Category Archives: Musical

The Color Purple-2023

The Color Purple-2023

Director Blitz Bazawule

Starring Fantasia Barrino, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson

Scott’s Review #1,423

Reviewed March 16, 2024

Grade: B+

In 2023, director Blitz Bazawule recreated the famous 1985 cinematic version of The Color Purple by Steven Spielberg with mostly good results though it won’t be remembered like Spielberg’s is.

Bazawule is also a visual artist, rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer so his version differs greatly from Spielberg’s in style and production design.

The ‘new’ version feels closer to what a feel-good Broadway stage version might feel like with incorporated musical numbers breaking up the drama and sometimes the comedy.

The Color Purple was a stage version and before that a much bleaker novel by Alice Walker so I’m not averse to comparing the 2023 version to all that preceded it.

Since we are talking cinema, although I’m more partial to the 1985 version mostly because that one packed a much greater emotional punch I think the numbers are a wise move and are choreographed well.

My favorite by far is ‘Hell No!’ an aggressive and anthemic stomp performed by a defiant Sofia (Danielle Brooks) and later reprised when mousy Celie (Fantasia Barrino) finds a set of balls.

We all probably know the story but here is a brief synopsis for those unfamiliar with the plot.

Set in the Deep South (Georgia) from the early 1900s until the 1940s, the main story follows the shy and put-upon Celie. She is raped and forced to bear the children of her father who then sells the babies. She is sent to marry and live with ‘Mister’ (Colman Domingo) who beats her and sets his sights on Celie’s sister Nettie (Halle Bailey).

Nettie and Celie are the best of friends but through circumstance lose touch for years.

The decades march on as Celie finds her voice and independence thanks to Sofia, jazz singer Shug Avery (Taraji P. Henson), and other kind folks.

The Color Purple is a lovely look at perseverance, extraordinary strength, and hope in the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood during a difficult time in history.

Black women especially were not always treated well.

The casting is uneven. I wasn’t completely won over by Barrino as Celie. The one-time ‘American Idol winner can sing and was Celie on Broadway in 2007 but I kept musing how exceptional Whoopi Goldberg was in the part in 1985.

Speaking of Goldberg, she appears in a cameo role early on as a midwife.

Henson, as Shug, has a tremendous voice and confidence providing the glamour and outrageousness needed for the role. However, she is supposed to be a drop-dead gorgeous woman who Celie is madly in love with and Henson doesn’t have the looks.

As my apt husband announced, Beyonce Knowles would have been a brilliant casting choice.

The standout is Brooks as Sofia, justifiably receiving the sole Academy Award nomination. The instant she appears on screen bullying her meek husband Harpo she has the audience wrapped around her finger giving as good a performance as Oprah Winfrey did in 1985.

While the musical numbers incorporate more of the Broadway-style they also contain a musical rock video vibe that takes away a bit of the cinematic production.  The dance moves are so perfect that they make the film feel ‘fun’ when it should feel ‘tragic’.

Even though Spielberg’s version was accused of excessive sappiness, it’s downright raw compared to the 2023 version. The finale is overly sentimental and the reunion of Celie and Mister, Mister now suddenly converted to a saint, is unrealistic.

Everything ends up so perfect for Celie and that’s all well and good but the fairy tale ending offsets some of the anguish she goes through early in the film.

Finally, Sofia’s big scene when she punches the mayor and other white townsmen lack the emotional heartbreak that the 1985 version did.

Held on its own merits, the film is a success. The Color Purple (2023) never drags and entertains from the first scene to the last. It’s a crowd-pleaser so those looking for a gooey experience will enjoy this version.

It’s safe waters without languishing towards dull or ineffectual.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Danielle Brooks

Wonka-2023

Wonka-2023

Director Paul King

Starring Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman

Scott’s Review #1,414 

Reviewed January 3, 2024

Grade: B+

Wonka (2023) is only the third live-action film based on Roald Dahl’s iconic 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, following Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005).

The latter was an inadequate and unnecessarily dark film starring Johnny Depp that threatened to ruin the trademark fantasy of the original.

Fortunately, director Paul King mostly known for directing the Paddington films opts for a warm and even gooey experience that does perfect justice to the original starring Gene Wilder with many connections to that film, especially costumes, characters, and locale.

It’s saccharine sweet but not sickeningly sweet instead feeling both fresh and genuine.

The wonderful and familiar featured song ‘Pure Imagination’ appears instantly as the film begins which does wonders to capture and captivate the nostalgic audience—mixed with other new gems like ‘A World of Your Own’ hooks newer and younger viewers.

The effort works well as a kindly old friend dusted off the shelf for a new waltz across the dance floor and a dizzying chocolate delight crowd-pleaser is the result of Wonka.

Wonka is released in December amid the sugary Christmas holiday season. A marketing win what parents could refuse a delicious trip to the cinema?

The wondrous story of how the world’s greatest inventor, magician, and chocolate maker became the beloved Willy Wonka (Timothée Chalamet) we know today begins with the young actor brazenly wearing a similar garb as Wilder did in the 1971 effort.

I adore this feat and pointed display because it makes crystal clear the attempt to leverage history instead of upheaval.

Chalamet is perfectly cast as Willy in large part because he resembles Wilder with his wiry build and waifish face. There exists a kindness and trustworthiness that transfers well from the big screen to the audience member.

Throughout the film, there is light peril that Wonka faces like a crooked debt owed to the even more crooked Mrs. Scrubitt’s (Olivia Colman) boardinghouse or the vengeful competitor Arthur Slugworth (Paterson Joseph) but it’s nothing he can’t handle with a grin and shrug of the shoulders.

His feathers are not ruffled easily because he believes in the magic of chocolate. In a dear flashback scene featuring his mother, played by Sally Hawkins, she inspires him to always believe in himself and be a good person.

This is at the heart of the film.

Along for the ride are new friends orphan Noodle (Calah Lane), Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), and others trapped within Scrubbit’s and henchman Bleacher, played by Tom Davis.

There’s even a connection with the fan favorite Oompa-Loompa’s led by Lofty (Hugh Grant) who becomes a close ally in the end. As historical viewers will know the pair reunites in business.

Despite all these terrific additions the main attraction is the chocolate naturally. Highlights are a lavish chocolate attempted drowning, a chocolate store, and more than enough chocolate colorful flowers to whet one’s appetite.

The film is weird and zany without being too far out there and retains its touchy-feely approach.

Wonka (2023) successfully builds a multi-generational bridge between audiences with a powerful human connection. Grandparents, parents, and children alike can all see the film together with a common love of chocolate and magic.

The dangers are light-hearted and the filmmakers keep age-appropriate sensibilities and the result is family-friendly material with a kindhearted approach.

We all need this sometimes.

The Boy Friend-1971

The Boy Friend-1971

Director Ken Russell

Starring Twiggy, Christopher Gable

Scott’s Review #1,407

Reviewed October 27, 2023

Grade: B+

With each Ken Russell film, I see the expectation is for something wacky and I sit back for a schizophrenic roller coaster ride.

His finest efforts like Women in Love (1970), The Devils (1971), and Tommy (1975) offer bombast and weirdness in their way.

The British director decided to take on The Boy Friend (1971), a reworking of a 1953 traditional musical of the same name by Sandy Wilson, and turn it upside down on its ass. Those expecting a conventional affair with cheery sing-along numbers in perfect symmetry will be disappointed.

The messy project has its ups and downs and meanders off course on more than one occasion. With jagged storytelling and dragging sequences, it makes up ground with the sizzling visuals and costumes and offers the audience a glimpse of theatre drama and shenanigans both onstage and offstage.

On its own merits and considering the director is Russell it gets a marginal thumbs up but is nowhere near as fantastic as his other works.

Causing a bit of confusion, the plot is divided into three levels. Level one tells the main story, where, in the south of England in the 1920s, a struggling theatrical troupe is performing a musical about romantic intrigues at a finishing school for young women in the south of France.

The cast awkwardly strives to impress a visiting famous movie director with hopes of fame and fortune. They giggle, improvise, and scheme to get noticed at the risk of upstaging the other cast members.

Next, there is the musical itself. Four of the girls at the school are very forward and acquire boyfriends, but Polly, played by 1960s supermodel Twiggy, is shy and has nobody to take her to the carnival masked ball that night. Tony (Christopher Gable), a messenger boy from a dress shop, brings her a costume, and they fall in love.

Finally, there are extensive fantasy sequences in the film, during which the characters’ dreams and hopes are enacted in music and dance sans dialogue.

Glenda Jackson, who won an Oscar for Russell’s Women in Love returns in an uncredited appearance as the theatre star who Polly must fill in for when she breaks her leg.

The crux of the film is the romance between Polly and Tony. While there is some chemistry between the duo they never completely take off as the centerpiece either.

The cleverness is in the reveal of the twist within the stage production cementing the pair’s connection, as characters in the play.

Nonetheless, there are too many other things going on to care about the lovebirds for very long.

The musical numbers got my attention, especially towards the end of the film. My personal favorite ‘It’s Nicer in Nice’ kickstarts the action with high-caliber energy and shout-outs to other geographical cities in comparison to Nice, France. It’s a fun regional experience with great culture and an upbeat rhythm.

The chirpy ‘It’s Never Too Late to Fall in Love’ follows soon after offering a gleeful ending.

The fantasy sequences waste story potential and offer no plot direction but are fun to watch anyway. Dripping with colors and razzle-dazzle the chaotic events are dreamlike and foot-stomping.

Twiggy, with little to no prior film experience, is quite impressive in the lead role. Her voice is strong and her acting skills are more than adequate. What might have been a disaster is not thanks to her talents.

Even though other Ken Russell films are tighter and linear The Boy Friend (1971) is worth the watch, especially for his diehard fans.

Oscar Nominations: Best Music, Adaptation, and Original Song Score

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Une Chambre en Ville-1982

Director Jacques Demy 

Starring Dominique Sanda, Michel Piccoli

Scott’s Review #1,397

Reviewed September 10, 2023

Grade: A

Une Chambre en Ville (also known as A Room in Town) is a 1982 French musical drama film written and directed by Jacques Demy, with music by Michel Colombier, and starring Dominique Sanda, Danielle Darrieux, and Michel Piccoli.

Those familiar with Demy’s other works like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) will be aware that his preferred genre is the musical drama and in Une Chambre en Ville, the dialogue is entirely sung.

And those unfamiliar with his work are recommended to give his films a chance. They are flavorful and offer exceptional production design to say nothing of other ingredients.

I liken the film to be most similar to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because the story involves two people destined to be together but who are thwarted by many obstacles threatening to ruin their happiness.

Demy creates a distinct Shakespearean Romeo and Juliet final ending in the best of possible ways.

The story is set during a workers’ strike in Nantes, France in 1955. A steelworker named Francois (Richard Berry) has a fling with the married daughter Edith (Dominique Sanda) of his widowed landlady, Margo (Danielle Darrieux).

His girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon), who works in a shop and lives with her mother, wants to get married but he is unwilling, partly because they have no money and nowhere to live.

Oh, and he also has met Edith.

On the street, François is accosted by Edith who is a beautiful woman who wears only a fur coat and has decided to take up part-time prostitution to pay bills. Her husband owns a struggling television shop.

The two have a blissful night together in a cheap hotel and fall madly in love.

Une Chambre en Ville is at first jarring because the dialogue is in the form of a song. But after merely a few minutes I became invested and enamored with the characters. This occurs when Francois and Margo ‘discuss’ the strike and even though she is upper-class she supports the workers.

They quickly bond.

Before this though, the tone is set with black-and-white cinematography of the workers’ strike that quickly turns to color. My hunch is that Demy wanted to promote the seriousness of the situation and alert the audience that they were not watching a rosy musical with tap-along tunes.

There’s a message of pain, struggle, and depression which doesn’t make the film a downer either.

As with Demy’s other films, the art direction and set designs are gorgeous. The director has a talent for introducing the most fragrant colors like red, yellow, blue, and green, that are powerful and enshroud the characters in pizazz and vibrancy.

The set highlights are Margo’s apartment drizzling with red color and contemporary patterns and furniture and Edith’s husband’s television shop. The greenish hue reveals a tacky yet sophisticated French style. These and other sets are superior efforts.

The main attraction is Francois and Edith and I was smitten with them almost immediately. Some may think this is odd because basically, Francois dumps his nice girlfriend for a sexy prostitute who flashes her naked body to him and then beds him.

Nonetheless, I became enraptured. They make ‘love at first sight’ seem believable and possible. The thing to remember is they are both wounded by their circumstances and are reaching for their desires out of desperation.

The finale of Une Chambre en Ville is dazzling but painful to watch. I alluded to a Romeo and Juliet catastrophe and this is no joke as the star-crossed lovers meet a dire ending.

I won’t spoil the fun by revealing what happens.

Jacques Demy creates a film made in 1982 that feels nothing like a 1982 film as we are believably transported to 1955.

Une Chambre en Ville holds up as well as Demy’s films made two decades earlier and he proves none of his creativity and romantic dramatics have waned.

Funny Face-1957

Funny Face-1957

Director Stanley Donan

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire

Scott’s Review #1,375

Reviewed July 7, 2023

Grade: B

The results of Funny Face (1957) are mixed and the word ‘cute’ pops to mind on more than one occasion.

On the one hand, audiences are served a sophisticated look at the fashion industry and the sleek style of Paris, France in the 1950s. The outfits and set design are fab revealing the cultured and colorful modeling world while the makeup and hairstyles match the time with fragrant gusto.

The screenplay is riddled with plausibility issues bordering on offensiveness, silliness, and a good look at the patriarchal mindset of the times. The message is twofold. The fashion industry and Hollywood equally embraced these norms at the time the film was made.

In a word, the overall film is dated.

New York City fashion photographer Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) is tasked with finding a model for a new assignment. Discouraged, he is struck by the beauty of Jo Stockton (Audrey Hepburn), an intellectual bookstore employee he photographed by accident.

He convinces Jo to go with him to France, where he continues photographing her against Parisian backdrops, while they scramble to pull together a fashion show along with crusty Maggie Prescott (Kay Thompson), a fashion magazine publisher.

Dick and Jo fall for one another, only to find hurdles to overcome along the way.

The musical numbers are plentiful but rather second-tier. Bouncy songs like ‘Funny Face’ and ‘On How to Be Lovely’ are decent but not memorable. The highlight is “S, Wonderful’ appearing during the finale and perfectly wrapping the Paris experience and the film in a shiny bow.

Comparisons can be made to An American in Paris (1951) and not just because both are set in Paris use the same tune (S Wonderful) and are composed by George Gershwin. There’s more buried beneath the surface that ties the two films.

Both lead characters, Jerry and Jo, wind up with the wrong partners, in reality, inappropriate for each other. Jerry should be with the comparable Milo while Jo should be with the dashing and artistic Flostre (Michael Auclair). Instead, Jerry chooses the waifish Lise while Jo lands the ancient Dick.

Astaire is old enough to be Hepburn’s grandfather which makes the romance odd.

Of course, in An American in Paris and Funny Face, Milo and Flostre are made to be the foils. They are merely obstacles to be overcome by the preferred couple.

Another irritant is the demeaning nickname that Dick calls Jo, ‘funny face’. Hardly a dog, Hepburn is quite beautiful though the film makes the audience assume she is wrong for the modeling world. The reality is she fits right in looking perfect in every dress or costume she dons, or photograph she appears in.

A better casting choice would have been not classically beautiful singers/actors such as Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler though admittedly neither had surfaced at that point.

Though shot on a soundstage, Funny Face rebounds from implausibility with gorgeous ariel views of historic Parisian landmarks that envelope the glitter of the theme.

Shots of the Eifel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, and the broad Champs-Elysees are robust and made me rewatch this sequence again.

In parallel, the Greenwich Village, New York City setting where other events in the film take place is an intelligent choice to define the artistic and bookish characters.

The opening titles of Funny Face (1957) are creative and polished reflecting the maturity of the subject matter and style of the 1950s.

With no chemistry, Hepburn and Astaire carry the film as best they can with a dated and tame screenplay.

Oscar Nominations: Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay-Written Directly for the Screen, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction-Set Direction

Camelot-1967

Camelot-1967

Director Joshua Logan

Starring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero

Scott’s Review #1,370

Reviewed June 21, 2023

Grade: A-

Camelot (1967) is an adaptation of the well-known Broadway spectacle that explores the creation of the Knights of the Roundtable. It’s medieval times and King Arthur is the main character.

Original stage stars Richard Burton and Julie Andrews declined participation which is unfortunate but their replacements played by Richard Burton and Vanessa Redgrave are more than adequate in the main roles.

At an epic length of nearly three hours, not every moment is the edge of your seat and some lagging exists but the film does justice to the stage production only with a big budget to add extravagance.

The setting and experience are pure magic and not only because of the far-removed time either. The Shakespearean elements are strong as royalty and entitlement mesh with scheming, jealousy, and dangerous romance.

This makes for some juicy soap opera drama.

After the arranged marriage of Arthur (Harris) and Guinevere (Redgrave), the king gathers the noble knights of the realm to his Round Table. The dashing Lancelot (Franco Nero) joins but soon finds himself in love with Guinevere.

When Arthur’s illegitimate and conniving son, Mordred (David Hemmings), reappears in the kingdom and exposes the secret lovers, Arthur finds himself trapped by his own rules into taking action against his wife and closest friend.

There are some dull moments to face at epic length, especially in the first half. I tuned out once or twice but then was whisked back to the dramatic events.

The great moments are truly great with enough punch to pack a wallop emotionally speaking.

During a sequence when Lancelot is challenged to a game of jousting with some knights events turn deadly and one knight, Sir Dinadan, is critically injured. Horrified Lancelot pleads for Sir Dinadan to live, and as he lays hands on him, Dinadan miraculously recovers.

The scene is fraught with emotion as a powerful moment occurs between the men. It’s also pivotal to the storyline because it links Lancelot with Guenevere and sets off a romantic chain of events.

Guenevere is so overwhelmed and humbled that her feelings for Lancelot begin to change. Despite his vows of celibacy, Lancelot falls in love with Guenevere.

More than one song is lovely in Camelot and as the course of the production went on I yearned for more musical numbers.

My favorites are the coy  “The Lusty Month of May” appearing when Guinevere and the women frolic and gather flowers to celebrate the coming of spring. Later, Lancelot and Guenevere sing of their forbidden love and how wrong life has all gone in ‘I Loved You Once In Silence’.

The lovers in the eyes of the law are to be punished so they are aware they are not long for this world.

Visually, Camelot is a spectacle and rich with style and pizazz. Whimsical colors and a ton of vibrant and fragrant flowers appear regularly amid fields of greens and forests of trees.

The castles and battlefields also lend support to gothic structures and masculine power that perfectly balances the exquisiteness of other aspects.

This more than makes up for any drudgery the story might have. It’s nice to sit back and be fulfilled by the cinematic beauty. Especially keeping in mind the romance that is at the heart of the picture.

So when the story drags one can merely enjoy the visuals and escape for a moment.

Also impressive is the story of friendship and how two male friends can be torn apart over the affections of a woman.

Camelot (1967) is an epic of behemoth length and requires patience to sit through. Some parts flat-out drag. But the daring and compelling triangle between the three leads parlays the experience into an above-average thrill ride most of the time.

Oscar Nominations: 4 wins-Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design (won), Best Costume Design (won), Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score (won), Best Sound

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

The Phantom of the Opera-2004

Director Joel Schumacher

Starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson

Scott’s Review #1,336

Reviewed January 23, 2023

Grade: A-

Having been fortunate enough to see the legendary Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera makes any film version impossible to usurp compared to the live stage show.

The lights, the sets, the booming music, the dreaded chandelier, and presumably phenomenal acting all make for an unforgettable experience.

Since we are talking film, the cinematic version of The Phantom of the Opera (2004) is breathtaking and nearly twenty years late to the game, I should be scolded for having not seen it earlier like when it was initially released.

It’s based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical of the same name, which in turn is based on the 1910 French novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

Critics were not kind to the film though most audiences liked it so I almost didn’t see it save for my hubby renting it and encouraging us to watch it.

I am glad I did because this film encompasses a feast of riches.

I wonder aloud if the fact that it was directed by Joel Schumacher who created the dreadfully bad Batman & Robin, made seven years earlier in 1997 influenced bad reviews. After all, nobody likes their superhero movies butchered and payback’s a bitch after all.

For the novice fan, the summary is as follows. Gerard Butler stars as the disfigured, reclusive Phantom who roams beneath the Paris Opera and takes budding star Christine (Emmy Rossum) under his wing.

But as he falls for her, she finds love with handsome and porcelain-like Raoul, played by Patrick Wilson, leaving the Phantom none too pleased.

If nothing else, and there is something else, the film is a spectacle. Gorgeous Parisian sophistication drips from the screen in nearly every scene from the gloomy catacombs to the enthralling opera stage.

The costumes reek of French style, glamour, and texture, and the principle cast is easy on the eyes, to say the least.

These treats are merely a warmup to the astounding and professional art direction, making the winter sequences dreamlike and gothic, capturing the tone perfectly.

This encapsulates the dire story sequence and aids in the viewer feeling the pain of the Phantom.

The all-too-familiar numbers are modernized in just the right places especially “The Music of the Night” which could have been played on popular radio stations. The lively “Masquerade” parlays into the lovely “The Phantom of the Opera” duet between the Phantom and Christine in his ugly lair.

I didn’t feel the chemistry between Rossum and Wilson the same way I did between Butler and Rossum and maybe that’s the point. Wilson doesn’t have much to work with since the character isn’t the main attraction.

I never wanted Christine to ride off into the unknown with Raoul but ached for the pain that the Phantom felt for Christine’s kindness.

As much as I like Wilson the actor I champion the casting of Rossum (unknown at this time) and Butler who is the top draw in the talent department.

His loud and colorful musical numbers enrapture me as a viewer and grip me with his pain. The passion and magnificence are on full display. Butler is my favorite actor.

Minnie Driver is perfect as the spoiled diva, and the supporting cast, including veteran Simon Callow, gives the cast further credibility.

I was transported to another world while watching The Phantom of the Opera (2004) by the sheer extravagance of what was on the screen. Schumacher more than deserves top accolades and respect for his production.

Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Song-“Learn To Be Lonely”

Cinderella-1977

Cinderella-1977

Director Michael Pataki

Starring Cheryl Smith

Scott’s Review #1,333

Reviewed January 14, 2023

Grade: B

This telling of the legendary fairy tale Cinderella (1977) differs significantly from the sentimental and wholesome story of a rags-to-riches Disney princess that we all know and love.

It’s for adults only; even many adults will scurry to grab the remote and turn it off before their significant other or, god forbid, children, catch them slyly peeking at what emerges from the screen.

The film is pornographic. This fact doesn’t offend me or influence my critique and in reality, piques my interest tremendously in how the filmmakers turn Cinderella into a porn film.

It’s 1970s-style pornography with the bulk of the nudity going to the female characters with barely any male flesh to view though there is some. During the fleshy numbers, there is music and dancing to be had usually with the female performers singing while topless.

The familiar story involves a lonely prince (Brett Smiley) who tries several young women in his kingdom in his search for the one he met at a royal ball. Naturally, it’s Cinderella (Cheryl Smith) the gorgeous yet abused waif who sings and dances while doing her chores, longing for a better life.

The prince is jaded and feels no satisfaction from traditional sex as he boldly reveals in the musical number ‘My Kingdom Won’t Come’. His sex-crazed father the King (Boris Moris) decides to host a lavish ball so that his son can find what he wants.

You see, the weapon that Cinderella possesses is a special snapping female genitalia that the prince experiences at the ball while blindfolded and in an orgy. This quality is irresistible to him and he must find and be with the woman who is the one who has the magic vagina.

The film is naughtily personified and the fun is seeing how far out director Michael Pataki and screenwriter Frank Ray Perilli will go for a shock. Pataki was mostly an actor who dabbled in directing which makes sense since Cinderella feels widely experimental.

Events get off to a perfectly indecent start when the royal chamberlain played by Kirk Scott wanders the forest encountering nude females who coquettishly make out with each other for fun and the affection of the handsome man.

There is more than the sex scenes to keep one thrilled. The costumes and the makeup, specifically the disgraceful pancake colors applied to Cinderella’s devilish stepsisters are in your face and gratifying. The gowns at the ball are professional and stylish.

The film teeters into art film territory at times like when Cinderella performs a musical number while soaping in the tub and while parading through the forest.

Her wacky Fairy Godmother is a black man played by Sy Richardson who is just a burglar intent on robbing Cinderella’s home but he does provide her with her special ‘gift’.

These many idiosyncrasies make the film Cinderella a cross between a lewd John Waters film and a bombastic Russ Meyers party film.

Cheryl Smith is excellent in the title role providing a gorgeous face and figure with a lovely voice. She perfectly delivers the numbers and carries the film.

Among all the many incarnations of Cinderella, circa 1977 is the most outrageous and courageous. How this film was even made and with an R rating baffles me. It’s nearly impossible to find on streaming or in stores and a mere spontaneous purchase was how I was even able to see it.

My suggestion is for cinematically creative film fans to give Cinderella (1977) a whirl but with extreme caution. Viewed with the wrong companions could be disastrous and a 3 am start time with adult nibbles is highly encouraged.

No kiddies allowed.

Elvis-2022

Elvis-2022

Director-Baz Luhrmann

Starring Austin Butler, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #1,299

Reviewed September 16, 2022

Grade: B+

Once I knew that Australia’s own Baz Luhrmann was directing the new film Elvis (2022) I immediately formulated an expectation of what the film-watching experience would be like. I anticipated a certain type of filmmaking, an auteur artist merging fast-paced music videos with a dramatic biopic into a film.

Other Luhrmann offerings like Moulin Rouge (2001) and The Great Gatsby (2013) infuse contemporary musical elements and are highly visual and stylistic. I knew what I was going to get and was prepared for it.

Elvis is no different and Luhrmann’s style is an unconventional risk not for everybody.

I mostly enjoyed the film but did not quite love it either, seeing both the good and the not-as-good.

At two hours and thirty-nine minutes, it goes on way too long.

Perhaps contradicting this point is that Elvis does get better as it goes along, at first feeling jarring, overwhelming, and all over the place with rapid editing and very quick camera work.

A Dramamine is suggested until one is comfortable with the sudden bursts of turbulence. I semi-joke but there is a period of sinking into Luhrmann’s style that is necessary especially if never having seen one of them.

The film explores the life and music of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), and his complicated relationship with his opportunist manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks), and his wife Priscilla (Oliva De Jonge). The story delves into the singer’s rise to fame and the evolving cultural landscape in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s.

Like many films, the events start much later than the main story, in this case, 1997. Parker is on his deathbed and ruminates about how he first met Elvis and made him into a legendary icon.

Much of the film takes place in glitzy Las Vegas where Elvis had a long-term residency though it’s worth noting that the star’s working-class roots and an impoverished upbringing in a mostly black neighborhood were a tremendous influence on his music.

The Vegas setting applies a sparkling veneer mixed with a downtrodden feeling of isolation, especially in scenes that show Elvis’s million-dollar penthouse view of Sin City. The star frequently pulls all the black curtains to reside in solitude.

Butler starts slow but ends up doing a fabulous job of portraying the iconic star, no easy feat. At first, I had difficulty buying the actor as Elvis but as time went on he becomes more immersed in the role.

The best scenes hands down occur during the performances. The sheer rawness of his act and the famous wiggle that left fans dizzy with eroticism are compelling and authentic to say nothing of titillating.

The young actor exudes charisma much as the real-life star does and this is most evident on the stage. The dramatic scenes don’t work as well and Luhrmann strangely skims over the controversial weight gain years, the 1970s, that Elvis experienced.

I expected Butler to don a fat suit but there was none of this.

This miss can almost be forgiven when a heart-wrenching final performance of ‘Unchained Melody’ by the real Elvis is showcased. The number is fraught with emotion and tenderness that left me feeling sympathy.

Hanks is good as the slimy and curmudgeonly manager but I never felt sympathy for the character. If the film can be believed, he ruined Elvis as much as brought him success, but Hanks never made me forgive the man. I also wasn’t interested in his backstory.

It will be hard-pressed to ever make me enjoy Hanks more than in his Oscar-winning back-to-back turns in Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994), his two best roles.

Elvis, the film, does better when it serves as a musical performance rather than a biography. Sure, the drug use and the disputes with family and manager are dramatic but it’s the performances of ‘All Shook Up, ‘Unchained Melody’, and ‘Can’t Help Falling Into Love’ that win me over.

In pure Luhrmann form, many of the familiar songs are done in different tempos and interpretations but that’s part of the fun.

Comparisons to recent musical biographies like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) and Rocketman (2019) are fair.

Elvis (2022) is not as good as those films but it’s above average and succeeds when it entertains and shows how the star’s determination and grit pulled through outside influences.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Austin Butler, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Hairstyling

The Pajama Game-1957

The Pajama Game-1957

Director George Abbott, Stanley Donen

Starring Doris Day, John Raitt

Scott’s Review #1,292

Reviewed August 19, 2022

Grade: B+

Doris Day, the queen of the romantic comedy film during the 1950s and 1960s was riding high in 1957 when The Pajama Game was adapted into film production. It had taken Broadway by storm in 1954 and achieved immeasurable success.

The actress/singer did not star in it, Janis Paige did. The film version required a Hollywood star in one of the lead roles and since Frank Sinatra turned down the male lead role, Paige was given the boot in favor of Day.

This hurts a bit but how the Hollywood world of box office receipts works.

Fortunately, Day can sing as evidenced by her startling good rendition of “Que Sera, Sera” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which won her an Oscar just a year earlier.

Set in the midwest, USA, the boss of an Iowa pajama factory hires superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) to help oppose the workers’ demand for a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.

Sid’s presence stirs the jealousy of foreman Vernon Hines, who is dating bookkeeper Gladys Hotchkiss (Carol Haney) and attracts worker “Babe” Williams (Day), a strong advocate for the pay increase.

Despite liking Babe, Sid resists the workers’ sabotage attempt and must decide whether to fire activist Babe. Predictably, the two fall madly in love amid catchy song and dance numbers.

I’m a huge fan of the musical genre, especially during the 1950s and 1960s heyday. The Pajama Game falls somewhere in the middle for me, inferior to the brilliant West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962) but holding its own with other fun musicals like Guys and Dolls (1955).

Fun is a perfect adjective to describe The Pajama Game with its bright, fluffy, colorful pajama element, midwestern polite charm, and the romantic comedy bits between Babe and Sid.

This shouldn’t mean that The Pajama Game is juvenile or fluff because it’s solidly crafted and professionally made. Every musical number sounds good and is choreographed well.

Unsurprising is to learn that Bob Fosse is at the helm as a choreographer, returning to the job he did on the stage production. The principal cast of the Broadway musical reprises their roles for the movie, except Paige, and Stanley Prager, whose role is played by Jack Straw.

As a result, it’s very similar to watching a stage production. Cinema performing is different from stage performing so there is a good number of giant voices and theatrical-style acting which I didn’t mind at all.

This is never showcased better than when they all go on the factory picnic.

It’s careful to remember that the singing and dancing shouldn’t let the viewer forget that a sneaky liberal slant emerges in the story and a women’s liberation/progressive woman slant is exposed if the viewer looks carefully enough.

This is a wonderful way to add a tidbit of worth to an otherwise story about romance.

Babe is a strong female character but it’s not bashed over our heads, but simmering below the surface. Unfortunately, this may be missed by those focused only on the most obvious elements.

As entertaining as the film is something is missing that ranks it below other productions like West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain, or The Music Man. It might be a lack of serious drama replaced by a corny element or the need for one big memorable music number.

The Pajama Game (1957) may not be the greatest musical of all time but has enough songs and dances to satisfy a musical fan. Day envelopes the role just fine but I’ll always wonder how Janis Paige would have done in the film role.

Yellow Submarine-1968

Yellow Submarine-1968

Director George Dunning, Dick Emery

Starring John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney (*singing only)

Scott’s Review #1,291

Reviewed August 18, 2022

Grade: B+

By 1968 The Beatles, or the ‘Fab Four’, as they were commonly nicknamed, were household names and their music played all around the world.

Instead of their earlier 1960s pop and radio-ready songs, the band was beginning to branch out into far more daring and creative territory.

Yellow Submarine (1968), also a song, is a bright and colorful journey into the weird and wonderful psychedelic sensibilities the band had created. It’s fabulous and edgy though sometimes doesn’t make complete sense.

The target audience was likely adolescents but since ‘Yellow Submarine is a children’s song there is a Sesame Street educational factor to it which is hard to explain well but I felt that vibe.

A thought for adults might be to concoct a powerful libation for maximum enjoyment while watching Yellow Submarine. One’s mind must be kept open to the Blue Meanies and the odd world of Pepperland that are featured as the gang traverses the land in a Candy Land-like maze of events.

Adults might be best-suited foraging into the world of silly while watching.

The film is The Beatle’s only animated project.

The music-loving inhabitants of Pepperland are under siege by the Blue Meanies, an unpleasant group of music-hating creatures.

The Lord Mayor of Pepperland (Dick Emery) dispatches sailor Old Fred (Lance Percival) to Liverpool, England, where he is to recruit the help of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr).

The sympathetic Beatles ride a yellow submarine to the occupied Pepperland, where the Blue Meanies have no chance against the Fab Four’s charisma and groovy tunes.

As bizarre as Yellow Submarine is to an adult’s frame of mind, I can only imagine the joy and energy a child would take from the film though perhaps not understanding completely. I tried to keep this in mind while watching it.

The colors are dazzling and vibrant one of the biggest strengths of the film. The delightful and vivid greens and blues mix well with the lighter pinks and yellows of the famous submarine.

I confess to having had a difficult time with the plot of Yellow Submarine in the beginning and I struggled to make sense of what was going on. This might have been because of the distraction of the beautiful animation and color direction.

I finally began to piece together clues and characters from Beatles songs and my realization turned into one of pleasure and anticipation.

Once the band meets the lonely Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D., also known as the ‘Nowhere Man, I got the point of the film. I began to look for other characters like Eleanor Rigby and Lucy from the song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.

The fun commences with salivation of what the famous Beatles tune could be next. Speaking of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ this number is the trippiest and most interesting of them all as a spirit-like creature dances around with weird shapes and styles.

Other treats like the tremendous ‘All You Need Is Love, the charming ‘When I’m Sixty-Four’, and naturally ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and ‘Yellow Submarine’ are featured.

Yellow Submarine (1968) is a must-see for fans of The Beatles and those with an appreciation for the arthouse magic contained within the film. Intelligent kids allowed to be exposed to the project will surely fall in love with it and reminisce when watching it years later.

42nd Street-1933

42nd Street-1933

Director Lloyd Bacon

Starring Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Bebe Daniels

Scott’s Review #1,281

Reviewed July 28, 2022

Grade: A-

Whenever I am fortunate enough to watch a film made in the 1930s I am reminded of the vast nature of cinema and how far it’s blossomed.

Filmmakers could do unique things back then having very little of what filmmakers have in the modern day for technology’s sake.

I’ve heard it said that films of the 1930s are dated and dusty, the acting style is different, and the musical scores always have a standard sound. I find them like little presents beckoning to be opened to escape to another time, long ago.

The famous musical 42nd Street (1933) has seemingly been a Broadway stalwart since the beginning of time. This is a falsehood since a stage adaption of the film debuted on Broadway in only 1980, winning two Tony Awards, including Best Musical.

Director Lloyd Bacon creates a slow and steady build to set the drama properly. The final thirty-five or forty minutes culminate in a lavish and fascinating extravaganza of the gala show opening.

All in all, events transpire in a brisk one hour and twenty-nine minutes. If I’m honest, I could have done with another ten minutes of the merriment-laden conclusion.

I giggled with delight at the professionalism inhabiting unique cinematography sequences like a camera rolling through a dozen spread legs to land on a handsome young couple’s face.

In a timely fashion, the Great Depression Era is the focus and props go to all involved for placing a focus on this dastardly time with an escapist show.

Revered and impatient Broadway director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) has fallen on hard times like the rest of the United States. He is warned by his doctor to take care of his health but his finances are dire.

He launches an ambitious musical as a final production before his retirement. The lead actress, bitchy Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), is torn between two men, the show’s rich financer, Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee), and struggling actor Pat Denning (George Brent).

Meanwhile, aspiring young performer Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) is hoping for her big break. She is completely green and impressionable but humorously looks similar to Dorothy, right down to their curled hairstyle.

It’s easy to see what direction the plot is going in but instead of an All About Eve (1950) theater story of one actress scheming for the role of another actress, events happen organically.

The first portion of 42nd Street is all well and good. We get snippets of the women traversing amongst their male admirers and Julian becoming increasingly frustrated with the incompetent talent but I kept hoping events would finally take off.

The romantic triangles and irritated threats to fire the cast almost get repetitive until the spectacular second act.

When the company is reduced to the opening in Philadelphia, the dregs of society to them, instead of the bright lights of New York City, 42nd Street becomes a different type of film.

A magical and marvelous escapade of leggy performances and astounding costumes and song and dance numbers emerge onto the big screen before my delighted eyes. It is startlingly like watching the production in real-time.

The cherry on top was watching the petrified Peggy fill in for the injured Dorothy. Instead of the women continuing their feud, the older Dorothy gives Peggy a pep talk about how much the crowd wants to like her, and she has no reason to be nervous.

She’s got it and Dorothy’s got her back.

The moment is filled with sweetness as the veteran passes the baton to the upstart. Dorothy’s words resonated with me as any entertainer, public speaker, or anyone else can take her advice to heart.

The musical numbers are cheery and robust led by the toe-thumping title track which I continue to hum along to whilst writing this review.

A gripe is that, according to legend, Julian is a gay character but there is never a moment where the film implies this. A pleasant jolt would have been for him to at least flirt with a cast member.

Old fashioned has rarely felt better because 42nd Street (1933) provides enough flash and dance, and razzle-dazzle, to make its audience harken back to the good old days of classic cinema.

There are even some words of wisdom to embrace.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Viva Las Vegas-1964

Director George Sidney

Starring Elvis Presley, Ann-Margret

Scott’s Review #1,280

Reviewed July 24, 2022

Grade: B

A lightweight romp created exclusively as a vehicle for superstar Elvis Presley and his lofty success, Viva Las Vegas (1964) is one of the better Elvis film entries.

This may not be saying much because he’s not the greatest actor in the world. He doesn’t need to be since he’s got enough charisma and chemistry with co-star Ann Margret to elicit a smile or two, and the musical numbers together and separately are entertaining.

That’s really what Viva Las Vegas is about.

Elvis was at his peak in 1964 both musically and physically so watching the hunky singer croon, dance, and writhe with style on the big screen is not the most daunting task in the world.

The silly story feels forced, obvious, and created on the fly to provide humor, hijinks, and a bit of drama for the leads. It’s not the most substantial part of the film.

Appealing are the opening camera shots of ‘old Las Vegas’ during the 1960s. The lights and glitter are colorful and appealing as is the Vegas setting, though disappointingly, most of the film is shot on a studio soundstage.

The sloppily conjured-up story involves a  musically gifted race car driver named Lucky Jackson (Presley, naturally) who arrives in Las Vegas to score enough money for a new car motor so he can win the upcoming Grand Prix race. He befriends a cagey racing rival named Elmo (Cesare Danova).

When he encounters sexy swimming instructor Rusty (Ann-Margret), he considers staying around longer to get better acquainted with the dame. After Lucky loses his winnings in the hotel pool, he’s forced to remain in Vegas working as a waiter.

He not only wants to recoup his financial losses, but he is now determined to win Rusty’s heart. Unfortunately, so does Elmo, setting off a chain of events that culminates with the Grand Prix race. Elmo and Lucky try to outwit each other.

To say the events in Viva Las Vegas are predictable is an understatement as a meager attempt at an invested triangle between Lucky, Rusty, and Elmo is laughable. There is no doubt that Lucky and Rusty will ride off into the sunset together.

Unintentionally I am sure, director George Sidney is no Alfred Hitchcock after all, there exists homoeroticism between Lucky and Elmo. As they lie side by side under the wheels of a broken-down greaser, a titillating thought is what if the men were to kiss?

Elvis’s enormous fan base was not ready for that scandal in 1964 so the result is a by-numbers boy meets girl, boy intends to conquer girl, a traditional love story.

Sigh.

The anticipation of a grand musical finale is disappointing because there isn’t one, only the race itself tepidly watched by Rusty and company from an overhead helicopter. The sequence is adequate with enough suspense and car wrecks to enthrall the viewer but unsurprisingly Lucky wins the race.

In a rushed final scene, Lucky and Rusty are seen happily emerging from a church on their wedding day whilst a bouquet sits in Rusty’s hand. Big smiles are on the faces of everyone.

The chemistry between Presley and Ann-Margret is strong and endearing. This is no surprise given the real-life affair the pair were reportedly having. Nonetheless, the sweetest number occurs early on when Lucky tries to convince Rusty, through song, that she is in love with him, but just doesn’t know it yet.

I gushed at the thought of Marilyn Monroe in the Rusty role which may have been the original intent. The blonde bombshell died less than two years before the film’s release, and likely after the idea was birthed.

No disrespect to Ann-Margret.

Of course, the main reason to watch Viva Las Vegas is for the tunes. The title track is a super-charged song about the enjoyment of the city of sin and a multitude of other numbers appear throughout the film at breakneck speed.

This is a relief since there is not much time to invest in the paper-thin plot.

Viva Las Vegas (1964) is a film recommended mostly for Elvis fans seeking a glimpse of the star in his heyday.

A Star Is Born-1976

A Star Is Born-1976

Director Frank Pierson

Starring Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson

Scott’s Review #1,276

Reviewed July 13, 2022

Grade: B

Four incarnations of A Star Is Born: 1937, 1954, 1976, and 2018 have been created. Strangely enough, the most recent film starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is worlds above the others, though I haven’t yet seen the 1937 version.

The fourth time is rarely the charm in film remakes.

The focus of this review, however, is largely on the 1976 film starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A hit movie at the time, and nonetheless despised by some, the film is perfectly fine though it bears multiple repeatings that it’s inferior to the 2018 film.

There is no question about that.

Amazingly, it was nominated for four Academy Awards and deservedly won for Best Song. The other nominations are generous.

Watching A Star Is Born circa 2022 the 1976 rendition suffers severely from a dated tone mostly because of the jaw-droppingly hideous perm hairdo worn by Streisand.

Did somebody think it was flattering in 1976?

The chemistry between Streisand and Kristofferson starts tepid but increases in intensity as the film plods along. The ending is underwhelming and I expected more emotional pizazz than I was given, leaving me with almost a ‘so what’ reaction to a devastating turn of events.

Until that is, Barbra sings her heart out in one unbroken, gut-wrenching shot of seven or eight minutes.

For those unfamiliar, the story surrounds John Norman Howard (Kristofferson), a troubled rock star on the decline, frequently indulging in excessive drugs and drinking and trying to write hit records.

He drunkenly wanders into a club one night and watches aspiring singer Esther Hoffman (Streisand) perform and is instantly smitten. The two begin dating, and soon John lets Esther take the spotlight during his concerts.

However, even as Esther finds fame and success with her singing, John continues his downward spiral.

Let’s face it. The main draw is who is playing the lead roles in a film like A Star Is Born. To make a love story work there must be sizzling chemistry so that the audience is invested in the romance. Streisand commands the center stage and her singing is the selling point.

Otherwise, Ms. Streisand suffers another bout of miscasting as she did in 1969’s Hello, Dolly. She’s simply too talented and established to be believable as an aspiring singer.

Her singing saves the film.

The gorgeous song “Evergreen” is a quite powerful moment and great strength. Without it, the film would have felt lacking and mediocre. The tune rises the overall experience up a notch.

The chemistry is merely the warm-up act. It’s ho-hum until a smoldering bathtub scene occurs where John and Esther soap each other down and fall madly between the sheets for a night of passion.

It’s Streisand’s sexiest scene and the romance takes off.

Back to Streisand’s vocals, the scene is preceded by a gorgeous songwriting sequence between John and Esther at the piano where they craft a new song. As they collaborate, the connection and bond between the characters are birthed.

Those are the romantic highlights.

Otherwise, the scene where John becomes infatuated with Esther holds no appeal since he is drinking and arguing with another patron and barely has time to notice her. This was thankfully changed in the 2018 version when John was mesmerized by the rising talent.

Additionally, when John invites Esther to his concert and she watches from backstage it goes nowhere. In the 2018 version, he drags her out to perform with him and it’s a moment. 

Some films are best reviewed on their own merits but what great fun to compare renditions of the same film because, why not?

The supporting characters have little to do except for an impressive turn by Gary Busey as John’s drug-pushing manager.

There is little reason to watch A Star Is Born (1976) more than once, or at most twice to confirm that the film lacks a bit. It’s not terrible but hardly memorable unless the desire is to giggle over an incredibly bad 1970s hairstyle by one of the greatest divas.

Then, move on to the outstanding Cooper/Gaga 2018 version.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Original Song-“Evergreen” (won), Best Sound

Hello, Dolly!-1969

Hello, Dolly! -1969

Director Gene Kelly

Starring Barbra Streisand, Walter Matthau

Scott’s Review #1,273

Reviewed July 5, 2022

Grade: B+

I was surprised by my reaction to Hello, Dolly! (1969), a musical comedy starring the brilliant Barbra Streisand in only her second film role.

The songs are tailor-made for the diva’s vocals and are the follow-up to her Oscar-winning turn in Funny Girl (1968) made just a year earlier.

The film is enjoyable and there are enough songs to hum along with but it suffers mightily by miscasting Streisand in a role much too old for her, and a ghastly lack of any decent chemistry between the leads.

Nevertheless, the memorable and outstanding dinner scene toward the conclusion of the film makes the overall effort worth the wait and rebounds it to a generous B+ rating up from a tepid B rating.

The wonderful supporting players helped save Hello, Dolly! from mediocrity since I felt much more invested in their story than I did in the lead action.

Still, based on the synopsis and talent potential I was anticipating a solid A rating but this was not to be as Hello, Dolly! brought the once-reliable musical comedies of the 1950s and 1960s to a crashing halt as 1970 was nearly upon us.

The time is 1890s New York City and Yonkers, New York as the bold and enchanting widow Dolly Levi (Streisand) is a socialite-turned-matchmaker, though she yearns for her own love life.

Her latest client is the grumpy but wealthy Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) and a young artist named Ambrose (Tommy Tune), who is in love with Horace’s niece, Ermengarde (Joyce Ames).

Dolly has secret romantic designs on Horace and is determined to land him while Ambrose and Ermengarde have little to do.

Dolly’s meddling soon involves Horace’s employees Cornelius (Michael Crawford) and Barnaby (Danny Lockin) who become smitten with a New York hatmaker named Irene (Marianne McAndrew) and her ditzy assistant Minnie (E.J. Peaker).

For starters, anyone who has seen or knows the history of the 1960s stage version of Hello, Dolly! knows that Carol Channing portrayed the role and should have been in the film.

She is so well known for the role that she won a Tony and reprised it many times during her storied career becoming way more famous than Streisand would ever be for the role.

Streisand was only twenty-six years old when she made Hello, Dolly! and is too youthful for the matronly role despite the help of makeup and costumes. This is bothersome because the main reason Streisand was cast was that her career was taking off.

The other glaring problem is there is no chemistry between Streisand and Matthau and it’s unknown why Dolly is even romantically interested in Horace besides perhaps for his money.

Needless to say, is that he is too old for her.

There is no rooting value for the couple at all and a fun fact is that the two stars hated each other during filming. This provided a chuckle or two.

All is not lost though because the supporting foursome of Cornelius, Barnaby, Irene, and Minnie steals the show. The hijinks between the characters as the boys struggle to figure out how to pay for a lavish champagne dinner for the girls is physical comedy at its finest.

The lavish dinner scene set at the Harmonia Gardens Restuarant saves the film.

Dripping with a beautiful set design, bright red velvet decor, and perfect choreography, the highlight is an adorable rendition of the title song between Streisand and Louis Armstrong.

The sequence is so great that it almost makes me forget about the missteps surrounding the rest of the film.

Director and actor, Gene Kelly, is most known for starring in An American in Paris (1950) and knows his way around a musical or two. He does wonders with all facets of the production but can’t be blamed for the casting choices.

Surprisingly, Hello, Dolly! (1969) received seven Academy Award nominations and won three. This assuredly is a result of a conservative tendency by the Academy members who worshipped the once-mighty musical genre.

Unfortunately, the genre limped into the more edgy 1970s and would remain more or less obscure for many years.

Oscar Nominations: 3 wins-Best Picture, Best Art Direction (won), Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Score of a Musical Picture-Original or Adaptation (won), Best Sound (won)

Quadrophenia-1979

Quadrophenia-1979

Director Franc Roddam

Starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Sting

Scott’s Review #1,269

Reviewed June 23, 2022

Grade: A-

Fans of the British rock band, The Who will perhaps be mystified by the film Quadrophenia (1979). More specifically, The Who and fans of the exceptional oddity-filled musical film Tommy (1975) will be surprised and somewhat disappointed that Quadrophenia is not patterned after Tommy.

I was uneasy when I realized that very few of the songs from the groundbreaking album of the same name would not be incorporated and that the band themselves would not be appearing.

But that apprehension was short-lived.

Instead, Quadrophenia the film quickly grasped me for the storyline alone and makes up for the lack of music with a gripping tale of teenage angst and conflict amid the streets of London.

Reportedly, the story is at least somewhat derived from the life of Who member Pete Townshend and the concept behind Quadrophenia in the album is the same in the film.

To classify Quadrophenia as a musical or musical drama (I decided to do both) is most generous because that only enhances the fact that it almost isn’t either one. But since it is based on the album and was co-written by Townsend, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

An insecure and angry London youth, Jimmy Cooper (Phil Daniels) escapes the dullness of his mailroom job and the chilliness of London and joins the Mods, a sharply dressed gang constantly feuding with their rivals, the Rockers.

When the Mods and Rockers clash in the coastal town of Brighton, England, it leads to both trouble and an encounter with the lovely Steph (Leslie Ash) whom Jimmy has become smitten with over encounters at the grocery store where she works.

Returning to London and his life of drudgery, Jimmy, who aspires to be like handsome and charismatic Mod leader Ace Face (Sting), becomes even more disillusioned and longs to return to Brighton.

Quadrophenia the film is exceptional because it gets the mood of the lead character right and the audience will undoubtedly respond in turn. He feels that his life is going nowhere and most people can relate in some way to being stuck in first gear or reverse and unable to get out of the mud.

In Jimmy’s mind, his parents are assholes and the girl he longs for is out of his league and therefore out of reach. It’s typical adolescence 101. All he needs are the pimples and a bad hairstyle and he encompasses what it feels like to be a teenager.

This may sound comical but anyone remembering youth will undoubtedly find a glimmer of pain and panic.

Filmmaker, Franc Roddam gets it right.

The best part of the film occurs in the final fifteen minutes when finally and blessedly superior songs by The Who commence, most notably the astounding Love, Reign O’er Me.

In addition to the brilliance of the actual song is the way it’s included. As the camera provides a birds-eye view of the stunning cliffs as Jimmy rides recklessly on his scooter it’s a perilous scene with hints of danger.

Will he crash and burn?

Finally, the scooter is seen crashing over the cliff-top, which is where the film begins with Jimmy walking back against a sunset backdrop. It’s unclear what happens to Jimmy and interpretation can be used.

It raised Quadrophenia from a very good film to an exceptional one.

Another treasured Who song, The Real Me, is included early on amongst the title credits. Other songs appear but are either shortened and/or different versions of what’s expected.

Sometimes fun and comic, other times showing the ugliness of gloomy London and the pains of growing up, Quadrophenia (1979) excels at reminding its audience what it’s like to be restless and unhappy.

Life usually changes for the better but the film is an important reminder of feelings at that age.

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Dear Evan Hansen-2021

Director-Stephen Chbosky

Starring Ben Platt, Kaitlyn Dever, Amy Adams

Scott’s Review #1,258

Reviewed May 25, 2022

Grade: A-

From the very first scene, Dear Evan Hansen (2021) grabbed me by the collar and never let me go. Providing an emotional wallop that mixes perfectly with meaningful and catchy pop songs the film is one that nearly everyone can relate to.

The oftentimes painful world of teenage angst is the central storyline and the dangerous and unfortunately too timely pandemic of mental illness is examined in heartwrenching form.

Dear Evan Hansen has a relevance that I found to be powerful and profound leaving me not soon forgetful of the experience.

I had never seen the hugely popular Broadway stage version so I only had a limited understanding of what the story was about going in. Still, as much as the subject matter is of great importance the film’s follow-through is what is tremendous and emotional with superb acting all around.

Tony, Grammy, and Emmy Award winner Ben Platt reprises his stage role as the anxious, isolated high schooler named Evan Hansen who craves companionship and understanding. He suffers the same quandary that many fellow teenagers face in a world rendered impersonal and heartless. He tries to survive the pressures and the chaos of the social-media age.

Lonely, he meets a young man named Connor Murphy (Colton Ryan) who is as wounded as Evan is. They have an odd first (and only) exchange after which Connor steals a therapy assignment of Evan’s, a letter to himself. Soon after, Connor commits suicide and his parents, played by Amy Adams and Danny Pino assume the boys were best friends.

Evan lies about the events to spare Connor’s parents which ultimately leads to events spiraling out of control.

I’m well aware of the outpouring of negative reviews that have been hurled at the film and I don’t understand nor agree with any of them.

My hunch is that the stage version may have been even more powerful because it’s a live production and the raw emotion is right there but the film does right by it.

Sure, Platt looks older than a teenager. The actor was twenty-seven years old when he filmed Dear Evan Hansen and a mere twenty-two or so when it appeared on Broadway but so what? With talent as superior as he is why cast a movie star?

I didn’t hear anyone complain when Olivia Newton-John played the iconic role of Sandy, a seventeen-year-old in Grease (1978) at the ripe old age of thirty.

Sometimes a suspension of disbelief is required.

Platt is a terrific casting choice and encompasses the role of Evan completely. He is shockingly good in dramatic scenes or when he comically fumbles over his words. His dramatic voice perfectly infuses the production’s most recognizable number You Will Be Found.

Besides, there are big stars in Dear Evan Hansen. Amy Adams plays the emotionally drained but hopeful Cynthia Murphy, blessed with affluence at the price of losing a son. Julianne Moore plays the haggard nurse and financially struggling mother of Evan.

Both are fabulous.

The film is directed by Stephen Chbosky who is responsible for the terrific and sorely underappreciated film adaptation of the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) which he also wrote. He knows how to tell a coming-of-age story.

There are a couple of foul balls to be aware of but the emotion to be felt far exceeds these pesky matters.

The film occasionally overplays its casting with the inclusion of a few stock characters like the Indian technology wizard and the perky, straight-A student with the same problems as everyone else, but the characters don’t have enough to do to make them bothersome.

The chemistry between Platt and Kaitlyn Dever as the romantic interest is only tepid but I didn’t watch this film for the teen romance.

I could not disagree with the torrent of negative reviews for Dear Evan Hansen (2021) more and urge anyone reading this review to take in the film and be prepared for a tearjerker that feels authentic and justified in its existence.

West Side Story-2021

West Side Story-2021

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose

Scott’s Review #1,207

Reviewed December 12, 2021

Grade: A

I salivated when the news broke that a reboot of the brilliant 1961 film West Side Story, itself based on a Broadway musical, was being planned. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard Steven Spielberg would direct the production. Nothing personal against Mr. Spielberg but there have been some misses with musical adaptations over the years.

Does anyone remember Cats (2019)? I know, we are all trying to forget it.

Nonetheless, my anticipation was sidelined temporarily due to the hated Covid-19 pandemic but art always perseveres and the release of the new West Side Story was changed from December 2020 to December 2021.

Finally, the moment had arrived and I was even fortunate enough to score members-only sneak preview tickets to an early screening at my local art theater.

Hooray!

West Side Story (2021) is a brilliant adaptation and does not disappoint in the least providing entertainment and authenticity for miles. It’s bombastic and enthralling mixing romance with some quite brutal fight scenes. The delightful songs “Maria”, “America”, “Tonight”, “I Feel Pretty”, and my personal favorite “Somewhere” are all included and are like new gifts for fans to greedily unwrap.

This may be the best effort yet by Spielberg (I never thought he’d top 1993’s Schindler’s List) as he recreates a musical spectacle that will surely entice viewers back to the cinemas.

The reboot has life, artistry, and expressionism breathing fresh energy into the production. In some ways, it’s superior to the 1961 version.

Despite being created in the late 1950s there is a timeliness to it. Racism sadly still exists in America and we have much work to do to unite as one if we ever do. This may feel hopeless but the message of the film is one of love and unity providing hints of hopefulness.

How timely and how much needed this film is.

The film has a deeper sentiment because of the recent death of Stephen Sondheim, the masterful composer, and lyricist who reinvented the American musical. He worked in tandem with Leonard Bernstein on most of these songs.

For those unfamiliar let me summarize the plot of the film.

Love, at first sight, strikes when young Tony (Ansel Elgort) spots Maria (Rachel Zegler) at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Forbidden to have anything to do with each other except to hate each other, their immediate romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks- two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

Things go from tense to terrible when street fights between the gangs lead to mayhem, misunderstandings, and death.

The film is crafted exceptionally well from a visual and cinematic perspective. From the opening sequence when the gangs stumble amongst the ruins of a decrepit west side lot there are intriguing shadows and shapes and high camera shots. These continue throughout the film when the flawless choreography of the dance scene takes center stage.

Speilberg corrects missteps that the 1961 version made which brought a wide smile to my face. The Puerto Rican characters that makeup half the cast are played by Hispanic actors. The big mistake the original film made was casting caucasian actors passing for Puerto Rican.

The chemistry between Richard Baymer (original Tony) and Natalie Wood (original Maria) was lacking but it explodes off the screen from the first moment that Elgort and Zegler appear together.

Rita Morena, familiar to West Side Story fans with her portrayal of Anita in the 1961 version returns in the role of Valentina who runs Doc’s general store and is assumed to be the widow of Doc. It is explained that Valentina, Puerto Rican, married a white man. Morena’s role is much bigger than I thought and she performs a magnificent and teary version of “Somewhere”.

The casting is flawless. Standouts are Elgort (Tony), Ziegler (Maria), Ariana DeBose (Anita), David Alvarez (Bernardo), and Mike Faist (Riff) but the entire company performs flawlessly and effortlessly.

The character of Anybodys, a tomboy in the original is cast with a transgender actor, Iris Menas, which provides rich diversity and inclusion.

West Side Story (2021) is an instant classic that I can’t wait to see again and again and again. I’ll never waver in my love and devotion to the original version but the new version is an exceptional achievement in authenticity, style, and pizazz that will assuredly remind viewers why they love the cinema so much.

It certainly reminded me.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Steven Spielberg, Best Supporting Actress-Ariana DeBose (won), Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound

Show Boat-1951

Show Boat-1951

Director George Sidney

Starring Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Kathryn Grayson

Scott’s Review #1,177

Reviewed September 14, 2021

Grade: A-

Show Boat (1951) is a liberal-slanted musical centering around racism. It mixes comedy and drama well while remembering it is meant to entertain audiences. But it never loses sight of the important message it’s portraying.

Ava Gardner, who stars, never looked more beautiful.

The picture is based on the 1927 stage musical of the same name by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and the 1926 novel by Edna Ferber.

The vibrant colors, sentimental songs, and a very Southern flair make it a winner.

Kern and Hammerstein provide the score for this adaptation of their Broadway hit which adds authenticity.

My favorite song is the devastatingly poignant and haunting tune, “Old Man River” which is reprised at the end of Show Boat.

Julie LaVerne (Gardner) and Steve Baker (Sterling) are successfully married entertainers forced to leave the showboat Cotton Blossom when it becomes known that Julie is of mixed race.

Meanwhile, the captain’s daughter Magnolia (Kathryn Grayson) and gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Howard Keel) take over the act, fall in love, marry, and leave the boat for Chicago. There, they live off his gambling earnings, which dry up fast.

The ending of the film is not happy.

I love the tone of the film. It is a very big-budget production and it shows. Each number is belted out with gusto at the risk of feeling too uptight or stagey but regardless I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.

The grandness of the numbers was what got me and never more than with Julie’s big number “Bill”, a very emotional song.

Her other famous number, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” isn’t so bad either.

They would have cast a black actress in a perfect world for authenticity’s sake. Someone like Dorothy Dandridge comes to mind and as wonderful as Gardner is this point gnawed at me throughout. The actress is caucasian though it could almost be the belief that she is of mixed race.

Nonetheless, Gardner also doesn’t sing her songs. Instead, they are sung by Annette Warren. I’m betting this is why she didn’t receive an Oscar nomination.

But, Show Boat isn’t all about Gardner. Showcasing a spectacular cast of black and white actors leads like Grayson and Keel are fabulous. I cared about their character’s trials and tribulations and wondered how much I found Grayson to resemble the legendary Judy Garland.

Supporting players like William Warfield as Joe must be mentioned. His rendition of “Old Man River” moved me. A bass-baritone singer and actor he makes the number quite simply and by far the best moment, musically and pictorially, in the film.

I could watch this scene on replay.

And Agnes Moorehead as Parthy Hawks or the resident bitch provides delicious comedy, intended or unintended.

Some are critical that the 1936 film version is superior and provides a grittier feel and I am conscious of that. I’ve never seen it but the 1951 version does have that Technicolor grandness.

Maybe I’ll check it out for a one-day comparison.

For a slice of southern-flavored showboatin’ check out Show Boat (1951). With a summery flavor, dancing, and superior photography, it is a good old time.

Oscar Nominations: Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture

O Lucky Man!-1973

O Lucky Man! -1973

Director Lindsay Anderson

Starring Malcolm McDowell, Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren

Scott’s Review #1,174

Reviewed September 1, 2021

Grade: A-

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a satirical black comedy that mixes musical songs with a message of capitalism by the driven protagonist. Like a great fine wine, the film has aged well and is still relevant decades later.

The film is a slow build but by the end of the lengthy running time of nearly three hours, I was enamored and hummed the title song repeatedly.

I’m still humming it as I write this review.

Suggested is to watch O Lucky Man! in two or three segments for full appreciation. One sitting would be incredibly tough since some of the events require some level of reflection and thought.

An ambitious young British man, Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) is determined to be successful at all costs. Debuting as a coffee salesman, Mick is quickly promoted within his company. Events take a series of bizarre turns when Mick is abducted by a military agency.

Later, he becomes smitten with the gorgeous Patricia (Helen Mirren) and winds up working for her father, sinister executive Sir James Burgess (Ralph Richardson). As Mick’s tale continues, his experiences get progressively stranger.

The clever aspect is that just when you think Mick’s life is dour and drab he rebounds more successful than ever. Hence the title of the film. So, there is an element of adventure and romance amid the capitalist plot.

Lindsay Anderson, who directed O Lucky Man! re-casts McDowell again in the same role he first played as a disaffected public schoolboy in his first film performance in Anderson’s film If… (1968).

I did not realize this at the time I watched O Lucky Man! and I think this knowledge would have made me catch on to the events and the subtexture even more.

Now, I need to rewatch If…

I did however ruminate constantly on McDowell’s other iconic role in A Clockwork Orange (1971) as Alex. The characters are quite similar save for Alex being a juvenile delinquent instead of a rising corporate guy like Mick is.

This is in large part due to McDowell’s looks and acting style. His trademark sneer and bright blue eyes make him mesmerizing in both roles.

I even spotted an actor who played one of the infamous droogs!

A plus to the film is that several actors appear in multiple roles, some difficult to distinguish. Part of the fun is trying to figure out who’s who.

There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry between McDowell and Mirren but it’s interesting the shifting characteristics of the characters. And Patricia is fascinating. When she inquires why people work so hard for things instead of just taking them we realize that she places no value in things because she’s never had to work for them. She’s a rich, daddy’s girl.

There are reasons not to like her but I still did. When she winds up in a homeless lot it’s shocking. And I also loved the character of Mick and his epic journey. He is imprisoned and then reformed in a humanistic way just like Alex was in A Clockwork Orange.

But the best part of O Lucky Man! is the music. Anderson takes periodic breaks from the drama to simply treat his audience to a musical number all performed by Alan Price.

It’s comforting to sit back and enjoy the unforgettable tunes that pepper the film. One could argue that the songs almost usurp the main action but I found them, great companions, to the other.

As if there was any doubt, the soundtrack was widely lauded and was a huge financial success.

A surreal effort, sometimes happy or tragic but always insightful and oftentimes delightful, McDowell, Price, and Anderson are at the top of their respective games.

O Lucky Man! (1973) is a terrific watch brimming with good juices if one just has the patience to let events marinate.

Hot Summer-1968

Hot Summer-1968

Director Joachim Hasler

Starring Chris Doerk, Frank Schobel

Scott’s Review #1,173

Reviewed August 27, 2021

Grade: B

One of the strangest films I’ve ever watched Hot Summer (1968) deserves enormous accolades for even being filmed, produced, and in existence.

You see, it’s the only film (that I know of) to come out of East Germany before the wall came down in 1989 and unity garnered.

This is astounding in itself despite some warts the film contains.

The starkness and seriousness that envelope the German stereotype are shattered by the bubblegum musical nature of the film. This is an oddity in itself.

It’s patterned after the trite, summery United States beach movies of the 1950s and 1960s when teenage characters flocked to the sandy beaches looking for romance with their contemporaries.

In this film, they do so within song and dance numbers led by two East German pop idols of the time, Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel.

The genre of the film pretty much sucks and is not at all my favorite style of film but Hot Summer contains a liberal helping of sun, perfect smiles, and beach bodies to keep viewers at least interested.

The acting is not great nor is it expected to be.

As goofy as possible the musical comedy follows a group of teenage girls heading to the Baltic coast together for their summer vacation. Naturally, they wind up meeting a similar group of amorous teenage guys, giving way to quarrels and flirtatious competitions that are played out in lively song-and-dance numbers as the individuals hook up with each other.

Despite that the film was made during the Cold War period there are no political or like messages to be found which surprised me. If there were any subliminal intentions related to this, like the groups sticking together, they didn’t register with me. I think this is a positive.

Hot Summer is pure summer fun- nothing more and nothing less.

The songs are a major win and rather hummable, especially the title track. It stuck in my head for some time after the film had ended. One character performs a lovely ballad amid a campfire that is quite beautiful and incredibly atmospheric.

The numbers are professional largely because real-life pop stars Doerk and Schobel do the bulk of them.

Still, Hot Summer has a couple of negatives to mention. Why the decision was made to pattern a film, especially one as groundbreaking as being the sole East German film during the Cold War, by using a subject matter as hokey as the summer beach theme is beyond me.

Certainly, better genres exist to borrow from.

My hunch is that Joachim Hasler, who directed the film, desired a release from the bleakness of his own culture and saw America as the land of freedom and fun.

The choreography is a bit stiff, if not downright amateurish which adds to the bizarre nature of the overall product.

Certainly nothing like the exceptional choreography of say Oklahoma (1955) or West Side Story (1961) instead we get rigid dance numbers.

Kudos to the film for being made at all Hot Summer (1968) is hardly a great film but it does hold the viewer’s interest. It contains enough fun and frolics and good-looking young people to avoid being a snore.

Yentl-1983

Yentl-1983

Director Barbra Streisand

Starring Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin

Scott’s Review #1,144

Reviewed May 20, 2021

Grade: B+

Feeling slightly dated nowadays, perhaps for the year it was made, Yentl (1983) is nonetheless a very good watch if only for Barbra’s performance, in multiple ways, alone.

Who else could I be talking about other than superstar Barbra Streisand?

Astounding is that she also directed the film, rare for a female to direct in those days. Even circa 2021, there have only been two women to win the coveted Best Director Oscar prize.

Mind-blowing. Streisand was snubbed in this category and was understandably miffed.

But I’ll get down from my soapbox.

Streisand plays the title role. Yentl is a bookish girl and daughter of a respected Talmud teacher who instructs her although she is female and not male. This is forbidden in their culture.

Her father dies leaving Yentl to her own devices and determinations.

She disguises herself as a boy to gain entry to a yeshiva and meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), who she becomes fascinated by. But he only has eyes for Hadass (Amy Irving) whom he is supposed to marry.

This results in a triangle of sorts but not in the traditional sense. Hadass develops feelings for Anshel (really Streisand as Yentl in drag). After they marry (unconsummated) Anshel falls in love with Avigdor.

This may sound like a comedy rather than drama and it does contain a bit of each but the romantic interludes, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations are not the best parts of the film.

The main themes of faith and romance are center stage. Streisand may have had feminism on her mind with the film but I didn’t find this a major point except for Yentl refusing to marry a man.

She pretends to be a boy because females are repressed in the religion. A real win would have been Yentl embracing faith as she is, but for 1983 the message isn’t a bad one.

Still, we are supposed to want Yentl and Avigdor to live happily ever after but I never felt very much of a connection to the couple.

The best parts of Yentl are the musical score and the songs the audience is treated to. The highlight is the emotionally charged “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” which is a gorgeous moment for Yentl.

Yentl leaves Europe on a boat bound for the United States, where she hopes to lead a life with more freedom. With a smile on her face, she rises above and into a new day.

It’s a dynamic singing performance and rises the film above where it would have been without the number. It’s like the perfect culminating Streisand moment.

The romantic moments are unfulfilling and predictable, but the film is about Streisand and Streisand alone. As good as Patinkin and Irving are they take a backseat to the illustrious star. We never even get to see Patinkin sing.

I’m okay with this. I watched Yentl (1983) for the enormous talents of its star. Her singing, acting, and directing all make the film a worthwhile and engaging experience.

It’s not a great film and other Streisand films are better- I’m thinking of Funny Girl (1968) and Hello, Dolly (1969), but it’s way above average.

Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Amy Irving, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, “The Way He Makes Me Feel”

Fame-1980

Fame-1980

Director Alan Parker

Starring Irene Cara, Paul McCrane, Maureen Teefy

Scott’s Review #1,143

Reviewed May 18, 2021

Grade: A-

Fame (1980) is a teen high school musical drama centering around the trials and tribulations of gifted New York City kids. Anyone with musical, theatrical, or dance talent can relate to the film.

The rest of us can merely live vicariously through these kids and the potential careers that lie ahead of them wishing we had half of their talent and drive.

This is not your standard musical from the 1950s or 1960s and the pace is quite frenetic. Fasten your seatbelts because there is a lot packed in.

The film oozes with an upbeat musical score and the flavor of New York City, quite gritty and dangerous circa 1980. The now-legendary musical numbers where the cast dances together with faculty and strangers alike atop Manhattan taxi cabs are silly beyond belief but the title song by star Irene Cara is a danceable and hummable classic.

These scenes offset the muscular dramatic scenes with lightness and comedy, but in another way, they diminish the credibility of the serious moments.

Events get off to a chaotic start as we witness a mass of teenagers frenetically scrambling to remember audition lyrics and dance numbers as they vie for entry into the High School of Performing Arts, with free admission for only the cream of the crop.

The film chronicles the lucky lives from their auditions to their freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years.

The main group features Montgomery MacNeil (Paul McCrane), a closeted gay male; Doris Finsecker (Maureen Teefy), a shy Jewish girl; Ralph Garci (Barry Miller), and Bruno Martelli (Lee Curreri) an aspiring keyboardist whose electronic equipment horrifies the conservative music teachers.

They align with Lisa Monroe (Laura Dean), Coco Hernandez (Irene Cara), and Leroy Johnson (Gene Anthony Ray) a gifted dancer who cannot read.

All have interesting backstories or problems to work through during their four years in school and this is the main appeal of the film. The dance numbers, of course, are fabulous too.

I immediately became enamored with sensitive Doris, whose mother’s (Tresa Hughes) emotions elicit viewer emotion simply with her own emotions. Her passion for her daughter and her talent is infectious.

Alan Parker, who directs Fame, offers extremely heavy topics that the students must face. It’s not all fun and dance. The youngsters grapple with issues such as homosexuality, abortion, interracial dating, class systems, attempted suicide, and illiteracy.

Their pain is readily offered to audiences who become entangled in their worlds.

A negative is that as much as the issues are brought to the forefront, the sheer number of them results in few resolutions.

On top of their unique struggles, the students must deal with the mundane pressures of adolescence like homework, heartbreak, and rejection. Their talent doesn’t make them any more special than anyone else in the growing-up department.

My favorite moments in Fame are the quiet ones. When Doris and Montgomery share a chat on the stairs that skirts around the talk of his absent mother I thought what a delightful couple they would make. Montgomery’s repressed sexuality slowly surfaces while Doris develops a crush on an older popular boy.

As if the heavy topics eventually subside, they don’t. As the student’s age and start to plan careers, Coco is lured by a man claiming to be a director only to realize he is a porn film “director”. He coaxes her into taking off her shirt and photographs her sobbing.

The scene is heartbreaking in its power.

The atmosphere of Fame also works well. There is a strong and suffocating feeling of heat and humidity. Anyone who has spent time in New York City during the summer months knows the stench and thickness of the stuffy weather.

I got the impression the school had no air conditioning as the running perspiration of the music teacher is evidence of.

A coming-of-age film that delivers hard-hitting messages only offset by the climactic dance-celebration numbers, Fame (1980) is a winner and gives teen angst its due.

This film ages well and stands the test of time.

Oscar Nominations: 2 wins-Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Fame” (won), Out Here on My Own”, Best Film Editing, Best Sound

The Prom-2020

The Prom-2020

Director-Ryan Murphy 

Starring-Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman

Scott’s Review #1,101

Reviewed January 17, 2021

Grade: A

Hollywood legends Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman take on singing and dancing roles in the lovely and timely film, The Prom (2020). James Corden joins them in a prominent role in a musical based on the popular and recent Broadway production of the same name. The LGBTQ+ storyline is important and powerful but doesn’t overshadow the fun. The message is perfectly incorporated in the delicious comedy romp.

The Prom reminds me of John Waters Hairspray from 1988 or even the fun remake from 2007. Instead of racism, the topic is now homophobia, with a few characters rebuffing the lifestyle. Most of the performances are over-the-top, but the film works on all levels. The one-liners are crackling and polished, especially by Streep and Corden.

Director, Ryan Murphy, has become a favorite of mine for creating both extremely dark and light-hearted projects alike that usually slant towards LGBTQ+ recognition and inclusion. His treasured FX series American Horror Story (2011-present) and miniseries The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story are excellent examples of this. I drool with anticipation over what his next offering might be.

High school student, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman), wants to bring a female date to the upcoming prom. Chaos has erupted after the head of the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association), Mrs. Green (Kerry Washington) has canceled the prom. The setting is Indiana and the same gender coupling conflicts with the town’s traditional beliefs and values. Little does she know that her daughter, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) is Emma’s secret girlfriend. The school principal, Tom Hawkins (Keegan-Michael Key) supports Emma and has leaked the story to social media outlets.

Meanwhile, in sophisticated New York City, snooty broadway stars Dee Dee Allen (Streep), Barry Glickman (Corden) are devastated when their new musical flops. They join forces with struggling performers Angie Dickinson (Kidman) and Trent Oliver (Andrew Rannells) and take a bus trip with the cast of Godspell to champion Emma’s cause, and drum up sympathy from their fans and critics.

The rest of the film is as one might expect with bursts of song and dance combined with teaching the stuffy residents of small-town Indiana to accept and even embrace Emma and her LGBTQ+ brethren. Amid a flurry of misunderstandings, mainly between newly dating Tom and Dee Dee, Emma and Alyssa, and Alyssa and her mother, a lavish prom is funded for the town, high school students straight and gay, to flock to and co-mingle in unity.

While The Prom is sheer fantasy and real-life doesn’t usually work out so perfectly, the sentiment is meaningful and the film takes a progressive stance.

Hairspray-2007

Hairspray-2007

Director Adam Shankman

Starring Nikki Blonsky, John Travolta, Christopher Walken

Scott’s Review #1,095

Reviewed December 28, 2020

Grade: B+

Hairspray (2007) is a fun film, without being superfluous. The third incarnation of the musical treat doesn’t disappoint, offering a brighter production.

A safer affair than the 1988 escapade directed by naughty filmmaker John Waters, it’s nonetheless not a “watered” version either. It loses none of the charm that the original had and includes plenty of big-name stars.

In short, it’s a solid summer popcorn flick with sing-along tunes and a cool vibe.

The important message of racial relations is not lost nor dismissed.

The setting is early 1960s Baltimore, Maryland, a city rife with racial problems representing the entire United States during that decade.

Our star, Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a chubby, bubbly, sixteen-year-old, who wants nothing more than to trudge through the school day and come home and indulge in her favorite television show, The Corny Collins Show, a popular local dance competition.

Tracy auditions for a spot on the show, and wins. She became an overnight celebrity, a trendsetter in dance, fun, and fashion. She and her fans hope that her new status as a teen sensation is enough to topple Corny’s reigning dance queen, Amber von Tussle (Brittany Snow), and bring racial integration to the show.

Amber’s racist mother, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer) manages the television station and thwarts Tracy’s efforts, leading to tension and a dance competition between Tracy and Amber.

The casting is a big part of the success. Blonsky, making her film debut, carries the film flawlessly. Both energetic and empathetic, she is the perfect girl next door and relatable for any young girl who is not a stick figure.

More broadly, she represents anybody who feels like a misfit or is put upon for not being classified as perfect. Her joy and sincerity as she sings and dances to “Good Morning, Baltimore” and “I Can Hear the Bells” is infectious and makes her a perfect protagonist.

The supporting cast is delightful and laden with A-list Hollywood stars having a ball with their over-the-top roles.

My favorite is John Travolta as Tracy’s mother and compadre, Edna. Fans of Hairspray know that Edna is always cast with a male actor in drag and Travolta is fantastic. His mannish body and movements only make the character more fun and fabulous.

And with his beehive hairdo and pink ribbon he is so darn cute!

Tracy’s father, Wilbur, is played by Christopher Walken. His love for his wife and daughter is sweet. Pfeiffer fuels her one-note character with venom as the racist woman gets her just due.

Director, Adam Shankman, puts the focus on the musical numbers, and that’s just fine. For added pleasure, he includes both John Waters and Rikki Lake (the original Tracy) in cameo roles, which is a treat for anyone who has seen the original.

The best numbers occur when the entire company joins in, especially the wonderful finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat”. Besides being musically contagious, the song sends an important message of progression and embracing change.

Despite the fluffy trimmings, the important message of racial inequality is not overlooked, nor does it feel dated in the year 2007.

Racism is still an issue. Justifiably so, the racist characters like Velma and Prudence Pingleton (Allison Janney) look ridiculous with outrageous fear for anyone different than themselves.

Tracy and her friends champion causes like racism, integration, and being true to oneself, which are themes at the heart of the film, along with the merry songs.

While I still prefer the 1988 version of Hairspray for more seediness and a colder vibe, Hairspray (2007) is a colorful rendition that exposes a new generation to the chirpy and danceable tunes while maintaining the important themes.

It’s a family-friendly affair and a very funny experience without sacrificing any credibility.