Tag: musical

Movie Review: Streets of Fire

Streets of Fire

I’ve seen Streets of Fire before. I watched it in 2014 and it was my 33rd favorite discovery of the year. Not great, but not bad either. I saw it got a Shout Factor release since then so I picked it up, remembering the amazing opening scene and the overall vibe fondly. Turns out my memories are pretty reliable. I liked Streets of Fire even more this time around, though my problems with it remain.

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Musical May 2014 Wrap-up

As you might have noticed if you follow me on Letterboxd, frequent the Filmspotting forum, or know me in real life, I spent much of the past month watching musicals. They were a big blind spot for me and I used the month to fill in some holes and add some depth to my understanding of the genre. Of course, I’m whatever the opposite of a genre-snob is, so I counted movies like That Thing You Do and Almost Famous alongside the more traditionally defined movies like Meet Me in St. Louis and Swing Time. Here’s the list of all the movies I watched and a quote from my full review, which can be found by clicking on the title of the movie. They’re listed in order of increasing quality.

12. Tommy

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A modicum of restraint might have gone a long way towards making this an enjoyable experience. Instead, everything is blown to its biggest possible proportion and then beyond that.

11. That Thing You Do

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Other things to like include most of the actors involved (even the perpetually bored Liv Tyler shows some vivaciousness and tenacity here) and the kind of shambolic plot progression, which hits all the notes you expect in a rise to fame kind of story but never feels entirely perfunctory thanks to Hanks’s twists on old tricks (see the band members run around a playground map of the US during a travel montage as a prime example).

10. Meet Me in St. Louis

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Garland is charming as ever, and the rest of the cast feels nicely lived in, rather than the, um, theatrical way that a lot of these musical actors can end up being. But the songs again didn’t get my toes tapping nor did they have me humming later.

9. Funny Face

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 Thoroughly enjoyable is about as high praise as I can give it, not that that’s a bad thing at all. Astaire and Hepburn have a tangible chemistry so strong that even the age difference isn’t that big a deal.

8. The Wizard of Oz

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The music is… ok. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is an undisputed classic for a reason, it’s a perfect combination of whimsy and nostalgia for a place she’s never been. “If I Only Had A Brain” is a delightfully play on what it means to be smart, but all of the other versions (Heart and Courage) don’t match up.

7. Swing Time

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Give me as much Astaire and Rogers singing and dancing as you possibly can, and ditch almost everything else. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy those more normal elements of the film, I mostly did. It’s more that those song and dance numbers are so freaking good that I could probably watch an entire movie of them.

6. Dancer in the Dark

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What makes this film stand out from those other two movies are the sheer power of Bjork’s half-horrible and half-amazing performance and the truly fantastic musical numbers. I’m not a fan of Bjork’s music but what she does here is really great, taking the emotional and thematic happenings and melting them into a musical melange which features a lot of percussion and diagetic sound becoming the rhythm and melody of the numbers.

5. Phantom of the Paradise

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I’ll admit that I don’t really love this style of music, and the end credit song which acts as a kiss-off to the villainous Swan, played delightfully by Paul Williams, is probably the best of the bunch, but at least I didn’t hate most of them.

4. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

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Things almost always follow the same sad-happy-sad-happy wave, and the technical showmanship is often the best element. So yes, the huge dance number and fight scene at the middle of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is the 1954 version of 2014 Godzilla (yes, I understand that the original Godzilla also came out in 1954). And that’s kind of awesome.

3. All That Jazz

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Gideon is played by Roy Scheider, whom I’ve only really seen in Jaws. Here he’s pretty much the opposite of Brody. In fact, though I probably wouldn’t have picked him to star in a musical, he gives the best male performance I’ve seen in this month-long marathon.

2. Almost Famous

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And now, “Tiny Dancer” will be about letting go of all the junk that we throw into our lives, all the pettiness with which we treat each other, and just embracing being alive, in our times and in our places and with the people around us. As the band and hangers-on join in with Elton John one by one the audience, too, follows suit and gets carried away in the moment. It’s a wonder.

1. The Sound of Music

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The opening scene has Julie Andrews as Maria enjoying a sunny afternoon on the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps. She sings the title song and basically just radiates joy. Throughout the course of the film, Andrews brought to mind light words. Radiant, incandescent, brilliant, luminous.

Alright, that’s the large picture. Let’s get a little more focused. Top 5 music scenes!

10. Tommy – “Pinball Wizard”

Despite my problems with the movie on the whole, this scene is a classic. Elton John makes most things better and I love the idea of competitive pinball played in a concert hall. Throw in the shoes and you’ve got a great scene in an otherwise terrible movie.

9. Meet Me in St. Louis – “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”

It’s sadder and slower than the more popular versions of the song, but this is the only song that really stood out to me from Meet Me in St. Louis. Garland is a treasure and plays the melancholy here perfectly.

8. All That Jazz – “You Better Change Your Ways”

This hails from the much weirder second half of the film as Fosse stand-in Joe Gideon wrestles with his mortality. It features the three women in his life pleading with him to change his bad habits and is directed by his more lively subconscious or something. I love the almost unnatural choreography here. If you’re going to do a dream scene you better make it appropriately strange!

7. Funny Face – I Feel Like Expressing Myself

This scene also features nutty dancing, but here it’s the ever wonderful Audrey Hepburn rebelling against the fashion world embodied by Fred Astaire by going silly and modern. It is goofy and impressive at the same time.

6. The Sound of Music – “The Lonely Goatherd”

Speaking of goofy, “The Lonely Goatherd” is a wonderfully absurd little interlude which has the most minor of plot importance but showcases just how much music can mean to a family. It is also another example of the ever-present awesomeness that is Julie Andrews.

5. All That Jazz – “On Broadway”

Whoever uploaded this video to Youtube called it Pure Cinema and I can’t really disagree. It’s impressive that Fosse is able to use his sense of timing and motion to not only capture dance on stage but to make it a uniquely cinematic expression of those ideas through his use of framing and editing. Remarkable, and lots of fun.

4. Swing Time – First Dance

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance. That should be enough to get you watching. What happened to the multifaceted star? Is Hugh Jackman the closest thing we have? That’s kinda sad.

3. Seven Brides For Seven Brothers – Barn Raising Dance

An amazing mix of dancing and gymnastics that uses the widescreen presentation perfectly and looks like the most fun anybody will ever have. I mean, those shirts. Seriously.

2. Almost Famous – “Tiny Dancer”

I went on at length about this song in my review. It’s one of those scenes that you’ll never forget.

1. The Sound of Music – “The Sound of Music”

It works astoundingly well as an introduction to the character of Maria, the landscape that plays such a large part in making the story feel real, and the theme of the power of music to lift, enhance, and propel us to our greatest heights.

 

All That Jazz (1979)

All that Jazz

No, nothing I ever do is good enough. Not beautiful enough, it’s not funny enough, it’s not deep enough, it’s not anything enough. Now, when I see a rose, that’s perfect. I mean, that’s perfect. I want to look up to God and say, “How the hell did you do that? And why the hell can’t I do that?”

There are some films that you can’t help but love, or at least admire greatly. The sheer audacity, the showmanship, the all-encompassing vision behind All That Jazz propels what might have been a super indulgent autobiography from director (and writer and choreographer) Bob Fosse into the stratosphere. Its assault on your discerning taste begins right from the jump, as we see what will become a refrain: the beginning of Fosse-stand-in Joe Gideon’s day which always features classical music, drugs, a smoke in the shower, and a pep talk in the mirror. Then, the film provides an early tell that it won’t be playing by the rules. Gideon goes to the casting call for his new show (analogous to Chicago) and, with “On Broadway” as our guide, a world-beating montage begins. Time is compressed, people are broken down to their component parts, all hands and legs and crotches, and Gideon smokes a lot. And from there you know everything you need to know. It’s another example of a superb start in this musical marathon which instantly grounds the audience in the world of the film and indicates exactly what the director’s vision will be.

Gideon is played by Roy Scheider, whom I’ve only really seen in Jaws. Here he’s pretty much the opposite of Brody. In fact, though I probably wouldn’t have picked him to star in a musical, he gives the best male performance I’ve seen in this month-long marathon. He’s always sweating, but that doesn’t stop him from charming the pants off of everybody he meets, quite literally. As the film transitions in the second half into a much different tone he rides the change nicely, still playing the same womanizer but now with a degree of self-loathing that was more hidden in the early goings. He’s joined by Leland Palmer as his ex-wife, who does the seen-it-all thing very nicely and humanizes Gideon, Ann Reinking as his current beau who demonstrates just how well he plays his cards because, damn, is she beautiful and talented, and Erzsébet Földi as his young daughter whose scenes provide glimpses at how great a father he could be if he weren’t stretching himself so thin.

This is a movie about creativity, dedication, obsession, life and death, and dance. As such, Fosse often stages, edits, and dreams up some wonderful scenes which wrap all of these elements into one glorious mess of a movie. If you aren’t wrapped up from the beginning there’s a heavy chance that you’ll grow to hate everything that’s happening here. And I can’t really deny that as being a valid reaction. It’s so over the top, so in your face with the ideas it is tackling that it could just as easily be genius as pretentious. I loved it, though perhaps just slightly less than I could have. There are a few scenes which seem to exist simply to do things that movies in the late 70’s do. These lack the exciting invention of those other, spectacular scenes. Not often is a movie such a fulfilling experience. All That Jazz is all that a movie can be: motion, images, editing, sounds, character, theme, story, and music.

The Sound of Music (1965)

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The Sound of Music was a favorite in my house. My little sister was kind of obsessed with it so I must have watched it four or five times in its entirety before the age of 10 or so, but I hadn’t revisited it since those early years until yesterday. I knew I wanted to have some revisits in this musical month and fond memories coupled with finding a Blu-Ray copy of it for pretty cheap to make for a perfect preamble to the viewing experience. As I sat down to watch the film I warned my roommmate that I’d probably at least hum along to most of the songs and he scoffed at me. It’s not like I break out into show tunes at the drop of a hat or anything, so I guess I don’t project that I’ve had these songs locked up in my head for the last fifteen years. Well, I was right, not only did I remember most of the melodies for things like “Maria” and “The Lonely Goatherd,” I also remembered (and sang) many of the lyrics to “I Have Confidence” and “Do-Re-Mi” and “My Favorite Things”. I guess this probably isn’t a huge revelation – music will stick with you longer than most things – but it wasn’t surprise that I felt at my remembered abilities, it was joy at finding an old friend better than I had left it.

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Let’s start at the very beginning. The opening scene has Julie Andrews as Maria enjoying a sunny afternoon on the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps. She sings the title song and basically just radiates joy. Throughout the course of the film, Andrews brought to mind light words. Radiant, incandescent, brilliant, luminous. “The Sound of Music” goes a long way towards defining the character as a dreamer who has trouble telling which way to go and what to do when she gets there. The next song, “Maria,” again defines her in contrast with the strict nunnery she begins the film in. There she is called a flibberty-gibbit and a cloud. Then, after she is sent out into the world we have the third and final defining song, and maybe the best in the lot: “I Have Confidence.” I mean, just how great can a thing be? Andrews starts slow and unsure but becomes convinced by her own words that she has the confidence to go into a scary situation and leave the comfort of the abbey. It’s like a song made specifically for college graduates who have no idea what they’re doing. Or, maybe that’s just how this college graduate saw it. Not only is it a great song, the visuals also seem to push her towards her destiny. Director Robert Wise is smart to employ an increasingly kinetic camera throughout this song as Maria builds her steam and begins to run towards the giant house she’ll be occupying for the rest of the film. It ends with a side tracking shot as Maria runs past the fountain in the driveway and trips for all of her enthusiasm, but picks up where she left off and goes even faster up to the door. Talk about a character introduction. Andrews is consistently amazing here, playing each emotional note with pitch perfect clarity. Just watch her, you’ll see one of the best performances of all time as she deals with a distant employer, stubborn kids, and begins to warm them through the power of her own joy. I keep trying to pick out which song is her song. Is it “Do-Re-Mi” and it’s impressive optimism mixed with a brilliant music lesson? Or maybe it’s “My Favorite Things,” which might be one of the biggest reasons why I’ve always liked stormy nights. Maria melts the heart of the cold Captain von Trapp in the middle and it’s almost a foregone conclusion. Is there anybody who could resist her charms?

It’s not just Maria, though, that makes this movie so great. All of those previous viewings I had of the film were on VHS with it’s horrible pan-and-scan presentation. Only this time did I see the wonderful widescreen glory of the locations and framing of scenes like the performance at the Folk Festival at the end of the film. There the darkness is oppressive as the Nazi threat looms large and the von Trapps seem only safe in the bright spotlight on stage. It’s the opposite of the comforting darkness of the Abbey. There, Maria has few options but it’s also less dangerous. The majesty of the von Trapp house and the surrounding lands were felt over and over again throughout this viewing of the film. It’s an excellent demonstration of just how breathtaking those old Hollywood gigantic productions could be.

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It’s not a perfect film, of course. The second half, after the intermission, gets a little long in the tooth, though I like the mounting menace the Nazi flags everywhere symbolize. The second half also kind of rests on its laurels as it is content to reprise most of the songs from the first half, remixing them to be slower and more melancholic and throwing in different performers for some variety. It works, actually, quite well, but I might have enjoyed one or two more new songs rather than those reprises (the second version of “My Favorite Things” also has the best part of the whole movie in it). And as generally good as Christopher Plummer is, here he can’t hold much of a candle to Julie Andrews. He should be Atticus Finch-like in his dedication to his country and is family and instead he comes off as kind of disinterested. Every once in a while he has a winning moment, but they’re too few and far between. These are mostly nitpicks. After the first half I was ready to put The Sound of Music in my top 10 of all time. Once the whole film was finished it probably lands just outside of that list. Only just, though, as the brilliance of Julie Andrews and Wise go a very very long way towards making a truly great film, and the fantastic cast of kids push it up into to that rarefied air. “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” indeed.