans behind an illegal logging operation in the Amazon.
Several extravagant production numbers help distract from Blu’s troubles, but nothing tops Chenoweth’s solo shot early in the film.
The colorful birds, high-fiving turtles, rapping sloth, vengeful cockatoo, slobbering dog and the rest threaten to overrun the senses at times. Plenty of stuff happens in “Rio 2,” and I had trouble putting names to faces, even after getting a look at the cast list.
During different parts of the movie, I was entertained, bored and even annoyed. But, hey, I laughed out loud numerous times, Chenoweth certainly delivered and others in the cast had their moments, so how bad could it have been?
I give “Rio 2” a C plus.
For what it’s worth, my 11-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy agreed on an A minus.
It’s showing at Malcos in Tupelo, Oxford, Corinth and Columbus, as well as Hollywood Premier Cinemas in Starkville and Movie Reel 4 in New Albany.
Look for movie reviews in Scene on Thursdays, and listen each Tuesday morning on Wizard 106.7 between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m.
By M. Scott Morris
Workers with AmeriCorps have been getting into some of the best shape of their lives.
An eight-person team has been cutting down trees, working on controlled burns and helping renovate the Tupelo-Lee Humane Society.
Daniel Deitsch, 27, team leader from Ohio, was in the military, so AmeriCorps hasn’t done much for his fitness level, but he’s in the minority.
“Everyone else is stronger,” said Kyndra Beatty, 24, from Wisconsin.
Their stint in AmeriCorps began in February and will continue until November. They’ve been stationed in Tupelo since March and have about two more weeks before moving to their next posting.
They’ve been working on projects for the Natchez Trace Parkway, and have traveled up to Tennessee for a pair of controlled burns at Meriwether Lewis.
On Tuesday, they used chain saws to cut down trees around a weather station near the Parkway’s intersection with Highway 41.
“When the wind is blocked, the station isn’t as accurate,” said Manuela Hincapie, a 21-year-old from Rhode Island.
The team went through training to learn to use chain saws, and everyone wore appropriate safety equipment, including Kevlar chaps, hard hats and safety glasses.
The workers have stayed busy, even on their off days.
“Just about every weekend we’ve volunteered at the humane society in Tupelo,” said Matt Roderick, 19, from Maryland. “They’re renovating, and we’ve been painting and scraping. We also help walk the dogs and do the dishes.”
During their limited free time, they’ve visited the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Skate Zone.
“I want to go skating again,” Deitsch said.
“Me, too. I’ve got it down pat now,” said Jamal Keys, 19, from Illinois.
When the job ends in November, they’ll have earned about $4,000 each, plus the equivalent of a Pell Grant for school expenses.
There’s a little bit of play and a whole lot of hard work between now and then, and their bodies will feel it.
“We definitely eat a lot,” Deitsch said. “They have been eating me out of our food budget.”
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – Three friends believe they’re at the beginning of something big.
Preston Hooper and Carlos Campbell were both 7 years old when they started dancing. Cameron Jones was 9 when he started.
“Me and Carlos met in fourth grade,” said Hooper, a 15-year-old Tupelo resident. “I met Cameron in the sixth.”
Last year, Campbell, 15, of Sherman, decided it was time to put a dance crew together. He first contacted Hooper, and sent a text message to Jones, a 14-year-old Tupelo resident.
“We always loved to dance,” Hooper said.
“It was a dream,” Campbell said.
They perform under the name Speed Limit. Campbell said the name popped into his head one day.
“It fits,” he said. “We all do our different things at different paces.”
Their overall dance style is animation, and that includes break dancing, popping, the robot, crumping and hip-hop.
Sometimes their movements are wavy and flexible, and other times they’re jerky and abrupt. It’s easy to see Michael Jackson’s influence, especially the moon walk. Madonna’s “Vogue” days are represented, but the trio call it “tutting,” as in King Tut.
There’s also some mime thrown in, as the guys use invisible ropes to “pull” their bodies along.
They dance to dubstep and hip-hop music, whatever can get the crowd going, but Jones is open to other types of music.
“I could dance to Beethoven and put my tuxedo on,” he said.
They sent an audition video to “Kid Talk with Shania Brown,” and were invited to appear on the TV show in January.
“That’s where they met Karma,” said Jones’ father and the group’s chauffeur/manager, Jermaine Jones. “Karma are from Memphis and they do anti-bullying shows all over the place.”
“We’ve been opening for them,” Hooper said.
Speed Limit has performed in Greenville, Jackson, Tenn., Huntsville, Ala., and other spots. The guys have picked up some fans, mostly female, who visit their Facebook.com page at 3SpeedLimit.
They’ve been approached about performing in music videos, and there’s the possibility of going on tour with Jacob Latimore in the summer, but nothing is firm.
“I’m trying to set up something for Tupelo,” Jermaine Jones said. “It would be great to have them perform around here.”
The trio take it one show at a time. They practice two to three times a week to perfect their 15-minute routine. They also work on new choreography for the day they return to a place where they’ve already performed.
“We want to get big enough where we’re famous,” Hooper said.
“Where we’re known,” Campbell said.
“Where we get paid,” Hooper said, and the others nodded.
“We want to dance on tour with Beyoncé or someone like that,” Jones said.
For now, they’re happy dancing at venues around the Southeast, where they can hone their skills and slowly build Speed Limit’s following.
“You’ve got to start small,” Hooper said, “then you go big.”
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – A hula hoop is a simple thing, a ring made of plastic that spins in rhythm with a body’s motion.
For some, it’s a child’s toy. For members of Hoop-elo, it’s a calorie-burning tool, as well as the center of a real-life social network.
“First off, it’s great exercise. It’s great cardio. I had some back issues. It seems to make my back more flexible,” said Deb Fooshee, 59, of Mooreville. “Plus, it’s a sisterhood. It’s a group of girls who get together. That’s what I like about it.”
Fooshee’s fellow hoopers meet at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays in front of Tupelo City Hall to twist and turn together. They wear jeans, workout clothes or whatever they had on during the workday.
“It’s come-as-you-are,” said Tupelo resident Rebecca Fischer.
A few years ago, Fischer saw a friend in Oxford cut loose with a hula hoop.
“I was fascinated,” she said, “so she started teaching me.”
Hoop-elo grew from that, and now anywhere from a handful to a couple of dozen women show up to swing hoops around their waists, legs, necks and arms.
There’s no fee, no one takes roll, and nobody stands in front of the class barking out encouragement or instructions. Hoop-elo is a laid-back affair, where experienced hoopers informally share what they know.
“I love the whole positive atmosphere of it,” said Leigha Oliver, 25, of Saltillo. “We come here to relax and have fun together.”
‘Hoop’ is a verb
All ages are welcome, as long as their hips are in good hula form. Kids can join the fun – the hula hoop is a child’s toy, after all.
At 72, Saltillo resident Rose Brooks is the oldest Hoop-elo regular and she doesn’t mind saying so (unlike a couple of younger women who kept their ages to themselves).
“At first, I didn’t really want to do it, then I realized I could lose weight doing it,” Brooks said. “I do about 500 rotations every morning. That’s my daily exercise.”
She also takes a collection of hoops on the road to nursing homes.
“They get up and hoop, too,” Brooks said.
Fooshee chimed in to explain, “‘Hoop’ is a verb. That’s what it’s called: We hoop.”
They usually hoop to music, which varies from meeting to meeting but is usually upbeat. They also seek out other opportunities to groove.
“We meet at Down on Main when they have those free concerts,” Fischer said. “It’s fun to hoop to live music.”
During get-togethers at Fairpark, hooping can be a social thing or a personal experience. People can talk while their hips move from side to side; some withdraw into themselves and treat the hoop like a dance partner; and others use multiple hoops to test their focus and dexterity.
Gabrielle Lott, 34, of Oxford, is the one who introduced Fischer to the ways of the hula hoop. Her introduction came from a magazine article.
“It sounded good, so I went to a hardware store and looked on the Internet to learn how to make a hula hoop,” Lott said. “It went from there. It spiraled.”
She makes the one-hour drive to Tupelo for Hoop-elo meetings, where she spends part of her time helping newcomers and part focused on her own moves.
Lott’s hoops have become integral to her life, and it goes beyond the physical. Lott said her practice has emotional, mental and spiritual benefits.
“It gives me a way to express myself that I can’t get anywhere else. No one else hula hoops the way I hoop,” she said. “It has taken over my daily life. Most days I pick up my hoop after a hard day at work. It’s not so much about exercising. It’s getting rid of all that internal gunk. You just feel better.”
Websites, including Hooping.org and hoopcity.ca, are dedicated to the pastime, and retreats are held at far-flung places for people who want to get serious about their hooping.
“Serious” probably isn’t a good word for Hoop-elo meetings, which have their own vibe.
Leslie Geoghegan, 55, of Tupelo, summed it up: “It’s like recess for adults. It really is.”
It’s a chance for unstructured play, and hoopers sometimes incorporate moves they learned when they were kids at dance and gymnastics classes.
“I did ballet as a child,” Fischer said, “so the dance just kind of comes naturally.”
It should be noted that accidents happen. Hoops can collide with other hoops, and people can get bumps and bruises.
“One time I was trying to bring it over my head,” Oliver said, “and I hit myself in the lip and broke it open.”
Hoops range from homemade to fancy store-bought devices with tiny computers inside.
“They can cost up to $400,” said Janet Martin of Tupelo. “There are lots of different patterned LED lights, and you can adjust them.”
No one needs to invest that kind of money to become a hooper. Newcomers need only bring themselves.
“There are always extra hoops for girls to use,” Oliver said.
All of that twirling and twisting will cause muscles to burn the next day. It’s definitely a workout, and there are other benefits for those who join the sisterhood.
“It’s more than exercising,” Fischer said. “It’s about connecting with other people. It’s hard to explain. You just feel it.”
I have a herniated disc in my neck, and pain’s been shooting down my right arm for about two weeks.
I’m not looking for sympathy. It’s just that this has been the dominant thing on my mind.
It isn’t a big deal in the Grand Scheme of Things because I have access to 21st century medical treatment.
Wolves would’ve eaten me by now if I’d lived during the caveman days.
I’ve read that you’re supposed to think of those worse off than you when you’re feeling low, and think about people doing better than you whenever you get uppity.
If I catch myself complaining too much about this or that, I remember a cousin who never made it past age 12.
Cancer got him through no fault of his own. I would’ve hated to have shared his fate, but it would’ve been worse to have faced what his parents faced.
This isn’t about pity. Rather, it’s understanding how capricious life can be. A single gene or piece of DNA can mean the difference between a full life and an early grave.
My mind periodically travels to dark territory, and I find myself thinking about all the Jews, Gypsies, gays, disabled people and others who were killed in concentration camps during World War II. The only difference between those people and me is the accident of birth, which no one can control, just as no one can pick which path a tornado takes.
At times, I’ve considered the 18-year-old men who were drafted and sent to Vietnam. The draft ended by the time it would’ve affected me, but I’ve imagined what it would be like to receive notice in the mail that my life belonged to the U.S. military for the foreseeable future. I sometimes picture bombs exploding and wonder how I’d react.
I’m a science fiction fan, so I’ve read a bunch of stories that envisioned what life could become during a post-apocalyptic age.
It’s not pretty, and the health care options are often the same as the cavemen had, if not worse, because cavemen might’ve had specialized knowledge about medicinal herbs that those surviving the fall of civilization wouldn’t have access to.
To sum up, I haven’t spent much time thinking about my herniated disc or the radiating pain while considering what others have faced in the past or will face in the uncertain future.
According to the book I’d read, the goal is to find the happy medium, the place at the middle of the Cosmic Seesaw, where you’re neither up or down but right in the middle, overflowing with calm equilibrium.
There’s no way I’ve achieved anything close to that standard, but you’ve probably learned a lesson: Steer clear of me when things aren’t quite right with my world. But if you happen to get stuck with me, imagine how much worse things could get. Just a suggestion.
M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or email@example.com.
By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – A pair of businesses are combining forces to help Tupelo Police Department Officer Joseph Maher and his family and the late Sgt. Kevin “Gale” Stauffer’s family.
But Tupelo Screen Printing and Reed’s Department Store need support from the community.
Russell Stafford, owner of Tupelo Screen Printing, wanted to do something for the officers who responded to a bank robbery three days before Christmas. Stauffer was killed and Maher gravely injured.
After checking with TPD officials and the officers’ families, Stauffer designed a T-shirt in dark blue, light blue and white that says, “Tupelo Police Department: To Protect & Serve.”
“I just want people to realize that the men and women in law enforcement and the military put it all on the line every day they go to work,” Stafford said. “And when things go bad, it affects them, their families, their friends and the entire community.”
He paid for the materials and the printing, and Reed’s is selling the shirts for $20 at stores in downtown Tupelo and at The Mall at Barnes Crossing.
“This young man came in and said, ‘I’ve got an idea,’ and we were happy to partner with him,” said Jack Reed Jr., president of R.W. Reed Co. “The full $20 for each shirt will go to the families.”
The shirts range in size from medium to 2XL. They’re in the men’s department at the downtown store and by the register at the mall store.
“This project isn’t about me giving back. It’s about us all giving back any way we can, even if it’s something as simple as buying a T-shirt,” Stafford said. “I want these T-shirts to sell out.”