Tag Archives: Musical films

Hair-1979

Hair-1979

Director-Milos Forman

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewed December 24, 2010

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

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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

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

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Reviewed January 13, 2017

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

60000577

Reviewed January 21, 2017

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.

Into the Woods-2014

Into the Woods-2014

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring-Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep

70305948

Reviewed May 8, 2015

Grade: B

Based on the stage production of the same name, Into the Woods is a feature length Disney film that incorporates several different fairy tales into the main story. The film is a fantasy musical with numerous songs performed by the cast, featuring a large ensemble of seasoned actors within its ranks. The classic fairy tales are modern versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella.

The action mainly revolves around a baker and his wife (James Cordon and Emily Blunt) who are sad and lonely because they are unable to conceive a child due to a long-ago curse put upon the baker’s family by a witch- played by Meryl Streep. Circumstances surrounding the baker’s father caused the once beautiful witch to be turned ugly. The witch offers a bargain to the baker and his wife- if they bring her four items (a white cow, a red cape, yellow hair, and a gold slipper) for a special potion, she will lift the curse, enabling them to conceive a child and live happily ever after. This prompts the couple to venture into the dark forest to obtain the requested items. From this point in the film the couple intersects with other characters from the fairy tales as all question various aspects of their lives.

Certainly there are subsequent stories- the witch is Rapunzel’s adoptive mother and keeps her locked in a tower to prevent her from being hurt by the world. Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) escapes her taunting stepsisters and attends a ball only to flee when noticed by the handsome prince (Chris Pine)- Jack attempts to sell beans in order to provide food for his mother- and Little Red Riding Hood attempts to bring sweets to her Grandmother, but is confronted by the Big, Bad, Wolf (Johnny Depp), and there is a strange Woman Giant stomping through the forest searching for Jack, but all of these stories revolve around the baker and his wife’s efforts to retrieve the witches requests.

The production and art direction in the film are great. I love the dark, gloomy forest, which translates so well on the screen and gives the magical effect of a mysterious, secret forest to the viewer. I enjoyed the songs quite a bit- especially the catchy finale “Into the Woods”. However, some of the songs are quite one dimensional and bland and not discernible from each other, let alone memorable. The duet of the Prince’s, “Agony” is silly with, useless to the plot, gyrations and silly dance moves.

Meryl Streep- dynamic in anything she appears in- again steals the show as the vile witch turned beautiful in the latter stages of the film. She has a fantastic solo number mid-story, entitled “Stay with me”.

One drawback I found with the film is, at times it drags a bit and I was not sold on the casting of Anna Kendrick as Cinderella- something about her performance was lacking- perhaps she was not as sympathetic or convincing as another actress might have been. Also, I would have enjoyed seeing Johnny Depp as the Wolf been more prominently featured as well as a larger role for the Woman Giant. As integral as she is to the plot, it was tough to even get a clear glimpse of her face let alone anything more substantial.

An entertaining feast of fairy tales immersed in one film, Into the Woods has some compelling moments, but has a dull note to it and some lost opportunities that bring it far from the reaches of a masterpiece level. A good film, but not a great film.

Annie-2014

Annie-2014

Director-Will Gluck

Starring-Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx

220px-Annie2014Poster

Reviewed March 25, 2015

Grade: D-

The latest remake of the film version of Annie- the last film production having taken place in 1982- though at least one variation in television exists- and all based on the Broadway hit of the same name- is a saccharin-laden mess of a film. Annie stars Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz as Annie, William Sparks (changed from Daddy Warbucks), and Miss Hannigan, respectively, and features Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle in supporting roles.

Let me begin with the one redeeming quality of the film- though admittedly a bit of a stretch, I found the musical numbers okay- not great, but certainly far from the worst parts of the film. The numbers are remixed into hip hop type songs with a trendy approach- presumably to add a modern element. While not great, some songs are catchy and not dreadful, especially “It’s A Hard Knock Life” over the closing credits. Whether the actors actually sing their own songs is another question, which I might not want to know the answer to.

The rest of Annie is terrible. The casting is poor. Wallis, very believable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, portrays Annie as a precocious, social climbing child and I sensed awkwardness to the part- regardless it did not work for me. I did not buy her in the role and how she was awarded a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical Comedy speaks volumes for the limited choices that year. Jamie Foxx completely phones in his performance as Cell-phone technical mogul, running for mayor, William Sparks. Why the film felt the need to change the character from Daddy Warbucks is a mystery. He is unbelievable as a germaphobe, aggressive yet sensitive, powerful man who amazingly develops a soft spot for Annie. Cameron Diaz completely overacts and turns Miss Hannigan into an obnoxious, hysterical shrew, who towards the end of the movie somehow “turns good”, with no real motivation for doing so. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle give uninteresting, very one-note performances in their respective roles of Sparks’s assistant and love interest, and his right hand man.

The film chose to change so many aspects of the original stage version of Annie, that it is barely recognizable. It takes place in present times rather than Depression era 1930’s, Annie is no longer an orphan, but is in foster care. Miss Hannigan’s first name is changed to Colleen instead of Agatha and is now a former pop performer whose career subsequently died. Hannigan’s brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily are not featured in this film version. The story has zero interest and zero believability.

But the worst part of the film is the over sentimental, corniness to it. It is so overwrought with contrived scenes that it is tough to take seriously. At a Mayoral function, Annie (an untrained singer) suddenly leaps onstage and belts out a perfectly sung, choreographed number suddenly melting the hearts of the wealthy powerhouses in attendance. The film is pure fantasy with no realism to speak of. Take for example the fact that Miss Hannigan fosters an apartment full of children whom she hates, to collect $150 a week, but her apartment is pretty damned spacious and beautiful for Manhattan standards.

The film contains one inconsistency after another and is a horrendous modern take of a long loved treasure, the 2014 version of Annie should be seen once, snarled at, and put back on the shelf and forgotten for good.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

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Reviewed December 16, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five year olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby. The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like? The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entire edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening river boat. The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary river boat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually have weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” are memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Oliver!-1968

Oliver!-1968

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Mark Lester, Oliver Reed

Top 100 Films-#55

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Reviewed December 8, 2014

Grade: A

Oliver, a 1968 film based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which was then adapted into a successful stage musical, the film surprisingly won the Academy award for Best Picture that year. Surprising, not because Oliver is poor, in fact it is magnificent, but it was not predicted to take home the honor. Telling the tale of woeful orphan Oliver, the film wonderfully comes across as a dark musical with a wholesome happy ending feel, largely due to the musical compositions which inevitably make for a cheerier tone.
When the film begins, Oliver lives in a despicable orphanage outside of London. A drawing of straws forces meek Oliver to ask for more gruel. After being deemed a problem child he is sold for cheap to an undertaker where he is bullied. Defeated, Oliver makes his way towards the big city in hopes of finding his fortunes. He then meets sinister characters such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes, as well as the sympathetic Nancy and Mr. Brownlow.

I absolutely love the musical numbers of the film and for me it is the strongest aspect of Oliver. The film would have certainly been much darker had it not been for the musical that it was. Numbers such as “Consider Yourself”, “Food, Glorious Food”, and “As Long As He Needs Me” stick with audiences for miles. The entertaining songs lighten the somber moments- as noted earlier when meek Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, the enchanting “Food Glorious Food” cannot help but be hummed along to, which lightens the mood of the scene. I also enjoy how the film contains the long ago popular trend of containing two acts with an intermission in between- very grand and classy and an aspect of film I wish would return in today’s movies. The London art direction is magnificent, revealing a cold, industrial feel, mixed in with a warm, sunny atmosphere when Oliver stays at the palatial estate of Mr. Brownlow. The bright and enchanting musical number of “Who Will Buy?” is the perfect backdrop for this setting and my personal favorite number.

Nancy is one of the most complex characters- a prostitute, she happily sings, in denial about her life, in “It’s a Fine Life”, secretly wishing her life was better than it is. Later, conflicted over helping Oliver or standing by her man she sings a melancholy number, “As Long As He Needs Me”, which cements her role as a tragic, sad character. However, as she leads a drunken bar room in a dance of “Oom-Pah-Pah”, the drama is thick as she is striving to help Oliver at the risk of putting her own life in severe jeopardy. Shani Wallis fills the character with heart and feeling.

Oliver is a much darker film than one might imagine. Curiously rated G, the film should have at least been rated PG. The films heart is of that of a children’s movie- to me personally a turn-off, but the film is much bolder than that. Certainly, some subject matters are toned down from Dickens novel, but not completely toned down. Examples- the novel made clear overtones of child abuse by the thieves by Fagin, yet there is none of that in the film. Contrasting this, the film blatantly shows the beating death of Nancy- albeit out of camera range, but the audience gets enough of a glimpse to ascertain what is happening. The shooting and swinging death of Bill Sykes borders on brutal.

A glaring flaw of the film is that the voice of Oliver is dubbed by a female singer and not voiced by actor Mark Lester. To me, this seems quite obvious that the voice is not male. The character of Bill Sykes is convincingly played by Oliver Reed, nephew of director Carol Reed.

Perfect around holiday time, Oliver is a terrific musical drama, to be enjoyed for eons to come.

West Side Story-1961

West Side Story-1961

Director-Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins

Starring-Richard Beymer, Natalie Wood

Top 100 Films-#64

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Reviewed November 1, 2014

Grade: A

West Side Story is a musical from 1961 (based on the Broadway stage production from the 1950’s), during a period in Hollywood where every other film released seemed to be a version of an enchanting musical. This particular film version is much darker than most  contemporaries within this genre. The dreary ending, fantastic and compelling in its dramatic elements, does not dour the rest of the musical and its hum-along tunes. West Side Story was crowned the 1961 Best Picture Oscar winner.

West Side Story is certainly based on the Shakespearean tragedy of Romeo and Juliet- the Capulets and Montagues becoming rival teen street gangs of the Puerto Rican “Sharks” and the Polish”Jets”, with the lovesick teens Tony and Maria serving as Romeo and Juliet. And yes, spoiler alert, the story does not end in a happily ever after fashion.

Loads of suspension of disbelief must be taken- How many gangs sing and dance to each other, snapping their fingers in unison to perfectly choreographed beats? Additionally, some of the gang  characters are not so authentic looking- either in clearly dyed hair, bronzed with tan, or some other phony looking get-up, but the film is a cherished friend and these can be overlooked for my enjoyment of the film.

The story, set in 1950’s New York City, pits the Sharks (a gang led by Bernardo) against the Jets (led by Riff), who have been bitter rivals for the turfs of the rough streets of Manhattan’s west side for many years. In tow are the gang’s girlfriends, along with one female, named “Anybodys”- who longs for the day when she will be allowed to join the Jets and fight alongside the boys. The other supporting characters largely include various policemen (Lieutenant Schrank and Officer Krupke) attempting to keep the gangs apart, as well as a local shopkeeper, Doc, who is the moral compass of the story, encouraging the gangs to get along with each other and questioning the logic of gang fights. After a scuffle, the gangs decide to have at it after an upcoming dance and the Jets elect Tony to square off against Bernardo.

The story is surprisingly dark- especially in the inevitable final act. Amid all this darkness, however, lies a musical with cheery and catchy numbers (I Feel Pretty, Jet Song) as well as love struck tunes (Maria and Somewhere). A musical about diversity and rivalry, the story centers on lovesick Maria and Tony, a la Romeo and Juliet and their struggle to be together despite adversity from their friends and family due to their extremely different backgrounds.

Throughout the film we get to know other characters well- Anita, girlfriend of Bernardo, for example, played by Rita Moreno, is the stubborn yet likable, best friend of Maria, who thinks that Maria and Tony are wrong for each other and that things just are not supposed to be that way when you mix cultural diversity.

The film moves along at a quick pace with standoffs, fights, plots to get the other gang, a failed attempt at a dance to co-mingle the two groups and girlfriends, and Tony and Maria sneaking off to meet together. The lack of chemistry between Natalie Wood (Maria) and Richard Beymer (Tony) is quite noticeable, especially upon multiple viewings, but all of these decades later it is also tough to imagine anyone else in either role- so ingrained are the duo in film culture.

The cultural diversity of much of the cast (Rita Moreno was the only Puerto Rican) is interesting, as is the fact that most of the singing was dubbed by other singers. Yet, the film still somehow works very well.

A Star Is Born-1954

A Star is Born-1954

Director-George Cukor

Starring-Judy Garland, James Mason

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Grade: B+

Reviewed September 25, 2014

A Star Is Born was, at the time, considered Judy Garland’s much touted comeback film and was very expensive for Warner Bros. to produce . Garland delivers her finest career performance in my opinion (yes, even better than her portrayal of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz). The performance is multi-faceted and complex- it is comical, silly, poised, emotional, dramatic, and heartfelt.

Playing Esther Blodgett- later changed to Vicki Lester for more Hollywood potential, she is a struggling lounge singer who meets a successful actor, named Norman Maine, played wonderfully by James Mason. Esther saves Norman from public humiliation at a function where he attempts to take the stage while inebriated.  They strike up a friendship and he convinces her to pursue films and, through a series of misunderstandings, she assumes he has ditched her. Determined to become a star anyway, Esther forges her path to success on her own. Norman and Esther reconnect and Norman recognizes her talent and pursues her both professionally and romantically. They marry and she becomes a star while his career hits the skids, largely due to his alcoholism. The talented Mason and Garland are at the forefront of the film and are the reasons for its success.

A few key scenes stand out to me as powerful or important- The scene involving a musical number over a dinner of sandwiches in their posh living room is wonderfully merry and light; a delivery boy who does not know who Norman is ruins the mood and causes jealousy to come to a head in his marriage to Esther. Garland’s emotional scenes are excellent- especially the scene in her dressing room where she crumbles, realizing that Mason has hit rock bottom. And the best scene of all is the Academy awards scene where a drunken Norman causes a public spectacle as Esther receives her top honor, spoiling her night, and accidentally hitting her in the face in front of millions. What a forgiving woman Esther is for staying with him and ultimately choosing him at the risk of ruining her career.

An interesting aspect of the story is that Garland’s character is not some ugly duckling that is transformed to Hollywood royalty- she has the talent already, she just needs a break, but is not down on her luck or starving- she makes a decent living with a touring band and she is torn about leaving them. The musical numbers are inspiring and one is reminded why Garland is such a star as she belts them out of the park like nobody’s business, however they do little to further the plot. At times, more often the case in the first half, the film drags a bit, but the second half (post intermission) brilliant and the ending tragic yet heartwarming. Will Esther’s career continue to flourish?

A major, major flaw with the film is the usage of still frames with dialogue overlapping due to lost footage. This makes following the story very tough and the continuity is affected. It also looks ridiculous and for the viewer to be captured by the story only to suddenly view a discolored still shot with audio is disappointing. Surely, this can be corrected. A Star Is Born is the perfect vehicle for Garland to return to her grand position among the Hollywood treasures.

Hairspray-1988

Hairspray-1988

Director-John Waters

Starring-Ricki Lake, Divine

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Reviewed June 3, 2013

Grade: B+

Hairspray is one of Director John Water’s later and much more mainstream comedies. Influencing the Broadway musical of the same name that was created years later, it tells the story of a cute, yet insecure, overweight teenager named Tracy Turnblad, wonderfully portrayed by Rikki Lake. Tracy lives in Baltimore in the racially conflicted 1960’s, and she battles to appear on a local talent show. With Waters directing, one might expect comedic raunchiness, but Hairspray is quite tame. In fact, it is the only Waters film to be rated PG, the others rated X.

The film itself, while campy and over the top, is an important film as it does its best to break down racial barriers, including interracial relationships, and sends an important message. Those characters (again the film is set in the early 1960’s) clearly look like buffoons and clearly not with the progressive social times. The supporting cast is high caliber- Divine and Jerry Stiller are perfectly cast as Tracy’s open minded yet cautious and concerned parents. Famous musicians appear in cameos- most notable Debbie Harry, Ric Ocasek, and Sonny Bono.

The musical dance numbers are plentiful and perfectly fit the time period of the film. Hairspray is an entertaining, relevant, free for all with a powerful message mixed in with the entertainment.

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Fiddler on the Roof-1971

Director-Norman Jewinson

Starring-Topol, Norma Crane

Top 100 Films-#91

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Reviewed June 17, 2013

Grade: A

 Fiddler on the Roof is a fantastic musical from 1971 based on the popular stage version. It tells the story of a Russian Jewish family living in the conflicted times before and during the Russian revolution. The film has everything and is very well made, truly doing justice to the stage version. It contains dancing, drinking, festive parties, love, and sing-alongs. It also contains politics, hardships, and tragedy.

Led by the patriarch of the family, Teyve, played fantastically by Topol, he explains (often narrating directly to the audience, which is a goldmine in style) life in his Russian village with five daughters and no sons, and an overbearing wife. They are a poor family and struggle to make ends meet. They go through life with the help of song and dance and deal with such situations as romance- focusing mostly on the three oldest girls, and the political upheaval that surrounds their country.

It is tough for a film version of a famous musical to be top notch and even compare to the stage version, but the film is wonderful- “Tradition”, “Matchmaker”, and “If I Were a Rich Man” immediately stick in the viewer’s head. The film has a rich, earthy feel to it, with lots of brown and grey colors, and Russian history is explored giving it a complexity and an educational quality instead of only a simple, feel good experience. To put it simply- the story is layered and not one-note.

Politics, progressive thinking versus conservatism, and the generation gap, are explored and the characters learn and adapt to a changing world, especially the parents. One interesting aspect is the progressive onset of the Russian revolution as gradually it draws closer. Fiddler on the Roof is quite lengthy (179 minutes), but does not seem that long. This film (and play) is a marvel.

An American in Paris-1951

An American in Paris-1951

Director-Vincente Minnelli

Starring-Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron

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Reviewed June 25, 2013

Grade: B+

A classic film directed by Vincente Minnelli, An American in Paris is a musical from 1951, set in marvelous Paris- though, to be fair, the entire film save for the opening scenes of Paris, is shot exclusively on a sound stage.

Gene Kelly stars as a struggling American artist named Jerry Mulligan, who lives in a quiet neighborhood, along with his best friend, Adam Cook. Jerry optimistically sings and tap dances his way through life, befriending neighbors and school kids and spending time in the local cafe, until he is finally noticed by wealthy art buyer Milo, played by Nina Foch. This sets off a quadrangle when Jerry falls for youthful Lise (Leslie Caron), who is already dating a suave French singer, Georges Guetary.  An American in Paris is a cheerful, fantasy film. It is bright, colorful, and filled with musical numbers and dancing. Highlights in this department are “’S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm”.

The brilliance of the film is the simply awesome 18 minute epic finale involving Gene Kelly’s ballet throughout Parisian sets of various artists. It is as innovative as anything in film history. The drawback of the film is the lack of chemistry between Kelly and Caron, an aspect of the film I notice more and more with each passing viewing. In fact, there is more chemistry between Kelly and Foch, who is clearly meant to be the odd woman out, and I still find myself rooting for the two of them instead of the intended couple. I do love how none of the four characters involved in the story is considered a villain, which adds to the merry feel of the film.

The predictable ending is wonderful and romantic. An American in Paris won the 1951 Best Picture Oscar, upsetting the heavily favored A Streetcar Named Desire.

Jersey Boys-2014

Jersey Boys-2014

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-John Lloyd Young

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Reviewed July 5, 2014

Grade: B+

Jersey Boys is a film version of the hit Broadway show of the same name and is directed by Clint Eastwood. It tells the story of Frankie Valli and his friends (later becoming the Four Seasons) growing up in 1950’s mob-laden New Jersey and their journey through hardships and petty crime to musical success.

The film is a mainly feel-good experience as the songs alone resonate with the audience and immediately stick in one’s head as catchy as they are (Sherry, Walk Like a Man, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You) are prominently featured throughout the film and it is tough not to toe-tap along with the musical numbers. Most of the boys grow up in a heavily Italian neighborhood, which is a delight as Eastwood’s authenticity is impressive: the food, the fights, gangster mob ties.

Admittedly, I found the first 30 minutes or so a bit slow, but afterwards the film really takes off. The cast is very good- John Lloyd Young is excellent as Frankie Valli, a role he also portrayed on Broadway, and it is very nice to see Christopher Walken as a kindly mob boss who looks out for the kids. The film is wonderfully shot and the 1950’s nostalgia is apparent throughout via set pieces, costumes, etc.

Is this film edgy? Not in the least. Is it a safe crowd-pleaser? Absolutely!  It is a fun musical experience that does not delve into schmaltz and is quite enjoyable.

Oklahoma!-1955

Oklahoma!-1955

Director-Fred Zinneman

Starring-Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones

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Reviewed November 27, 2013

Grade: A-

Oklahoma is one of a slew of memorable Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals to emerge from the 1950’s and 1960’s Hollywood and to be based from a popular stage version.  The film has an old west, homespun, comfortable appeal to it. and is best watched during the summer months. While seeming a bit too hokey and not my favorite musical as compared to  other more sophisticated stalwarts such as My Fair Lady, An American in Paris, or The Sound of Music, Oklahoma does emit a flavor and tasteful appeal of the west.

The plot  focuses on a love triangle between good old boy, Curly,  good girl, Laurey Williams, and brooding Jud, though the real rooting couple is Curly and Laurey.  The trio is  supported by a large array of townspeople both gossiping about and helping  Curly and Laurey admit their true feelings and come together as a couple. Of course, Jud is the villain and conflicts come into play all throughout the production. There is also a lesser couple , Will Parker and Ado Annie, who find their way into each others arms amid the traditional small town events such as a lively, summer fair.

Stars Gordon MacRae (Curly) and Shirley Jones (Laurey) are both very handsome and likable in the lead roles making for a nice paring.  Gloria Grahame is very appealing and comical as Ado Annie, especially in her rousing turn bellowing out “I Can’t Say No”, and Charlotte Greenwood is the moral voice of reason as Aunt Eller.

What works best in the film are the settings of Oklahoma, as the viewer experiences such a feel for life in the heartland long ago (though the exteriors were actually shot in Arizona). It’s pure fantasy enjoyment and there is a magical Wizard of Oz feel to it- though no cyclone  nor munchkins are anywhere in site. The film version closely follows the original stage version.

The musical numbers are quite catchy (“Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, “I Can’t Say No”, and “Oklahoma” are my favorites). The controversial mid number “Dream Ballet” is quite provocative and artistically enjoyable and jarringly different from the rest of the traditional tale.  This jaw-dropping number most certainly is on par with a similar spectacle in An American in Paris. Perhaps Oklahoma is not quite on par with other musicals of its day, but pretty close.

The Sound of Music-1965

The Sound of Music-1965

Director-Robert Wise

Starring-Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer

Top 100 Films-#29

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Reviewed December 13, 2015

Grade: A

The Sound of Music is a film that most everyone has seen over and over again- undoubtedly ingrained in most people’s childhood memories and, especially, around the holiday season, it is a treasure to watch. It is tough to be objective as I’ve probably seen the film dozens of times and continue to appreciate and love it with each repeated viewing.

Maria (Julie Andrews) is a pretty, young free-spirited woman living in the gorgeous hills of Austria. In fact, we first meet her on a lush hilltop where she sings with the birds and enjoys life. While very popular with other nuns, she does not quite fit in at the Nonnberg Abbey where she studies to become a nun. She is sent to discover herself as the governess to seven children living nearby. They are the children of well-known, and now retired, Georg von Trapp (played by Christopher Plumber). Since his wife died, no life or music exists inside the house. Maria brings life and music to all and transforms everyone to a happier existence. The threat of the powerful Nazis, wishing to recruit a disapproving von Trapp adds tension. In the midst of it all, Maria and von Trapp fall madly in love.

As a musical it is top notch and is the hallmark of all musicals. The songs are tough to get out of one’s head (“The Sound of Music”, “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, and “My Favorite Things” are personal favorites), but the list of gems goes on and on.

The political/Nazi story was lost on me as a child, but now I see the film does have a darker tone in the second half and becomes quite serious.  Surely, since it is a family film details are glossed over a bit, but so what? It is more the wonderful music that makes The Sound of Music so great and memorable.

The first half, of course, is wholesomely sugary sweet and safe and, from what I’ve read, extremely loosely based on the real von Trapp family, but this hardly matters as it is escapism galore and that is needed sometimes.

I hate to dissect and over analyze a film like this when clearly it is a fantasy/musical extravaganza meant to be enjoyed. Lighthearted and fun for everyone.

Gypsy-1962

Gypsy-1962

Director-Mervyn LeRoy

Starring-Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood

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Reviewed December 23, 2013

Grade: A

The film version of the iconic Broadway production is a huge success, mainly due to the superb performance that Rosalind Russell gives as Mama Rose- a muscled, driven, stage mother in the Depression era show business world. She is mesmerizing in the role and very reminiscent of greats Joan Crawford and Bette Davis- both of whom also would have been wonderful in the role.

Clearly, Russell carries the film with her bombastic, loud, and determined performance- her children will become stars and Rose will get the stardom and spoils that she so richly deserves. She uses every nook and cranny to her advantage- from borrowing money from her father to scraping leftover Chinese food scraps and stealing silverware. Rose’s daughters, Baby June, and Louise (Natalie Wood) are in tow to help her achieve her goals- June the talented one and Louise along for the ride. When circumstances develop, Louise blossoms and become the famous Gypsy Rose Lee.

From masterpieces “Everything’s Coming up Roses” and “Some People” to her heartbreak at being a driven stage mom, Russell’s performance makes the film. Her best scene comes at the climax of the film- Rose, finally admitting to herself that she has spent her life with a need to be noticed, hits an empty theater stage, alone, and has an emotional breakdown.

Natalie Wood and Karl Malden certainly add depth to their characters, especially Wood, who goes from mousy wallflower to seductive stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

From a casting perspective, I am not sure Wood was quite right for the role- the second time in two years this would occur (her casting in West Side Story being the other misstep), but she was an enormous star at the time and was awarded juicy roles.

Gypsy is one of the great Hollywood musicals from the 1950’s/1960’s heyday. Witty, smart dialog help this film emerge to the top of the list of similar type films. Bravura!

The Wizard of Oz-1939

The Wizard of Oz-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Judy Garland

Top 100 Films-#11

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Reviewed December 30, 2013

Grade: A

The Wizard of Oz is a magical film and one of my all time favorites- made in 1939 it still holds up amazingly well and the nuances continue to admire- especially given the time in which it was made. 1939 belongs to this film and Gone With the Wind- as both were and are true classics.

This film is so embedded in people’s minds that it can be tough to look at from an objective point of view. I fondly recall watching this gem annually as it aired on television each holiday season- traditionally around Thanksgiving if memory serves.

It’s a marvel from start to finish and masterfully artistic. How creative to show the first portion in black and white with dusty muted colors, not to mention the astounding twister sequence- done using a stocking. Then, we are introduced to a magic world filled with luscious colors and art direction still mind-blowing in depth. Munchkin-land, Glinda the Good Witch, and Emerald City are beautiful, lavish, and treats.

Who does not become teary-eyed during Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? The poignancy is becoming given the tragic (yet successful) life the star would lead.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch is delicious in her nastiness. As she mocks Dorothy, who whimpers in tears while missing Auntie Em, she almost sneers at the camera. One can tell she had a ball with this role.

And The Wizard of Oz is not simply a pop culture hit- it has merit and creativity. The special effects hold up tremendously well and were simplistic back then, no CGI in those days, but in many ways better than the CGI of today.

Audiences of all ages must see this film at least once, preferably in Blu-Ray. Judy Garland, later a tragic, troubled, lost figure, captured an innocence that was so sadly lost through the years. All of the characters (The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man) are perfectly cast and are uniquely created without being too over-the-top. Very few films are timeless and this is one of them.

The King and I-1956

The King and I-1956

Director-Walter Lang

Starring-Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr

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Reviewed March 7, 2014

Grade: B

The King and I is another countless Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that dominated the 1950’s and 1960’s film era. Having seen the stage version, the film contained 2 gigantic stars of the period (Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr), Brynner having made this role his legacy.

The story is similar to The Sound of Music as teacher takes on children of the King, but not quite as gripping and the chemistry among the leads is there, but not quite completely there. The Bangkok palace set and the costumes are stylish and fantastic in design.

As a whole the songs are not as memorable as some other similar musicals, but that is comparing to magnificence. Interesting how much of the cast is not Asian, a characteristic of the stage version too, that is often overlooked and accepted. This is not a criticism, merely a notice. It’s a nice musical, but not as enjoyable as others, but is still worth watching.

Godspell-1973

Godspell-1973

Director-David Greene

Starring-Victor Garber, Katie Hanley

549055

Reviewed March 17, 2014

Grade: C+

Despite the fact that Godspell is a popular and legendary Broadway musical production, the film left me with very mixed reactions.

The positives for me are the songs- they are memorable, they stay in your head for days to come. My absolute favorite is “Day by Day”. I also enjoy the cast travels throughout NYC as I personally love when films are set here.

For the first 30 minutes of the film I did not like it at all. There is no plot, but simply a group of college aged people leaving their crummy jobs and celebrating Jesus as they aimlessly flitter about the city, with nobody else in sight, singing songs of savior and celebration.

Then I started to realize this is not a “message” movie or an attempt to convert people towards religion. In fact, many devout Christians despise the film. The film left me with questions. Is it tongue and cheek or meant to be taken seriously? By the end of the film, I simply took it for a fun musical with great songs. It offers nothing more, nothing less.