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“Anastasia the musical” is lush, sumptuous, melodic, satisfying. (Review) April 1, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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Disney animated films found competition when Twentieth Century Fox released Anastasia with its beautiful artwork and tuneful score. It has become the favorite of many, and like Newsies, its timing was ripe for parents that needed a VCR to put in their tape player that the kids, in particular girls, could watch over and over to keep them occupied. Even if it had Rasputin as a dead bad guy whose hands and nose kept falling off. The Broadway stage musical is based both on that animated feature as well as the 50’s live action Anastasia (same story, no moldy Rasputin).

That’s a long winded introduction, but what is on stage at the Broadhurst Theatre is lush, sumptuous, melodic, and very highly satisfying. It is one of the finest musicals of this season, even seen in preview.

Animated feature lovers need not worry – Ahrens and Flaherty’s hits “Journey to the Past” and “Once Upon a December” make it onstage intact. Some liberties (for the better) were taken with “A Rumor in St Petersburg”, and this score is augmented by two dozen new songs that are Ahrens and Flaherty at their best – unlike Rocky a few seasons back, this is a melodic and beautiful score that will send you off to iTunes as soon as it is released for download.

Terrence McNally has done a masterful job in rewriting the script so that it resembles an adult musical rather than an animated feature, and better incorporates the horrors of history in Russia at the time (1907, 1917, and 1927). He has created a new foil for Anastasia, Gleb, a party official out to insure that all Romanovs are indeed dead.

Christy Altomare is excellent as Anastasia, and she grows the character over the course of the evening and her transformation into princess for the final scenes is breathtaking. Derek Klena is fine as Dimitri, though the chemistry is far better with Gleb, played by the outstanding Ramin Karimloo, and if you don’t know who he is then you better do a Google search because your musical theater knowledge is lacking. John Bolton is exquisite as Vlad, and uber-talented Caroline O’Connor is outstanding as Countess Lily once the proceedings reach Paris. Mary Beth Piel does a very nice job as Dowager Empress (although her song in Act 2, “Close the Door” should be cut).

But where this musical excels is in the superior sets and costumes (and projections). It has been many years since Broadway has seen a musical this lush and sumptuous. I stopped counting Linda Cho’s amazing costumes and changes. The clothing is stunning, and the “Last Dance of the Romanovs” (later reprised in the ghostly and heartbreaking “Once Upon a December”) is breathtaking.

Scenic Designer Alexander Dodge and Projection Designer Aaron Rhyne have created the type of set that makes you ooh and ahh at many points — a train that hurtles along the tracks toward the audience, and then later away. A turntable that allows for almost instant scene changes. Windows that display snow, and shatter during attacks, and a marvelous reveal of Paris at the end of the first act.

When everything reaches Paris for act two, the show comes alive with life, primarily led by singer dancer Caroline O’Connor and John Bolton.

If there are flaws they are hard to spot here. The show flows beautifully from scene to scene, costumes come one after the other, and the set holds surprises throughout. The addition of Gleb is superb, and I have to admit that I was truly moved by the love triangle created by Gleb/Anastasia/Dmitri.

This is a musical not to be missed. It is one of the most satisfying all-around musicals of the season.

Highest Recommendation.


Quirky “Amelie the musical” is entertaining but lightweight (Review) April 1, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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The movie of Amelie is held by many of us near and dear to our hearts — at it’s heart it is a romantic comedy but it also has something to say about being alone, or not, or being different, or not. Movie fans, rest assured, the musical version maintains the spirit of the film and it doesn’t detract from what is already there. You won’t be disillusioned. But you might be a bit disappointed. You just can’t do on stage what can be done with film, and that applies to this new musical at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Amelie is a well-done 100-minute intermissionless evening of quirkiness and romantic comedy – populated with a Paris made up of the most charming characters you could ever meet, and none of the drug addicts, pickpockets, prostitutes, and downright rude denizens you actually meet on some of the sidestreets of Montmartre.

Phillipa Soo (Hamilton) is lovely as Amelie. She is charming and, well, quirky. Adam Chandler-Berat is very good as romantic foil Nino, although it feels like he just isn’t given enough to do (and for much of the show he is a member of the ensemble). The small ensemble cast is up to the task of playing quirky, and they do so with energy and talent.

Oh, did I mention the show is quirky? If you are not a fan of quirkiness, probably best to stay away from this one. The audience responded admirably throughout the show, hooting and hollering at requisite times as we are want to do now at musicals geared toward younger audiences and gave the show a standing ovation, just proving that every show now gets a standing ovation, even those that don’t quite deserve it.

The music by Daniel Messe and Lyrics by Nathan Tyson and Daniel Messe are serviceable and melodic, although instantly forgettable. I can’t remember a single tune forty minutes after the performance has ended. The Book by Craig Lucas has been adapted well from the screenplay. The colorful and “quirky” set by David Zinn is lovely. Pam MacKinnon has done a fine job directing the production and insuring that everything is cute and quirky.

Hey don’t get me wrong, this is a good show. And its going to run for awhile. Which lets you wait to see it after you’ve seen the bigger and better shows first and not worry that it is going to disappear. I’m not a personal fan of quirkiness. A little of it goes a long way – and I lump it into that group of musicals (including the similar though more melodic Amour) that are, well, too quirky for me. I was not the target audience for sure, but even I found things I liked and laughed consistently during the production. Having never been a Hamilton fan, nor a fan of Phillipa Soo or anyone else from that cast, I didn’t see what all the fuss was about — but apparently she has a “following”.

Kind of recommended – but see Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen, Groundhog Day, or Anastasia first. Unless of course you want half a musical, and then you are good to go.



Anna Kendrick shines in “The Last Five Years” movie February 13, 2015

Posted by ronannarbor in Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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Anna Kendrick shines in the role of Cathy in the movie adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s musical “The Last Five Years” – a musical theatre staple about a couple who meet, date, marry, and ultimately divorce — although its told from Cathy’s point of view running backwards, while from Jamie’s point of view it runs chronologically. Jeremy Jordan is no slouch either in the role of Jamie, although this is Kendrick’s movie from beginning to end.

The score here is virtually intact (with minor changes that nobody but folks who have actually performed the piece will recognize) and it sounds terrific.

What it doesn’t do is look terrific — and since film is a visual medium first and foremost, that’s a bit of a problem. Basically using “found light” in most of its scenes, some of them are dark and murky, and I literally had to squint to make out what was going on — this is particularly detrimental in Jordan’s “Nobody Needs to Know” where all facial expression is washed out by murky lighting and detracts from the song as a whole, but surprisingly it happens even in outdoor scenes. The movie’s low-budget roots are apparent throughout.

Still, some of the movie works brilliantly — while in the musical, the characters interact only for the marriage sequence in the middle, here they are present and interact in each other’s songs throughout. That allows for more relevant screen interactions, and gives the actors someone to play off of. On the other hand, what works so well in the stage version is the fact that the actors DONT interact – and that it is up to the imagination of the audience to picture what is going on — and that makes the stage version cleaner and easier to follow.

I’m going to be perfectly honest, I know this piece backwards and forwards and inside out and even I had difficulty figuring out some scenes’ time placement — are they sitting in the car NOW or THEN? Is she auditioning NOW or THEN? Is he doing this NOW or THEN? because the presence of the other person throws off the timeframe.

But here’s the thing — every second that Anna Kendrick is onscreen, she absolutely glows — be that singing, making out with Jeremy, or reacting to what’s going on — and she is a wonder to watch perform. I want to see her play the lead in every movie musical that comes out now and forever….okay, that is an over-exaggeration, but she is simply terrific.

I do not expect anybody but musical theater lovers will a) see this movie, or b) enjoy this movie — but I did, and its highly recommended — but that being said, there is absolutely nothing like seeing this piece live on stage, where it becomes a completely different living breathing animal — but this is pretty close.

The one thing I did not get out of this film version was any sense of emotion — Jeremy sings and his songs soar and become pop tunes of their own right — straight out of a music video. Anna sings of sadness and despair, yet you don’t feel it along with her, you’re a bit in awe of her in general, and wondering how she could afford that loft apartment in New York.

Note: if you are waiting for this to hit a movie theatre, dont….it opened in 5 total theaters nationwide today, is opening in 20 more next friday, and a few more the week after that…so chances are great that it will NOT be showing in a theater anywhere near you. You can watch it On Demand on your cable provider, or download from YouTube, GooglePlay and other sites.

5-Star “Into the Woods” movie surpasses stage version December 25, 2014

Posted by ronannarbor in Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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I can think of only four Broadway musicals since 1960 whose movie adaptations are better than their stage versions — those are The Sound of Music, Oliver!, Funny Girl, and Chicago. Now comes the 5th — Into the Woods. Set aside any qualms you might have as a musical theater lover about the film, and go see it.

Start with the best artistic staff that one could assemble for the production: Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine tweaked their already strong script and score, and it works even better on-screen in a tighter-but-absolutely-nothing-missing screenplay. Rob Marshall takes the material and molds it with directorial verve, and its captivating from start to finish. J0nathan Tunick expands his orchestrations to over 40-pieces here and they sound lush and melodic. Paul Gemignani musical directs and conducts the Broadway material he knows so well. The art direction, set decoration, makeup and wigs, and costume design are first rate. Everything simply looks and sounds superb.

Now, add one of the strongest casts I’ve seen in a musical adaptation — there isn’t a single weak link in this production (some have complained that Johnny Depp was miscast as the Wolf, to them I say nay nay, his performance is delicious.) While the movie is cast with “actors who sing” rather than singers who try to act, this is a cast where they actually can and do sing beautifully.

James Corden (who has hilariously stated elsewhere that he is actually a “dancer who sings” rather than an “actor who sings”) turns in a loving performance as The Baker, and he’s matched step for step by Emily Blunt’s Baker’s Wife. Equally assuring is the dynamic performance by Meryl Streep as The Witch. She’s already known as a versatile actor, but now audiences will also see what those of us who have had the chance to see her sing on stage already know — she is simply a great vocal performer. Anna Kendrick is sublime as Cinderella, and Chris Pine acts, sings, and preens his way across the screen as Cinderella’s Price. His performance of “Agony” with Rapunzel’s Prince Billy Magnussen (also terrific) is the highlight of the movie. Tracey Ullman is spot-on as Jack’s Mother, and Jack himself is played by delightful youngster Daniel Huttlestone. Lila Crawford is a very strong Little Red Riding Hood. Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch are very fine Stepmother and Stepsisters. Mackenzie Mouzy is a lovely Rapunzel.

Finally, mix this cast and artistic crew together in a giant soundstage that adds a layer of magic to the entire affair, and you have one of the strongest musical theater adaptations you are likely to see in a long time. Like the other musicals I mentioned above, the world of musical theater is defined not by the stage production, but by the movie — there is nobody that attends any production of The Sound of Music anywhere that doesn’t compare it to the movie, not the original Broadway production. The same will be said of the movie version of Into The Woods — it simply defines the show in a way that very few other musical adaptations have done. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Original Broadway production of Into The Woods, and saw it three or four times in NYC with its original cast — but that will no longer be my golden standard when thinking about Into The Woods — rather, it will be this remarkable cast in this eye-candy and ear-pleasing production (sorry Chuck Wagner!)…

Anecdotally, two sets of movie-goers will be surprised by this film: the first, all those kids who have done Into the Woods in middle schools all over America when they find out there is an Act II to the piece (the student version of the show includes only Act 1), and the second, all those Disney fans who find out this is a musical comedy — Disney has gone out of its way to hide the fact that this is a musical, much like they hid the fact that Frozen is a princess-movie.

Absolutely Highest Recommendation.

Jersey Boys movie falls flat (Review) June 20, 2014

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Some of us have been waiting for this movie for a long time. Some of us heard about this movie about the 6th or 7th time we saw Jersey Boys on stage (my last time was in SF last year). Some of us were a bit worried when we heard that Clint Eastwood would be directing. Well, it turns out to be a legitimate concern. Those of us who have seen this electric musical on stage multiple times will appreciate the effort and know it falls short. And those of us who haven’t seen Jersey Boys on stage will wonder why it won all those Tony’s and audience accolades internationally. Because none of that electricity is evident in the flat, poorly edited, and quite frankly pedestrian movie adaptation.


John Lloyd Young (Frankie Valli), Erich Bergen (Bob Gaudio), Vincent Piazza (Tommy DeVito), and Michael Lomenda (Nick Massi)

So what goes wrong? Well, for a script that generally maintains the same script as the stage show, any addition to the original script is just bad. There are a couple scenes added to flesh out daughter Francine’s part that are painfully bad. The entire opening sequence of the musical (“Ces soirees-la”) is gone in favor of a dull sequence that is all talk and no music.

What else goes wrong — well, Clint Eastwood is just the wrong director for the musical — he directs as if it is a drama with music, rather than a musical with some dialogue keeping it all together.  Either he (or the editing team) don’t understand what makes a musical moment…where closeups should come during a song…where climaxes in a musical line fall…and scenes drag on forever — you know that five minute scene in Act II where the band falls apart– it goes on for 11 minutes in the movie and it just gets longer and longer — and all without any noticable addition of dialogue!

The balance between the four members of the original Four Seasons is off here — so well done in the stage musical with each member serving as narrator for a quarter of the show — here that skews to entirely too much Tommy DeVito — in fact, the entire first three quarters of the movie feels like it is about him, and not Frankie Valli.

But here’s the cardinal sin of musical movies — almost none of the songs are performed in their entirety — in fact, except for the numbers I am about to list NONE of the songs are performed in their entirety. What specifically drives the musical on stage is the songs — which grow to an electric state near the end of the show. Here, songs start, then peter out – or the action carries elsewhere with underscoring – or its heard in the background over a radio.

The only songs performed in their entirety, and not surprisingly the highlights of the movie are “Cry For Me” (Gaudio auditions for the group); “Sherry” (performed in what looks like one take on American Bandstand); “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” (terrific and gives John Lloyd Young his sole “moment” in the show, given they cut “My Eyes Adored You” to a single phrase); and the superb “Oh What a Night” (Which is performed over the closing credits, and is the only scene in the entire movie that is staged similarly to the Broadway show and gives some spark of life — unfortunately that spark of life at my showing was with lights full up as the audience was leaving).

The performances here are uniformly superb — with John Lloyd Young and Erich Bergen being particular standouts, but Piazza and Lomenda also get their moments to shine.  These four supply some much needed life. Unfortunately too much of that time is spent talking (or yelling) and not singing.

The decision to desaturate the color in the film does it no favors (though it does make the guys look a bit younger than their real ages, which is a benefit in the first half of the film where these 30-38 years olds are playing teens). Later scenes that should burst with color do not. Only the final sequence over the credits is in full color. There’s a particularly shoddily disturbing cinematography sequence that is set on a snowy day that is so clearly filmed in sunny California that you can actually see the demarkation line where snowfall outside stops and the sunny street in the background takes over.

You should see this movie. I am giving it 2 stars out of 4, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it — you SHOULD see it, but temper your expectations (as a friend stated earlier today) about seeing “Jersey Boys the Musical” — you are seeing a dramatic movie BASED on a stage musical — you are not seeing a musical. See it because we want to see more musicals on film (although it would be nice if they were actually musicals once they get translated to screen).  See it because these four guys are terrific. You’ll be entertained, but you won’t be blown away like you should have been.

Sharknado is a howlfest and not to be missed (Review…kind of) July 20, 2013

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Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 8.58.39 PM

Its hard to review SyFy’s (to be fair, The Asylum’s) Sharknado without giving away most of what happens in the movie — so if you don’t like spoilers, don’t read ahead…just watch it next time it is on. Its actually a movie that can’t really be reviewed because the schlock-factor is so bad, its like watching live action MST3K in your living room with your own family doing the play by play. I am so glad I DVR’d this so I could watch it over and over (7 times so far). Its possibly the best bad movie ever made. Ed Wood would be proud.

Let me preface this by saying I loved this movie, for all the wrong reasons, or maybe the right ones. I couldn’t stop laughing from beginning to end — and in a good way. The production values, as high as they are for a movie of this ilk, range from superb to horrendous. As does the acting, Wait, what am I saying, you can’t review the acting. Even the actors knew they were immune from critical review in this stinkbomb, so they could do all the overacting and/or deadpanning that they wanted.

Led by superstar Ian Ziering and later featuring superstar Tara Reid, they act, react, swim, climb, look scared, look dumb, look sexy, look anywhere but at the camera for fear of laughing on screen. You know you are in for a treat when there are lines like “The water’s rising – I’m going to go up to the bridge and repel down”.

Here’s the scoop — The movie starts with a scene that takes place on a boat at sea (obviously filmed on several different boats) where some criminal types are making dealings about shark meat — though it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the movie — and they get eaten anyway. Then this waterspout picks up a school of swarming sharks and carries them on land in LA where they swim in the sewers, enter houses, swim on highways, and defy gravity to leap into the air on repelling equipment. Sharks apparently can get very firm grips on nylon rope.

There’s a scene in which sharks attack swimmers in one foot of water. Later, sharks attack people in parked cars in one foot of water. It doesn’t come to anyone’s mind to just walk over them. The good guys race around in a traffic-less LA in first a Jeep, and then a Hummer. Later they hurl homemade bombs into the tornados and save human kind. And gladly so, because a sequel based in NYC has already been ordered by SyFy from The Asylum.

The Asylum (featured in Wired not long ago) churns out two schlocky sci-fi/horror/cheese flicks like this a month, so there’s a lot of great stuff you can pick up on SyFy, rapidly becoming my go-to tv channel when there is nothing decent on tv. This is the company that brought you Titanic II, so it should tell you something about the quality of these films.

But watching Sharknado is mesmerizing — it gets funnier and funnier as it goes along, complete with a howler at the end of the movie that you seriously need to make sure you have set your drink down before reaching — I won’t give it away, but it involves a toy chainsaw and finding a character you thought was already dead. My dog stared at me as if I was demented as I howled out load with laughter.

But there are plenty of other similar howlers along the way — you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a minute for fear of missing something outlandishly ridiculous. Watch the amazing editing from stock footage — in a scene “filmed” on a helicopter with a raging tornado outside, the view downward shows a full Hollywood Bowl of audience watching a concert. This is the same kind of stock footage that revealed the Queen Mary (standing in for Titanic II) at port in palm-tree-lined LA when supposedly in the Atlantic in that film.

But nothing compares to Sharknado in the classic film department. Its legen, wait for it, dary. Film classes will be studying this disaster-flic’s ineptitude, and having a laugh riot along the way. Please please do yourself a favor — DVR the movie when it next appears (7/27 on SyFyD and 8/22 on SyFy, but I bet other screenings will be added before those) because you will want to see this one over and over and over (without commercials, it runs about 85 minutes of pure cinematic delight).

“Les Miserables” movie is stunning, emotional, and divisive (Review) December 27, 2012

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Entertainment, Movies, musical theater, Musicals.
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Do you hear the people sing? Do you scour all the movie reviews to decide if you want to see a movie or not? Do you trust your Facebook friends and their opinions? It seems everyone has an opinion on “Les Miserables”, the movie adaptation of the long-running stage musical. I, among many, just loved it.


Arriving nearly intact from its stage incarnation, its a good adaptation of the musical, and almost every change made is helpful.  A few of the songs have been re-ordered to give them more flow in a movie setting, and a few lyrics have been changed, along with two all-new recitatives that catapult several short scenes into one There is also one new song, “Suddenly”, added for your consideration, Academy (since songs from another medium are not eligible).

Hugh Jackman is a convincing Jean Valjean, and delivers the money songs at full voice. There’s little subtlety in his performance, but it fits the style of this production. Sure, Alfie Boe would have sung a far superior “Bring Him Home”, but Alfie Boe would not have sold 18.5 million dollars worth of tickets in the first day. Russell Crowe, much maligned as Inspector Javert, actually turns in a very decent performance — having seen the stage production in London, NYC, and various tours probably more than a dozen times, I can easily say that he is no worse than some stage Javerts, while a far cry from the best of them. His singing voice is somewhat lackluster: its not off key, it’s not horrible, but it lacks inflection. While lack of inflection seems to be a necessity in rock bands these days (of which Mr Crowe is a longtime participant in addition to his acting career) its detrimental when singing a semi-operatic musical theater score. While his songs don’t soar, I imagine 99 percent of movie goers aren’t going to care, as long as there are lots of closeups of his eyes. One of the movie reviews I read called him a “singing fire hydrant”.

Anne Hathaway gives an Oscar-worthy performance as Fantine, and her “I Dreamed A Dream” will win her that statuette next month. Might as well mail it to her already.

Amanda Seyfried (Cosette) and Eddie Redmayne (Marius) both have too much vibrato in their voices, but their acting is genuine and in the case of Redmayne, at times exhilarating. “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is emotionally overwhelming. Samantha Barks fares better as Eponine, but then she gets the musicals best songs by far. Helena Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen play the Thenardiers for laughs, and the parts are what they are — they are out of place in the stage musical, and they look even more out of place in the movie. Aaron Tveit makes for an excellent Enjolras.  The ensemble is terrific — and if you look closely, you will find dozens of Broadway and West End musical theater up and comers, in particular the guys playing the student compatriots of Marius and Enjolras.

Director Tom Hooper’s approach to the film is to close down some of it into closeup, while opening up other scenes for wide panoramas of sweeping scope. Aside from one odd shot in which St Paul’s Cathedral is visible in “Paris” (the movie was filmed in London), the sets look appropriately Parisian in nature. Most of the movie is filmed using hand-held cameras — now the standard for most action movies, new for musicals to be sure. There are some extreme closeups, and there are dizzying angles and camera sweeps. Photographers refer to putting things in “thirds”…Hooper works, at times, in “fourths” – with Javert, in particular, often appearing in the 4th quarter of the screen with nothing in the first three quarters. Its off-putting, and unique. After awhile, you start to feel that you are part of the action, that you are there, that you are peeking at the action from behind a crate or a ledge above; and Hooper wants it that way.

Les Miserables has always had its debates among the performance set: it’s an operetta masquerading as a musical…it’s a musical with operatic overtones. Its overblown, its overlong, its perfect. It should come as no surprise that the same debate rages now that the movie has been released. Take a look at the Broadway forum “All That Chat” for plenty of vitriol and debate. Reviews have been all over the map.

In reality, I don’t think it matters. Chalk up Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman), Best Actress (Anne Hathaway), Best Supporting Actor (Eddie Redmayne), and a slew of technical awards, from costumes to scenic design.

Movie Musical “Pitch Perfect” fits the bill (Review) October 7, 2012

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A-capella singing has come a long way since the dorky days of “a capella glee club” which most of us remember from our college years…riding the wave of popular tv-competitions, Glee, as well as the stellar success of the Indiana University Men’s “Straight No Chaser”, along comes the very entertaining “Pitch Perfect”.

Starring Anna Kendrick (here shown with new-hottie-on-the-block Skylar Astin (Spring Awakening), the movie follows the basic storyline of all such musicals: out-of-her-element college girl finds a girl-group a-capella singing group she likes, is pursued by boy-she-isn’t-sure-she-likes and by the end has found musical success and a new boyfriend. Forget the story — see this for the music, the great chemistry between the actors, and the (for the most part) live performances.

Written by 30-Rock screenwriter Kay Cannon, and directed by Jason Moore (Avenue Q), the show rocks more than a few Broadway folks in the show. Astin himself originated Georg in Spring Awakening. You’ll recognize plenty of Broadway folks in the different ensembles that make up the competing a-cappella teams. Rebel Wilson turns in a superb performance as “Fat Amy” and brings most of the laughs to the affair, but Cannon’s very witty screenplay supplies enough humor to keep the movie rolling from scene to scene. Particularly funny is the banter between Elizabeth Banks and Michael Higgins doing the “play by play” at the competitions — in fact, its so funny that lines often get cut off because you are still laughing from the previous line. Think 30-Rock at its absolute best — you know, the scenes you rewind on your DVR and write down the dialogue its that good.

But what makes the whole thing work is the musical numbers. Arranged by a-capella kings Deke Sharon, Ed Boyer, Ben Bram and others, the songs are perfectly performed (and, yes, to some degree autotuned, though it sounds better here than it does on most episodes of Glee). But the staging is real, the production numbers pop, and the competitions feel very real. Look out cheerleading competitions, you might have met your modern-day match.

In a fall season so far lacking much in the world of musical comedy, you can place a sure bet on Pitch Perfect. Go, have fun, eat popcorn, and don’t think too hard. Enjoy the show for what it is, and don’t be surprised if it (or a similar incarnation) finds its way onto the Broadway stage pretty darn soon.


Titanic in 3D is exquisite April 6, 2012

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First, despite the fact that this is primarily a blog of reviews, I am NOT going to review TItanic, the 1997 blockbuster now released in 3D. I am instead going to say that the remastered 3D version of the movie is simply spectacular, especially if seen in IMAX where the spectacular becomes exquisite.

The re-release of the picture also demonstrates so very clearly why this is a motion picture that needs to be seen on a giant movie screen (hopefully, the larger the better) and not on your television, iPhone, or iPad.

There it is: larger than life; underwater and above, sweeping across smokestacks, and running through boiler rooms. And the movie magic takes over once the Titanic scrapes the iceberg and the combination live-action and CGI-wizardry comes to life for the last hour of the movie.

In 3D, the water simply glistens, both inside and outside. In lovingly remastered shots the focus clearly draws the eye exactly where Cameron wants it to go. Rivets pop at you; bubbles burst around you; and it all reminds you of why this movie was the Box Office and Academy Awards champ that it was.  Sure, there is plenty to quibble about — there is the sappy love story (which seems less irritating now than it did 15 years ago); there is the Celine Dion song that nobody wants to hear ever again in their lives (although its orchestral variations throughout the movie serve their purpose to manipulate emotion just as they should); and there is the haunting but manipulative “nearer my God to thee” sequence while babies are put to sleep over bedtime stories and Monets and Degas float away. Yet its haunting in its beauty.

If you have seen it before, by all means rest assured that it looks even better in this 3D version. If you have never seen it out of spite, this is a good time to go see it, and take a look at that technical feat that Cameron and his crew accomplished with this movie 15 years ago that seems it hasn’t aged a day. If you were too young to have seen it in movie theaters, what are you waiting for: this out-Potters and out-Games any of the current blockbusters. And if you have only seen it on tv, then you have not seen TITANIC. Go right now.

I recall seeing this several times when it came out, one of the few movies I have ever seen in a movie theater more than once. And I feel the same way today — I have already purchased another IMAX ticket for tomorrow. Its a sweeping, dramatic, and stunning work of film that needs to be seen on that big screen, the way most of us originally saw it many years ago.

2011 Holiday Release Movies – Capsule Reviews January 1, 2012

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In lieu of full reviews for each of the following films as I have done in past holiday seasons, this year the movies are so well known and so thoroughly reviewed elsewhere that I will merely add capsule review summaries….From the sublime to the terrible:

THE ARTIST, currently front runner for Best Picture, and deservedly so, is a throwback to silent movies of the 20’s, with a modern sensibility. It ends with a three minute tap sequence that is easily one of the movie highlights of the year. I loved this movie top to bottom, and if you enjoy the craft of movie making and story telling, then don’t miss it.

Hand in hand is its modern partner HUGO, Martin Scorsese’s paean to the creation of film making. Based on the children’s book, it faithfully captures the spirit of the novel, while adding a depth of artistic celebration of all things good in films. Highly enjoyable, moreso for adults than children.

WAR HORSE galloped into movie theaters on Christmas Day, and it’s a splendid adaptation of the book by Spielberg and company. Sure, it’s more magical on stage at the Vivian Beaumont theater at Lincoln Center with those gorgeous Handspring Puppet Company horses, but the story shimmers on the big screen. Filmed for family audiences, Spielberg’s violence quotient is toned down, while never eliminating the horrors of the war story beneath. Highly recommended.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4: GHOST PROTOCOL is easily the best of the lot, and easily the best action movie of the holiday season. Jeremy Renner turns in an excellent performance, and Tom Cruise is tolerable. The action sequences are staged with brio and playfulness. You’ll have a great time, and woe-be-to-you if you have a fear of heights, because the centerpiece sequence of the film on the exterior of the world’s tallest building is brilliant – and nausea inducing, especially if seen in IMAX.

George Clooney scores another hit in the drama THE DESCENDANTS, which owes more than half it’s storyline to Terms of Endearment. The acting here is brilliant, and the film is a subtle study of grief, forgiveness, and those coincidences that give life meaning. Look for a Best Picture nomination. But don’t think it’s a fluff piece. This is serious drama, and its well acted and played, and the cinematography transports you to a Hawaii that most of us have never seen.

Also dealing with grief is the woefully misnamed WE BOUGHT A ZOO, which is really more about death, letting go, and moving on, and much less about the “hilarious zoo story” the movie is advertised to be to suck in your 7 year olds. There is little here for them, other than some adorable animals that make cameo appearances. But it’s really a family drama about learning to move on after the death of your spouse. I loved this movie, despite its schmaltz, and continue to admire what Cameron Crowe is able to do with minor material, and how good of an actor Matt Damon is becoming.

If you’ve already seen the Swedish version of GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO you’ve already seen the better of the two versions, although this is a perfectly good adaptation. Mostly you leave thinking that this was only the first third of the trilogy, and it’s a long one at that. The jarring Swedish accents by its international cast are also somewhat offputting. Its worth a viewing, but there are other films I’d see first.

THE MUPPETS is a perfectly awesome work of whimsy, thanks to Jason Segal and those hilarious Jim Henson creations. You’ll most likely find yourself tearing up often during this film if you are old enough to remember the original tv show and movies, and guaranteed during “Rainbow Connection” near the end of the film. Are you a Muppet of a Man, or a Very Manly Muppet? Go see this movie.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: GAME OF SHADOWS is basically a remake of the first movie, with a slightly more interesting story. Guy Ritchie has created a perfectly entertaining movie, while creating a London that is soul-less and bland. The sequel travels outside the UK for a good portion of the film, and its better for it. A decent evening out, but you won’t remember any of it the next morning.

THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN is mind-numbingly dull…most of us in the US did not grow up with this character, and its evident twenty minutes into the movie when you are on your third chase scene (all brilliantly drawn), when the under-12’s start gabbing, running around the theatre, and heading to the refreshment stands. The movie does nothing to create new fans, and doesn’t do much to keep those who are fans happy either.

Even worse is the mind and eye-numbing NEW YEAR’S EVE — in fact, you’ll want to stick a fork in your eyes by the time the twentieth major actor is introduced about fifteen minutes into the movie. In all honesty I lasted another 15 minutes and walked out at the half-hour mark, right around the time the film begins to get even more gag-bysmal. It’s the second worst reviewed movie of the year for very good reason. You have been warned.

YOUNG ADULT is a perfectly presentable movie if you a) like snarky and borderline psychotic lead characters; b) like Jason Reitman movies (yuck), and c) really have a love of those “go home to find yourself” movies…This is the second most feel-bad movie of the year. You won’t hate yourself for seeing the movie, but you might find yourself going home and deleting lots of old high school acquaintances from your Facebook contacts.

Several smaller films are still hanging around: MELANCHOLIA (the most feel-bad movie of the year) continues to show that Lars Von Trier is one of the best story-tellers around, and that his movies continue to become more depressing as the go on. MARGIN CALL is a brilliant look at the world of finance that most of us would never know about otherwise: it stars an excellent Zachary Quinto and ensemble cast, and views more like a play than a movie. Both Melancholia and Margin Call, while available at movie theaters, are also available on iTunes for rent or purchase, as well as Netflix. Also still hanging around are the less-than-blockbuster J. EDGAR, which has some excellent performances, and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN which seemed like it was a week too long to me.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS is a decent enough Christmas movie, with creepy CGI-based animation that still hasn’t figured out how to make human faces workable. The story is lightweight and funny, and although it is far from the “instant Christmas classic” that it is advertised to be, it will keep the “Prep and Landing” crowd satisfied.

One more for your consideration — mostly because it will certainly be considered for Acadamy Awards this year….on DVD and download is the August release THE HELP. If you have not seen it yet, rent it or buy it now. You’ll thank yourself for going back to watch this feature. In a similar boat is 50/50, the largely unseen fall release about a young man with cancer that is among my top 5 movies of the year.

And that’s the capsule summary for the holiday season. The only movies I did not go see are any of the horror movies, which I do not go to see, and any movies geared to the under-10 crowd (i.e. the Chipmunks movies).

My choices for the Best 5 Movies of the year?


2. 50/50




and I have to add a sentimental sixth: THE HELP