Monday, October 17, 2011

Review: "Chicago" is Bold and Splash (Happy B'day, Rob Marshall)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 35 (of 2003) by Leroy Douresseaux

Chicago (2002)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for sexual content and dialogue, violence and thematic elements
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
WRITER: Bill Condon (based upon the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins and the musical by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb)
PRODUCER: Martin Richards
EDITOR: Martin Walsh
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman
2003 Academy Award winner

MUSICAL/CRIME/DRAMA with elements of comedy

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly, Lucy Liu, Taye Diggs, Colm Feore, Christine Baranski, Dominic West, and Mya

Adulterous Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) kills her lover after he boldly admits lying to her and stringing her along. Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) kills her song and dance partner sister and her own husband when she catches them knocking boots. Both end up in the same dark and dank prison awaiting trial, clients of William “Billy” Flynn (Richard Gere), a flamboyant lawyer who specializes in representing gals who’ve killed their husbands and lovers. Under the tutelage of Matron “Mama” Morton (Queen Latifah), the girls struggle to escape the gallows for their crimes and strive for fame in scandal laden 1920’s Chicago.

Yes, it’s good, damn good. Director/choreographer Rob Marshall’s Chicago, a film version of the famed musical, is a thoroughly enjoyable and invigorating film spectacle. If this and Moulin Rouge! represent what the return of film musicals will look like, we are in for a treat. Marshall choreographed “Annie” and “Rodger and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” for television. In his film, he creates lavish and electrical dance scenes of the musical’s songs and integrates them with the dark and gritty world of 20’s Chicago. The colorful staged renditions of the songs flit back and forth showing us the idealized worlds of the characters, juxtaposed against the brutal frankness of their real world. The dance numbers are stirring and attention grabbing, as visually attractive as anything on MTV.

Screenwriter Bill Condon, who won an Academy Award for writing his film Gods and Monsters, does an excellent job composing a story that can compete with the energy and electricity of the songs. That’s no easy feat. Condon had to structure the story so that we would be as interested in it as we were thrilled by the songs. Chicago’s central story is rife with engaging tension and conflict and with characters we can support along every step of their treacherous journey.

Can Ms. Zellweger, Ms. Zeta-Jones, and Mr. Gere sing and dance? The answer is a resounding “yes!” Seeing them in the staged numbers and in the story scenes is like watching six different performers. I had a hard time believing the actors and singer/dancers were the same people; I know these performers and to see them pull off these performances is a revelation. I didn’t know Gere had it in him. It’s simply stunning and worth every minute of your time to watch.

The supporting performances are quite nice. Queen Latifah’s presence asserts itself strongly on the film; it often seems as if Mama is the puppeteer backstage directing events. Taye Diggs adds a sense of style to the film, and John C. Reilly quietly adds a sense of innocence and moral dignity to a story of people ready to grab fame at any costs.

Chicago, like Moulin Rouge!, is not like your average film. In fact, it’s very different from most quality and “serious” films. Like a good drama, it’s thoughtful; like the best action movies, it’s quite explosive. Chicago is a dream work, a film that is as visually rambunctious as the best music videos, but with the strong story and characters that you can take to heart – a must see movie.

8 of 10

2003 Academy Awards: 6 wins: “Best Picture” (Martin Richards), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Zeta-Jones), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (John Myhre-art director and Gordon Sim-set decorator), “Best Costume Design” (Colleen Atwood), “Best Film Editing” (Martin Walsh), and “Best Sound” (Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella, and David Lee); 6 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (John C. Reilly), “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Renée Zellweger), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Queen Latifah), “Best Cinematography” (Dion Beebe), “Best Director” (Rob Marshall), “Best Music, Original Song” (John Kander-music and Fred Ebb-lyrics for the song "I Move On"), and “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Bill Condon)

2003 BAFTA Awards: 2 wins: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and “Best Sound” (Michael Minkler, Dominick Tavella, David Lee, and Maurice Schell); 10 nominations: “Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music” (Danny Elfman, John Kander, and Fred Ebb), “Best Cinematography” (Dion Beebe), “Best Costume Design” (Colleen Atwood), “Best Editing” (Martin Walsh), “Best Film” (Martin Richards), “Best Make Up/Hair” (Jordan Samuel and Judi Cooper-Sealy), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Renée Zellweger), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role” (Queen Latifah), “Best Production Design” (John Myhre), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Rob Marshall)

2003 Golden Globes: 3 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Martin Richards), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Richard Gere), and “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Renée Zellweger); 5 nominations: “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Rob Marshall), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (John C. Reilly), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Catherine Zeta-Jones), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture” (Queen Latifah), and “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Bill Condon)

2003 Black Reel Awards: 1 win: “Theatrical - Best Supporting Actress” (Queen Latifah)


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