Showing posts with label Musical. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musical. Show all posts

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Review: "THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW" is Always Waiting For Us

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 25 of 2023 (No. 1914) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – R
DIRECTOR:  Jim Sharman
WRITERS:  Jim Sharman and Richard O'Brien (based on the original musical play by Richard O'Brien)
PRODUCER:  Michael White
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Peter Suschitsky (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Graeme Clifford
COMPOSER:  Richard Hartley
SONGS: Richard O'Brien

MUSICAL/COMEDY/SCI-FI and FANTASY/HORROR

Starring:  Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Peter Hinwood, Jonathan Adams, Meat Load, and Charles Gray

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a 1975 comedy-horror and musical fantasy film directed by Jim Sharman.  The film is written by Sharman and Richard O'Brien and is based based on the 1973 musical stage production, The Rocky Horror Show, for which O'Brien wrote the music, lyrics, and book.  Both the film and stage musical pay tribute to the science fiction and B-movie horror films that appeared in theaters from the 1930s to the 1960s.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show follows a newly-engaged couple who, because of car trouble, seeks shelter at a castle-like country home that is populated by bizarre guests and an even more bizarre host.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show introduces a naive young couple, Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon).  It is late November, and the couple are attending the wedding of their friends, Ralph Haphschatt (Jeremy Newson) and Betty Monroe (Hilary Labow), at Denton Episcopalian Church.  Brad and Janet get engaged after the wedding and decide to celebrate with their high school science teacher, Dr. Everett Scott (Jonathan Adams).

In Brad's car, the duo are en route to Scott's house on a dark and rainy night when they get lost and then get a flat tire.  Needing a telephone to call for help, the couple walk to a nearby castle.  There, they find the place in the throes of a rowdy party.  The guests are both flamboyantly dressed and bizarre.  What is even more bizarre however, is the host, the transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), who is about to unveil his latest creation.  There are two things of which Brad and Janet are unaware.  The first is Frank-N-Furter is from the planet “Transsexual,” located in the galaxy “Transylvania.”  The second is that at some point in the future, their story will be narrated by a noted criminologist (Charles Gray).

When The Rocky Horror Picture Show was initially released in the United States in the early fall of 1975, it was not well-received by either critics or audiences.  However, by the spring of 1976, the film's infamous cult following began, thanks to midnight showings, first in and around New York City, and then, spreading throughout the U.S.  Soon, fans in costume were performing alongside the film.

Dear readers, I must admit that I have never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show in a theater.  I first saw it in the late 1980s via a Japanese import or bootleg copy at the science fiction, fantasy, and gaming convention, CoastCon (I believe), in Biloxi, Mississippi.  It was a wild screening, and I freaked out when audience members jumped out of their seats and started performing bits from the film.

As some of you may know, Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail service – currently known as DVDNetflix or DVD.com.  I decided to spend some of these final months on this beloved service re-watching favorite films and well as trying some older films that I have never seen.  Watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show seemed like the right thing to do as a sendoff to the service that I used to build my movie review blog, Negromancer.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is indeed a tribute to science fiction, B-movie, and monster films.  There are references to such films as Universal Pictures' Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935), RKO's King Kong (1933), Hammer Films' The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), Fox's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), and MGM's Forbidden Planet (1956), to name a few.

However, Rocky Horror's punk rock fashions, colorfully dyed hair, corsets, torn fishnet stockings, glitter, androgyny, and sex and violence are more important than its haunted mansion, secret labs, rival scientists, and sci-fi angles.  For me, this film is about having a good time and being liberated.  Sometimes, the film may seem like it is being outrageous for the sake of being outrageous, but one of its final songs personifies the film for me, “Fanfare/Don't Dream It, Be It.”  It's okay to look like you want to and to be what you want to.  And yes, it's okay to be turned on by both Susan Sarandon in her unmentionables and Barry Bostwick in his Jockey classic Y-front briefs.

I can certainly point to Tim Curry's legendary performance as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but everyone, from the filmmakers, cast, and crew to the artisans, craftsman, and technicians that brought the sets and costumes to life, made The Rocky Horror Picture Show memorable and, for many, unforgettable.  I can't forget the songs, so I need a soundtrack album.  Meat Loaf makes the most of his short time on screen.  The narrator turns out to be hoot.  Even the passing of DVDNetflix won't stop me from seeing this show again.  The music, the songs, the cast, and the setting seem as if they will never let me forget that part of me belongs, at least for a little while, at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

8 of 10
A
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, June 15, 2023


NOTES:
2005 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry


The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.

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Saturday, May 27, 2023

Review: Halle Bailey is the Heart of Disney's Eye-Popping "THE LITTLE MERMAID"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 23 of 2023 (No. 1912) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Little Mermaid (2023)
Running time: 135 minutes (2 hours, 15 minutes)
MPA – PG for action/peril and some scary images
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
WRITER: David Magee
PRODUCERS: John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Marc Platt
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dion Beebe (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Wyatt Smith
COMPOSER: Alan Menken
SONGS: Howard Ashman (lyrics), Alan Menken (music), and Lin-Manuel Miranda (new lyrics)

FANTASY/DRAMA/FAMILY

Starring:  Halle Bailey, Jonah Hauer-King, Norma Dumezweni, Art Malik, and Javier Bardem and Melissa McCarthy and the voices of Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina

The Little Mermaid is a 2023 fantasy musical and drama film directed by Rob Marshall and released by Walt Disney Pictures.  It is a live-action remake of Disney's 1989, Oscar-winning, animated film, The Little Mermaid.  Both films are loosely based on “The Little Mermaid,” the literary fairy tale authored by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1837.  The Little Mermaid 2023 focuses on a young mermaid who longs to live in the human world and makes a terrible deal to do so.

The Little Mermaid introduces Ariel (Halle Bailey), a mermaid princess and the youngest daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), ruler of the merpeople.  Ariel is fascinated with the human world despite never having seen it, as Triton forbids all merfolk from going to the surface.  However, Ariel collects human objects that sink below the surface of the sea.  She hides them in a grotto with the support of her best friends, Flounder (voice of Jacob Tremblay), a fish, and Scuttle (voice of Awkwafina), a seabird.  Furious that Ariel has missed a meeting with him and her sisters, Triton commands Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), a crab, to watch over her.

Ariel eventually swims to the surface where she comes upon a human sea vessel.  The ship, from an isolated island kingdom, is commanded by kingdom's Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King).  Eric tells his confidant, Sir Grimsby (Art Malik), the kingdom's Prime Minister, that he wishes to explore the unknown seas in a bid to help his people, but he knows that his mother, Queen Selina (Norma Dumezweni), is against such exploration.  Hearing that, Ariel considers Eric a kindred spirit.

After she saves Eric's life, Ariel is determined to visit him on his island home, but as a mermaid, she does not have legs.  Fortunately … the sea witch, Ursula (Melissa McCarthy), says that she has the magic that can make Ariel human so that she can be with Prince Eric.  However, the price is Ariel's beautiful singing voice, and, unknown to her, the fates of her father, their kingdom, and Eric.

I was not sure how Disney would pull off creating the undersea world of The Little Mermaid, especially the merfolk and other sea creatures.  Silly me: in the wake of Avatar: The Way of Water, The Little Mermaid could certainly pull off a water world that isn't nearly as ambitious as Avatar's – and still look good.  Under the sea and on land, the production design, art direction, set decoration, costumes, and environments are all dazzling.  The result is a stunningly beautiful film in which the undersea world looks a real, but still magical environment.  The island kingdom of Queen Selina seems like a kind of Caribbean utopia-lite, but it is both fantastical and inviting.  I want to see more of it.

The computer imagery creates merpeople that are beautiful, although it is not until the end of the film that we see the full dazzling array of merfolk, no two looking alike.  The special effects that turn Halle Bailey into a mermaid is try cinematic magic; she is a flawless, beautiful creature.  Ariel's trio of animal friends and helpers: Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle resemble real animals, and I was surprised how good Sebastian looked.  I thought he'd be a disaster as a CGI animal.

The performances – both acting and voice roles – are one of the elements that really makes The Little Mermaid work.  Daveed Diggs, Jacob Tremblay, and Awkwafina give winning voice performances as Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle, respectively.  Jonah Hauer-King as Prince Eric holds his own next to Halle Bailey as Ariel, which is not easy.  Melissa McCarthy is shockingly good as Ursula, and I didn't expect that.  I was sure she could not pull it off, although I am a fan of her work.  Her performance, which takes inspiration from the late actor, singer, and drag queen legend, Divine, gives this film the dark fairy magic energy that it needs.

Screenwriter David Magee cleverly spins something new out of old sources, but he is also respectful of the original film.  What the new film lacks in the original's charm, it makes up for by seeming more consequential.  Magee also benefits from having the classic songs of the late lyricist, Howard Ashman (1950-1991), and composer, Alan Menken, from The Little Mermaid 1989.  Also, contrary to some complaints, Lin-Manuel Miranda's new songs and new lyrics for two of the original songs both serve this film quite well.

The true star of this film is Halle Bailey, however.  Rob Marshall makes the most of Halle's natural gifts, especially her soaring singing voice, photogenic looks, and winning personality.  The ads for this film are not lying; when Halle sings, the waters part.  With Halle as his star, Marshall delivers his version The Little Mermaid that can stand on its own, apart from the Walt Disney animated classic that is its source.  Yes, I find The Little Mermaid 2023 to be a tad bit too long, but I was surprised.  The Little Mermaid is much better than I expected, and it feels like a true Disney fairy tale film.

7 of 10
A-
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, May 27, 2023


The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Thursday, September 29, 2022

Review: Baz Luhrmann's "ELVIS" Reveals That White People Ruined Presley

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 55 of 2022 (No. 1867) by Leroy Douresseaux

Elvis (2022)
Running time:  159 minutes (2 hours, 39 minutes)
MPA – PG-13 for substance abuse, strong language, suggestive material and smoking
DIRECTOR:  Baz Luhrmann
WRITERS:  Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, and Jeremy Doner; from a story by Baz Luhrmann and Jeremy Doner
PRODUCERS:  Baz Luhrmann, Gail Berman, Catherine Martin, Patrick McCormick, and Schuyler Weiss
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Mandy Walker (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Jonathan Redmond and Matt Villa
COMPOSER:  Elliot Wheeler

BIOPIC/HISTORICAL

Starring:  Austin Butler, Tom Hanks, Olivia DeJonge, Helen Thomson, Richard Roxburgh, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., David Wenham, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Luke Bracey, Dacre Montgomery, Leon Ford, Gary Clark, Jr., Yola, Natasha Bassett, Xavier Samuel, Adam Dunn, Shonka Dukureh, and Chaydon Jay

Elvis is a 2022 biopic, musical drama, and historical film from director Baz Luhrmann.  The film is an overview and fictional account of the life of Elvis Presley (1935–1977), the singer, songwriter, performer, and actor best known as simply “Elvis” and also as the “King of Rock and Roll.”  Elvis the movie examines his life – from his childhood to his rise to cultural icon status – and his complicated relationship with his notorious manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Elvis opens in 1997 and introduces Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).  After suffering a stroke, he is on his deathbed.  His gambling addiction has left him broke, but once upon a time, he was somebody.  He was both famous and infamous.  He was the manager of Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll.

Early in his life, Elvis Aaron Presley (Chaydon Jay) was a just a kid whose family had moved into a housing project in the white section of an African-American neighborhood in Memphis, Tennessee (1948).  Elvis' family was poor, and his father was in prison.  Elvis, already familiar with country music, became steeped in the gospel music of the nearby Black churches and also in the rhythm and blues of the Black clubs and music halls on Memphis' Beale Street.

Later (1955), when Colonel Parker meets the now adult Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), he is making waves as a young singer and guitarist.  Parker is already partnered with country singer, Hank Snow (David Wenham), when he hears Elvis, a young white artist who sounds black, especially on the groundbreaking single, “That's All Right.”

Soon, Parker is managing Elvis, and the young man's stage performances are making him very popular with young people, especially young women, who are driven crazy by Elvis' salacious wiggling legs, swinging hips, and thrusting pelvis.  Under Parker's management, Elvis begins a meteoric rise to stardom, but his stage act is drawing the ire of white people who don't want their kids exposed to Black music and culture.  To save Elvis from trouble, Colonel Parker exerts more control over Elvis' music, performances, and life, but what will that do to Parker and Elvis' already complex relationship?

Hard as it is to believe, Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann has only directed six films in his thirty-year career, beginning with his 1992 debut, Strictly Ballroom, which I have never seen.  Other than Elvis, I have only seen Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001), and I have only reviewed the latter.

Elvis is like Moulin Rouge!, a flashy, fast-moving musical drama with excellent production values.  Everything about Elvis is lavish, spectacular, fabulous and beautiful.  The production design, art direction, and sets are the most beautiful that I have seen this year and maybe in a long time.  The costumes, regardless of the characters' wealth and social status, are gorgeous (the only word I can think of).  The cinematography and lighting create a world of fantasy, and the film editing manages to convey the seemingly incalculable number of moods and emotions that Luhrmann wants the audience for Elvis to experience.

The soundtrack is filled with Presley's iconic recordings, including some sung by Austin Butler.  There are a number of famous gospel and blues songs performed by their legendary originators.  There are also modern jams, some reinterpretations of classic songs, including the work of Elvis.

Simply put, Austin Butler makes you believe that he is Elvis Presley.  Butler seems to channel everything that made Elvis an icon and a legend.  Even Elvis' ex-wife, Priscilla, and daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, were awed by Butler's performance.  For anyone to beat Butler to the Oscar this year, they will have to be as amazing as him.

As for the entire film:  Elvis is at its best when it chronicles Elvis' rise before he enters the military service (the U.S. Army 1958-60).  When Elvis is close to his Memphis roots and hanging around Black singers and performers, he is happy and so is the film.  Post-military, the film is still beautiful to look like, but the film takes a darker turn as Elvis is disconnected from his roots and becomes surrounded by white people, most of whom are parasites.  And the ones that are not parasites are manipulators.

Tom Hanks' Colonel Tom Parker is one of the most ridiculously awful and awfully ridiculous film characters that I have ever seen.  Hanks' Parker is like a mix of “Pennywise the Clown” from the It films (based on the Stephen King books) and a mangy elf.  Parker epitomizes the morass that drags at the film for most of its running time.  Hanks' Parker does make one of the film's themes obvious and true.  Maybe, Elvis and Parker snowed themselves as much as they snowed each other.

My grade reflects how much I like this film's production values, music, and Austin Butler's performance.  Butler is the shining light of Elvis.  I could watch him play Elvis Presley again – in a better film.

6 of 10
B
★★★ out of 4 stars


Thursday, September 29, 2022


The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.

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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Review: "LA LA LAND" Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda Been Great

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 40 of 2022 (No. 1852) by Leroy Douresseaux

La La Land (2016)
Running time:  128 minutes (2 hours, 8 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for some language
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Damien Chazelle
PRODUCERS:  Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Linus Sandgren (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Tom Cross
COMPOSER:  Justin Hurwitz
SONGS: Justin Hurwitz and Pasek & Paul; Justin Hurwitz, John Legend, Marius de Vries and Angelique Cinelu
Academy Award winner

MUSICAL/DRAMA

Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, and John Legend

La La Land is a 2016 romantic film and musical drama written and directed by Damien Chazelle.  The film focuses on a struggling jazz pianist and an aspiring actress who fall in love while navigating their career paths in Los Angeles.

La La Land opens in Los Angeles, California.  While stuck in a typical L.A. traffic, aspiring actress, Mia Dolan (Emma Stone), has a moment of road rage directed at Sebastian “Seb” Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a struggling jazz pianist.  Mia has a hard day of work at her coffee shop job, and her subsequent audition goes awry.  Sebastian is fired from a gig at a restaurant after he slips in some jazz improvisation despite the owner's (J.K. Simmons) warning to only play traditional Christmas music.  Attracted to the Seb's music, Mia walks into the restaurant and witnesses the firing.  She tries to compliment his music, but Seb rudely walks past her.

Eventually, Fate brings them together at a party.  Soon, they are sharing their dreams and start becoming a couple.  Both have to reconcile their aspirations for the future, however, and as their career paths veer, can they stay a couple?

La La Land almost won the Academy Award for “Best Picture,” but didn't.  La La Land could have been a great film, but it really isn't.  The film's leads, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, are fine actors, and they are true movie stars.  [I don't see anything in Stone's performance here that is worthy of the “Best Actress” Oscar she won.]  The camera seems to love them, and they look great on the big screen – as the sayings go – but as hard as they try, their characters are limp.  Stone's Mia has potential, but remains surprisingly vapid, except for a few moments.  Sebastian is pretentious and insufferable, although he is intriguing.

The material that makes up this film's screenplay, written by Damien Chazelle, is a shallow interpretation of the musicals of “old Hollywood” (also known as the “Golden Age of Hollywood”).  Chazelle may be a fan of such old musicals, but his love cannot recreate the genuine spirit and aesthetic of them.  If you, dear readers, are familiar with classic Hollywood musicals, you will recognize that this film ties to be old-fashioned, but comes across as a pretender.

The film's score is quite good, and it has one great song “City of Stars” (which keeps playing in my head).  Most of the rest of the songs are technically proficient, but are exceedingly dull.  There is one more decent song (can't remember which one) and a catchy tune, “Catch a Fire,” co-written and performed by John Legend.

Still, La La Land has moments of brilliance.  Mia and Sebastian's meeting on a bench at Griffith Park is filled with movie magic, and the film's final moment recalls the semi-tragic mood of Casablanca.  The production values are terrific, including the Oscar-winning art direction and set decoration, and the Oscar-winning cinematography is some of the prettiest I have seen in the last decade.  Even the Oscar-nominated costume design is worthy of a win.

I can see why Barry Jenkins' Moonlight wowed enough voters to win the Oscar for “Best Picture” of 2016 over La La Land.  Moonlight is a fascinating character study, while La La Land is flashy cinematic bauble with caricatures.  It is technically proficient, but every good moment is met by a flat and dull moment.  La La Land is the film that could have been great, and should have been great, but ended up being just very good.

7 of 10
B+
★★★½ out of 4 stars



NOTES:
2017 Academy Awards, USA:  6 wins: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Emma Stone), “Best Achievement in Directing” (Damien Chazelle), “Best Achievement in Cinematography” (Linus Sandgren), “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Score” (Justin Hurwitz), “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Justin Hurwitz-music and Benj Pasek-lyrics and Justin Paul-lyrics for the song, “City of Stars”), and “Best Achievement in Production Design” (David Wasco for production design and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco for set decoration); 8 nominations: “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Ryan Gosling), “Best Original Screenplay” (Damien Chazelle), “Best Achievement in Film Editing” (Tom Cross), “Best Achievement in Costume Design” (Mary Zophres), “Best Achievement in Sound Mixing” (Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee, and Steven Morrow), “Best Achievement in Sound Editing” (Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou), and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Justin Hurwitz-music and Benj Pasek-lyrics and Justin Paul-lyrics for the song, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”)

2017 BAFTA Awards:  5 wins: “Best Film” (Fred Berger, Jordan Horowitz, and Marc Platt), “Best Leading Actress” (Emma Stone), “Best Cinematography” (Linus Sandgren), “Original Music” (Justin Hurwitz), and “David Lean Award for Direction” (Damien Chazelle); 6 nominations: “Best Leading Actor” (Ryan Gosling), “Best Screenplay-Original” (Damien Chazelle), “Best Editing” (Tom Cross), “Best Production Design” (Sandy Reynolds-Wasco and David Wasco), “Best Costume Design” (Mary Zophres), and “Best Sound” (Mildred Iatrou, Ai-Ling Lee, Steven Morrow, and Andy Nelson)

2017 Golden Globes, USA:  7 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy,” “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Ryan Gosling), “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Emma Stone), “Best Director - Motion Picture” (Damien Chazelle), “Best Screenplay - Motion Picture” (Damien Chazelle), “Best Original Song-Motion Picture” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul for the song: “City of Stars”), and “Best Original Score - Motion Picture” (Justin Hurwitz)


Saturday, July 2, 2022


The text is copyright © 2022 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Saturday, December 25, 2021

Review: Crosby and Astaire Keep "HOLIDAY INN" Open with Crooning and Hoofing

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 73 of 2021 (No. 1811) by Leroy Douresseaux

Holiday Inn (1942)
Running time:  101 minutes (1 hour, 41 minutes)
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Mark Sandrich
WRITERS:  Claude Binyon-screenplay; Elmer Rice-adaptation (based on an idea by Irving Berlin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  David Abel (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Ellsworth Hoagland
COMPOSERS:  Irving Berlin (songs and music); Robert Emmett Dolan (musical direction)
Academy Award winner

MUSICAL/COMEDY/ROMANCE

Starring:  Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon, Marek Windheim, James Bell, John Gallaudet, Shelby Bacon, and Joan Arnold

Holiday Inn is a 1942 musical, comedy and romance film from director Mark Sandrich.  The film is based on an idea by legendary American song writer and composer, Irving Berlin, who also wrote twelve songs specifically for this film.  The most famous of the film's songs is “White Christmas,” which went on to be the biggest hit record in the career of one of Holiday Inn's stars, Bing Crosby, and also the best selling record of all time.  Holiday Inn is set at an inn that is open only on holidays, and the story focuses on a love triangle involving a singer, a dancer, and a beautiful up-and-coming young female performer.

Holiday Inn opens on Christmas Eve at the Midnight Club in New York City.  Crooner (singer) Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby), hoofer (dancer) Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), and signer-dancer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) have a popular musical act.  Jim plans for tonight to be his last performance.  He is retiring and moving to Midville, Connecticut where he will be a farmer.  Jim wants Lila to retire with him, and she has previously accepted his marriage proposal.  However, she has fallen in love with Ted and wants to continue working as his partner in a new act.  Jim accepts this and bids them goodbye.

Over the next year, Jim does not have much success running a farm.  So on Christmas Eve, a year after he retired, Jim is back in NYC.  He tells Ted and his agent, Danny Reed (Walter Abel), that he wants to turn the farm into an entertainment venue that opens only on holidays.  He has named it the “Holiday Inn.”  Ted and Danny are amused at the idea, and Ted is not interested in performing there.

However,
Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), an aspiring young singer and dancer, does find her way to the Holiday Inn.  There, she finds Jim, his African-American housekeeper, Mamie (Louise Beavers), and her two small children, son Vanderbilt (Shelby Bacon) and daughter Daphne (Joan Arnold).  The homey feeling that permeates the Inn and Jim's new song, “White Christmas,” convince Linda to stay.  But old rivals are conspiring to return and ruin Jim's plans again.

First, I have to be honest with you, dear readers.  I never really watched very much of those Bing Crosby holiday television specials that ran decades ago and now, still occasionally pop up on vintage TV channels.  I do, however, love to watch the films in which he appeared.  The man dazzles me, and I just love his singing voice.  He doesn't need to try hard; he seems to be amazing just naturally.

Watching Holiday Inn for the first time just recently also gave me a chance to really start to appreciate Fred Astaire.  He's amazing on film, and now, I see why the late “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson, was such a fan of his.  It's the same as Crosby – he doesn't even have to try hard.  Astaire just seems naturally an incredible dancer and performer.

The production values on Holiday Inn are beautiful, obviously so even in black and white.  In fact, Holiday Inn features some of the most beautiful and sharp black and white photography that I have ever seen in a Golden Age Hollywood film.  Director Mark Sandrich, a highly respected director in his day, makes this simple story, with its nonsensical plots and narrative, seem like it is almost high art.

Crosby and Astaire's co-stars, Marjorie Reynolds (as Linda) and Virginia Dale (as Lila), are also delightful, especially Reynolds in a larger role than Dale's.  Reynolds makes Linda seem like the equal, in terms of stage performance, of both Jim and Ted.  They bring Irving Berlin's wonderful songs to life with the kind of professionalism and skill that makes such songs into hits or at least into memorable tunes.  Besides the great “White Christmas,” there are a number of stand-out songs in this film, such as “Happy Holiday” and “Be Careful, It's My Heart.”

Like some Hollywood films from the first half of the twentieth-century, Holiday Inn has characters in “blackface,” which is when White actors blacken their face to play racist and stereotypical caricatures of Black people.  In this film, it occurs during the “Lincoln's Birthday” holiday performance when Crosby's Jim and Reynold's Linda perform a song called “Abraham.”  Crosby's blackface makeup is not the worst that I have seen, but Reynold's get-up, a sort of female “picaninny” with fake ponytails radiating from her head like sunbeams, is horrible.  However, the song “Abraham” is weak, and the sequence in which it is performed is forgettable.  Honestly, I had forgotten the song, the performance, and the blackface less than a minute after it finished.

For me, Holiday Inn is a magical Christmas movie.  No, the film does not depict all 15 holidays that Jim plans to celebrate at the Holiday Inn, but the ones that really count seem to be Christmas Eve-Christmas and New Year's Eve-New Year's Day.  And in these moments, the film is most lovable and at its most enchanting.  Holiday Inn is not my favorite Christmas movie.  That would be the Holiday Inn semi-remake, 1954's White Christmas (also starring Bing Crosby), which takes its inspiration and title from the beloved song.  Still, Holiday Inn is special because it introduced the biggest Christmas song of all time, Irving Berlin's “White Christmas.”  For that reason, I will always try to find my way back to Holiday Inn … especially during the Christmas season.

8 of 10
A

Saturday, December 25, 2021


1943 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Music, Original Song” (Irving Berlin for the song “White Christmas”); 2 nominations: “Best Writing, Original Story” (Irving Berlin) and “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture” (Robert Emmett Dolan)


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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: All Black Cast is Glorious in "CARMEN JONES"

[For her performance as the title character in Carmen Jones, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American actress to be nominated for the “Academy Award for Best Actress.” Dandridge was also the first Black actor nominated for an Oscar in a leading role category, besting by four years Sidney Poitier, the first Black man nominated for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (for 1958's The Defiant Ones). Dandridge was dead a little under 11 years after the release of Carmen Jones.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 of 2021 (No. 1743) by Leroy Douresseaux

Carmen Jones (1954)
Running time:  105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Otto Preminger    
WRITERS: Harry Kleiner (screenplay); Oscar Hammerstein 2nd (lyrics and book); (based on the opera by Georges Bizet)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Sam Leavitt (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Louis R. Loeffler    
COMPOSERS:  Herschel Burke Gilbert (musical director); Georges Bizet (original music)
Academy Award nominee

MUSICAL/DRAMA/ROMANCE

Starring:  Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Joe Adams, Brock Peters, Roy Daniels, Nick Stewart, and Diahann Carroll

Carmen Jones is a 1954 American musical film produced and directed by Otto Preminger.  It is a film version of Oscar Hammerstein II's 1943 stage musical, Carmen Jones.  Hammerstein wrote the book (story) and lyrics to Carmen Jones and set them to the music of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera, Carmen.  However, Carmen Jones is a contemporary version of the Bizet opera, with new lyrics, and it features a lead cast of all African-American and black actors.

Carmen Jones is set during World War II.  The story opens as a young woman, Cindy Lou (Olga James), arrives at the “Parachute Division” of A.J. Gardner Manufacturing Corp. (apparently located in North Carolina), where U.S. Army soldiers provide security.  Cindy Lou is there to meet her betrothed, Corporal Joe (Harry Belafonte), a young soldier who is about to enter flight officers training school.  But Cindy Lou isn't the only young woman with her eye on Joe.

Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge) is an employee at the parachute factory.  One of her fellow employees describes Carmen as a “hip-swinging floozie.”  She arrives late to work wearing a loud red skirt, and she shamelessly declares that he wants Joe – mainly because she is attracted to men who play hard to get with her.  Joe seems bound and determined to focus only on Cindy Lou, and, in fact, he wants to marry her right away.

However, after Carmen gets in a fight with another female employee, scheming Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) orders Joe to take Carmen to a civilian jail in the town of Masonville, which is over fifty miles away from the parachute plant.  Fate and circumstance seemed bound and determined to bring Carmen Jones and Corporal Joe together, but the cards and the spirits seem to say they are bound for tragedy.

When it comes to Carmen Jones the musical film, I can take it or leave it.  Oh, I enjoyed it enough, and some of the songs actually tickles my senses.  For me, the joy of Carmen Jones is its magnificent cast.  It is a shame how things were for African-American actors and performers in film back in those days.  This cast includes actors who should have dominated their craft and profession.

When Dorothy Dandridge first appears as Carmen Jones, she cuts through this film like a red hot knife through butter, and it is not only because of the hot red skirt she wears, which could launch a thousand ships.  Her presence is glorious, and director Otto Preminger clearly makes her the center of the film – as if he had a choice.  Because Dandridge, who was a singer, did not sing opera, she does not sing in the film; her singing voice is dubbed by Marilyn Horne, but Dandrige's lip-syncing is so convincing that it is hard to believe that she is actually not singing.  I can see why she captured the imaginations of enough voters in the Academy Awards to earn a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination as Carmen.

That is saying something considering that Harry Belafonte as Joe throws off quite a bit of energy himself.  When he wants to, Belafonte moves about like a panther, all power and lightning.  Belafonte's name appears first onscreen among the performers, and he acquits himself very, very well.  Belafonte's singing voice is also dubbed (by LeVern Hutcherson), but he also does some powerful lip-syncing, probably because he is also a singer.

If there is another actress in Carmen Jones packing as much dynamite as Dandridge, it is Pearl Bailey as Frankie, one of Carmen's friends.  Wow!  I am almost without words to describe how mesmerizing Bailey is the moment.  When she sings “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum (Gypsy Song),” Bailey pumps so much sexual heat into the film that I am surprised that scene did not get cut out by censors.

So I recommend Carmen Jones to anyone ready to see that an all-black cast can be magnetic on the screen.  They can be sexy and alluring and make you want to follow them on any adventure.  They can transport you to another world, and … they make Carmen Jones much more than it could have been.

8 of 10
A

Tuesday, February 2, 2021


NOTES:
1955 Academy Awards, USA: 2 nominations: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Dorothy Dandridge) and “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture” (Herschel Burke Gilbert)

1955 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” and “Most Promising Newcomer – Male” (Joe Adams)

1956 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Best Film from any Source” (USA) and “Best Foreign Actress” (Dorothy Dandridge-USA)


The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review: "Chi-raq" Dares to Be Truly Different

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 17 (of 2020) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Chi-Raq (2015)
Running time: 127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexual content including dialogue, nudity, language, some violence and drug use
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Spike Lee
WRITERS:  Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott (based on the play by Aristophanes)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Matthew Libatique
EDITOR:  Ryan Denmark and Hye Mee Na
COMPOSER:  Terence Blanchard

DRAMA/MUSICAL/POLITICS

Starring:  Nick Cannon, Teyonah Parris, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Samuel L. Jackson, John Cusack, Jennifer Hudson, David Patrick Kelly, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle, Steve Harris, Harry Lennix, Irma P. Hall, Thomas J. Byrd, Roger Guenveur Smith, and La La Anthony

Chi-Raq is satirical political drama and musical from director Spike Lee.  Set in Chicago, Chi-Raq uses the classical Greek comedy play, Lysistrata (written by Aristophanes), as the basis for a story about the gang violence that is plagues real-world Chicago.  In Chi-Raq, a woman leads a group of like-minded females to challenge the on-going violence in Chicago's Southside.

Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) dates Demetrius “Chi-Raq” Dupree (Nick Cannon), leader of the Spartans gang (who wear purple).  He is in the middle of an on-going war against the rival gang, the Trojans (who wear orange), lead by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), who orders a hit on Chi-Raq during a Spartan music concert.

After Chi-Raq (presumably) kills a child with a stray bullet during a shootout, Lysistrata finds herself having to examine her part in the ongoing violence in Chicago's Southside.  Lysistrata organizes a group of women who are associated with male gang members and encourages them to withhold sex from their men until they stop the violence.  Lysistrata's movement challenges the nature of race, sex, and violence in the United States of America, and it begins to spread around the world.  However, as more people go without sex, the movement raises tensions in all of Chicago.

Chi-Raq is another bold stroke of idiosyncratic Spike Lee art.  Lee was Kanye West before Kanye West.  Stubborn and independent from the beginning, Lee remains that way.  Chi-Raq is everything it seems:  political satire, social satire, farce, comedy, Negro spiritual, racial drama, soulful musical, and even a cry in the wilderness to Black folks in America.  “Stop killing ourselves!” Lee screams via his art.  If only it were that simple.

Chi-Raq is film art, beautiful, poignant, brash, colorful – all of it embodied by the full-throated, shameless narration of Samuel L. Jackson's refreshing Dolmedes.  In the end, hopefully, Chi-Raq can be more than art.  Can it initiate social change.  Well, the problems that it depicts and tackles are complicated and ingrained in ways that would have us throw up our hands in surrender if we took time to really think about those problems.

I can hope for the best, but in the meantime, I can appreciate a filmmaker who really deserves to be called a “visionary,” Spike Lee.  Chi-Raq is a testament to his imagination.

9 of 10
A+

Friday, September 2, 2016


NOTES:
2016 Black Reel Awards:  1 win: “Outstanding Actress, Motion Picture” (Teyonah Parris); 6 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Spike Lee), “Outstanding Supporting Actress, Motion Picture” (Angela Bassett), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Spike Lee), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Kim Coleman-Casting Director), “Outstanding Score” (Terence Blanchard), and “Outstanding Original or Adapted Screenplay, Motion Picture” (Spike Lee and Kevin Willmott)

2016 Image Awards:  4 nominations: “Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture” (Teyonah Parris), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Angela Bassett), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Jennifer Hudson), and “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture”


The text is copyright © 2016 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: Live-Action "Aladdin" is Quite Lively

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 (of 2019) by Leroy Douresseaux

[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]

Aladdin (2019)
Running time: 128 minutes (2 hours, 8 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some action/peril
DIRECTOR:  Guy Ritchie
WRITERS:  Guy Ritchie and John August (based the 1992 film, Aladdin, written by Ron Clements, John Musker, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio; and on the folk tale, “Aladdin,” from One Thousand and One Nights)
PRODUCERS:  Jonathan Eirich and Dan Lin
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Alan Stewart (D.o.P)
EDITOR:  James Herbert
COMPOSER: Alan Menken

FANTASY/MUSICAL/COMEDY and ADVENTURE/FAMILY

Starring:  Will Smith, Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Nasim Pedrad, Billy Magnussen, and Numan Acar with Alan Tudyk and Frank Welker

Aladdin is a 2019 fantasy adventure film directed by Guy Ritchie and produced by Walt Disney Pictures.  The film is a live-action remake of Disney's classic animated film, Aladdin (1992), and both films are based on the folktale, “Aladdin,” from the collection, One Thousand and One Nights.  Aladdin 2019 focuses on a kindhearted street urchin and a power-hungry courtier who both vie for a magic lamp that has the power to make their deepest wishes come true.

Aladdin opens in the desert kingdom of Agrabah.  In the capital city, Aladdin (Mena Massoud), a kindhearted young street urchin, makes his living as a thief, lifting food from various stalls in the city's market, often with the help of his pet monkey, Abu.  One day, Aladdin and Abu come to the rescue of a young woman who turns out to be Princess Jasmine of Agrabah (Naomi Scott), and they befriend her although Aladdin assumes that she is someone else.

It turns out that Jasmine is not happy with her station in life.  Her father is The Sultan of Agrabah (Navid Negahban), and Jasmine hopes to one day become the new Sultan.  However, the laws of Agrabah require her, as the daughter of the Sultan, to marry a prince, regardless of her feelings for him, so that he may become the next Sultan.

Meanwhile, the Grand Vizier, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), has grown tired of being “second best” to the Sultan.  He and his parrot, Iago (Alan Tudyk), seek a “magic lamp” that is hidden within “the Cave of Wonders,” which Jafar believes will give him the power to become the new Sultan.  However, only someone is who worthy (“the diamond in the rough”) can enter the cave, and that turns out to be Aladdin.  So can Aladdin and the mysterious Genie (Will Smith), the jinn of the magic lamp, save Agrabah from Jafar's machinations?

While watching this thoroughly enjoyable live-action film adaptation of Aladdin, I found myself surprised at how well Will Smith performed in a role the late actor Robin Williams made into an all-time famous voice performance in animated film.  The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that the original film has worked so well via sequels, spin-offs, and other adaptations because Aladdin 1992 is simply great material.

The characters, the setting, the story, the screenplay, the musical and song score, the sets, the costumes, etc. are all top-notch material.  The original film yielded a 2010 Broadway musical the was nominated for several Tony Awards, winning one.  An animated television series, “Aladdin,” ran for three seasons beginning in 1994 and won four of the seven Daytime Emmy nominations it received.  I imagine that even high school theater/drama departments that are not well funded could produce an interesting stage production of Aladdin.  The story and song material that makes up Disney's Aladdin is so good that people would have to go out of their way to mess up an update of Aladdin.

Director Guy Ritchie and his co-screenwriter, John August, do not mess up.  Aladdin 2019 is not a great film, but it is a hugely enjoyable film.  Will Smith, Mena Massoud, and Naomi Scott give good performances, each of them proves able to “hold a tune,” with Massoud and Scott turning out to be quite good at singing.  The costumes and sets are lavish and gorgeous.  The music of Alan Menken, the late Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice – old and new – and the new contributions from the songwriting duo of Pasek & Paul are singalong, toe-tapping delights.

Aladdin 2019 is the kind of broad humor, fantasy-tinged, all-ages entertainment that Disney does so well.  Often, these movies are not high-art, nor do they advance the cinematic arts, but they are fun to watch.  For some of us, they are fun to watch over and over again.  Aladdin 2019 has its awkward moments, and certain scenes fall flat.  Overall, Aladdin 2019 still finds a way to be a delightful time at the movies.  I wish more movies – even some arty ones – would do that more often.

7 of 10
B+

Sunday, May 26, 2019


The text is copyright © 2019 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review: "Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon" Needs More Tom and Jerry

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 10 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon (2014) – straight-to-video
Running time:  57 minutes
PRODUCERS/DIRECTORS:  Spike Brandt and Tony Cervone
WRITER:  Brian Swenlin
EDITOR:  Kyle Stafford
COMPOSER: Michael Tavera
ANIMATION STUDIO:  Yearim Productions Co. Ltd.

ANIMATION/FANTASY/COMEDY and FAMILY/MUSICAL

Starring:  (voices) Kelly Stables, Vicki Lewis, Jim Cummings, Laraine Newman, Gregg Ellis, Jess Harnell, Richard McGonagle, Wayne Knight, and Dee Bradley Baker

Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon is a 2014 direct-to-video animated film starring the famous cartoon cat and mouse duo, Tom and Jerry.  Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, The Lost Dragon finds Tom and Jerry living with a young witch, as the trio tries to protect a young dragon.

Once upon a time, Drizelda the witch (Vicki Lewis) threatened a small hamlet that is the home of a group of blue elves.  Her evil plan is stopped by the wizard, Kaldorf the Great (Jim Cummings).  Years later, Drizelda's niece, Athena (Kelly Stables), operates Athena's Home for Unwanted Animals on the edge of the hamlet.  Tom and Jerry, two of the animals living with her, find a dragon's egg that soon hatches.  Suddenly, Tom is “mama” to a baby dragon that Athena names, Puffy (Kelly Stables).  However, Drizelda is determined to steal Puffy as part of her new diabolical plan.

Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon blends elements of the Lord of the Rings film and of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty.  Sometimes, it is hard to tell where the Tolkien ends and the Disney begins.  The crocodile from Walt Disney's Peter Pan, or one that really looks like it, also appears as one of Athena's “unwanted animals.”  The Lost Dragon's animation even looks like a Disney house-style.

Beyond that, there is nothing noteworthy about Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon.  It has a few cute songs, and a few of the characters are mildly amusing.  The villain, Drizelda, is half-menancing, and her henchman, a trio of cats:  Tin, Pan, and Alley, steal a few scenes and provide some comic relief.

Surprisingly, for so average a Tom and Jerry cartoon, Tom and Jerry are actually pretty good in this movie.  Their antics seem natural and fluid, whereas much of this movie seems stiff.  I think Tom and Jerry: The Lost Dragon needs more Tom and Jerry.

5 of 10
C+

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


The text is copyright © 2015 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review: "Topsy-Turvy" Goes Behind the Scenes (Happy B'day, Jim Broadbent)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 224 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Topsy-Turvy (1999)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:  UK
Running time:  160 minutes (2 hours, 40 minutes)
MPAA РR for a scene of risqu̩ nudity
WRITER/DIRECTOR:  Mike Leigh
PRODUCER:  Simon Channing-Williams
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dick Pope
EDITOR:  Robin Sales
Academy Award winner

COMEDY/DRAMA/MUSIC

Starring:  Allan Corduner, Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Wendy Nottingham, Dexter Fletcher, Sukie Smith, Roger Heathcott, Timothy Spall, Adam Searle, Martin Savage, Kate Doherty, Kenneth Hadley, Ron Cook, Eleanor David, Sam Kelly, and Andy Serkis

The subject of this movie review is Topsy-Turvy, a 1999 musical drama and comedy film from writer-director, Mike Leigh.  The film is a fictional account of the relationship between Gilbert and Sullivan, following a failed opera and leading to the creation of the duo’s masterpiece, The Mikado.

Topsy-Turvy is writer/director Mike Leigh’s fictional account of the comic opera team of Gilbert & Sullivan during a particular period in their partnership.  After the lukewarm critical reception of the comic opera, Princess Ida, in 1884, English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) has grown weary of his 13-year partnership with playwright and comic librettist William Schwenck “Willie” Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and of Gilbert’s topsy-turvy scenarios.

Sullivan embarks on a tour of Europe and when he returns he begins to work on what he calls serious musical compositions.  However, the musical partners have a contract to fulfill with their producer Richard D’Oyly Carte (Ron Cook) for the Savoy Theatre (which had been built to house Gilbert & Sullivan’s operas).

After much disagreement among Sullivan, Gilbert, and Carte, Gilbert writes the scenario for The Mikado, a story inspired by Gilbert’s experiences from his visits to an exposition of Japanese culture, history, and art held in London in 1885.  Topsy-Turvy (a term used to describe the kind of fictional scenarios that involved ordinary humans encountered magic and sorcery) follows the creation, development, and staging of The Mikado.  Leigh’s fictional account shows Sir Arthur Sullivan working on the music and Willie Gilbert struggling with the actors to get the staging, acting, and singing just right.  His attention to detail also brings him into conflict with actors over costumes and the assignment of roles.

The film should be a treat to fans of Gilbert & Sullivan, and Topsy-Turvy is an excellent look at both the creative process and all the work that goes into staging an opera, everything from conducting the music and designing the sets to staging the cast and preparing for opening night.  There are a lot of very good performances in this film, but nothing from the leads (Broadbent and Corduner) stand out other than from the fact that they are the leads.  Andy Serkis (Gollum and Smeagol of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) makes a nice turn as the opera’s choreographer.

Leigh gives a look at the behind-the-scenes struggles and politics of raising a staged work that is quite interesting and almost academic in its details.  The film, however, does come off as a bit cool, and Leigh does too much teasing about the private lives of Gilbert & Sullivan, without revealing anything but tidbits.  Still, Leigh manages to make a unique and exceptional film that shines in spite of a few flaws.

7 of 10
A-

NOTES:
2000 Academy Awards, USA:  2 wins: “Best Costume Design” (Lindy Hemming) and “Best Makeup” (Christine Blundell and Trefor Proud); 2 nominees:  “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen” (Mike Leigh) and “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration” (Eve Stewart-art director and John Bush-set decorator)

2000 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Make Up/Hair” (Christine Blundell); 4 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Simon Channing Williams and Mike Leigh), “Best Screenplay – Original” (Mike Leigh), “Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role” (Jim Broadbent), and “Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role” (Timothy Spall)

Updated:  Saturday, May 24, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: "Mary Poppins" Still "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 22 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Mary Poppins (1964)
Running time:  139 minutes (2 hours, 19 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Robert Stevenson  
WRITERS: Bill Walsh and Don Da Gradi (based on: The "Mary Poppins" books by P.L. Travers)
PRODUCERS:  Walt Disney and Bill Walsh
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Edward Colman (D.o.P.) 
EDITOR:  Cotton Warburton
COMPOSERS/SONGS:  Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman
SCORE:  Irwin Kostal
Academy Award winner

FANTASY/MUSICAL/FAMILY

Starring:  Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Hermione Baddeley, Reta Shaw, Elsa Lanchester, Arthur Treacher, Reginald Owen, Don Barclay, and Ed Wynn

Mary Poppins is a 1964 musical fantasy film from Walt Disney Productions.  The film was directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney, although he did not receive a credit in the actual film as the producer, while producer Bill Walsh is only credited as co-producer.  In 1965, both Disney and Walsh received nominations for best producer for their work on Mary Poppins.

The primary source for Mary Poppins the movie is the 1934 novel, Mary Poppins, which was written by author P.L. Travers.  Eight Mary Poppins books written by Travers were published from 1934 to 1988.  The movie mixes adventures and episodes taken from each of the novels that existed at the time the film began production with new material created specifically for the movie.

Mary Poppins the film follows a nanny with magic powers who comes to work for the Banks family.  She takes care of two children whose father is an emotionally distant and cold banker and whose mother is a usually-absent suffragette.  The nanny gets some help working her magic on the family from a singing and dancing chimney-sweep.  I consider Mary Poppins to be an exceptional Hollywood fantasy film.  I would consider it a truly great film, except that I think the movie is too long and that it practically has no plot.

Mary Poppins opens in the year 1910.  In the city of London, England, there is trouble at No. 17 Cherry Tree LaneGeorge W. Banks (David Tomlinson) and his wife, Winifred (Glynis Johns), are having trouble retaining a nanny to care for their two children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber).  Enter Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews); blown in on the east wind, she is the practically perfect nanny who will revolutionize the prim and proper Banks family with a bit of magic and a spoonful of sugar.  Of course, she will get some help from a Cockney jack-of-all-trades and chimney sweep, the dancing and singing Bert (Dick Van Dyke).

Mary Poppins has the magical quality that infused the Walt Disney animated films that preceded it.  One reason is because Mary Poppins combines live-action and animation.  This includes an extended sequence in which Mary Poppins, Bert, and Jane and Michael frolic in a world that is entirely animated except for them.  I think some of the live-action backgrounds and environments and some of the live-action sequences were produced in such a way that they would look like they belong in an animated feature film.

The acting is good, but not great, except for the wonderful Dick Van Dyke, who is outstanding in this film.  Julie Andrews plays the title character, but in many ways, Mary Poppins the movie is as much Bert’s film as it is Mary Poppins’.  Van Dyke’s wild, but precise and imaginative dancing sometimes cast a spell that made me watch every moment of his routines.  Van Dyke’s Bert is one of the best supporting characters in American film history, simply for the fact that he supports the film to the point of often carrying the story – especially when it really needs someone to carry it.

Of course, the songs are classic.  The songwriting duo of brothers Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman are American treasures.  Even with silly titles, the Shermans’ songs are excellent and unforgettable.  Irwin Kostal adapts and orchestrates the Sherman Bros.’ songs into a musical score, and he should always get credit for how he translates those songs into music that is important to the storytelling’s mood, action, and drama.

However, I do think that the length of this film is a problem.  The film’s runtime is too long at two hours and 19 minutes.  Some of the song and dancing sequences stretch to the point of turning that which is captivating into something annoying.  Most glaring, the resolution of the Banks’ problems does not make sense.  It just comes out of nowhere, probably because at some point, everyone realized that even this movie had to end.

Still, Mary Poppins has that instant classic, Disney quality of which we all know and practically all of us love.  Perhaps, that is because Mary Poppins seems intent on plucking the audience’s emotions and playing up the good things about family.  However, the film does that with songs rather than through substantive plot and narrative.

Some of Mary Poppins is extraordinarily good.  Some of it made me tear-up, even the last act which I just criticized.  Mary Poppins is an American classic.  I don’t think we will ever stop loving it, and we will watch it again… and again.  It is “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” indeed.

8 of 10
A

NOTES:
1965 Academy Awards, USA:  5 wins: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Julie Andrews), “Best Film Editing” (Cotton Warburton), “Best Effects, Special Visual Effects” (Peter Ellenshaw, Hamilton Luske, and Eustace Lycett), “Best Music, Original Song” (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for the song “Chim Chim Cher-ee”), and “Best Music, Substantially Original Score” (Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman); 8 nominations: “Best Picture” (Walt Disney and Bill Walsh), “Best Director” (Robert Stevenson), “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium” (Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi), “Best Cinematography, Color” (Edward Colman), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color” (Carroll Clark, William H. Tuntke, Emile Kuri, and Hal Gausman), “Best Costume Design, Color” (Tony Walton), “Best Sound” (Robert O. Cook - Walt Disney SSD), and “Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment” (Irwin Kostal)

1965 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture Actress - Musical/Comedy” (Julie Andrews); 3 nomination: “Best Motion Picture - Musical/Comedy), “Best Motion Picture Actor - Musical/Comedy” (Dick Van Dyke), and “Best Original Score” (Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman)

1965 BAFTA Awards 1965:  1 win “Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles’ (Julie Andrews-USA)

2013 National Film Preservation Board, USA:  National Film Registry


Tuesday, May 06, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Remembering Clyde Geronomi: "Lady and the Tramp"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 62 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Lady and the Tramp (1955) – animation
Running time:  76 minutes (1 hour 16 minutes)
DIRECTORS:  Clyde Geronomi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske
WRITERS:  Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, and Don DaGradi (based upon the story Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog by Ward Greene)
PRODUCERS:  Walt Disney with Erdman Penner
EDITOR:  Don Halliday
COMPOSER:  Oliver Wallace
BAFTA Award nominee

ANIMATION/COMEDY/MUSICAL/ROMANCE with elements of drama

Starring:  (voices) Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Stan Freberg, Verna Felton, and Lee Millar

Lady and the Tramp is a 1955 animated romantic film from Walt Disney Pictures.  It was the 15th full-length animated feature film from Disney.  The film is based in part on "Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog" by Ward Greene, a short story originally published in Cosmopolitan Magazine.  The film centers on the growing romantic relationship between two dogs, a female American Cocker Spaniel, who is from an upper middle-class family, and a male mutt who is a stray.

Because of drama and turmoil in her owners’ home, Lady (Barbara Luddy), a pampered and sheltered cocker spaniel, wanders away from the safety of her neighborhood and meets Tramp (Larry Roberts), a jolly, freedom-loving, and streetwise mutt with a heart of gold.  They share romantic adventures that occasionally imperil their safety while they move towards an inevitable union.  Memorable songs (written by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee) and memorable characters including the twin Pekingese cats, Si and Am (Peggy Lee), highlight this classic, Disney’s fifteenth animated feature.

Lady and the Tramp remains Walt Disney’s signature romantic animated film; although romance often plays a part in their full-length animated films; this is the Disney animated love story.  It exemplifies two particular elements that really stand out in a Disney animated features – the art of beauty and technical skills.  The character animation is beautifully drawn making even characters meant to be ugly or villainous quite gorgeous and handsome eye candy.  The background art, backdrops, and sets are also elegant, even stunning.  The technical virtuosity on display is simply dazzling; this is text book work on animating animals.  Characters move with such grace and precision that the film looks, on one hand, like museum quality high art, and, on the other hand, has such striking realism in terms of movement and rhythm.

Lady and the Tramp is probably best known for its romantic heart.  A melodic score, charming and adorable songs, and the star-crossed pair of Lady and the Tramp make this an animated film that captures the romantic in the hearts of young and old viewers.  That’s why this film is so memorable and also well-remembered by adults who first saw it as a child – a true Disney classic.

9 of 10
A+

Sunday, April 2, 2006

NOTES:
1956 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Film” (USA)

Updated:  Thursday, April 24, 2014


The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Review: Disney's "Frozen" is Pixar Good

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 20 (of 2014) by Leroy Douresseaux

Frozen (2013)
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some action and mild rude humor
DIRECTORS:  Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
WRITERS:  Jennifer Lee; from a story by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Shane Morris (based on the story “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen)
PRODUCER:  Peter Del Vecho
EDITOR:  Jeff Draheim
COMPOSER:  Christophe Beck
SONGS:  Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Academy Award winner

ANIMATION/FANTASY/ADVENTURE and COMEDY/FAMILY

Starring:  (voices) Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk, Ciaran Hinds, Chris Williams, Stephen J. Anderson, Eva Bell, Spencer Lacey Ganus, Tyree Brown, and June Christopher

Frozen is a 2013 computer-animated musical, comedy, and fantasy film directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.  Produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, Frozen was released theatrically in 3D.  Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, “The Snow Queen,” which was first published in 1844.  Frozen focuses on a young woman trying to break the curse of eternal winter, a curse started by the Snow Queen, who is her sister.

In the kingdom of Arendelle, the King and Queen have two daughters.  The older sister, Elsa, has the magical ability to create ice and snow.  The younger daughter, Anna, accidentally becomes a victim of her older sister’s power, causing a rift between the two formerly close siblings.  Years later, Elsa (Idina Menzel), is about to be crowned Queen of Arendelle.  Anna (Kristin Bell) is excited about her sister’s coronation, which will open the castle to the outside world for the first time in years.  At the coronation, a dispute between the sisters leads to Elsa loosing control of her now immense powers.  She inadvertently puts Arendelle in a deep freeze, before running away.

Anna is determined to find Elsa, now known as the “Snow Queen,” and to reconcile their relationship.  She befriends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), a mountain man, and his reindeer, Sven, who decide to help her find the reclusive Elsa.  They are eventually joined by Olaf (Josh Gad), a joyous snowman.  Their journey is epic, but if Anna cannot reach Elsa, Arendelle will be cursed to suffer an eternal winter.

Frozen is one of the truly great animated films from Walt Disney Pictures.  It is the first computer-animated film from Walt Disney Animation Studios that is artistically and technically equal to the best computer-animated films from Pixar Animation Studios (now a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company).  In fact, Pixar’s John Lasseter was an executive producer on and a guiding hand behind Frozen.  Everything fantastic, wonderful, magical, joyous, and poignant that people expect of the best Disney and Pixar films is more than plentiful in Frozen, one of the finest films of 2013.

The voice cast, top to bottom, is excellent.  Honestly, every voice performance seems to be superb.  Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel give bravura performances individually and together; they have the kind of screen chemistry of which many casts can only dream of having.  Of course, Menzel is a standout singing Frozen’s signature song, the Oscar-winning “Let It Go.”  Josh Gad is scene-stealing gold as the comic-relief snowman, Olaf.  I have to admit that I’d like to see Olaf again.

Frozen’s song and musical score also make it the best Disney animated musical film since The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s songs for Frozen recall both the Broadway-styled numbers in Beauty and the Beast and the comic fantasy tunes of Aladdin.

Once upon a time, Walt Disney’s animated films were called “instant classics;” Frozen is an instant classic.  Also, the resolution of Elsa and Anna’s relationship separates Frozen from Disney’s other female-centric animated features.  For me, Frozen is now a personal favorite that I plan to watch repeatedly.

10 of 10

Monday, April 21, 2014


NOTES:
2014 Academy Awards, USA:  2 wins: “Best Animated Feature Film of the Year” (Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, and Peter Del Vecho) and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for the song “Let It Go”)

2014 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Animated Feature Film” and 1 nomination: “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for the song, “Let It Go”)

2014 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Animated Film” (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Review: "High School Musical" is a Feel-Good Classic (Happy B'day, Vanessa Hudgens)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 116 (of 2007) by Leroy Douresseaux

High School Musical (2006) – TV movie
Running time:  98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
TV-G
DIRECTOR:  Kenny Ortega
WRITER:  Peter Barsocchini
PRODUCERS:  Bill Borden and Barry Rosenbush (executive producers) and Don Schain
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Gordon C. Lonsdale (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Seth Flaum
COMPOSER:  David Lawrence

MUSICAL with elements of comedy, drama, romance, and sports

Starring:  Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman, Bart Johnson, Alyson Reed, Chris Warren, Jr., Olesya Rulin, and Socorro Herrera

When it debuted on the Disney Channel on January 20, 2006, High School Musical was just another “Disney Channel Original Movie” …to some.  To others, especially the so-called “‘tween” audience (usually described as 10 to12-years old), the telefilm was something special.  It was a smash hit in its time slot when just under eight million viewers tuned in to watch the premier, and the numerous repeat broadcasts since then also remain highly watched.  The High School Musical soundtrack album has been certified quadruple platinum, and the various DVD releases have also sold almost 8 million copies.  So what’s it all about?

High School Musical (HSM) is a twist on Romeo & Juliet and a kind of 21st century take on the hugely successful 1978 film, Grease (itself adapted from a Broadway musical).  HSM is set in Albuquerque, New Mexico and takes place mostly on the campus of East High School, home of the Wildcats.  Troy Bolton (Zac Efron), the basketball team’s star player, and Gabriella Montez (Vanessa Anne Hudgens), a brainiac and the new girl in school, fall in puppy love.  They also end up auditioning for the school winter musical, performing a duet that earns them a call back.

However, Troy and Gabriella find themselves at odds with their family and friends who think that the two should “stick to what they know.”  For Troy, that means devotion to the Wildcats basketball team and the upcoming championship game against West Side High.  Troy feels the most heat from Coach Jack Bolton (Bart Johnson), who is also Troy’s father, and Chad Danforth (Corbin Bleu), Troy’s best friend who is devoted to basketball.  For Gabriella, her friends in the Science Club, especially Taylor McKessie (Monique Coleman), think that Gabriella should focus on the upcoming Scholastic Decathlon.

Meanwhile, the school’s reigning musical duo, fraternal twins, Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) and her brother, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel, who has a strong, beautiful singing voice), don’t want anyone competing with them for the leads in the winter musical.  Also, Ms. Darbus (Alyson Reed), the school’s drama teacher, isn’t sure she wants a basketball player in her musical, especially Troy because Ms. Darbus and Coach Bolton are often at odds.

Despite that, Troy and Gabrielle get together with fellow student Kelsi Nielsen (Olesya Rulin), a pianist and the winter musical’s composer, and practice their singing.  When Troy’s teammates and Gabriella’s fellow science clubbers learn that the duo is serious about the musical, they conspire to break them apart, but will they end up wishing they’d kept Troy and Gabriella together.

Simply put, I’m a fan of this hugely fun and highly entertaining movie.  I don’t really know why it works.  Perhaps, it’s Disney magic.  I’m not being silly.  Shortly into the film, after two strangers, Troy Bolton and Gabriella Montez, come together and start singing in harmony as if it were always meant to be, one has to believe only Disney can get away with this.  Just feel the magic and charm of this flick and go with it.

The songs are really good, and some of them are just good enough to move the narrative forward or flesh out a plot point, character, or mood.  The acting is credible if not often very good, but when the cast sings or when a song becomes an elaborate song and dance number, the move becomes even more fun.  Maybe, part of its appeal is that many wish their high schools were like East Side High, but since we can’t have that, we can dream.  High School Musical is that happy dream.

7 of 10
B+

NOTES:
2006 Primetime Emmy Awards:  2 wins: “Outstanding Children’s Program” (Bill Borden, Barry Rosenbush, and Don Schain) and “Outstanding Choreography” (Kenny Ortega, Charles Klapow, and Bonnie Story); 4 nominations: “Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special” (casting by Jason La Padura and Natalie Hart), “Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special” (Kenny Ortega), “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics” (Ray Cham, Greg Cham, and Drew Seeley for the song: "Get'cha Head In The Game"), and “Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics” (Jamie Houston-writer and producer for the song "Breaking Free")

2007 Image Awards:  2 nominations: “Outstanding Children's Program” and “Outstanding Performance in a Youth/Children's Program - Series or Special” (Corbin Bleu)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Updated:  Saturday, December 14, 2013

The text is copyright © 2013 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.