MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Like video games, movies can be a harmless way to kill time, or entertainment that can expand your mind. Our next guest was just honored for finding wise words to describe even not so clever movies. Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism this week. According to the prize committee, Morris won for, quote, "his smart, inventive film criticism distinguished by pinpoint prose and an easy traverse between the art house and big screen box office," unquote. We have to say we agree.
Today, we're talking with him about a film that's more big screen box office than art house. It's called "Think Like a Man." It hits theaters this Friday. And Wesley Morris joins us now and, hopefully, has some of that pinpoint prose saved up for us.
Welcome back, Wesley Morris, and congratulations on this wonderful honor.
WESLEY MORRIS: Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: Now, of course, we're going to talk about the new movie, but we have to ask, you know, the question that everybody wants to ask, which is, where were you when you found out? What were you doing?
MORRIS: That's so funny. I don't know. You know, I was packing boxes because I'm moving and the phone rang and it was the editor of the paper, a guy named Marty Baron, wonderful man.
MARTIN: And you thought you were in trouble?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MORRIS: Yeah. At 6:30 at night, when the phone rings and it's your boss, yeah. You don't really know what's going on. And he called to say, congratulations, and I said, for what? And he said, you won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. And, you know, what I said was, you know - I can't say what I said on the radio, but I mean, it was a surprise. You know, it's a weird thing because you don't do this - I don't write to win anything. I don't ever expect to win anything. I've never won anything before and, you know, I don't know if you should really want to read people who do.
MARTIN: But it's still great.
MORRIS: But I - you know...
MARTIN: It's still pretty great.
MORRIS: It's pretty amazing. It's totally amazing.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations.
MORRIS: You know, I know people who've won and I've been in awe of, you know, their talent and, you know, I don't really think of myself in any particular mode or style or, you know, pantheon of critics. You know, I just go to work and I do my job and I go home. But I care a lot about what I do, so I mean, there's that.
MARTIN: Well, that's great. And, presumably, your parents now finally think you have a real job.
MORRIS: Yeah. How about that? You know...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: If you're - that's right. If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're talking with newly minted Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Wesley Morris, who was nice enough to take our call, despite the fact that he's now in the pantheon.
MORRIS: Oh, come on.
MARTIN: So let's talk about...
MORRIS: Michel, you've always loved me. You've been wonderful.
MARTIN: That's true. I just thank you for...
MORRIS: This whole - I mean...
MARTIN: ...noticing, so...
MORRIS: This prize means nothing for our relationship. Just...
MARTIN: Well, that's...
MORRIS: ...put it that way.
MARTIN: I would hope. We'll see when we call you the next time when the glow is worn off. So tell us about the big release this weekend. It's this - "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man" by - it's based on the advice book, if I can call it that, by the radio host and comedian, Steve Harvey, and it's supposed to tell women how to outmaneuver men in romance. I'll just play a short clip.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THINK LIKE A MAN")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Why men do what they do. Look at this, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Steve Harvey's a traitor.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hey, look, mama's boys, chapter seven. That's you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I'm not a mama's boy. You don't think I'm a mama's boy, do you, bro?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Listen to this. Men respect standards. Get some. I prefer my women not to have standards.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: This is sick.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's brainwashing. I'm telling you.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: She's trying to push me toward my dreams and help me accomplish my goals. Why would she do this?
MARTIN: So the movie, "Think Like a Man." As we said, it's based on that book by Steve Harvey. It's an ensemble piece. There are people like, you know, Taraji P. Henson in it, who's been on the program. Also, Gabrielle Union - also been on the program. Michael Ealy, for the ladies. Pop star Chris Brown has a role.
So do we want to see this or not?
MORRIS: I will tell you why you want to see this movie. Taraji P. Henson is a movie star. She doesn't work enough in the movies. You know, she has an Oscar nomination for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." She's on TV, then that police procedural on CBS. This woman can take, you know, nothing and turn it into something.
The material here is basically all shilling for this book that everybody already has. I don't know why you'd want to watch a movie based on it. It's sort of - you know, you've read and heard all the things, all the sort of knocks against it. It's chauvinistic. It doesn't really understand how women think or want any - you know, what they want at all. It's purely sort of self-serving for men, in a lot of senses.
I think that one of the things the movie manages to do is straighten some of that stuff out so that it seems more evenly ignorant of how either gender...
MARTIN: Who is this movie for? Who is this movie for?
MORRIS: You know, it's a good question. I'll tell you what. Morris Chestnut shows up in a cameo at some point and the electricity that went through the theater blew my mind and I will not say that I was immune to it, 'cause I wasn't. He's there for all of maybe three minutes of screen time, but at some point, he gets out of a car in slow motion and the women all die. That man can command your attention. He's not much of an actor. He's barely a movie star, but he has something that people respond to.
And the thing that he is - the person responding to him in that scene is her. It's Taraji Henson. And she has a Diana Ross haircut. She swings that hair like it's nobody's business. She puts a lot of air into her lines. She acts with her body. She's funny.
MARTIN: So we're watching her hair. This is a movie about her hair? OK. Great.
MORRIS: This is not a movie about her hair, but you know, she's the kind of - the reason that I love her and I think the reason that people respond to her and would respond more to her if she got more and better parts is that she's an actor who uses all that she has to use. I mean, she's in scenes with Regina Hall, who I think is a wonderful comedian and is sort of misused here. And she just uses her fingertips, her neck. She swings the hair and she bulges her eyes and she has a great scene with Michael Ealy in a food truck that just...
MARTIN: OK. Well...
MORRIS: You know...
MARTIN: Don't give it all away.
MORRIS: I'm not going to. I can't ruin the movie, Michel.
MARTIN: So, before we let you go, we only have about a couple of minutes left. And one of the things that we've talked a lot about on this program is the question of whether the universe is expanding so that actors and actresses of different backgrounds actually get to show what they can do. OK?
MARTIN: And I don't know whether this expands that universe, so I want to turn the conversation back to you again. Do you think that this prize - unexpected, well deserved, in our opinion - does this expand the universe of what you think you can do? It's no secret that, you know, our business, in general, is in some difficulty, particularly on the newspaper side, if you don't mind my saying.
MORRIS: No. It's true.
MARTIN: Does this change anything? Do you think it expands the universe of what people think is possible?
MORRIS: That's a really complicated question. I will say this: You know, Margo Jefferson and Robin Givhan and I are three African-American people who've won this prize and I think that we have won it for doing work that is beyond the purview of race, but is not unaware of it and is willing to take it into consideration.
I think that what it actually says to me - it's something that I've been thinking a lot about with this Trayvon Martin situation - which is that it's really important to have everybody in on the conversation. It's really important to have everybody looking at things and perceiving things and have other people listening to what other people are seeing.
I mean, I feel really lucky to have this job. I feel really lucky to be a critic of anything. I really value that, but I also sort of understand what I bring to the table as someone who is, you know, several minorities and...
MARTIN: OK. All right.
MORRIS: ...you know, interested in a lot of different things.
MARTIN: Well, think more about that question and come back and, if you have more to say on that, we'll have you back, as we would, anyway. Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe. Earlier this week, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. It's one of our profession's highest honors. And he joined us from WGBH in Boston.
Wesley Morris, thank you so much, and congratulations again.
MORRIS: Thank you so much. Thanks a lot, Michel.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: Coming up, a prostitution scandal is rocking the Secret Service in the wake of President Obama's trip to Columbia, and an author who's chronicled the agency's exploits says heads will roll.
JEFFREY ROBINSON: These men were not responsible for themselves and they deserve what they're getting. They're all probably looking for work as of right now. They certainly will never rise higher in the secret service.
MARTIN: The ladies in the Beauty Shop weigh in on who's to blame and what it means. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARTIN: The Dream Act calls for a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants, those brought here as children, but past versions of the bill haven't gotten much Republican support. Now, some Republicans, like former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, say it's time for the GOP to find its own voice on this issue. We speak with Alberto Gonzales next time on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.