“The Color Purple” / Publicity photo

New Take on ‘The Color Purple’ Works Overall; Zachary Quinto and Jacob Elordi Headline Inert ‘He Went That Way’

Director Steven Spielberg’s 1985 version of Alice Walker’s classic, “The Color Purple,” has always been heavily debated. Many knock it for being too tidy and toning down the lesbian love story at its heart. Others, though, consider it a classic and a film that has withstood the test of time a lot better than the movie it lost the Best Picture Oscar to, “Out of Africa.”

A new version of Walker’s work is out now, directed by Blitz Bazawule and based on the musical version that premiered at Alanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2004 and made it to Broadway. With Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey (who starred in the original), and Quincy Jones among its producers, this take on “The Color Purple” doesn’t have as much power as its predecessor, but does have many stellar moments.

Marcus Gardley’s screenplay follows Celie (played by Phylicia Pearl Mpasi as a child and Fantasia Barrino as an adult) who progresses from a young woman living in Georgia facing abuse, an unhappy marriage to Mister (Colman Domingo), and separation from her sister, to an independent force. Two women forever change her life — Sofia (Danielle Brooks), the wife of her son Harpo, and Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), a jazz singer who used to be Mister’s lover, that Celie falls for.

The musical, with a book by Marsha Norman and music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray, doesn’t differ dramatically from the original film, but Bazawule’s musical numbers are a little erratic. Some feel organic, while others are clumsy. “What About Love?” a joyous duet between Celie and Shug, is staged here as a fantasy sequence while the two women watch a movie, and it feels watered down, losing its emotion.

But for the most part, the passion between Celie and Shug here is a bit more pronounced than in Spielberg’s version.

One huge problem, however, especially for older audience members, is the legacy of that original film. Whatever your opinion of it, there’s no denying the beauty of the performances of Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Winfrey as Sophia, and Margaret Avery as Shug Avery. Some performances for Bazawule here work better than others.

The film really gets going only when Brooks and Henson make their appearances. Brooks makes a delightful Sofia and brings sass and charm to the role. Henson, too, makes a terrific Shug, and her numbers are rowdy and enjoyable — especially “Push Da Button.” Out actor Colman Domingo also brings a lot to the role of Mister, even if on paper the character can be one-dimensional.

Yet in this new version, Barrino is almost passive to a fault. While it’s true the character grows into herself over time and begins to assert herself late in life, Barrino’s Celie doesn’t do with the role as much as she could, especially next to Brooks and Henson. It’s really only in Celie’s late number, “I’m Here” that the character starts to register.

“The Color Purple” was filmed in various locations in Georgia. Many Atlanta area performers are in the film and it’s fun to spot them. It’s a film well worth seeing, even if it makes less of an impression than it wants to.

Speaking of impressions, Jacob Elordi has certainly made one, film-wise, in the last few months. Known primarily for his work in “Euphoria,” he’s been seen of late in “Priscilla” and in the current “Saltburn” as the object of Barry Keoghan’s desire. He and out actor Zachary Quinto star in the new drama, “He Went That Way,” but even their presence can’t save it.

Quinto plays Jim Goodwin, an animal trainer traveling with his chimpanzee Spanky in the back of his vehicle in the summer of 1964 in Death Valley, California. One day he eyeballs handsome drifter, Bobby Falls (Elordi), and offers him a ride.

Falls is based on the real-life serial killer, Larry Lee Ranes, who’d meet men and shoot them in the head, and the film is adapted from Conrad Hilberry’s book, “Luke Karamazov.” “He Went That Way” is directed by Jeffrey Darling, who sadly died in a surfing accident after the film was made. Darling was a veteran in the industry, making his directorial debut here, but Evan M. Wiener’s weak script defeats everyone’s work.

A Tribeca Film Festival premiere from last year, it’s never really clear if “He Went That Way” is a dark comedy, a road movie, or a thriller. There is something between the two men, maybe a little homoeroticism, but it’s never really acted on or explored.

Neither of the talented actors are able to layer their characters. The buttoned-up Jim and his actions make little sense, and Bobby comes across as a cut-rate James Dean, cigarette perched in his mouth nonstop. One moment the character is having a quiet conversation with Jim in a diner and seconds later he is stabbing an employee. Maybe it’s supposed to be edgy, but it’s mostly meandering and devoid of personality. Skip this one.

“The Color Purple” is now in area theaters

“He Went That Way” is now in theaters and on VOD