Tag Archives: Musical

Sound of Music: Still Climbing Ev’ry Mountain

RADIANCE THAT FLOODS THE SCREEN… AND WARMS THE HEART!

The movie is too good to be true. The real-life von Trapp family in Austria, whose adventures were chronicled by Maria von Trapp in a 1949 best-selling book called ”The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”, did not escape Nazi-invaded Austria as dramatically as in the film (they simply left by train and sailed for America). Maria and Captain von Trapp met already in 1927, not on the eve of Anschluss. And the captain wasn’t cold and rigid, but quite the opposite. But Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse came up with a good concept for Broadway and after the outstanding contribution of songwriters Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, ”The Sound of Music” was a major hit on stage. The film became one of the greatest box-office smashes in history.

Salzburg, 1938. Maria (Julie Andrews) is the Mother Abbess’s greatest headache, a young woman who’s too free-spirited for the discipline needed at the abbey. When the retired naval officer Captain Georg von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) needs a governess for his seven children, Maria is sent there. Ever since the death of the captain’s wife, he has been raising the children as if they’re military cadets. Horrified to see them disciplined this way, Maria secretly encourages the children’s creative sides. Eventually, not even the captain can resist having music back in the house and agrees to let Maria care for the kids in a more open manner. In the meantime, he’s dating Baroness Elsa von Schraeder (Eleanor Parker), but Maria may be too charming to resist…

Opening up the stage-bound original
The film opens with silent, completely enchanting bird’s-eye views of the Alps until the camera finds Maria dancing and singing on a mountaintop. Fans of West Side Story (1961) will recognize this brilliant trick from director Robert Wise; actually, it was screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s idea and Wise initially resisted it because of the similarity… but the sequence is now part of cinema history. Cinematographer Ted McCord certainly lived up to the challenge of the film – opening up the stage-bound original and really take advantage of the Austrian settings. This is a gorgeously photographed film, but the scenes that were shot on a soundstage are equally stunning, perfectly arranged. So much in this film is first-rate. The casting is just lovely, with Andrews solidifying her star status after Mary Poppins (1964) as the incorrigible Maria and a whole bunch of irresistible kids as the unruly but cute von Trapp children. Plummer has spent most of his career acting like The Sound of Music was a horrible experience; maybe it was for him at the time, but most of his degrading comments seem like jokes now and he became life-long friends with Andrews. The songs are all classics now; most musicals have a few standout numbers, but this one is packed with them. It’s hard to resist the romance, charm and playfulness, but the film is also moving at times, especially near the end as the von Trapp family performs ”Edelweiss” and the song turns into a chance for regular Austrians to show resistance against the Nazis. Once Anschluss becomes a part of the story the film gets a healthy shot of adrenaline in the form of tension and darkness. Even the film’s detractors have to admit that this is an original way to depict the arrival of Nazism in Europe.

Over the years, The Sound of Music has been called corny and silly. If that’s your attitude, I guess movies and musicals really aren’t your thing. If the cute allure of children singing is enough to make you ignore brilliant casting, songwriting and cinematography, I offer you my deepest condolences. 

The Sound of Music 1965-U.S. 174 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Robert Wise. Screenplay: Ernest Lehman. Book: Howard Lindsay, Russel Crouse. Cinematography: Ted McCord. Songs: ”The Sound of Music”, ”Edelweiss”, ”Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, ”Do-Re-Mi”, ”My Favorite Things”, ”Climb Ev’ry Mountain” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II). Editing: William Reynolds. Cast: Julie Andrews (Maria), Christopher Plummer (Georg von Trapp), Eleanor Parker (Elsa von Schraeder), Peggy Wood, Richard Haydn, Anna Lee.

Trivia: The real-life story was also the basis for the West German film The Trapp Family (1956) and the animated Japanese TV series Story of the Trapp Family (1991).

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Film Editing, Scoring (Irwin Kostal), Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actress (Andrews).

Last word: “As cynical as I always was about ‘The Sound of Music’I do respect that it is a bit of relief from all the gunfire and car chases you see these days. It’s sort of wonderfully, old-fashionedly universal. It’s got the bad guys and the Alps; it’s got Julie and sentiment in bucketloads. Our director, dear old Bob Wise, did keep it from falling over the edge into a sea of treacle. Nice man. God, what a gent. There are very few of those around anymore in our business.” (Plummer, Vanity Fair)

 

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Dancer in the Dark

YOU DON’T NEED EYES TO SEE. 

In 1964, Czech immigrant Selma Ježková (Björk), who’s nearly blind, is working in the U.S. to save money for her son’s eye surgery, but eventually ends up on death row. Lars von Trier’s musical, made in Sweden, set in the U.S. and starring Icelandic singer Björk, polarized audiences and critics at the time. But this bundle of strong emotions is truly an original piece of cinema, with a raw look and feel; the musical numbers should attract more than just fans of Björk. This is her first movie, but she turned out to be a natural as Selma, a woman who’s only truly happy when she sings and dances in the musicals of her mind. Uneven, but ultimately powerful. 

2000-Denmark-Sweden-France. 137 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Vibeke Windelöw. Written and directed by Lars von Trier. Cinematography: Robby Müller. Music: Björk. Song: ”I’ve Seen It All” (Björk, Lars von Trier, Sjón Sigurdsson). Cast: Björk (Selma Ježková), Catherine Deneuve (Kathy), David Morse (Bill Houston), Peter Stormare, Joel Grey, Vincent Patterson… Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgård.

Trivia: Skarsgård was originally supposed to have done Stormare’s part, but only found time for a smaller role.

Cannes: Palme d’Or, Best Actress (Björk). European Film Awards: Best Film, Actress (Björk).

Last word: “This about the blindness came much later, after I wrote the first script. I was thinking in more opera terms. Opera is more like melodrama. And the good thing about opera is that if you can accept that people sing instead of talk, then you don’t have to go in and out of it. And that means you can have your emotions with you. The problem about a musical is that it’s a little hard to swallow that suddenly they’re like dum-dee-dee-dum-dum this is always a little difficult. Whereas in on opera, they play all the time. But a more honorable way to do it, the way I have done, is to use her imagination to go in and out of it.” (Von Trier, Indiewire)

 

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Beauty and the Beast

BE OUR GUEST. 

When her father (Kevin Kline) is taken prisoner by a beast (Dan Stevens) inside a huge, wintry castle, Belle (Emma Watson) offers herself in exchange for his freedom. Another live-action remake of an animated Disney classic. This one can’t escape a certain sense of pointlessness considering how close it stays to the 1991 original… but that feeling is suppressed by sheer playful buoyancy and colorful opulence. More a lavish Broadway production than just a remake of an animated movie, the film offers a few new songs and really looks like no expenses have been spared. Simply put, it is beautiful and fun. Watson is radiant in the lead and the 3D visuals really draw us into this fairytale world. 

2017-U.S. 129 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman. Directed by Bill Condon. Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos. Music: Alan Menken. Song: ”How Does a Moment Last Forever” (Alan Menken, Tim Rice). Production Design: Sarah Greenwood. Costume Design: Jacqueline Durran. Cast: Emma Watson (Belle), Dan Stevens (The Prince/Beast), Luke Evans (Gaston), Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor… Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson.

Trivia: Ryan Gosling was allegedly considered for a role.

Last word: “Disney didn’t know about [LeFou’s infatuation with Gaston] [laughs]. It was something I was thinking about and that I talked to Josh Gad about. Our joke was that one day he gets up and he wants to be Gaston and the next day he wakes up and he wants to fool around with Gaston and he hasn’t quite landed on it yet. It’s just a moment in the film, and I get a little weary about talking about it too much because then it seems like a more heavy-handed thing. But I kind of enjoyed that and it’s in the fabric of everybody falling in love that that couple falls in love too.” (Condon, Flickering Myth)

 

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My Fair Lady: A Loverly Musical

THE LOVERLIEST MOTION PICTURE OF THEM ALL!

When George Bernard Shaw’s stage play ”Pygmalion” premiered in London in 1913, it was daring for its time. Making fun of the British class system, suggesting that all it takes to elevate a worker into the upper class is teaching her to speak well and dress properly, must have seemed disturbing to those who wanted to keep things as they were. The play also showed a woman gaining independence at a time when women were denied the vote. When the musical version came to Broadway in the late 1950s, the story wasn’t quite as controversial anymore and the elaborate film adaptation is more an example of the old-style Hollywood that was threatening to look stale already in 1964. Still, My Fair Lady was a huge hit and remains a delightful classic.

In Edwardian London, phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) runs into a loud Cockney flower seller, Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn). With great confidence, he tells Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), a specialist in Indian dialects, that he could turn even this girl into someone who would pass for a duchess at an embassy ball. Eliza, who wants to work in a flower shop but has been told that her accent makes it impossible, later shows up at Higgins’s doorstep and asks him for lessons. Higgins is intrigued enough to begin his experiment and Colonel Pickering, who’s temporarily living with the professor, agrees to cover any expenses. Eliza moves in and begins her education. However, Higgins soon realizes that Eliza is a very challenging pupil…

Cheerfully foolish soliloquies
George Cukor’s last great hit is fairly faithful to the Broadway original. Harrison repeats his performance and is immensely enjoyable as the stubborn, rude and haughty professor who takes special pride in his bachelorhood; his cheerfully foolish soliloquies on women are among the film’s most entertaining moments. On stage, Julie Andrews played Eliza and was reportedly keen on repeating the role in the movie, but was denied the chance; this was before Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music turned her into a hot item at the box office. Instead, Audrey Hepburn was hired and she’s a marvelous stand-in, compelling both as the vulgar Cockney girl and the subsequent refined lady that Higgins turns her into. Marni Nixon does her singing voice, but the illusion works rather well. Stanley Holloway, who was also in the Broadway cast, steals every scene he’s in though as Eliza’s shameless father, a drunkard who gets some of the best show-stoppers, such as ”With a Little Bit of Luck” and ”Get Me to the Church on Time”. Those numbers take wonderful advantage of the street sets. The whole movie was shot on the Warner studio lot, a decision that allegedly annoyed screenwriter Alan Jay Lerner. I’m guessing that he was hoping for the movie to do what the stage musical couldn’t, bring more realism to the locations. We never believe that we’re in London, or at the racetrack in one scene, but it doesn’t matter. Together with production designer Cecil Beaton and his team, Cukor creates a stunning, colorful and lavish scenery that emphasizes fantasy at times, just like so many other previous Hollywood musicals. The film is also chock-full of memorable tunes, evenly spread throughout the movie.

The pacing is slow, but on the whole this opulent experience is hard to beat. It even makes us ignore how unbelievable the romance between Higgins and Eliza is, keeping us from thinking that they’ll actually be a couple until the very last scene – but even that one wins us over thanks to Harrison’s infuriating charm and a great final shot.

My Fair Lady 1964-U.S. 170 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Jack L. Warner. Directed by George Cukor. Screenplay, Book: Alan Jay Lerner. Cinematography: Harry Stradling. Music: André Previn. Songs: ”Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”, ”With a Little Bit of Luck”, ”The Rain in Spain”, ”I Could Have Danced All Night”, ”Get Me to the Church on Time” (Frederick Loewe, Alan Jay Lerner). Production Design, Costume Design: Cecil Beaton. Cast: Rex Harrison (Henry Higgins), Audrey Hepburn (Eliza Doolittle), Stanley Holloway (Alfred P. Doolittle), Wilfrid Hyde-White, Gladys Cooper, Jeremy Brett.

Trivia: Peter O’Toole was allegedly considered as Higgins.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Harrison), Cinematography, Music, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Director, Actor (Harrison). BAFTA: Best Film.

Last word: “Even though I received an Academy Award for the picture, I have never really felt at home in making musicals. I don’t know enough about music to put songs in the proper places within the action of the story. Of course in the case of ‘My Fair Lady’ we had the original stage version to go by. But the transition from stage to screen is tricky. On the one hand you can’t turn out a photographed stage play; on the other hand you can’t rend the original stage version apart. If you don’t know what the hell was good about the original play, you pull it apart to make a different version for the screen and you have nothing left.” (Cukor, Film Comment)

 

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La La Land: An Enchanting Year in the Sun

HERE’S TO THE FOOLS WHO DREAM.

Remember that opening scene from Manhattan (1979)? It’s a montage of different New York City images beautifully captured in black and white by cinematographer Gordon Willis, set to George Gershwin’s ”Rhapsody in Blue” as it builds in intensity to an impressive display of fireworks. It is an unforgettable tribute to that city. There has been many love letters to Los Angeles as well, even though a lot of people have also taken pleasure in knocking it. Not Damien Chazelle though. The director likes L.A. In an interview with The New York Times, he talked about how you have to put in an effort to explore the city because it has a tendency to ignore its own history. Turns out there are many of us who are willing to go along with him on that journey.

Mia Dolan (Emma Stone) works as a barista on the Warner studio lot while also trying to get hired as an actress. She has an uncomfortable encounter on an L.A. highway with Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling), a jazz pianist who dreams of starting his own club, one that doesn’t try to reinvent jazz for bored audiences. Mia meets Sebastian again at a restaurant where he’s the pianist, but he gets himself fired and simply blows her off. Some time later, Mia sees Sebastian very reluctantly perform in a 1980s cover band at a party and she confronts him. Over several dates, they get to know each other’s dreams, but the possibilities that eventually open up for them become a test…

A return to jazz
Anyone who saw Chazelle’s last movie, Whiplash (2014), shouldn’t be surprised to learn that this one also treats jazz like a special music genre worthy of admiration like no other. On the one hand, that passion is wonderful and part of the film’s immense charm. On the other hand, Gosling’s character is at times an insufferable snob whose attitude threatens to undermine the sentiments the filmmakers are trying to create. But it’s as if Chazelle is aware of what might be perceived after these two films as his own personal snobbery, because even the scenes of Sebastian ”selling out” are still very engaging for the rest of us, either fun in a dorky way (when Mia spots Sebastian at that 1980s party) or featuring good music even if it isn’t what Sebastian worships. We’re supposed to ”dislike” a song that John Legend performs (with Sebastian on keyboard), but it’s not really possible. This is largely a traditional musical, with original songs, and colorful choreography and set design, but Chazelle wanted to take all the hallmarks of that genre and fuse them with the modern world. That means we get a tribute to the old Hollywood, an idealized Los Angeles (as in that riveting opening scene where everybody starts dancing on the highway) and scenes of pure imagination – but we’re also always reminded of modern times. That means a nod to Rebel Without a Cause (1955), an imaginative and in every way uplifting, romantic visit to the Griffith Observatory as seen in that movie – but also another musical performance that’s abruptly interrupted by a familiar ringtone. The story takes a different turn than expected from old musicals, but still cleverly offers a happier alternative in the shape of a fantasy near the end, which brings a bittersweet touch to a film that is otherwise joyously entertaining. 

Gosling and Stone are perfectly matched and handle their musical challenges with aplomb. But above all, this is a technical triumph, including cinematographer Linus Sandgren’s lush vintage California look, Tom Cross’s rhythmic editing, Justin Hurwitz’s delightful song score and Chazelle’s steady hand at the helm. The story may be simple, but the movie is a complex achievement.

La La Land 2016-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Fred Berger, Gary Gilbert, Jordan Horowitz, Marc Platt. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Cinematography: Linus Sandgren. Editing: Tom Cross. Music: Justin Hurwitz. Songs: ”Another Day of Sun”, ”City of Stars”, ”Audition” (Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, Justin Paul), ”Start a Fire” (John Legend, Marius De Vries, Angelique Cinelu, Justin Hurwitz). Production Design: David Wasco. Costume Design: Mary Zophres. Cast: Ryan Gosling (Sebastian Wilder), Emma Stone (Mia Dolan), John Legend (Keith), Rosemarie DeWitt, Finn Wittrock, Jessica Rothe… J.K. Simmons.

Trivia: Miles Teller and Emma Watson were allegedly considered for the leads.

Quote: “That’s L.A. – they worship everything and they value nothing.” (Gosling)

Oscars: Best Director, Actress (Stone), Cinematography, Original Score, Original Song (”City of Stars”), Production Design. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Director, Actor (Gosling), Actress (Stone), Screenplay, Original Score, Original Song (”City of Stars”). BAFTA: Best Film, Direction, Actress (Stone), Cinematography, Original Music.

Last word: “At the end of the day, I wanted everything to remain really human in the movie. Never to let the numbers become purely technical execution of steps; it’s one thing that I think [1950s musicals] were really good at, and it’s partly why I wanted actors and not professional dancers or singers. I wanted them to approach those things as actors, as everything coming from the character and the idiosyncrasies of the character; never favouring technique over character or story.” (Chazelle, The Independent)

 

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West Side Story: Dancing and Dying in America

THE SCREEN ACHIEVES ONE OF THE GREAT ENTERTAINMENTS IN THE HISTORY OF MOTION PICTURES.

Stage director Jerome Robbins was a key reason why ”West Side Story” became a groundbreaking Broadway hit in 1957. When the time came to make a movie, the studio had it both ways. Apart from the music and the show’s artistic expression, it’s also a story full of social criticism. That’s why Robert Wise was chosen to direct; he knew New York City and could deliver gritty realism, as he did in Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).

But Wise had no experience from making musicals, so he agreed to let Robbins handle the choreography and dance sequences. Eventually, Robbins was fired by the studio after going over budget and almost suffering a nervous breakdown. Wise made most of the movie, but didn’t mind sharing the credit. After all, without Robbins there would be no West Side Story.

In the Lincoln Square neighborhood in Manhattan, there is a constant feud between two youth gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, who are divided by racial lines. The Jets want to make the neighborhood white again, while the Sharks are Puerto Rican and want their share. At the same time, local cops do their best to make sure that no one is killed. When a dance is organized in the neighborhood, both gangs are there. Suddenly, two people see each other for the first time and there is instant infatuation – between Maria (Natalie Wood), the younger sister of Sharks leader Bernardo Nunez (George Chakiris), and Tony (Richard Beymer) who’s part of the Jets. They secretly start seeing each other… but the competition between the two gangs threatens to tear them apart.

Unusually serious social message
The original story was inspired by Shakespeare’s ”Romeo and Juliet”, and it is certainly a tragedy with an unusually serious social message for a Broadway audience that wasn’t quite used to it. Depicting a neighborhood that was blue-collar and pretty worn down at the time, the story focuses on the evil of racism and male rivalry, a toxic combination standing in the way of true love. The message was made even clearer, in a more interesting way, as the lyrics of one of the musical’s many famous songs, ”America”, changed in the transition from stage to screen. The original version was believed to be a little too condescending toward Puerto Rico; making the lyrics not only praise everything that’s great about America, but also answer with everything that’s negative, creates a now-classic dynamic that ingeniously symbolizes the tension between Maria and her brother.

The romance between Maria and Tony is so vibrant largely because of the beautiful songs that accompany it and how they are staged. Wood and Beymer don’t quite match that intensity, especially also since their singing voices belong to other people, Marni Nixon and Jimmy Bryant. But musically and artistically this is so much more than about the romance. The feud between the gangs is depicted in an almost startling, stylized (often parodied) way, with the gang members performing balletic dances that symbolize their attitude and aggression toward enemies. There is a lot of rivalry and competition in the songs, even a moment where the gang members get to mock the cops who are always after them (”gee, officer Krupke, krup you!”).

This beautiful, vivid film maintains its artistic expression from the stage, most evident in the choreography and production design, but finds a balance between that and the realism.

The filmmakers included a wonderful opening journey over Manhattan skyscrapers that take us from that quiet urban sight from up in the air right down to a more squalid place where heated human emotions come to a boil.

West Side Story 1961-U.S. 151 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Robert Wise. Directed by Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins. Screenplay: Ernest Lehman. Book: Arthur Laurents. Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp. Music: Leonard Bernstein, Irwin Kostal. Songs: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim (”Maria”, ”Jet Song”, ”America”, ”Tonight”, ”I Feel Pretty”, ”Somewhere”). Editing: Thomas Stanford. Production Design: Boris Leven. Costume Design: Irene Sharaff. Cast: Natalie Wood (Maria Nunez), Richard Beymer (Tony Wyzek), George Chakiris (Bernardo Nunez), Rita Moreno (Anita), Russ Tamblyn, Tucker Smith… John Astin.

Trivia: Elvis Presley was considered for a part. Saul Bass created the ending title sequence.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Chakiris), Supporting Actress (Moreno), Cinematography, Film Editing, Music, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design, Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Musical), Supporting Actor (Chakiris), Supporting Actress (Moreno).

Last word: “I fought from the beginning to open the film in New York in its setting, in its background, because we couldn’t put stylized sets on movie stages like they had on the theater stage – they don’t work in films. Stylized sets only work if you’re doing an utter fantasy like ‘The Wizard of Oz’. So, I fought to have the whole early part, down through ‘Something’s Coming’ in New York. Because if you think about the show from there on, from that point on, everything then is either at sunset or at night. And I figured that we could do sets that got away with street sets, alleys, rooftops, this set and the other, at sunset with the sunset lighting. And of course, night is no problem.” (Wise, American Film Institute)

 

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Grease

GREASE IS THE WORD.

greaseIn 1958, Danny and Sandy (John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John) return to high school after summer, but their fling becomes complicated. An adaptation of the Broadway musical that found favor among both audiences and critics, especially since its period setting was popular at the time. This colorful movie has a dreamy quality in its musical numbers, as in the irresistible fantasy where former teen star Frankie Avalon makes an appearance. The film’s narrative is thin and bloated, but the choreography and music is consistently so good that you won’t care. This one also cemented the two leads’ star status, especially Travolta’s the year after his Saturday Night Fever breakthrough.

1978-U.S. 110 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Allan Carr, Robert Stigwood. Directed by Randal Kleiser. Book: JimJacobs, Warren Casey. Songs: ”Summer Nights”, ”Greased Lightning” (Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey), ”Hopelessly Devoted to You”, ”You’re the One That I Want” (John Farrar), ”Grease” (Barry Gibb). Cast: John Travolta (Danny Zuko), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy Olsson), Stockard Channing (Betty Rizzo), Jeff Conaway, Didi Conn, Eve Arden… Sid Caesar, Joan Blondell, Lorenzo Lamas.

Trivia: Carrie Fisher was allegedly considered for the part of Sandy. Followed by Grease 2 (1982).

Last word: “I had never directed a musical before, but when I was a student at USC Film School I worked as an extra on many musicals and got to watch how the directors broke down the numbers and filmed them. My education was on the sets of movies like ‘Camelot’, ‘Hello Dolly’, and ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’. But the best preparation for directing ‘Grease’ was being in the background of three Elvis Presley musicals. John based a lot of Danny Zuko on Elvis.” (Kleiser, Xecutives.net)

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Fiddler on the Roof

SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!

fiddlerontheroofThis adaptation of the hit Broadway musical (based on short stories by Sholem Aleichem) emphasizes the cold and harsh reality for Jews living in a small community in turn-of-the-century Russia, persecuted by the Czar’s men, but still able to find joy in life, continuing their rich traditions. Even though the story deals with clashes between conservative and radical forces, there’s a lot of warmth, complete with feasts, romances and fantasy. Long, but touching sometimes and impressively staged, with engaging music. Grounded by a big-hearted Topol performance as Tevye, the milkman who has constant conversations with fellow villagers, us in the audience, and God.

1971-U.S. 181 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced and directed by Norman Jewison. Screenplay, Book: Joseph Stein. Cinematography: Oswald Morris. Songs: Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick (”Matchmaker, Matchmaker”, ”If I Were a Rich Man”, ”Sunrise, Sunset”). Cast: Topol (Tevye), Norma Crane (Golde), Leonard Frey (Motel Kamzoil), Molly Picon, Paul Mann, Rosalind Harris.

Trivia: On the soundtrack, Isaac Stern plays the violin. Also released in a 150-min. version. Aleichem’s stories have been filmed several times as straight dramas, most notably as Tevye (1939).

Oscars: Best Cinematography, Scoring Adaptation (John Williams), Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actor (Topol).

Quote: “I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” (Topol to God)

Last word: “I grew up with people calling me ‘Jewie’ and ‘Jewboy’ and found out I wasn’t Jewish! (laughs) But I’ve been searching for my own Jewishness all my life, and wound up in Yeshivas in Israel, and interpreting ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, trying to explain to the rest of the world what it’s like to be Jewish! (laughs) Like Topol said, I know more about Judaism than most Jews. We’re all products of our own history, as people. When you’re attacked, or you’re pushed, you push back, and you start studying why, and how.” (Jewison, The Hollywood Interview)

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Jersey Boys

EVERYBODY REMEMBERS IT HOW THEY NEED TO. 

jerseyboysAnother great Broadway success reaches the big screen, in the hands of a man who’s always shown great interest in music. The story of the rise and fall of The Four Seasons and what their connection to the New Jersey mob looked like is told through the perspectives of its members. A bit episodic and flat at times, with a look that’s typical of Clint Eastwood’s recent films but not necessarily the best choice for this musical; the end credits display an energy that’s largely missing from the film. Still, Christopher Walken is fun as an old mobster and the music, as well as tensions within the group, are engaging. Nice period feel.

2014-U.S. 134 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay, Book: Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice. Cast: John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), Christopher Walken, Mike Doyle.

Trivia: Co-executive produced by Brett Ratner and Frankie Valli. Young played Valli also in the original stage production. Jon Favreau was allegedly considered as director.

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Annie

IT’S A HARD KNOCK LIFE.

annie14Wealthy businessman William Stacks (Jamie Foxx) is running for mayor of New York City; in order to come across as more likable he invites a 10-year-old foster child (Quvenzhané Wallis) in Harlem to live with him. An updated version of the Broadway musical, with new arrangements of the old songs (by Sia and Greg Kurstin), and a few new ones. The cast isn’t bad, with the possible exception of Cameron Diaz as the drunken orphanage manager (Carol Burnett did broad comedy better), but the story of this musical never was very good. Comes alive during some of the numbers though.

2014-U.S. 118 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Jay Brown, Will Gluck, James Lassiter, Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Caleeb Pinkett, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Tyran Smith. Directed by Will Gluck. Song: “Opportunity” (Sia, Will Gluck, Greg Kurstin). Cast: Jamie Foxx (William Stacks), Quvenzhané Wallis (Annie Bennett), Rose Byrne (Grace Farrell), Bobby Cannavale, Cameron Diaz, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. Cameos: Rihanna, Sia, Patricia Clarkson, Ashton Kutcher, Michael J. Fox, Mila Kunis.

Trivia: Originally intended as a vehicle for co-producer Will Smith’s daughter Willow. Justin Timberlake and Sandra Bullock were allegedly considered for roles.

Razzie: Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel.

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Into the Woods

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. 

 

intotehwoodsChicago and Nine director Rob Marshall is the right person to bring this complex Broadway musical to the big screen. Assembling a variety of famous characters from Grimm Brothers fairy tales, the story sends them into the forbidding woods and explores what drives their actions. A few changes from the original have been made, but nothing big; this is still an adult experience, with undertones of even darker things than what we see on screen, with Johnny Depp as a creepy wolf/pedophile. Uneven, mostly because few of the songs are real standouts, but intelligent and gorgeously staged. A good cast, especially Meryl Streep as the witch.

2014-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by John DeLuca, Rob Marshall, Callum McDougall, Marc Platt. Directed by Rob Marshall. Screenplay, Book: James Lapine. Songs: Stephen Sondheim (“Into the Woods”, “No One Is Alone”). Cinematography: Dion Beebe. Production Design: Dennis Gassner. Costume Design: Colleen Atwood. Cast: Meryl Streep (The Witch), Emily Blunt (The Baker’s Wife), James Corden (The Baker), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman… Christine Baranski, Johnny Depp.

Trivia: Emma Stone was allegedly considered for a role.

Last word: “It was always something I always had in the back of my mind, but I wanted to make sure it was the right time. It was in 2011, it was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and I was watching President Obama speak to the families of the victims on television. He said to them, ‘You are not alone. No one is alone.’ I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. What an important message for children of today.’ Obviously, it’s the sort of penultimate song in ‘Into the Woods.’ It was that moment that I thought, ‘This might be the right time to do this.’ I called James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim and said, ‘Can I have this to do?’ They were thrilled. So it was a nice beginning.” (Marshall, Coming Soon)

4 kopia

 

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Mulan

THIS TIME, THE PRINCESS SAVES THE PRINCE. 

mulanWhen every Chinese family is given a conscription notice in order to build an army to fight the Hun, a young girl pretends to be a man to save her ailing father from going. Disney was hoping to reach a wider Chinese audience with this adaptation of an old Chinese legend, but it was more notable for its feminist message. The tagline says it all pretty much. Lively and colorful, with some impressive battle sequences, it follows a traditional Disney formula, complete with romance, musical numbers and funny sidekicks. Good story, and Jerry Goldsmith’s music is a robust accompaniment.

1998-U.S. Animated. 88 min. Color. Directed by Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft. Music: Jerry Goldsmith. Song: “Reflection” (Matthew Wilder, David Zippel). Voices of Ming-Na Wen (Mulan), Lea Salonga (Mulan’s singing voice), Eddie Murphy (Mushu), B.D. Wong, Donny Osmond, Harvey Fierstein… Miguel Ferrer, Pat Morita, George Takei.

Trivia: In the Chinese version, Jackie Chan provided one of the voices. Followed by a direct-to-DVD sequel, Mulan 2 (2004).

5 kopia

 

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White Christmas

FIRST AND UNFORGETTABLE PICTURE IN VISTAVISION!

whitechristmasWhen two entertainers and WWII veterans (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye) help two charming sisters (Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen) out of a pickle, they all end up at a rural inn… The most popular movie of 1954 shares some traits with Holiday Inn (1942), the musical that introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, but stands on its own two feet. There’s nothing exceptional about it; a thin story is unnecessarily drawn out, and many ingredients are mediocre. Still, it’s never boring and the music is entertaining, with fun performances all around. The ending is quite the Christmas pudding, glorious and nostalgic.

1954-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Songs: Irving Berlin (“Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”). Cast: Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace), Danny Kaye (Phil Davis), Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes), Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes.

Trivia: Later a Broadway musical. Fred Astaire and Donald O’Connor were allegedly first considered for Kaye’s part.

5 kopia

 

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