Tag Archives: Musical films

My Fair Lady-1964

My Fair Lady-1964

Director-George Cukor

Starring-Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison

Scott’s Review #938

Reviewed September 6, 2019

Grade: A-

Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award (it would not have been my personal choice), My Fair Lady (1964) is a very good production that is based on the stage version, in turn based on the famous 1913 stage play, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. The main negative to the musical is the casting choices; Hepburn and Harrison have only mediocre chemistry, and Hepburn did not actually sing, but the film is nonetheless enchanting and filled with lavish sets, colorful costumes and earnest songs, making it an entertainment for the whole family.

The iconic Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) and Henry Higgins (Harrison) are household names to every fan of the musical genre. Set in London, sophisticated and arrogant Professor Higgins, a scholar of phonetics, is intent on proving that the tone and accent of one’s voice determines their lot in society. As an experiment, he chooses flower saleswoman Eliza, with her horrid Cockney accent, and is determined to crown her duchess of a ball. Unaware of his scheme but soon to find out she has been had, romance eventually blooms as the song “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” becomes important.

My Fair Lady is quite the epic at a run-time of two hours and fifty- two minutes, lofty for a film. The misty London setting adds layers of mystique and atmosphere and the cinematography drizzles with color and pizzazz, making the overall content look amazing. Because of the length of the film and the magnificent trimmings, the production looks like a spectacle and of the elegant extravagance of the 1950’s and 1960’s when musicals made into film were grand and robust. Little wonder is that this helped it win the Best Picture, Best Director and a smattering of other awards. It’s a film Hollywood loves.

When dissected and analyzed, social and class systems are a large part of the film, amid the cheery singing, dancing, and big-screen bombast. Social status and hints of socialism pepper the production rising it way above fluff that it could have been if just a “boy from good side of the tracks meets girls from wrong side of the tracks”. Eliza’s father Alfred (Stanley Holloway), a waste collector, is also an opportunist, singing his story during “With a Little Bit of Luck”. The differences between the “haves” and the “have nots” are clear.

I never bought Harrison and Hepburn as a romantic duo and the chemistry between them is limited. The teacher/student angle somewhat works though always bothersome is Henry’s self-assured behavior and superior attitude making him tough to root for. A controversy of the film includes the decision to dub nearly all of Hepburn’s singing with another singer’s voice, which devastated the actress and cost her an Academy Award nomination. Her snub is especially jarring given the dozen other nominations it received.

The story is heartwarming and in keeping with a like-minded theme of hero rescuing the damsel in distress. Hints of Cinderella (1950) and even Pretty Woman (1990) glisten with only a mere hint of male chauvinism that does not ruin the experience or reduce the film to a dated guy film, certainly as is the case with Pretty Woman. “I’m an Ordinary Man” describes how women ruin men’s lives and is not the most progressive or female friendly of all the numbers.

My Fair Lady (1964) is a film of the past that begs to be viewed on the big screen so that all the qualities can be enjoyed. Like Lawrence of Arabia (1963), best viewed on a wide-angle enormous theater setting to ensure notice and enjoyment of all aspects of the scene is recommended. It’s a Hollywood film done tremendously well. Young viewers would be wise to be exposed to this film to delight in the cinematic treats that await.

The Music Man-1962

The Music Man-1962

Director-Morton DaCosta

Starring-Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Scott’s Review #929

Reviewed August 9, 2019

Grade: A

The big screen offering of The Music Man (1962) is based on the 1957 Broadway musical of the same name, written by Meredith Wilson, and one of the most upbeat and jovial of all the Hollywood renditions of stage productions. Featuring talented stars like Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, the former appearing in the stage version, the film was one of the biggest hits of the year and can be watched and re-watched whenever the mood strikes for sing-along tunes and a cheery story told from a purely Americana viewpoint.

In the summer of 1912, deceitful traveling salesman Harold Hill (Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, intent on swindling the town folks of their money. Masquerading as a traveling music instructor, he plans to bamboozle parents into enrolling their kids into a marching band and selling them instruments. He uses scare tactics to incorporate fear into the gullible parents and romantically sets his sights on the local librarian, Marian (Jones). Marian, who is distrustful of men, slowly falls in love with Harold, as his plotting eventually is discovered resulting in a witch hunt.

Of the plethora of musical releases bombarding Hollywood throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, The Music Man arguably possesses the catchiest tunes and the most jovial spirit. Impossible not to hum along with or tap one’s foot to, the songs stick in the viewer’s heads for days after watching the addictive production. My favorites are “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Pick-a-little, Talk-a-little” as each has distinctive melodies, rhymes and rapid-fire dialogue. The musical soundtrack always provides pleasure on the gloomiest of days which speaks volumes of the legs the musical contains.

Besides the tunes, the best aspect of The Music Man is the romantic story-line at its core. The chemistry exists in full form between Preston and Jones and each is perfectly cast. Due to the studio wanting “a big name” Preston nearly didn’t make the cut, which would have been a shame. As he infuses life and humor into a character who could be perceived as dastardly, he tips the likability scale firmly his way, making the character the hero of the film.

Jones, a treasured singer, is just as good as Preston, playing the mousy and serious Marian in a believable way. Her “slice of the mid-west” innocence and blonde hair portrays her as corn-bred, but the actress makes the character work for her and combined, the duo is sensational. The best sequence the pair appear in is the wonderful “Marian the Librarian”, a sneaky and naughty number the most adult of all the renditions. Their mutual attraction becoming evident, this is the moment when the film brings the audience to its knees.

The musical is purely a slice of Americana, which may limit its popularity across oceans, but for Americans it really works and feels authentic. This is no surprise given that composer Willson hailed from the mid-west. With an uplifting message, a nostalgic ode to a country once filled with promise and innocence, the film is arguably even more important in today’s divisive environment. The piece wisely does not celebrate small-town cliches but instead offers a wholesomeness. The townsfolk sing and dance together and celebrate life as a neighborly bunch and this nuance is refreshing to see.

The supporting cast adds flavor and comedy to the production. A very young child actor, soon to be famous director, Ron Howard, offers a heartfelt performance of “Gary, Indiana”. Character actors Paul Ford and Hermione Gingold offer delightful hysterics as Mayor Shinn and wife Eulalie.

Thematically like Oklahoma (1955) and Picnic (1955), at least from geographical and time-period perspectives, but distant relatives as far as mood and drama, all three could be watched in one marathon weekend. The Music Man (1962) provides the most warmth and will fill the most stone-faced of individuals with beaming smiles at its conclusion. The film version is a perfect example of a stage musical successfully brought to the silver screen with energy, bombast and gorgeous singing and dancing.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever-1970

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Barbra Streisand, Yves Montand

Scott’s Review #921 

Reviewed July 19, 2019

Grade: B+

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a very obscure film that deserves better than to be relegated into the unknown. Released during a time when the Hollywood musical had lost its luster, it feels like a last gasp effort to keep the genre alive, serving as a star vehicle for Barbra Streisand. The film suffers from severe editing problems with a large portion being cut, so much so that the result is a choppy and disjointed feel, tough to follow as is but left untouched the film could have been a creative masterpiece.

In a particularly convoluted plot that spans two time-periods, chain-smoking New Yorker, Daisy Gamble (Streisand) is convinced by her uptight fiancee Warren (Larry Blyden) to attend a class taught by Marc Cabot (Yves Montand), a psychiatrist. When she is accidentally hypnotized by Cabot he realizes she speaks in the voice of an early nineteenth-century woman named Melinda, as he becomes obsessed with her while she teeters between two existences.

The screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner, adapted from his book for the 1965 stage production. Film director Vincente Minnelli fuses fantasy with a musical to create an experimental piece extremely left of center- this is not your standard 1950’s or 1960’s MGM experience with merry or clap-along tunes. Some of the more memorable numbers include “On a Clear Day” which is a reprise at the end of the film, “He Isn’t You” and “Love with All the Trimmings”.

Casting Streisand is a monumental choice as she carries the film on her shoulders. Belting out numbers is the singer turned actresses forte and she never disappoints. She is fascinating to watch in the neurotic role as she smokes and prances around, usually in a tizzy or in a state of peril (self-induced). The performance impresses as a different style than many of her other films and she has never portrayed a livelier character. Streisand overcomes a few challenges of the film, winning in spades.

She shares little to no chemistry with co-star Montand who is not only too old for her, but he is not the greatest actor either. If the film’s intent, which I suspect, was to make the pair the main draw then this failed. Streisand’s chemistry with John Richardson, who plays Sir Robert Tentrees to her Melinda in the other time-period, excites. The duo smolders with passion but sadly, most of the nineteenth century scenes are the ones that are sacrificed making most of it a jumbled mess. Much more interesting would have been to leave the entire film intact.

An oddity is Jack Nicholson’s almost nonexistent role of Tad Pringle, a mostly non-described brother of Daisy’s. Is he also her neighbor?  In 1970 Nicholson was only on the cusp of super-stardom and questionable is whether some of his role was left on the cutting-room floor, but the limited character is strange and unsatisfying. In another role there would have been some possibility of a romantic entanglement.

Throughout the duration of the film I wondered how On a Clear Day You Can See Forever might have worked with someone other than Streisand in the roles. I kept ruminating how good Liza Minnelli might have been in the roles with her non-classic looks (like Streisand) and bombastic voice. Her high dramatic flair and capable New York style would have made results interesting, but Streisand hits it out of the park.

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970) is a brave attempt at something fantastical, brimming with potential that is left feeling cluttered and messy. With a delicious leading lady whom the camera adores and enough creative sets and rigorous energy to keep one guessing, the film stumbles with many problems and leaves viewers incomplete.

Rocketman-2019

Rocketman-2019

Director-Dexter Fletcher

Starring-Taron Egerton

Scott’s Review #906

Reviewed June 5, 2019

Grade: A

Following in the footsteps of the unexpected success of 2018’s rock biography Bohemian Rhapsody, comes the similar themed Rocketman (2019). This time the subject at hand is Elton John rather than Freddie Mercury, but both storied figures contain unquestionable comparisons as their successes, failures, and struggles are well documented. Both films take their name from popular title songs and both have the same director in the mix, Dexter Fletcher.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John are both larger than life onstage personas while both reportedly suffered from shyness, creating characters to portray to ease difficulties. Rocketman gets the slight edge over Bohemian Rhapsody when comparing the two, with experimental and psychedelic sequences making the experience more left of center than the latter and lacking a hefty feel-good component. I would venture to assess that Rocketman has darker overtones.

The film opens in an impressive way as a now adult, successful Elton John (Taron Egerton) is in rehab, begrudgingly attending a support group therapy session- this scene will reoccur throughout the film as John slowly reveals more to the group about his childhood, rise to fame, and struggles with numerous demons. This is key to the enjoyment of the film as it backtracks in time frequently and we see John’s development as both a musician and on a personal level.

Many scenes play out like a Broadway play which is an ingenious approach, not only a treat for fans of John’s huge catalog of songs, but immensely creative from a cinematic perspective. The high point of the film, the scenes are not only showy, but catapult the direction of the film instead of slowing down the events. Fantastic are offerings of hit songs like “Tiny Dancer”, as shown during John’s first trip to Los Angeles, as he is forced to witness his then crush Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) take up with a supermodel at an LSD infused Hollywood party.

The musical numbers offer glimpses into the mind and heart of Elton, and other characters, through song. A teary number occurs early on when a pained, boyish Elton is learning piano, facing struggles at home. When the song begins it is Elton’s tune to carry but then his father sings a few lines, then his mother, then his grandmother. Each person offers his or her own perspective based on the lyric they are singing. The beauty of this scene is powerful and sets the tone of the scenes to follow.

Rocketman is an emotional film, triggering laughter and tears throughout its duration. Thanks to Egerton who carries the film, the audience cares for him as a human being instead of a larger than life rock star. We feel his pain, cry his tears, and smile during rare moments when he is content. He faces insecurity, sex addiction, drug and alcohol addiction, and an eating disorder. Through Egerton, we face the battles alongside of him.

Elton John serves as Executive Producer of the film providing a measure of truth and honesty in storytelling, something Bohemian Rhapsody was accused of not containing. John’s parents are portrayed accurately and decidedly, and both mother and father are dastardly, nearly ruining Elton’s self-esteem for life. Dallas Bryce-Howard as his mother is happy to capitalize financially on his fame but sticks a dagger in his heart when she professes he will never be loved since he is a gay man.

His father is nearly as bad. Abandoning his loveless marriage to Elton’s mother, he eventually finds happiness with another woman and produces two boys. He can never love his eldest son despite Elton’s efforts to reconnect. To add insult to injury, his father asks him to cross out the words “to Dad” on an album autograph, instead requesting it go to a colleague. Elton is devastated.

Events are not all dire and dreary as with his parents and a major suicide attempt. Happier times are shown and his grandmother (wonderfully played by Gemma Jones) remains an ardent supporter. His relationship with Taupin is one of the most benevolent and a life-long cause of trust and respect, and once his act is cleaned up Elton can appreciate the finer things in life more completely.

Egerton performs beautifully in acting as well as singing capabilities but lacks the singing chops that Elton Jon has. The decision was made not to have Egerton lip-sync which deserves its own measure of praise. Interesting to wonder what the opposite choice would have resulted in, like with Bohemian Rhapsody, we are left with a brilliant portrayal of John by Egerton.

Watched in tandem with Bohemian Rhapsody, a great idea given the back to back releases, is one recommendation for comparison sake. Offering a more creative experience- again the musical numbers are superb, and both switching through back and forth timelines, Rocketman (2019) squeaks out the victory for me and doesn’t the victor go the spoils? If Rami Malek won the coveted Best Actor Oscar statuette what will that mean for the tremendous turn that Egerton gives?

South Pacific-1958

South Pacific-1958

Director-Joshua Logan

Starring-Rossano Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor

Scott’s Review #903

Reviewed May 29, 2019

Grade: A-

South Pacific (1958) contains a magical and romantic aura that will entrance the dreamy viewer seeking exotic paradise and cinematic escapism. Marveling at the use of distinctive and experimental color hues to shift from sequence to sequence, usually from romantic to ordinary scenes, the film has other worldly appeal and lavish locale sequences, some real, others studio manipulations.

The surrounding war story is relevant, the interracial relationship more progressive than the times were, and the two leads share tremendous chemistry. All these qualities combine with catchy songs to make the film a darling watch, providing tremendous enjoyment and an impassioned payoff. The film may not be the very best of all musicals but there is very little to criticize.

Attractive Navy nurse Nellie (Mitzy Gaynor) falls head over heels for suave French plantation officer Emile (Rosanno Brazzi) as the pair enjoy a wonderful date amidst the gorgeous beach landscape. The feeling, of course, is mutual and Nellie and Emile seem destined for happiness. He confides to her that he once killed a man in his native France causing him to flee his country, never to return. The Navy requests Nellie spy on Emile in hopes of utilizing him against their hated Japanese enemy.

In a separate story, but just as romantic, Tokinese trader Bloody Mary (Juanita Hall) is determined to marry her beautiful dark-skinned daughter Liat (France Nuyen) to handsome Lt. Joseph Cable (John Kerr). He throws away a chance at lasting happiness by refusing to marry her due to prejudicial feelings. Despite best efforts he cannot get her out of his mind and the couple reunite briefly before tragedy strikes.

The World War II backdrop plays heavily into the story and the atmospheric elements make the film ooze with sensuality and sunny desire so that the result is good, escapist fun with brazen musical numbers added to set the perfect tone. Contrasting the beauty of the island where most of the events take place, foreboding military airplanes fly overhead, some manned by the main characters, in dangerous fashion with just a hint of foreshadowing.

South Pacific has much to be treasured for especially with its songs. For one thing, all of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s immortal songs from the stage production, “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Bali H’ai,” “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” “I’m in Love With a Wonderful Guy,” “Younger Than Springtime” are retained, and, as a bonus, a song cut from the original stage production, “My Girl Back Home,” is revived herein. The songs are integral to the plot also holding up well on their own, especially the robust “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair” possessing a naughtiness as Nellie sings it from the shower.

After a successful release of the film version of Oklahoma! (1955) Rodgers & Hammerstein decided to tackle South Pacific as their next big project. The stakes were high due to the success achieved by the former but critically the latter did not measure up. Some thought Gaynor was miscast though I personally like her just fine.

Nonetheless, the production is gorgeous and quite on par with Oklahoma! With the knowledge of the same producers and proximity in release, many similarities can be ascertained from each film. The south pacific may be a far cry from mid-western USA but both films have an outdoorsy feel. Numerous scenes take advantage of luscious natural landscapes to add beauty to the big screen.

A key point to keep in mind is that South Pacific is far from fluff despite the tendency for comic scenes or light sounding numbers. The film distinguishes itself quite well with a strong anti-war slant as Emile decries killing and promotes harmony in more than one scene almost as though the film encourages us to learn from a French man rather than an American.  To this end the important subject of racism is brought up not only in the Liat/Cable story but also when Nellie struggles with the notion of raising two children of a different race.

Perhaps not revisited as often as such unforgettable genre contemporaries as West Side Story (1960) or The Sound of Music (1965) and perhaps justifiably not as dynamic, South Pacific (1958) is a lovely film with impressive key production values, a worthy story and enough sing along tunes to keep one humming for days. The picture never feels dated and exists as a timeless member of the stage productions magically brought to the big screen club.

Guys and Dolls-1955

Guys and Dolls-1955

Director-John Mankiewicz

Starring-Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra

Scott’s Review #887

Reviewed April 19, 2019

Grade: B+

The interesting pairing of Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra in the playful musical Guys and Dolls (1955) provides enough bombast and playboy inclinations to make the musical lively and entertaining. Though not one of my all-time favorites in the genre the film keeps up the pace with a nice flow and hearty musical numbers that successfully transfer the Broadway show to the big screen with an endearing production.

Nathan Detroit (Sinatra) is a full-fledged gambler, living and breathing the sport although commonly taken to task for his deeds. As the police clamp down on the shenanigans around town he is desperate to obtain a deposit for use of a secret venue allowing gambling. Spotting acquaintance and fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Brando) the duo embark on a ridiculous and hilarious bet involving Sky’s invitation to dinner in Havana, Cuba with Sarah Brown (Jean Simmons) a devout religious figure and non-gambler. Predictably, events spiral out of control with romance, misunderstandings, and charming musical numbers.

The setup is plot driven but forgivable given the fun involved. We are certain that Masterson will fall head-over-heels for missionary and seemingly unobtainable Sarah. Will he get the girl? Will she be able to forgive him when she realizes the scheme that Masterson and Nathan have hatched at her expense? Of course, the fun is in the revelations as the film goes along. Naturally Nathan has his own set of antics; he must marry his years-long intended Adelaide (Vivian Blaine) because of losing a different bet.

The premise, the plot and the conclusion all feel rather frivolous and a bit chauvinistic in the modern world as many 1950’s productions do. The film is a clear case of naughty guy meets good girl, guy pursues girl, guy gets the girl, guy and girl ride off into the sunset, so the overall production is not cutting edge nor particularly progressive but that is okay because of the fun and good chemistry among the characters. Brando and Sinatra possess as much chemistry together as Brando and Simmons do.

The conclusion of the film is satisfying and wrapped neatly like a tidy Christmas bow. To no one’s surprise both couples tie the knot in beautiful style as all the misfires and misunderstandings end with a double wedding in the middle of Times Square, with Sky marrying Sarah, and Nathan marrying Adelaide. A perfect climax and a way to show the bright and bustling New York City amid a romantic backdrop can forgive any other weaknesses the film may contain.

What makes the film rise above standard fare or mediocrity as an overall piece are the wonderfully adorable tunes and Sinatra and Brando as a duo. The actor turned singer Brando and the singer turned actor Sinatra crackle with harmony as they play off each other in style. The clap-along “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” never fails to get any audience on its feet and the clever “Luck Be a Lady”, a classic Sinatra standard, still resonates today.

The art direction, cinematography, costumes, and music all wrap the film together nicely allowing the film a tight and well-muscled extravagant feel with a maturity and richness perfect for the decade the film was released in. Guys and Dolls sits beside a plethora of other musicals with a style all its own. A handful of Oscar nominations followed though none for the top honors of Picture of any acting nominations.

The 1960’s brought a decidedly darker texture to cinema which left many 1950’s film’s feeling dated or superfluous compared to more important story directions. While this is the case with Guys and Dolls (1955) there also exists an innocence in watching the pure and charming character relationships and the resulting fun and frolicking. A lively musical score, the bright lights of New York City and the unusual locale of Cuba makes the film lovely entertainment.

Singin’ in the Rain-1952

Singin’ in the Rain-1952

Director-Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly

Starring-Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds

Scott’s Review #874

Reviewed March 4, 2019

Grade: A-

In the over-saturated field of musicals released during the mid- twentieth century Singin’ in the Rain (1952) is the one having most to do with the entertainment industry itself. The battle between the transition of silent pictures to “talkies” is the basis of the story, giving the film an important, along with a fun, subject matter. Likable stars and sing-along tunes make the film memorable and decidedly All-American, though perhaps not the greatest in the crowded musical field.

During the late 1920’s Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is a famous and well-regarded silent film star. His co-star and studio created romantic attachment is Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), an annoying and shallow leading lady with a harsh singing voice. As more successful “talkies” (films with sound) are produced Don finds himself smitten with musical chorus girl Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds). The plot to dub Lina’s voice with Kathy’s leads to comical chaos and an idea to create a new musical amid a blossoming romance between Don and Kathy.

The fun and frolicking Singin’ in the Rain is lightweight but never silly nor superfluous thanks to the overriding message of the change in Hollywood priorities. Critically acclaimed from the get-go this is unsurprising since Hollywood loves stories about Hollywood especially since the film was made only a little more than two decades since sound-laden films overtook the world. Furthermore, in 1952 television was making its debut to legions of fans and the accessibility presented a serious threat to cinema in general making the subject matter even more relevant.

Kelly and Reynolds make a nice enough pair, but I never thought they completely knocked it out of the park either from a chemistry perspective. One slight knock is the lack of any hurdles preventing the couple from an inevitable union. Lina is the clear foil and ultimately played for laughs so she is no serious threat. The plot driven conflict involving Kathy’s initial dislike of Don because she values stage over film is cute, but ultimately revealed to be a sham since she has been a fan of his all along. Sure, the musical is a comedy, but better hurdles might have made for more interesting story.

Nonetheless, Singin’ in the Rain is sheer pleasure and a largely non-threatening experience. The hi-jinks involved as the characters strive and struggle to put on their production are comical and Lina’s New York accent and shrill singing voice threaten to steal the show from the more grounded central characters. The musical numbers are a dream especially favorites like “Make ‘Em Laugh”, “Good Morning”, and the epic title song.

Through no fault of the film’s the title musical number “Singin’ in the Rain” will forever not be associated with this film for me, but rather with the dark and cerebral A Clockwork Orange (1971). As the villain beats and rapes his victim by cheerily singing this tune the song will forever hold a much darker association for me.

The dramatic final act is the highlight as a lavish premiere of The Dancing Cavalier is unveiled to a live theater audience hungry for something good. When the crowd chomps at the bit for Lina to perform live the big reveal of Kathy being the truly talented singer is displayed a la the wizard in The Wizard of Oz style as Don and Kathy ultimately kiss and ride off into the sunset together in grand show biz fashion.

In the crowded genre of 1950’s and 1960’s musical productions that ravaged American cinema at the time I mostly choose to watch West Side Story (1961), Gypsy (1962), The Sound of Music (1965), and Oklahoma! (1955) for pleasure, but Singin’ in the Rain (1952), an earlier gem is worthy of value especially for the memorable musical soundtrack it offers. The story is light and harmless but also relevant and most importantly highly entertaining.

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring-Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Scott’s Review #848

Reviewed December 29, 2018

Grade: A-

Mary Poppins Returns is a charming mixture of reboot and sequel to the immeasurably glorious original, Mary Poppins (1964). Impossible to live up to the magic of that film, the 2018 version comes quite close with a delightful turn by Emily Blunt, numerous Hollywood stalwarts in small roles, and gleeful musical numbers sure to leave audiences humming upon their exit from theaters.

Events begin to percolate twenty-five years following the original story and the setting is 1935 London amid the Great Depression. His wife recently deceased, Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) lives in the house he grew up in with his three children and housekeeper (Julie Walters) in tow. His sister Jane lives and works nearby as a labor organizer. Faced with the dreary reality that the historic Banks house may be foreclosed, Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives in elegant fashion on her umbrella to resume order and save the day.

Though her character does not overtake the film, Emily Blunt is dynamic in the title role. Her prim and proper good British charm and sensibilities crackle with wit and poise. It is tough to imagine anyone but Blunt in the role as she does so well with putting her stamp on it. With a smirk and a quick matter-of-fact tone, the character is both no-nonsense and utterly kind. The casting of Blunt is spot-on as she becomes Mary Poppins.

The London setting is both adorable and fraught with good culture and sophisticated manners. The inclusion of the storied Big Ben is meaningful to the tale in a major way and a teachable moment for children unfamiliar with London at all. Furthermore, the inclusion of an important time period in history-the inclusion of the Great Depression-is immeasurably positive.

The supporting characters are rapturous and a treat for elders familiar with the original Mary Poppins film. Meryl Streep plays Topsy, Mary Poppins eccentric eastern European cousin to the hilt, but never teeters over-the-top. Colin Firth adds snarky charm as the villainous bank president, and Angela Lansbury gives grandmotherly zest as The Balloon Lady, an ode to the original novel. Finally, Dick Van Dyke is a delight as the heroic Mr. Dawes Jr. who comes to the rescue at the last hour.

The real winners though are the enchanting musical numbers. With the lovely London landscape in full view Mary Poppins Returns gets off to a spectacular groove with “(Underneath The) Lovely London Sky”. Performed by the charming Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack the Lamplighter, Mary Poppin’s sidekick, the star has what it takes to keep up with Blunt. This is evident as the duo mesmerize and entertain with a colorful number, “A Cover is Not the Book”, alongside an animated music hall. Finally, fans will revel in the naughty and clever “Turning Turtle”, performed by Streep.

The costumes and lighting are both big hits. As Jack lights and defuses the street lights we get to see the luminous dawn and the evening sunsets which give the film a nice luminous touch. During the film’s conclusion and subsequent race against the stroke of midnight the moonlight is featured giving the film a warm glow. The period piece costumes are lush, but not garish, adding flavor and capturing the time-period perfectly.

With not quite enough oomph to rival the original Mary Poppins (but really who expected that?) Mary Poppins Returns (2018) nonetheless is enchanting and inspiring in every way that a remake or sequel should be. The film is polite, polished, and filled with an authentic zest given the mixing of human and animations. A fine creation and splendid entertainment.

Meet Me in St. Louis-1944

Meet Me in St. Louis-1944

Director-Vincente Minnelli 

Starring-Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien

Scott’s Review #845

Reviewed December 19, 2018

Grade: A

With talents such as Vincente Minnelli and Judy Garland involved in a project it is tough for the results not to be resounding, and this is the case with Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), a treasured musical with enough songs and melodrama to last a lifetime. The film is a lively and earnest achievement from both stars when each was at their prime and the film rich with flavor containing a myriad of good touches.

Meet Me in St. Louis is really an ensemble piece featuring a bevy of actors, but the film belongs to Garland for the musical numbers alone. In fact, the film is groundbreaking in that it set the tone for the slew of MGM musicals to follow during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The film is considered one of the greatest and memorable musicals of all time and I certainly share this sentiment.

The story revolves around the upper-middle class Smith family and the setting is 1903 St. Louis. In lovely form the film is composed of seasonal vignettes taking place over the course of a year. Trials and tribulations erupt especially involving the romantic entanglements of eldest sisters Rose (Lucille Bremer) and Esther (Garland) and the possibility of the family having to relocate to New York City. Along with the Smith parents, Rose and Esther are three other siblings, grandpa, and Katie the maid. The household is filled with glee, music, and heartbreak.

The seasonal setup the film chooses to showcase is a huge success and elicits a warm sensation. As the title card displays “Summer 1903” we are welcomed into a sunny and picturesque street amid the St. Louis backdrop, perfectly mid-western. The Smith home is showcased, and the viewer welcomed into an idyllic world of a bonded family. In this way Meet Me in St. Louis feels homespun and like a good best friend, able to be watched and re-watched many times over and during any season of the year as it offers a summer fair, a spooky Halloween sequence and a dazzling Christmastime segment.

Other than Esther, the most memorable and fascinating character is Tootie (Margaret O’Brien). A mere six-years-old during filming O’Brien gives a startlingly good turn and packs emotional wallop enriching a character arguably interpreted as being obsessed with death with some needed humor. She buries her dolls on a dare throws flour in a man’s face on Halloween thereby “killing” him.  Her biggest scene though occurs during a melt-down when Tootie destroys her beloved snowmen in the family lawn. The actress portrays such rage and despair during this scene that is easy to forget how young she was. She was rewarded for her efforts with an honorary Oscar.

The musical numbers by Garland are absolute treasures. Highlights include “The Trolley Song” performed as Esther rides the afternoon trolley across town hoping that the boy next door whom she is madly in love with, John (Tom Drake), will be on the same trolley. The gorgeously performed number “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” is my favorite.  Following a lavish Christmas Eve ball Esther sings the song to Tootie and nestled within its lyrics are emotions such as hope and sadness.

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) is a film that has it all and can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages. With memorable musical numbers, romance, drama, and a wholesome, timeless sensibility, the film is a beloved favorite to be dusted off from time to time. Like the finest of wines this film gets better and better with age.

A Star Is Born-2018

A Star Is Born-2018

Director-Bradley Cooper

Starring-Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

Scott’s Review #819

Reviewed October 10, 2018

Grade: A

On paper, by the time a film reaches its fourth remake (think- superhero franchises), there is a risk of either utter redundancy or a lack of interest (or both!). Months before A Star Is Born was released to theaters a tremendous buzz emerged, particularly about the stars (Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga). Considering the latter had never starred in a film before, the word of mouth was surprising. The hype can be believed as the film is a tremendous effort with something to offer everyone.

The story begins as boozy country crooner, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper), performs a sold-out show. He needs the aid of pills to take the stage and suffers from gradual hearing loss but is nonetheless a famous and popular star. Following the concert Jackson meets Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress who moonlights singing French songs at a drag bar. They immediately bond as he encourages her to celebrate her talent despite her insecurities. As events unfold the pair dive into a passionate romance as her career skyrockets while his deteriorates from drug and alcohol abuse.

On the surface a film such as A Star Is Born runs the risk of being hokey, formulaic, or otherwise generic. The premise dictates as such- successful star meets insecure up and comer, romance ensues, and they face obstacles and internal conflict on the road to success. Sounds like material custom made for a Hallmark television movie or something light weight, especially given the remake of a remake of a remake factor.

Instead, every element of A Star Is Born works perfectly. Of enormous praise is how Bradley Cooper both directs this film and has the central male role. He, as a director, incorporates some interesting camera shots, including a long shot of Ally walking down an alley, rehearsing a song for a performance. Also, the numerous concert scenes are very well done. Impressive since this is Cooper’s directorial debut.

An enormous win for the film is the chemistry between Cooper and Gaga which is evident in the very first moments the two appear on screen together. In fact, their chemistry is purely electric- almost magical as they rapidly bond and connect. Their connection is not only physical, but over their love of music and the artistry associated with creating good music. This bond is slowly tested as Ally’s career takes off and her manager steers her in a more pop oriented direction, which infuriates Jackson. Even through turmoil, the chemistry between the two actors is palpable in every scene.

My two favorite scenes include the scene in which Jackson and Ally first meet in the drag bar. The lovely French tune (Edit Piaf’s “La Vie en rose”) that she performs is cultural and rife with talent. As Jackson gazes at her from the bar there is amazement and pride in his gleaming eyes. He is immediately smitten with her talent and poise and this scene sets the tone for the film. The second comes at the film’s conclusion, as Ally belts out the heartfelt “I’ll Never Love Again”. Performing to a subdued audience, the song is performed as a close-up of Ally to tremendous visual effect.

The musical numbers are heartfelt and emotional without being sappy. From treasures such as “Shallow”, and “Maybe It’s Time” to the thunderous “Black Eyes” and pop driven “Why Did You Do That?”, the soundtrack contains something for everyone.

Cooper, already an acting champ, astounds as he is so good, while Lady Gaga, a novice to film acting, looks like a pro. We believe her struggles, doubting her star potential as she is deemed “too ugly” to make it in the music business. Gaga successfully showcases her pain, doubt, and eventual bombast at her sudden success.

Mention must be given to Sam Elliott, the veteran actor who gives a dynamic supporting turn as Bobby Maine, older brother and manager of Jackson. Elliott does not have a showy role or a big emotional scene- he doesn’t need to. In the actor’s quiet way, he infuses the character with pent up anger but with unconditional love and affection for his brother mixed in. Harboring rage and turmoil for each other, the best scene between Elliott and Cooper comes towards the end of the film when Jackson admits his love for Bobby. The emotion is raw on the face of Elliott in this important scene.

A Star Is Born (2018) is a superlative remake and one for the ages. I can easily see this film, already a fan favorite, going down in the record books. With a memorable musical soundtrack, wonderful acting and directing, and characters audiences can relate to, a classic in the making is not too difficult to imagine.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again-2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again-2018

Director-Ol Parker

Starring-Lily James, Amanda Seyfried

Scott’s Review #797

Reviewed July 31, 2018

Grade: B+

My expectations for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) were not lofty was I anticipating drivel. I expected (and was in the mood for) a summer popcorn musical flick with fun, dancing, and little in the way of analysis or requiring too much thought. I can proudly say that my expectations were fulfilled with this film- it delivers what the intent is and sometimes that is exactly what the doctor ordered. The film is enthusiastic and lively, with the musical numbers serving as the standouts.

In an immediate plot twist, it is revealed that main character Donna (Meryl Streep) has died a year earlier and daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is planning a lavish reopening of her hotel on the beaches of Greece. The film serves as both a sequel and a prequel as events also go back to 1979 where a young Donna (Lily James) graduates from college and embarks on a journey to “find herself”. She travels extensively and meets her three beaus (anyone who saw the 2008 original will be familiar with this plot) and the film is great at connecting the events of both films together in a pleasing way.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is hardly high art and not intended to be. In fact, it is a bit sub-par to the original if truth be told as some of the musical numbers are “secondary” ABBA songs. The biggest hits were used in the 2008 film. The overall plot feels a bit forced and not exactly compelling drama either- especially since we know what the eventual result of Donna’s relationships will be. The story seems geared towards a bombastic finish. But the sheer fact that the song and dances are interspersed throughout the film makes it enjoyable enough.

The film plays more like someone’s fantasy than a real life sequence and liberties must certainly be taken.  Everything always seems to go Donna’s way and events merely fall into place- if only real life were that way! The introduction of Donna’s mother (Sophie’s grandmother) – explained to be a rich and famous singer residing in Las Vegas, is a way to add the legendary Cher to the story. Disappointing, the star does not appear until the end of the film, more like a cameo appearance.

This leads me to the best parts of the film, which occur during the final thirty minutes. As Sophie’s grand hotel reopening party comes to fruition (a devastating storm thrown into the story is purely for dramatic effect), all details fall into place in magical form. Hundreds of party guests show up, Donna’s beaus reunite, and the aforementioned absentee grandmother (Ruby) makes a grand entrance via helicopter (in stiletto heels naturally). In this way the grand finale is superior to the rest of the film.

Cher, still looking gorgeous at age seventy two, is the pure highlight of the film and it kicks into high gear when she appears. Considering all of the hype and press surrounding a film reunion between Cher and Meryl Streep- they starred together in 1983’s Silkwood- it should come as no real surprise that Streep’s deceased Donna makes an appearance.

The two best scenes come at the end of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again! As much as the lavish Cher demands the grand finale in terms of glamour and song, it is Streep’s touching duet with Sophie that will bring tears to viewer’s eyes and capture the emotional element of the film. As Streep and Seyfried churn out a gorgeous rendition of “My Love, My Life”, the mother/daughter relationship between the actresses is lovely and will fondly remind audiences of the chemistry in the 2008 film.

In regards to Cher, the revelation that Ruby is a long lost lover of hotel manager, Fernando (Andy Garcia), is sweet and romantic. Despite limited screen time, the duo share wonderful on-screen chemistry, so much so that I yearned to know the back story of their relationship. We only know that they were madly in love in 1959? Why did it not work out?  Regardless, Cher’s version of the song “Fernando” is both appropriate and enchanting.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018) is a summer film sure to please audiences eager for a fluffy musical. With bright and cheerful Greek island locales, lavish oceans, and bombastic feel-good pop sensibilities, this film was marketed well and shares enough connection with 2008’s Mamma Mia! to enrapture and please audiences who enjoyed the first version.

Dreamgirls-2006

Dreamgirls-2006

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson

Scott’s Film Review #792

Reviewed July 20, 2018

Grade: A

Dreamgirls (2006) is a glossy show business style drama with plenty of glitz and glamour. Adapted from the Broadway production of the same name, the story is loosely based on the trials and tribulations of The Supremes, a popular all-girl group from the 1960’s. Despite the film being heavily focused on the drama and tension between the characters, it boasts a wonderful soundtrack and fantastic acting- most notably newcomer Jennifer Hudson, who garnered a surprising Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for her role.

The film tells the story of the evolution of American R&B music during the 1960’s and the 1970’s- the action mainly taking place in Detroit, Michigan, where the genre began. Taking center stage is the incarnation of a girl group called The Dreams, who are controlled by their manipulative record label executive. A womanizer and creep, Curtis Taylor (Jamie Foxx), guides the girls to stardom, but beds both the beautiful Deena (Beyonce) and the talented yet overweight Effie White (Jennifer Hudson). This leads to conflict as Curtis decides that less talented Deena is more marketable and thus should be the central figure of the band.

With a stellar cast in tow, Dreamgirls contains a plethora of talent and a good historical lesson to boot. The main draw in the acting department is the revelation of the talented Jennifer Hudson. Winner of the talent show American Idol, many pooh pooed her film direction, apparently assuming she was a flash in the pan and a “reality television” star. The challenging role of Effie is perfectly suited for Hudson- brazen, pipes for days, and plenty of attitude. Her acting aside, Hudson scorches through an unforgettable rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, which is assuredly what won her the Oscar.

Otherwise, the supporting cast is worthwhile and impressive is Beyonce in a pivotal role. Surely, the singer/actress faced her share of detractors, along with Hudson, but their chemistry is amazing and she nails all of her songs. Eddie Murphy is a gem in the role mirrored after James Brown, James “Thunder” Early.  The role is perfect for Murphy- a far cry from his standard comedic roles that have grown stale over the years. This role rejuvenates the actor’s credibility.

Dreamgirls does at times falter a bit with the drama, almost soap opera-like situations. A triangle develops between Effie, Curtis, and Deena, which leads to tension, bad-blood, cattiness, and melodrama. If the film were a standard drama this would undoubtedly make the film suffer from a tired script or generic writing. But the musical numbers are so riveting that these flaws can be overlooked completely. The ritzy glamour and sparkles that erupt during “Dreamgirls” and “One Night Only” are wonderful fun and the songs are memorable leaving audiences humming along as they dance in the aisles.

In fact, the story is one that has been told many times before. A dream of rising to musical stardom and the many trials and tribulations that go along with these hopes and desires. Comparisons can be made to Chicago (2002), Valley of the Dolls (1967), or even Gypsy (1962), but the mostly black cast and the 1960’s Motown theme is interesting, particularly as the Civil Rights movement of the time was upon us. The film does not invest much time with politics, sticking mainly with the drama and music, which may be a wise move in order to avoid too much of a message theme.

As the film concludes in 1975, Effie is reaffirmed as a meaningful member of The Dreams after her career has tanked and she has wound up on welfare. A paternity twist is also thrown in for good measure, but the film has a clear “happily after ever” vibe to it which softens the film and keeps it more on the PG-13 level instead of going for darker themes.

Dreamgirls (2006) is a musical that is highly memorable for me because it made Jennifer Hudson a household name and confirms the talent and glory that she is rightfully due. In subsequent years the star lost weight, softened her image a bit, and became, well, more generic. But thankfully we have a gorgeous performance to always appreciate her for.

Carmen Jones-1954

Carmen Jones-1954

Director-Otto Preminger

Starring-Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte

Scott’s Review #736

Reviewed April 3, 2018

Grade: B+

Quite taboo at the time of release (1954) because it featured an all-black cast with not a single white cast member, Carmen Jones is to be celebrated for its contribution to film history for this groundbreaking feat alone. Directed by Otto Preminger (who  ironically is caucasian),  the film features legendary actress Dorothy Dandridge in a Marilyn Monroe style performance worthy of the stars talents. The film is a musical with inevitable tragedy at the conclusion.

The 1954 feature is based on a 1943 stage production  of the same name, which in turn is based on the music of the famous 1875 Georges Bizet production of Carmen. These facets add to the richness of the film as it is layered in good history, and the well-known tragic elements make the conclusion of unsurprising.

Brazen and beautiful, Carmen is a seductress who works in a parachute factory in North Carolina during World War II. After trading fists with a co-worker, Carmen is jailed and assigned handsome Corporal Joe (Harry Belafonte) to escort her to the authorities. While Carmen is not shy about setting her sights on the young man, his fiancee, virginal Cindy Lou, fumes with anger and schemes to keep her man. This results in a triangle, of sorts, as Carmen and Joe eventually fall madly in love, leaving poor Cindy Lou by the wayside, but their love faces hurdles.

The rather lighthearted first portion of the film, with coquettish humor mixed in, is offset by a much darker path the film then takes. As Carmen and Joe finally profess their love and share a night of passion, she leaves him in the middle of the night, unable to endure prison time. This results in Joe actually being imprisoned as the couple ultimately cannot stay away from one another despite repeated obstacles to their happiness. An additional character, a boxer named Husky, with designs on Carmen, is introduced, complicating matters.

In sad form, much like the opera Carmen, the final scene is both devastating and startling, as Joe treads down a dark and gloomy path of destruction. The character of Joe is nuanced- at first a “nice guy”, the character is an example in complexity, and what a man will do for love. The viewer is left to wonder what will become of Joe and how he could simply throw his life away performing an act in the heat of passion.

For 1954, what a profound and wonderful role for a female, let alone a black female. Typically cast in roles such as maids, waitresses, or even less glamorous parts, how wonderful for Dandridge to capture a challenging role of this caliber. As she sinks her teeth into the meaty and flirtatious Carmen, she is a vixen all the way. Her pizzazz, her flare, and her singing and dancing performances made Dandridge a star and forever known as a groundbreaking talent.

Enough cannot be said of the great importance of the casting of all black actors in Carmen Jones.  Monumental, of course given the time of the film, the result is a film of importance to the black culture, showing that no longer did they need to only appear in “white films” as supporting players, but could carry a film on their own.  How profound and remarkable this was!

My only criticism of the film is undoubtedly a result of the progress made for both black actors and the way black characters are written- though there is still plenty of more work to do. At times feeling a shade on the dated side (in present times plenty of great roles for black actors) with a slight grainy look to the filming, some of the acting from the supporting characters is also not the strongest, but nonetheless liberties must be taken as Carmen Jones is a historical film.

Thanks to the genius and the funding of Preminger, who needed to produce the film independently due to lack of interest, the results are a film that has gone down in history as being worthy, edgy, and open-minded. Wisely casting talented stars with great pipes, the film is a solid success.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers-1954

Director-Stanley Donen

Starring-Howard Keel, Jane Powell

Scott’s Review #711

Reviewed January 7, 2018

Grade: B-

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a 1954 musical and another in a string of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer productions, ever so present during the “Golden Age of Hollywood”. The songs are not quite as memorable as similar musicals of the day, and the film has a sexist slant that is jarring in today’s gender equal standards. But given the time that the film was made, and the time period setting of the mid-nineteenth century, however, things were very different, and the film does contain one semi-strong female character at least. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a nice film, but in present times seems quite dated and irrelevant- little more than an ode to yesteryear.

Adam Pompitee (Howard Keel), is a dashing, rugged man, living in the Oregon Territory in the year of 1850. He struts into town and proclaims his desire for a wife- presumably to cook and clean for him and his six younger brothers, all living together in a cabin in the rural mountains. When he falls head over heels for tavern worker Milly (Jane Powell), they impulsively marry, but she is disappointed to learn she will be caring for seven men- not one. Milly then plots to marry off the unruly bunch to local girls. Throughout the course of the film, characters partake in song and dance and merriment as the hi-jinks play out in wild fashion.

At its core, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is meant to be a lighthearted romp, and it succeeds at that. Containing a strong romantic angle and the message of finding one’s soul-mate is palpable- Milly is the sensible female counter-part to erratic Adam, and there is good chemistry between the actors. Milly is strong-willed and eventually puts her foot down, but still accepts her role as the domestic and the caretaker.

Fun is how each of the brothers manages to find the one girl in town meant for him as the duo’s pair off in unison. This is a cute aspect of the film- and perhaps a film such as this one is not entirely meant to be over-analyzed. Humorous, if not just slightly overdone,  is the luscious red hair that each of the Pontipee brothers has- obviously dyed hair or wigs were used as needed.

The film succeeds when it sticks to the song and dancing numbers, which are far more entertaining than the story-line. MGM used actors who were classically trained singers or dancers, giving the film a more authentic choreography. Given the fourteen principle characters involved in the production, this must have been a beast to achieve without things looking ridiculous. Keel, as main character Adam, was in fact a professional singer, having appeared in a number of musicals such as Kiss Me Kate and Showboat. Powell, as Milly, holds her own with a gorgeous singing voice and also appeared in other musicals.

Still, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers contains a bothersome sexist story and women are treated more as objects for men to conquer rather than real people with feelings or emotions. The overall implication within the film are that women are desperate to get married and should be flattered to be chosen by any man. This is readily apparent when the brothers accost the girls from their homes and take them unwillingly to the cabin where, predictably, the women succumb to the men’s desires and fall in love with them.

A film to be taken with a grain of salt and a trip back to olden times, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers is a dated picture, but a fun one containing grand production numbers such as “Lonesome Polecat”, “When You’re In Love”, and “June Bride”. These songs are light and airy and a high point of the film. For those seeking a liberal minded affair, this film will disappoint, as the film is very conservative with traditional male/female roles and expectations, as much as one could imagine.

The Greatest Showman-2017

The Greatest Showman-2017

Director-Michael Gracey

Starring-Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron

Scott’s Review #707

Reviewed December 26, 2017

Grade: A-

A pure musical, escapist film, The Greatest Showman holds a dear and relevant message and elicits hope for outcasts everywhere by leading a story of acceptance and perseverance  in the feel-good film of 2017. Hugh Jackman leads the pack, starring as P.T. Barnum, a man struggling to create an entertainment show with live and unusual performers- deemed “freaks” in those days- the 1800’s in New York. The film is quite joyful and light with many cheery musical numbers sure to leave audience members humming along for hours after the conclusion of the film. The Greatest Showman is a rags to riches story and a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Jackman is charismatic and likable as the entrepreneur and showman, Barnum, who we meet as a young boy, the son of a poor tailor. He becomes enamored with wealthy young  Charity (Michelle Williams) and the two eventually marry, much to the chagrin of her pompous parents. Barnum and Charity at first struggle to make ends meet as they begin to raise a family, but eventually find success and wealth when the show succeeds. The film chronicles Barnum’s rise to fame and the trials and tribulations (romantic, business) over the course of several years, mainly through musical numbers. Zac Efron is wonderful as Barnum’s eventual business partner, Phillip Carlyle.

The supporting characters that director Michael Gracey offers up are creative, if not typical mainstays of carnivals and circuses everywhere- the bearded lady, the fat man, and a man covered in tattoos are featured prominently. Unclear to me are whether these characters actually existed or are created simply for plot purposes, but rumor has it that The Greatest Showman has taken great liberties with the factual accuracy of the real P.T. Barnum and his escapades. This would be bothersome if not for the wonderful message this film contains- acceptance and celebrating diversity. Certainly in today’s chaotic world this is of prominent importance for young people everywhere.

Those expecting anything of more substance than a cheery and bright holiday slice of enjoyment may be disappointed- some mainstream critics were not too high on this film, but I am okay with a little escapist adventure on occasion. The message throughout The Greatest Showman is quite good. The best musical number is the show-stopping and anthemic “This Is Me”, and Keala Settle is fabulous as the bearded lady, who leads this important song. The number is empowering and energetic.

The chemistry between Jackman and Williams is not remarkable, but not altogether vacant either. Rather, it is simply decent, and not the films strongest point. In fact, I sense better chemistry between Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson as grand Swedish singer, Jenny Lind. Their “romance” is unfulfilled however and we will just need to imagine the possibilities of that one.

I adore seeing Efron in quality roles (think 2012’s exceptional The Paperboy) and his performance as Phillip is great. Sharing a good bond with Barnum, he has his own romance with acrobat, (and of mixed race) Anne Wheeler. His values and earnestness make the character very appealing as he is torn between riches and standing on principal.

The Greatest Showman may not go down in history as the ultimate tops in film making or even one of the best musicals, but the film does succeed in dazzling the audience and providing a couple of hours worth of fun and entertainment- similar to the way P.T. Barnum energized the crowds with a slice of make-believe, this is more than appropriate.

Hair-1979

Hair-1979

Director-Milos Forman

Starring-Treat Williams, John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo

Scott’s Review #664

Reviewed July 14, 2017

Grade: B+

Hair is a 1979 musical film that, in addition to catchy singing and dance numbers, possesses quite a serious theme- that of the Vietnam war. This film is not your traditional Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer style musical prevalent in the 1950’s. Rather, the entire experience is a unique one with an underlying dark tone and is presumably a message film with a liberal slant.

Made in 1979, yet set in the late 1960’s, Hair centers primarily around two young men, along with a bevy of hippie friends, while most of the action is set in New York City. Despite the time period, the film does not always succeed in the authenticity category- many of the costumes and hairstyles scream late 1970’s. The film also has a late 1970’s “look”, clearly on the cusp of the 1980’s with poofy hair associated with the times. This forces the viewer to escape into a world largely of make-believe.

Claude (John Savage) is a naïve young man from folksy Oklahoma, clearly having lived a sheltered and religious life,  proper and away from big city living.  He is drafted and sent to the Big Apple, where he will wait assignment. Charismatic Berger (Treat Williams) and company befriend Claude after he gives them spare change, soon becoming the best of friends. Claude falls in love with socialite Sheila Franklin (Beverly D’Angelo) in town from neighboring Westchester County, NY and a love story ensues.

When Claude, Berger and company interrupt a lavish dinner party hosted by Sheila’s parents, a hilarious yet informative scene develops.  While  Sheila secretly is gleeful at the arrival of her new friends, Sheila’s parents are none to pleased, which results in a standoff between Berger and  Sheila’s family. Part comical, this scene also displays the severe class distinctions between many of the characters.

The rest of the film centers on the friends antics involving drug use, relationship trials and tribulations, and culminates in a cross country drive to desperately see Claude before he is shipped to Vietnam. Multiple scenes involve songs in relation to the turbulent race issues of the times- my personal favorites are the opening number, “Aquarius” and the scandalous, “Black Boys” and “White Boys”, performed by Nell carter.

Never one to be disappointed with a film set in Manhattan, Hair is a film basking in fantasy and the entire production seems to be one big dream as the carefully crafted musical numbers intersperse with the more dramatic elements. Still, much of the film consists of the group prancing around Manhattan and wonderful areas such as Washington Square park are featured as well as several changes of seasons, giving the film a slice of life feel.

My favorite performance is that of Treat Williams as Berger. Part showman, part jokster, and part earnest, he fills the role with dynamic energy that comes full circle in the last act when he drastically changes his appearance for the sake of a friend.

The ending of the film is melancholy and an inevitable reminder of the coldness and finality of war in relation to human life. The encompassing song is “Let the Sunshine In”, a powerful and worthy conclusion to the film as the gang visits Arlington National Cemetery, to join an anti-war peace rally and say goodbye to a friend.

The film version of Hair may be drastically changed from the stage musical version,  a version I shamefully have yet to see, but on its own merits the film is a poignant, powerful, and wholly entertaining musical adventure.

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect. Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist , Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris. Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumbles upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman. The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love? Of course they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized. I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy in lieu of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice. Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries is pure and utter rubbish. The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss. In fact, worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord. On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou finds love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure. Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect to the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

Tommy-1975

Tommy-1975

Director-Ken Russell

Starring-Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret

Scott’s Review #617

Reviewed February 15, 2017

Grade: B+

The film version of Tommy (1975) is a musical fantasy, rock opera based on the famous album recording by The Who in 1969. Composed and adapted by The Who member Pete Townsend, the film tells the story of a deaf, dumb, blonde kid named Tommy. Featuring a star studded cast of actors and singers performing musical numbers, the film is an over the top treat and quite campy- certainly late night fare. The stage version is usually a bit more serious and sedate than the film.  I enjoy the film but it pales in comparison to the stage versions- in which I was fortunate enough to see at my local community theater recently. The film is directed by Ken Russell.

Set during the 1940’s and told mainly through song, we see a montage of Captain Walker (Robert Powell) and his wife Nora (Ann-Margret) on their honeymoon and Walker subsequently being sent off to war leaving a pregnant Nora behind. When his fighter plane is shot down and he is presumed dead, the montage skips ahead five years and Nora is now involved in a relationship with Frank (Oliver Reed). Tommy is five years old and is visited by his father, who is very much alive. After a struggle with Frank and Nora, Powell is killed and a traumatized Tommy is unable to speak, see, or hear (except within his own mind) as Frank and Nora are desperate to make sure he keeps quiet.

As Tommy grows into a young man, he becomes a “Pinball Wizard” , a prodigy at pinball, creating great wealth for Nora and Frank. Still unable to see, speak, or see, he is first abused by his Uncle and Cousin, but then championed as they are all able to get rich off of his abilities. Through the years Nora and Frank attempt to “cure” Tommy of his ailments via a preacher (Clapton) leading a Marilyn Monroe cult and a prostitute (Turner).

The joy in Tommy (the film) is seeing the star studded cast- Elton John, Tina Turner, and Eric Clapton, as well as Roger Daltrey, bring a sense of wonderment to the film. Who doesn’t like to see rock stars perform? Famous actors Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret, and Reed are featured. The musical numbers are the splendid part of the film and one must be prepared to escape into a world of fantasy. Musical highlights for me include, “Acid Queen”, “It’s A Boy”, and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

My most recent viewing of the film that is Tommy, disappointed slightly, and this may be due to recently seeing the stage version- far superior in my mind. Ann-Margret, while superb and believable as Tommy’s mum, is not the character that Townsend had in mind. Sultry and sexy, she is clearly cast to bring some sex appeal- nothing wrong with this, but the stage character is more of a working class woman, and more in line with the rest of the cast.

The film also seems a bit too over the top- almost silly at times. But Tommy is an escapist film- based on the album, which is more serious. I wonder if Russell was going for a more late-night, Rocky Horror Show or Little Shop of Horrors type feel. Tommy has its place, certainly, but I would first recommend the stage or the album version as a starting point and move to the film as escapist fare.

Scrooge-1970

Scrooge-1970

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Albert Finney, Alec Guinness

Scott’s Review #561

Reviewed December 25, 2016

Grade: A

A classic that is perfect to watch around the holidays, accompanied perhaps by a roaring fire and a bit of brandy, Scrooge is a magical, musical experience, that should be adored by the entire family. The film is a re-telling of the 1843 Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. Set in London with spectacular London style art direction, it is perfect in its depiction of life around the holidays in the historic city, circa nineteenth century.

To be clear, this is the musical version of the popular tale- not to be confused with the 1935 or the 1951 versions of the story. The film is not as dark or scary as those films are. Rather, the 1970 Scrooge would be a fantastic companion piece to the 1968 classic, Oliver!, both based on Dickens stories, as both mix fantastic musical scores with the dramatic elements.

Albert Finney takes center stage in flawless form as the old, cantankerous, miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. He plays the character as both an old man, and, via flashbacks, as a young man (Finney was merely thirty four years old at the time of filming). Guinness, certainly a high caliber actor, is effective as the ghost of Jacob Marley- Scrooge’s former business partner. Scrooge is a money-lender, mainly to the working class, and is unforgiving in his collection of debts.

Filled with hatred of all things good, especially the Christmas holiday, Scrooge refuses to attend a family Christmas dinner hosted by his nephew, Fred, or to give to any charities. He begrudgingly gives his minion and bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, Christmas day off. Finally left alone Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of Jacob Marley, deceased seven years, who tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts during  the night.

In a chilling scene, Marley takes Scrooge on a journey through the sky where he is greeted by spirits doomed to traverse the Earth as Jacob is, with shackles acquired from their life as living beings. Since they were greedy and wicked, they are doomed in the afterlife, just as Scrooge will be if he does not change his ways.

In a wonderful sub-plot, we get to know the Cratchit’s, led by father Bob, a poor, but earnest man. The family has little, but make the most of what they do have, and appreciate the glorious holiday. They prepare a meager Christmas bird, and savor being together as a family. Their youngest, Tiny Tim, is lame, and he lusts over a lavish train set in the local toy shop. The Cratchit’s epitomize goodness and richness of character, and clearly contrast Ebenezer Scrooge.

As Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and Christmas yet to come, he slowly realizes he needs to change his ways before it is too late, and the audience is treated to stories of Scrooge’s youth, as we realize what has made him the miserly old man that he is today.

The clear highlight to this film is its musical numbers that will leave even the most tone deaf humming along in glee. Throughout each sequence we are treated to various numbers. My favorite is “Thank You Very Much”, as first appears during the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come sequence. By this time feeling more sympathetic and appreciative, Scrooge merrily dances and sings along with the townspeople, unaware of the fact that they are celebrating his death and are dancing on his coffin to celebrate the fact that their debts are now free and clear. This catchy tune is a reprise at the end of the film.

Other cheery numbers are “Father Christmas” and “I Like Life”, which perfectly categorize the film as a merry, holiday one, despite the occasional dark nature of the overall film. This is necessary to avoid making Scrooge too bleak.

I also adore the vivid set designs as the gorgeous city of London is perfectly recreated to show the festive Christmas holiday. The film is not high budget, but makes the most of it by using small, yet lavish sets.

Scrooge is a perfect holiday film that contains fantastic tunes, a meaningful story, that comes across on film as celebratory of life, never edging toward contrived or over-saturated in nature. A wonderful holiday feast.

The Band Wagon-1953

The Band Wagon-1953

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse

Scott’s Review #549

Reviewed December 15, 2016

Grade: B

The Band Wagon, made in 1953, is a second tier MGM (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) production- and by that I mean it is not as stellar as other musicals of its time. It lacks the grandiose appeal of other similar musicals like An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain.

Directed by Vincente Minnelli- a legendary musical director of the 1950’s and starring Fred Astaire, The Band Wagon tells the story of a washed up movie star trying to revive his career on Broadway. He meets opposition from his co-star and prima ballerina, Gabrielle, played by Cyd Charisse, ironically, an actress who appeared in Singin’ in the Rain.

The Band Wagon is a fun movie, just not nearly on the level of the aforementioned movies, and rather a pale imitator. While other musicals of similar style can be watched numerous times, The Band Wagon is a one and done affair.

The story starts off slowly, but gets much better towards the end. The film has a few memorable musical numbers, most notably “That’s Entertainment”.

La La Land-2016

La La Land-2016

Director-Damien Chazelle

Starring-Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling

Scott’s Review #538

80095365

Reviewed December 6, 2016

Grade: A

La La Land breathes new life into the classic musical genre of the 1950’s, with a fresh glimpse into the world of Hollywood.  The film explores the glitz and the glamour, the triumphs and heartbreaks, and the dreams both broken and fulfilled in a town laden with broken hearts. The bright and colorful film stars two of today’s top young talented stars- Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. The chemistry between the leads and the dynamic musical numbers are wonderful to experience. A masterful nod to old Hollywood.

Mia (Stone) is an aspiring young actress, struggling to survive the Hollywood scene by serving latte’s in a coffee shop on a studio lot. She auditions endlessly for film and television parts,without much luck. Her passion is acting, but she also writes a one woman play that she plans to star in. Sebastian, on the other hand, is a dedicated jazz musician, struggling to make ends meet by playing demoralizing gigs that ruin the essence of jazz, meeting many people who tell him that jazz is a dying genre. Sebastian’s dream is to one day open his own night club. Through circumstances, Mia and Sebastian meet and continue to run into each other, forging a wonderful friendship, eventually leading to romance.

The film is an absolutely gorgeous experience with bright sets, creative sequences, and numerous song and dance numbers to keep you humming along- Mia and Sebastian even tap-dance one beautiful night following a Hollywood party, under the moonlight with the Los Angeles skyline in view, as they begin to bond with one another. It is one of the best scenes in the film.

La La Land is seasonal and begins in the winter- though this is strictly  an attempt to separate the chapters- Los Angeles is always warm, but the timing is Christmas- interesting in itself to see in a warm climate. During the first scene, we are immediately treated to a musical number- stuck in stifling freeway traffic, the drivers of the cars all get out in unison, sing and dance, and then proceed to get back into their cars and continue their ho-hum day. Director, Damien Chazelle cleverly balances the cheerful tone with the everyday redundant tasks and the struggles of artists hoping for a dream.

La La Land really excels during the scenes of Sebastian and Mia as the chemistry is palpable. Gosling and Stone really have something. Supporting players such as J.K. Simmons and Rosemarie Dewitt add pizzazz in their small, but meaningful parts.

I adore the odes to classic Hollywood films that director Chazelle incorporates into his film. Classics such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious are referenced and the legendary film, Casablanca is referenced twice. Additionally, during a sweet moment, Sebastian takes Mia to see Rebel Without a Cause at an old style theater, as he is shocked that she has never seen the film, and eagerly excited to introduce her to it-this continues as he shares his love for jazz music with her. Later, the theater closes as the film takes a more dour tone as the struggles of both characters overwhelm them.

The film’s finale is amazing. Suddenly, it is five years later and many events have happened. In a brilliant sequence, the lives of the characters are explained through a song as we see the span of time play out until we reach the point of the film where the song began- a treasure of an ode to the truth of the characters. The sequence is emotional, heartbreaking, and choreographed without missing a beat,

Gosling and Stone sing all of their songs- not live as was the case with Les Miserables, but wisely on a sound stage- they are neither novices nor Grammy winners, but they are real and truthful, and with heart.

How refreshing to see classic Hollywood told in such a riveting fashion, as seen through the eyes of the young. Films and styles of decades past are renewed through this wonderful piece of film. I noted similarities to An American in Paris and countless other gems from years ago and stood proudly with the knowledge that a nostalgic piece of cinema is exactly what we need.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes-1953

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes-1953

Director-Howard Hawks

Starring-Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe

Scott’s Review #384

60004540

Reviewed March 13, 2016

Grade: B+

One of the iconic and legendary  star Marilyn Monroe’s better known offerings from her brief career is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a fun musical/romantic comedy. She stars alongside Jane Russell, another popular Hollywood star from a golden era of film to create this wonderful gem. Together they have great chemistry and an easy yin and yang relationship, which makes the film light and cheerful, but not meaningless or too fluffy. It is just right for the genre that it is. As mentioned before, the romantic comedy has changed in modern cinema and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes contains the innocence and charm that has since been lost. The 1950’s were a perfect time for this genre of film.

Lorelei Lee (Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Russell) are American showgirls and best friends who perform a stage show together. Lorelei loves diamonds and rich men- she is dating Gus Esmond , an awkward yet lovable young man, who is wealthy, but controlled by his father. Dorothy is less interested in being showered in wealth, but prefers handsome, in shape men. When the girls head to Paris on a cruise ship, the adventures begin- Lorelei is being observed and followed by a private investigator (Malone) hired by Gus’s father, while Dorothy is pursued by members of an Olympic swim team.

The film is entertaining and a must-see for all Monroe fans, as it really was at the time when she was at her best- Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like it Hot are my personal favorites and she was in the prime of her tragically short film career- sure she plays the “dumb blonde” character with gusto, but there is something innocent and fun about her portrayal of Lorelei and we fall in love with her immediately. Dorothy is the leader- the smart one- and she compliments Lorelei’s naivety. More worldly and sophisticated she watches out for her counterpart.

What makes the film really work so well is the chemistry between Monroe and Russell. The audience buys them as best friends and the two actresses (who reportedly got along famously). Monroe shines during the legendary number, “Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend”, a number that famously inspired the 1984 Madonna video “Material Girl” that will forever live on in music history.

My favorite scene takes place on the ship as Lorelei gets into trouble as she sneaks into the private investigator’s cabin to obtain incriminating evidence and winds up stuck in the tight cabin window. The shot of Monroe sticking halfway out the window is funny. She then hilariously enlists a young, precocious child to help her avoid recognition and fool a man with sub-par vision. In fact, vision also comes into play when Dorothy disguises herself as Lorelei in silly fashion (she appears looking more like a drag queen) in a courtroom scene over hi-jinks involving a stolen tiara.

Interesting is the scene in which Dorothy is flocked by dancing Olympic gymnasts and is as provocative as could be in 1953. Certainly unable to show any form of nudity whatsoever, the dancers are clad in nude colored shorts, which certainly suggests elements of sexuality, an illusion of nudity, and fits the scene perfectly as Dorothy is in testosterone heaven.  It is like a big, giant fantasy for her.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a successful offering from another cinematic time- a time that is sorely missed. Cute, but not trivial, the film is worth dusting off for a watch every so often and to marvel in the iconic Marilyn Monroe.

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Dancer in the Dark-2000

Director-Lars von Trier

Starring-Bjork, Catherine Deneuve

Top 100 Films-#95

Scott’s Review #365

60002276

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Dancer in the Dark is in my opinion one of the most important, inventive films of the 2000’s and proudly is one of my favorites of all time. However, the film is not pleasant to watch, and really quite painful and depressing, if truth be told. But the relevance and sheer emotion the film elicits is more than enough reason to be exposed to it- if only, but perhaps, once.

Director, Lars von Trier, is a master at creative and disturbing, dream-like films that are either odd, non-linear, or otherwise open to interpretation in some way. He has directed such gems as 2011’s Melancholia and 1996’s Breaking the Waves, to name but two. With Dancer in the Dark he uses hand held cameras which add much grit to the film so it almost feels documentary style, and a grainy, shaky look. The addition of musical numbers mostly written and performed by star, Bjork, is a wonderful touch.

Speaking of Bjork, words cannot express what a brilliant performance she gives in the film, and the raw emotion she expresses in her starring role is awe inspiring. So much was the stress of filming Dancer in the Dark, that she, to my knowledge, has never made another film. She was shamefully overlooked in the Best Actress Oscar category- an omission that is one of the biggest fails in Oscar history.

Tensions were reportedly high on the set of Dancer in the Dark, as Bjork reportedly despised her director, never missing a chance to tell him so, disappeared from the set for days on end, and spat in his face. Co-star Deneuve, a former French mega-film star, reportedly did not get along well with Bjork. Despite all the drama, the stars managed to pull together a masterpiece.

Bjork plays Selma, a Czech immigrant, living in Seattle with her young son. The year is 1964. Selma is poor, struggling to survive by working in a clothing factory along with her best friend Cvalda (Deneuve). Selma and Cvalda escape their dull lives by watching classic musical films at their local cinema. To make matters worse, Selma is suffering from a degenerative eye disease causing her to gradually lose her sight. She struggles to save enough for a surgery for her son, who is sure to suffer the same fate without it. Selma frequently imagines musical numbers in her day to day life involving friends and co-workers. When a tragic turn of events occurs and Selma is accused of a crime, the film goes in a very dark direction.

The conclusion of the film will always require handkerchiefs as it is powerful as it is gloomy.  The aspect I love most about Dancer in the Dark is that it smashes barriers about what film art is and throws all of the rules out the window. Lars von Triers is certainly famous for this and creates a dreamy, independent hybrid musical and drama, a dynamic, tragic, emotional experience all rolled up into one great film.

Grease-1978

Grease-1978

Director-Randal Kleiser

Starring-John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John

Top 100 Films-#70

Scott’s Review #354

60000577

Reviewed January 9, 2016

Grade: A

Grease is the ultimate musical fantasy come to life and can be appreciated by anyone looking to re-live their high school days through song, or merely escape life’s stresses with a fun, bright, musical, that is very well made. Is it realistic? Absolutely not, but sometimes escapism is just what the doctor ordered, and Grease is one of my favorite films that meets that criteria. It is light-hearted and sweet, and above all contains wonderful, legendary musical numbers.

The time period is the 1950’s, and we meet Danny and Sandy on a windswept beach with cascading waves and bright sunshine. It is summer break for the two high school students, who meet in California, she vacationing from Australia, he a local boy. They say their goodbyes and return to normal lives, but cannot forget about each other. Suddenly, Sandy arrives at Rydell High in Los Angeles, coincidentally where Danny goes to school. Her parents (whom we never see) decided to stay in California.

Danny is a “tough guy” in high school, much different from who he was on the beach with Sandy. He is the leader of the infamous T-birds, a group of boys who love their black leather jackets and cars. Torn, he continues his tough image and he and Sandy find their way back to each other through classmates, songs, and dancing, intermingling fun supporting characters who encourage each of them to find true love.

Travolta and Newton-John have magical chemistry, which really allows this film to work. Certainly, Grease has appeared on stage numerous times, but these actors are fine together. I buy them as teenagers in love, despite the fact that both were well beyond teen years. The supporting cast is excellent- specifically Stockard Channing as the lead Pink Lady, Rizzo, and Sandy’s kind-hearted friend Frenchy. Interestingly, no parents ever appear in the film as it really not about the adults. However, Rydell’s female principal, Mrs. McGee (played by Eve Arden), and her dotty Vice Principal, Blanche (Dody Goodman), are simply marvelous as comic relief.

Rizzo is an interesting character and can be argued is the only one who threatens to steal the thunder from Danny and Sandy. Containing a tough exterior, she is also vulnerable as she fears she has become pregnant mid-way through the film. Unwed and pregnant in the 1950’s was quite the scandal and Channing gives layers of emotion during her solo number, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”.

The wonderful high school dance scene is choreographed amazingly well. The excitement of the student body at being filmed for a special television show is apparent as dance numbers and dance contests, some raunchy, follow.

The musical numbers are intrinsically memorable from “Grease”, “Greased Lightning”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Beauty School Dropout”, all of which are personal favorites of mine.

Grease is a film that is not meant to be analyzed, but rather enjoyed for the fantastic chemistry and energy in which it has. Sometimes in film all of the elements simply come together in perfect fashion and Grease is an excellent example of this.

The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

The Young Girls of Rochefort-1967

Director-Jacques Demy

Starring-Catherine Deneuve, George Chakiris

Scott’s Review #252

60020331

Reviewed June 30, 2015

Grade: B

The Young Girls of Rochefort (Les Demoiselles de Rochefort) is a musical fantasy set in a small French town outside of Paris. The story focuses on a set of gorgeous twin sisters, Delphine and Solange, played by real life sisters Catherine Denueve and Francoise Dorleac, who yearn to escape their small town for the bright lights of Paris and hopes for romance in their lives. The twins can have any man they want, but enjoy the thrill and excitement of conquests and being chased and sought after by seemingly all available French men. They spend their spare time discussing and fretting over various loves.

The film is so French and pure musical fantasy and logic is really not the main focus. Much of it does not make much sense in fact, nor does it need to. It is pure fantasy. The film excels by being dreamlike, bright, and sunny. The vivid, bursting colors and lovely sets enhance the look of the film. In particular the coffee shop set is a dream. All of the central characters gravitate to the café for drinks, gossip, and song and dance. A great deal of the action takes place here, which is a major plus to the film. The Young Girls of Rochefort, which is made in 1967, is very state of the art in terms of art direction and colors.

The loose plot, which is not at all the reason to watch this film, is silly. The twins, longing for love, meet several men, all possible suitors, but at their true motivation is to get out of Rochefort and find real excitement in the big city of Paris. One cannot help but realize that the men are a means to an end for the girls. The heartfelt part of the story belongs to that of the twin’s mother, Yvonne, who also longs for love. Yvonne runs the café and still pines for a long lost love who she jilted because of a funny last name. She now regrets her decision and the audience roots for her to find happiness. She is a wholesome character whereas Delphine and Solange are selfish and are attempting to further their careers as musical artists.

My main criticism of the film is the casting of Gene Kelly as one of the love interests for the sisters. Far too old and well past his prime at this point, the casting just doesn’t work for me. Yes, he is an amazing dancer, but the age is too great to be believable.

In the end, the main reason to watch The Young Girls of Rochefort is to escape, let loose, and enjoy a bright, cheery, fantasy film. Certainly not to be analyzed, the film succeeds in providing good escapist cultured, French fare.