Posts Tagged ‘Musical’

Repo the Genetic Opera (2008)

April 20, 2019

I originally watched the first few minutes of this movie about eight years ago. I have since mostly forgotten it and I had put off watching the rest of it despite hearing that it was really good. I do vividly remember the moments when I was watching it. I was sitting in a parking lot behind the theater I worked at after driving from Baltimore to Sussex, New Jersey. I was tired and I was wondering when I would run into my boss. After being back home during the holidays and the offseason, I was anxious about getting back to work after six weeks. The dark edge to the musical mixed with that anxiety about my future. I now know that I had my very first anxiety attack. I could not continue with the movie and I could hardly sit still. I felt like crap. This was actually my second missed opportunity to see the movie after not going to the theater to see it with my little brother. This will be my third attempt and I will not lie that I have been a little anxious about it but it in a good way. My medication keeps most of my anxiety attacks at bay now.

I really wanted to watch a horror-themed musical to go with my theme of “Music” this month. Horror is one of my favorite genres and I grew up being exposed to musicals. My philosophy is that Halloween is less of a one day holiday and is more something that exists year round. Any time I am feeling down, the supernatural is always there to cheer me up or scare me out of my bad mood. As an added bonus, most horror musicals are lighter than the darker, more serious horror movies. While I watch plenty of dark horror, I really love the funnier, goofier side of Halloween better. When I first heard the premise of this one, I knew I could not really take it seriously. This is just another reason why I love the Horror genre. It often has the most out there, crazy ideas. If you are going to get your mind blown, it will not be drama or comedy that does it. Even fantasy does not usually hold a candle to the weirdest ideas horror generates.

The first awesome part of the movie is the aesthetic. The movie starts with a comic book prologue which just dumps all of the exposition quickly so the viewer can just dive into the world. That comic book exposition comes back a few times in the movie to quickly update us on what happened in the past. The reality and look of the world hits you right away as a post-apocalyptic world should. I would describe the costuming and character design as part goth, part raver, and part Blade Runner. The makeup and hair are absolutely wild and interesting. Everything is dirty and scummy like a Halloween theme park. The CGI looks cheap but it actually works for this movie as a B movie giving tribute to B movies (sort of a B+ movie, maybe). From the jump, there is a lot of gore but it is good, old-fashioned horror movie gore. The lighting also all looks like it is out of a haunted house or, more appropriately, like a theater. It is harsh in a lot of places but looks interesting.

I really liked the music in this one. It really is an opera and pretty much all of the dialogue is sung. This can be a risky proposition if the casting has not been done correctly. The first good choice they made was casting Anthony Stewart Head because any Buffy fan knows that he can sing and sing well. His solo song was when I really first got into the movie for real. Paul Sorvino plays one of the evilest corporate CEOs in history and sings operatically in a beautiful way. His children are played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Kevin Ogilvie. They often sing horribly but I am sure they are meant to since they are all comic relief. A quick note here: Paris Hilton is not a bad singer when she is trying. Alexa PenaVega plays the movie’s protagonist, and she has a great young voice. The writer, Terrance Zdunich, plays a graverobber and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite as he has such a beautiful voice. Sarah Brightman is probably the best singer (which probably makes sense as she is cast as a singer). Everything is backed by either electronica music or industrial guitars. The music is not very intrusive, making sure to give plenty of room to hear and understand the singing.

Overall, I loved this movie. It is really cheesy and goofy but I can see the appeal. A lot of the movie feels like the characters are in one big music video but that is an interesting aesthetic. Some of the music is not my jam but I feel like this was done on purpose for comic effect or to jar the listener. They proved that they can score the movie correctly and the good singers are really fun to listen to. The story is gruesome and dark but it has enough dark and dry comedy to keep it moving along without feeling too bad. It is definitely something worth seeing for horror and musical fans. At the same time, I can see why critics hated this movie. Also, do not be put off by the mention of Paris Hilton as she actually helped finance the movie because she believed in it and she is surprisingly talented.

(Written on 4/17/19)


Stage Fright (2014)

October 31, 2017

82 minutes – Rated R for blood, violence, sexual situations, music, and Meat Loaf.

I have worked in theaters that I thought at the time were haunted. For years, I worked for free at the Fells Point Corner Theater. The building is an old fire station that was converted to use as a community theater in an old part of Baltimore. As such, the brick building was quite old. In the rear of the building, there was a set of ancient stairs that were never lit but were the fastest way to get from the third floor to the second floor out of view of the audience. I would walk through almost perfect darkness and I imagined ghosts very near me every time. There was also the rehearsal space in college called The Little Theater which was rumored to have been haunted by a woman named Jane who used to manage the building. People claimed she was the reason behind the radiators always being set too high. They also said that mysteriously curtains would be drawn by ghostly hands. People in theater are superstitious anyway so these sorts of things easily caught on. I never met a ghost but I believed they were there.

The combination of the horror and the musical genres seems to be a bit strange at first glance. However, there is a long history of horror musicals. The very first stage musical I ever saw was Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. That show scared the heck out of me as a little boy because it was so tense and there were some great scares including the infamous chandelier crash and an onstage hanging. In the Venn diagram of horror and musicals, the part of horror that often does not overlap is a little thing called subtlety. Musicals are big and presentational and do not often leave room for subtle, psychological horror. That is why most of the horror musicals I have seen have leaned hard into the more darkly comic elements of horror. Little Shop of Horrors is a great example, embracing the goofy B movie elements horror and science fiction used to have at the time. More recently, Evil Dead: The Musical captures the campy nature of a classic horror/comedy/action series of movies. The scares are not exactly scary but there is a gruesome creepiness pervading the whole thing.

The movie stars Allie McDonald, who is great as a young Broadway hopeful working at a performing arts summer camp who wants to get noticed. She is instantly likable and I wanted to see this young ingenue succeed. She is the daughter of a Broadway legend who is played by Minnie Driver. The head of the camp is played by Meat Loaf himself, a veteran of movie musical/horror mashups. McDonald’s twin brother is played by Douglas Smith, who is just trying to work for the camp in an effort to save and move on with his life. The three of them are backed up by a goofy gang of misfits and downtrodden kids who go to summer camp in order to have a place where they will not be picked on. The singing is absolutely great but what really sells are the clever and dark lyrics from the songs. Even songs that are supposed to be happy end up being touched by the horror. The musical within a musical is The Haunting of the Opera and they make that parody/tribute very clear. There are also a ton of references to other musicals and the culture that surrounds theater. Also, harkening back to my youth, there is definitely a clash between musicals and heavy metal.

Of course, this is still a horror film and while there is kind of a slow burn, it does get to the horror part along with the musical part. The movie sets up a good ratcheting tension until something has to give and then it gives. The movie has great tributes to movies like Sleepaway Camp, Friday the 13th, and (maybe unintentionally) the 1987 version of Stage Fright. The special effects on the kills are great. While a lot of it is computer generated, it was very well done. The deaths are creative and they really went in directions that I was not suspecting. After watching so many horror movies (30 so far this October alone) it is really neat to still be surprised and entertained. What I loved the best about the horror aspects actually was that it was a mystery. I kept trying to figure out who the killer was and my list kept growing instead of shrinking. I love a good mystery especially when the movie does a good job of not giving the way ending. (An ending I won’t give away here either).

Overall, I loved this movie. It was way more clever and fun than I thought it was going to be and I came in with some decent expectations. Maybe it is my history with theater or maybe it is my love of dark humor and horror but this ended up being a really great movie for me. I laughed a lot during this movie which is a great way to officially end this yearly challenge to myself. The movie is goofy and silly but then it takes nosedives into the realm of horror only to come up for breath again.

(Alright, consider this a curtain call for Halloween 2017. I really enjoyed this year even more than last year. I think I am getting better at selecting movies that I think that I will enjoy versus movies that I feel I have to cover because they are iconic. While this post kind of wraps things up, I have a tiny encore on Thursday. Now, I am off to go watch Fright Night (1985) at my cousin’s house which will officially make 31 horror movies. Break a leg this Halloween and stay safe!)

Media Update 6/9/2016

June 9, 2016

Legally Blonde: The Musical

It has been a while since I watched Legally Blonde or its sequel. They’re both great movies and I consider them to be well-written movies about a main character (and some minor characters) finding their inner strength and exceeding everyone’s expectations. I consider the movie to be one of the first feminist movies that I watched and was conscious of. I think a lot of people consider Legally Blonde to be kind of a girly movie and I can see where they would get that. However, this is way more intelligent than your average chick flick or dick flick for that matter. The main character is Elle Woods who goes to law school for all the wrong reasons but proves to herself that she’s stronger and smarter than anybody thought including herself. She also changes the lives of several people around her who are able to find their voices as well and better their lives. On a side note, in no way am I belittling somebody who chooses to be a fashion major or women who go out for their MRS degree. The musical does an excellent job of adapting the movie and the recording I watched had a very dynamic and talented cast. The show is high energy and the music is incredibly infectious. The musical numbers also play around a lot with conventional musical structure. There are a lot of interesting things done for the sake of comedy or storytelling. For the most part, the musical stays faithful to the movie as an inspirational tale of law students banding together under the command of one plucky young lady. There are a lot of interesting, thrilling moments that work just as well or better in musical form. Check the whole thing out on YouTube while it lasts or catch a stage version.

State Fair

When I was in high school, our drama department always did a certain kind of musical. We didn’t do anything that would need an electric guitar but plenty of piano-driven, cute musicals. We did old time musicals like Fiddler on the Roof, Anything Goes and Once Upon a Mattress. When it comes to that type of musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein are probably the most well-known team. They created musicals like The King and I, Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music. They specialize in some of the catchiest tunes around and lyrics that are pretty easy to remember because they flow well. I had heard of State Fair but I never had a chance to see it before now. As you’d expect the music is really good and very much like many of the musicals of its time. The first thing that struck me is that one of the main characters depicts the specific ennui and restlessness of being young perfectly. The story follows two young siblings who are both having trouble with their love lives back in their small time. Things start to change when they travel with their parents to the state fair and they each meet somebody who represents something completely new. The subplots have to do with the fair activities of livestock and cooking competitions which allow for more comic relief. The story is actually really interesting because I could not tell exactly where things were going and I just sat back and enjoyed the ride. Long time readers know that I have a soft spot for upbeat classic movies and this was definitely one of them. I definitely recommend this for musical lovers.

Shrek: The Musical

I remember when Shrek came out. At the time, it was an innovative look at fairy tales at the time with a slightly new take on The Tiger’s Bride. It basically added some heart and pop culture references to the classic transformation tale but the performances and heart pulled it off. It would end up being one of the last good movies for both Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy. I saw an ad for the musical when I was up in New Jersey and I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I ever saw. When the musical popped up on Netflix recently I had had time to let the idea percolate and I thought why not? So, the modern music like Smash Mouth is obviously replaced with show tunes which actually fits the story better. The visual design and script hit a lot of the same points as the original. I thought it felt more mature for a little bit but instead, I decided that it’s simply less juvenile and yes there’s a difference. Some of the songs are catchy but the lyrics are actually really fun and creative. The main difference from the original is that there seems to be a lot more exposition. We get more of Shrek’s, Fiona’s and Farquad’s backstories and the dragon talks now. In general, characters felt more developed and motivations were clearer. Both are refreshing and add to the story. The new jokes land a little better than some of the ones they replaced. There are also some really innovative special effects that were cool to watch. The actors are unknown to me but it felt like they put their own spin on things and didn’t just copy the movie too much. Check it out if you’re interested.


Music of the Week:

Slaughter – Spend My Life
The Jesus And Mary Chain – Head On
Creature – Pop Culture
May May- When I Enter Your Mind… (RIP Muhammad Ali)
Madeon – Pop Culture

Weekly Updates:

– I am loving season 2 of Person of Interest
– I finished watching season 1 of Better Call Saul and it destroyed me
– I got back into Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries this week
– So many movies in theaters I want to check out
– So many things on the docket in coming weeks to talk about
– Youtube will definitely make another appearance soon
– Muhammad Ali meant a lot to me. But still we move on.
– Check out I Am Ali on Netflix. It’s great.

Grease (1978)

April 8, 2015

I can’t really come up with a good reason why I haven’t seen Grease up until now. I’m a fan of musicals in general even though I sometimes condemn the whole genre. I didn’t mind Travolta as much back then. I guess I must have missed it because it wasn’t part of my high school’s line up and I never felt the need. Still, it’s a cultural touchstone and I want to actually see it instead of associating it with a bunch of songs I’ve already heard. So let’s dive into Grease. Hopefully it’s more pleasant than that last sentence.

“Horrible seventies animation. Great. Also, the first song doesn’t make sense. It’s also pretty low energy for an opening number.”

The opening credits have really awful animation and a really awful song that doesn’t make sense for an opening number. It’s just a harbinger for things to come.

“Ok I wasn’t expecting the British accent. Why is this a thing?”

Seriously. Why is she Australian? That plot point never really goes anywhere. She could have been from Oregon or something instead. Really, really weird.

“Is Rizzo Kinickie’s mom?”

I guess it was seventies casting but they could have at least cast college kids to be in high school instead of people in there late twenties and early thirties. Of course, this is a common complaint for plenty of movies and tv shows. Kinickie and Rizzo are particulary old looking as Rizzo looks believable as a middle-aged mom at times.

“Ok Summer Nights is a good song. The first good one so far.”

Unfortunately it turned out to be one of basically three good songs.

“Pretty good character actors.”

The only thing that kept me from turning this movie off halfway through were the various character actors that appeared throughout. The Principal was pretty fun and so was the coach. The backup T-Birds and Pink Ladies were way funnier than anything else in the movie. I especially love the Three Stooges-type routines.

“They have a lot of blonde wigs. What the hell? Also, they are the worst friends. Also this is another mediocre song.”

The song in question here is called Sandra Dee or something or other. It’s awful and makes Sandy’s friends look like the biggest jerks. They kind of are.

“At least Travolta sings better than Pierce Brosnan. This number is strangely sexual though.”

A cheap shot at Mamma Mia which is somehow a worse musical. The choreography for Greased Lightning is pretty sexual and actually disturbed me by how much it looked like it belonged in The Full Monty instead.

“The Gamblers are playing the worst written songs in the history of music. They’re also pretty lackluster singers.”

There are a lot of boring and poorly written songs in this movie which is weird for a musical. The biggest offenders were at the dance-off which was even weirder. I don’t know what they were thinking. How did this musical get famous?

“It’s nice for the movie to have a point suddenly but there’s only twenty minutes left so it’s a little too late.”

There didn’t really seem to be a coherent plot up until the build up for the race at Thunder Road plotline but it comes too little, too late. It does set up the only action sequence which was actually pretty cool to watch.

“The first ten minutes and the last twenty are actually fairly good but there’s unfortunately another hour and a half.”

Yep. Pretty much. This movie drags so much and then it finally picks up just in time for it to end.

“This ending is bad and it should feel bad. They should have ended with You’re the One That I Want. At least this song isn’t that annoying. It’s just kind of annoying.”

The romance plot between Sandy and Danny was absolutely disgusting. There are no good excuses for it. Sandy is so weak-willed and Danny is so half-assed about the relationship. By comparison, Rizzo and Kinickie are a lot more likeable but even Kinickie is kind of a jerk but at least he gets a more proper redemption.

Ok let’s be clear. I really hated this movie and by extension I never want to see the stage version. The thing was so slow that I wanted to fast forward but for the sake of some sort of twisted journalistic integrity I didn’t. I liked some of the characters but Danny and Sandy grated on my nerves hardcore. Danny was an asshole and Sandy was kind of a clueless ditz about it. They did the storyline where the guy upsets the girl by putting on an act but he decided to change who he was to get her back. She already loved the real you, dummy. Just be the Danny at the beach who was apparently the real you.  Of course, he never does that and she changes for him and makes me want to barf.

There were a bunch of storylines that never went anywhere. Frenchy and her beauty school dreams, Sonny and Marty, Cha Cha and Danny’s past and a bunch of others. At least Rizzo and Kinickie’s storyline was at least a bit believable and they ended up being more enjoyable. They aren’t worth watching the movie for though.

The movie was dull as dirt and I’m really disappointed. The music was mostly awful and washed out except for Summer Nights. Unfortunately, the quality rarely gets back up the level of that one musical number. I’m left with nearly two hours of mind-numbing boredom until You’re The One That I Want. Just skip this movie and watch Summer Nights and You’re the One That I Want on Youtube.

Top 11 Musicals

January 11, 2015

I have been involved with theater for a long time.  I was brought to Broadway at a young age and my family frequented the Mechanic Theater and the Lyric Opera House quite a bit.  I even saw Oliver! at a West End London theater at age twelve.  I went through a period where I hated musicals because some of them are poorly written.  RENT especially made me hate musicals for years and I instead embraced Shakespeare and the theater I attended was the kind without singing and dancing.  I eventually went to school for theater but Rutgers never did musicals, instead focusing on acting.  In my short career in professional theater I worked on a few musicals but a lot of them weren’t very good or were for kids.  Still, there are a few musicals out there that I still like.  Here’s the top 11.

1 Annie Get Your Gun

To this day I can’t remember when I was exposed to this musical.  I’m fairly certain we didn’t do it in High School because we rarely did anything this cool in school.  I am reasonably sure I didn’t see the movie version (which is excellent) until later.  I must have seen the show live at some point then.   I doubt it was at the Mechanic and I know I didn’t see the Broadway revival.  According to the internet I could have seen it at the Kennedy Center which actually seems likely.  Regardless, I love this tale of a strong-willed woman getting lost in the world of the show business and then finding herself and her strength again.  The songs are all catchy as hell and there were many times that the entire soundtrack was blaring through my headphones in my late teens.

2 Guys and Dolls

I remember where I first saw this musical.  I first saw Guys and Dolls at the Ritz Theater in Haddon, New Jersey.  The theater’s pretty small but when I went to Camp Shohola, they did an annual live theater trip where you could go and see a show with your fellow campers.  I was blown away by the music and the characters but at the same time I had to play it cool because I didn’t want to seem like a theater nerd in front of the boys.  We were in the back few rows but the place is small enough that you’re still very close.  The score is lively and the show has some pretty good messages about managing your expectations of life and what it means to be in a healthy relationship.  It’s basically a Shakespearean comedy of misunderstandings modernized and set to an excellent Jazz score.  The movie version is pretty good as well as you would think it would be since it stars Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.  Of course, Marlon Brando singing is a little… you know what?  He’s fine.

3 Singin’ in the Rain

I’ve only seen the movie version of this musical but it is really excellent.  As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, the musical is formed by stealing good songs from earlier, inferior musicals.  Of course, I have no problem with this because they took the songs and refurbished and repurposed them for a good cause.  The musical is both a tribute and sometimes almost a parody of musicals from the twenties and thirties.  However, the plot is way funnier and much better constructed than any 30’s musical I have ever seen.  Gene Kelly is basically the human personification of dance and did the Singin’ in the Rain dance number in one take with a 103 degree fever.  The young Debbie Reynolds is amazing and more than matches the skill and enthusiasm of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.  It really feels like more than just a love story even though the love story is pretty central to the plot.

4 George M

This musical celebrates the loud and passionate personality of George M. Cohan who was a famous composer and star on Broadway after a successful vaudeville career.  Cohan was a famous composer but I don’t think I can point to a lot you would recognize.  He wrote a lot of patriotic tunes and love songs in an energetic ragtime style.  By all accounts, Cohan was a brash and energetic go-getter although this musical kind of exaggerates things.  Historically accurate or not, this movie follows the meteoric rise of George Cohan as he rises through the ranks of the Vaudeville circuit all the way to Broadway.  The music is mostly extremely patriotic as Cohan wrote a lot of his lyrics between World War I and World War II.  One of the things I love about the musical is that it’s about one man’s life and career and not another love story.

5 Little Shop of Horrors

I was always pretty surprised when I saw science fiction enter anything close to mainstream.  When I was younger, most people tended to shy away from science fiction which was right up my alley and what I discussed with my friends while people gave us odd looks.  Geeky things remained geeky until lately but back when Little Shop was made, it was pretty unique.  First, it has a very unlikely protagonist who starts off pretty weak-willed and physically unimposing.  Second, it involved the threat of a killer plant that wants to eat people and take over the world.  So there’s that.  Throw in a lot of catchy doowop style tunes and unexpectedly you have a really good musical.   The movie version was excellent but on further review I was disappointed they didn’t stick with the musical’s original ending.

6 The Music Man

I have a special place in my heart for tales of liars and conmen eventually redeeming themselves while being impossibly charming and entertaining.  This musical has all of that plus the somewhat alien (at least to me) concept of living in a small town.  The three main songs from the show are Trouble, 76 Trombones and Goodnight, My Someone.  Trouble has reached far into the pop culture consciousness and was even parodied pretty early on by The Simpsons (Monorail).  The remaining two hits actually share a lot but I don’t want to ruin it for you.  I never saw a stage version but the movie version hits the spot.  I wasn’t expecting the movie to actually be touching but it kind of swerved me.

7 Bye Bye Birdie

Another musical that I have not seen on stage but the movie version is too good to pass up.  Of course, I’m talking about the 1963 version starring Dick Van Dyke who was strangely the king of quirky movie musicals around that time.  It also has Paul Lynde playing a straight man but we’ll just scoot on by that.  The musical largely capitalizes on the super fame of musicians like Elvis Presley and even mirrors Elvis’ getting drafted.  It has some really catchy lyrics and bouncy music that’s hard to get out of your head.   Dick Van Dyke is on fire and this performance makes me wonder why he was ever criticized for things like Mary Poppins (even with his silly accent).   There are two love stories but both are balanced by a story about getting caught up in fame and rumor mills.

8 Cabaret

This is a gritty little, intimate musical about Germany during the lead up to World War II.  It also happens to be about relationships, prejudice and sexual politics.  The show is intercut with musical numbers and clever satire performed at a cabaret called the Kit Kat Club in Berlin.  The whole story takes place in Berlin during a turbulent time in history but also a turbulent time in a young writer’s life.  The show is raunchy and funny and tragic and very messy.  I was first introduced to the musical through the movie version which is excellent.  I later got to see the revival with Natasha Richardson and Alan Cumming and it was much more amazing live.  Below the playful surface there is a powerful show that is definitely worth a watch.

9 Chicago

The signature song All That Jazz is a pretty good summation of the musical style and the visual style of this show.  This is a very presentational show that feels like the characters are putting on a show for you rather than each other.  Considering that most of the characters are in prison, it’s almost like they are trying for the court of public opinion.  The score and songs are heavy on what I call White People Jazz that really works.  I didn’t see the show until the Broadway revival.  I can’t remember who the female leads were but Billy Zane was in it and he was great.  The show has no love story and is instead about the nature of guilt and public perception.  The movie version is ok but it loses a lot of the excitement from the stage version’s presentational style.

10 Fiddler on the Roof

This was the very first musical I worked on and also the first live theater production I worked on voluntarily.  This musical is very epic in scope and has a handful of love stories but it all forms a tapestry of what it is like to be Jewish in a small town in Russia in the early 1900’s.  I saw a high school version where I grew up in Baltimore long before I saw any professional actors in the roles.  I have to say, and I might be biased, when I finally saw Zero Mostel in the movie version, I thought our production was pretty damn good.  The musical is very much structured around Zero Mostel’s acting style but it’s a great show.  It’s only at the bottom here because the second act is so sad.

11 Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

This is kind of a silly little musical built around Dolly Parton.  The plot is literally about a whorehouse in Texas that is endangered by the moral authority when all Dolly wants to do is make a little money.  It’s the strangest sort of tale about the little guy taking on the big guy that I’ve ever seen.  The music is some of the catchiest country twang that I’ve ever heard which makes sense with Dolly Parton being involved.  I first saw the movie version in preparation for working as a spotlight operator for a summer stock production.  Believe me, there’s nothing that can prepare you at age 16 to see a whole bunch of your female classmates pretending to be prostitutes on stage. (And yes that’s how I’m ending this post)

Babes On Broadway

April 26, 2014

Time for another edition of Steven Reviews a Movie, Kind Of.  A phrase that’s not trademarked yet but maybe in the future.  I initially obtained the following movie because I wanted to see some of Judy Garland’s other works besides the Wizard of Oz.  I eventually watched the movie because Mickey Rooney recently died.  It’s not their most famous movie together it’s…

Babes on Broadway (1941)

I expected to be pleasantly entertained by this move.  After all, it stars Hollywood darling Judy Garland and also Mickey Rooney who had an 87 year career for a reason.  I was pleasantly entertained through a lot of it but it was a really strange movie.  I am not sure that I can call it a good movie but I am not exactly sorry that I watched it.

I will start by saying that I am a pretty big fan of the Wizard of Oz as it is an extremely well done movie for its time and in general.  Therefore, I was pretty into Judy Garland but had only seen one and a half of her movies.  She had a beautiful singing voice and was actually a really good actress.  The one thing is, she always acts and sings with her eyes wide open.  It is usually not a problem but sometimes you catch her in a dead-eyed stare.  Maybe it was just me but I find her eyes unsettling sometimes.

Mickey Rooney had already been working for fourteen years when he starred in this movie.  Even though he was twenty one years old, he still looked like a twelve year old wearing his father’s suit.  He was weird, pushy and had a horrible haircut but he was pretty charismatic and charming for all of his flaws.  Maybe it was because of all of his flaws.  He kind of reminded me of Douglas Croft in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The characters in this movie are some of the dumbest characters that I have seen by far.  They constantly make decisions only a crazy person or two year old would make.  This always happened in the sitcoms I watched growing up and I always got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach from it.  It feels like it is in character but it also feels like lazy writing.

I have not mentioned a plot since there is not really a whole lot of it.  It is the standard plot of a whole bunch of youngsters trying to put on a show to get noticed by Broadway thing.  They also throw in charity with younger kids and war orphans from England.  It’s a serviceable plot.
Once again, it is just there to throw a lot of songs up on the screen and with that it succeeds.

I will mention one memorable sequence that had me shouting “No!  What!?  No way, come on!”   If you look up this film at all, you will probably see a mention of this major end sequence.  The kids do a musical number where they are trying to decide what kind of closing number they can do.

What do they decide to do?  A minstrel show.  Instantly I groan out loud.  Then the kids start putting on blackface and I start shaking my head and uttering the above reaction.  It is a incredibly regrettable sequence in an otherwise above average musical comedy.  The sequence just baffles me as minstrel shows had gone out of popularity a long time prior.  So, you’ll have to decide for yourself if seeing the movie is worth cringing through the last fifteen to twenty minutes.

Broadway Melody of 1936

April 21, 2014

So I decided to review another fun little old movie.  Strangely I watched two films back to back and decided to review the one that I liked the least.  A word to the wise, I am going to spoil the hell out of these movies but the music and comedy are the best parts so nothing is really spoiled.  So, without further ado:

Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935)

Like most films of the time period (and sometimes the current period) it seems like this film was built as a vehicle.  The star power here comes from comedian Jack Benny who, in all fairness, is a comedy legend and therefore is first billed even though he’s barely a lead character.

Jack Benny plays Bert Keeler an entertainment gossip columnist and radio host (I think, the scene introducing him has him delivering a report on the radio but his boss is the editor of a New York City newspaper so whatever).  His boss tells him that he has to start reporting on the dirt rather than just announcing positive and verified information.  Sounds familiar.  He proceeds to gun for Bob Gordon who is our default male lead played by Robert Taylor.  For this task, he enlists Snoop played by Sid Silvers as his dim-witted but good-hearted assistant.

Bob is a young, hot shot Broadway producer/director/whatever who is is finally getting a shot at doing his dream musical which is called Broadway Rythym instead of the obvious Broadway Melody.  He lands the money he needs by getting charmed by a young, rich and kind of suspiciously pushy widow named Lillian Brent, played by June Knight.  She agrees to foot the bill and will show up to muck things up later.

Irene Foster comes into town, played by Hollywood newcomer Eleanor Powell.  She knows Bob from their hometown of Albany where they grew up together and talked of making it big on Broadway.  The only problem is, Bob does not remember her until well after she leaves his office.  She commiserates with Bob’s secretary Kitty Corbett played by Una Merkel.

Irene goes back to the apartment she has rented and is befriended Ted and Sally played by Buddy Ebsen and Vilma Ebsen who, at this point, are former vaudeville performers both in real life and in the movie.

So I won’t go through the rest of the plot but that bit sets up the principal characters.  Jack Benny is great as usual but seems underused.  If you’re going to pay for Jack Benny, then you better give him a lot of stuff to do.  Buddy Ebsen is fun as usual but doesn’t have a huge part since this is his first film and his sister kind of fades into the background after their big double act in Act 1.

Lillian is the designated villain of the piece as she is the main obstacle but lacks charisma and, unless I blacked out, disappears for most of the movie and only comes back in the second act to complicate things.

Robert Taylor is a horrible male lead in this.  I root for him when he’s trying to get his dream on stage but spends a lot of time as an obstacle against the girl who’s supposed to be his love interest.  It would have been interesting if he morphed into the villain but he stays the male romantic lead without being romantic.  This could have been handled a lot better.  Eleanor Powell is great as the plucky girl trying to make it big on Broadway but she can be a little wishy-washy. She’s a fine way to move a long a plot but a similar dynamic was done way better later in Singing in the Rain.

Una Merkel is one of the definite high points of this movie with her dry sense of humor and winning smirk.  Sid Silvers is great too and when the two of them get together, the movie really starts cooking.

Still, since it is a 1930’s musical, none of the above really matters.  All that matters is that the music, dancing and comedy are on point. They are.  The music is toe tapping and I definitely felt the laughs.  Still, as good as this movie was, it was done way better 17 years later in Singing in the Rain.  Singing in the Rain even lifts three songs from this movie.  So this movie was good and worth watching but was even more worthwhile as a stepping stone to later, better films.

PS.  Half of this film’s cast was transplanted into the 1936 Cole Porter musical Born to Dance which starred Jame Stewart.  It’s a lot simpler but is executed way better.  Check it out instead.

Prop 8

December 5, 2008

Let me get political for a moment here.  Believe me when I tell you that I hate getting political.  It brings the room down and it is usually confusing and too full of gray areas.  I will get political here only because it is important to me. Also there will be a bonus at the end of this. I promise!

Proposition 8.  The very words upset me.  What happened was what any news story will (or should) tell you.  California gave gay couples the right to marriage.  This was a very good thing.  It is my firm belief that two people in love should be able to be together in any way they see fit as long as it is healthy.  Gay marriage seems just as healthy as straight marriage. So, in my opinion, this was good. Then it went bad.

A few religious groups and conservatives swooped into action. Apparently giving equal rights to a minority group was something that could not and would not stand.  They put Proposition 8 to a vote. Proposition 8 was to ban gay marriage in California. Through propoganda, groups like the Mormon Church were able to convince enough voters to vote for Prop 8. I believe that this was wrong and that we have taken one step forward and then three back in progress as a nation.  Please help to repeal Prop 8 and please make sure that nothing like this happens in your state in the future. Thank you for your time.

As promised, here’s a humorous and educational look at the issue :

It was posted at Wil Wheaton’s blog. Wil Wheaton is not a friend of mine but I’m a fan of his.

Also here’s a little song by MC Frontalot that might get the point across too.

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