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The Polar Express is the worst Christmas movie ever. December 22, 2018

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“I may be just an old railroader but”…The Polar Express movie (2004) is one of the worst Christmas movies ever.

1. The CGI, while relatively good for the train and the scenery, is horrible with faces. As a result, the people all look, well, creepy. Tom Hanks and Josh Hutcherson notwithstanding, its frigging terrible.

2. Those elves! OMG! Talk about creepy. “I’ll take care of this…truuuust me”. Gives me shivvers every time I hear that creature-elf say that to Billy then he rips the box out of his hands.

3. The songs. Believe is a lovely Christmas song. It put Josh Groban on the map nationally. But the soaring and repetitive score doesn’t match the action at all.

4. Santa! What the heck is wrong with Santa! He looks like he melted somewhere along the way.

6. That strange “Santa Claus is coming to Town” sung by the elves. No, really, it’s the strangest thing ever. 

7. Billy’s animation. He’s always in the background moving his head around like he doesn’t have a good view. 

8. Obnoxious Good Girl. Enough said. Talk about “know it alls”. 

9. Know-It-All-Kid is the only one that really gets what’s going on – and they treat him like the antagonist??

10. “The FIrst GIft of Christmas” — a bell. Really? Rich self-entitled kid from Grand Rapids only wants a bell? What the hell?

11. The whole story. Train conductor lures children onto a train in the middle of the night to go to the North Pole? Want some hot chocolate little boy?

12. Hot hot hot chocolate. Where the heck did these waiters all come from? Never seen again and clearly not onboard the train when they are walking end to end. Um, did they just jump off the train? Did the conductor push them off?

13. I believe the girl saying “I didn’t do it” before I believe those creepy elves sitting in judgement. Everyone is the worst. Never trust an elf.

14. A train would never glide on ice like that – it would just tip over and kill everyone on board.

15. That train keeps changing sizes. Sometimes it has 10 cars. Sometimes, 6. Sometimes 3. Whatever.

16. Learn, Count on, Lead, Believe. Ha! Hahahahahaha. What are they teaching these kids? It’s nothing I need know. 

17. Don’t eat blue snow.

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Practically Perfect “Mary Poppins Returns” (review) December 20, 2018

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The greatly awaited Mary Poppins Returns has opened – and despite a few mis-steps, it is another instant Disney classic and one of the best pictures of the year.

Picking up a few decades after the original, Michael and Jane Banks are all grown up – he’s a bank teller but wannabe artist, and she’s a social reformer (its mentioned once and never referred to again). Michael’s wife has recently died, he’s finding it difficult to manage the house, the children, and the mortgage (gasp), and it’s high time Mary returns to help. Just like the original, Mary returns more to help the adults than the kids. But the kids are the ones that get to have a great time.

In a uniformly excellent cast, Emily Blunt is practically perfect as Mary, which should come as no surprise at all to those who have followed her career, including musicals. Lin-Manuel Miranda is terrific as lamplighter Jack (and emotion-lighter for Jane, who otherwise kinda has little do to in this movie) and his musical theater roots are on full display in both his lovely mellow singing voice (yes, singing, not hip-hop rapping – well, almost not rapping but I’ll get to that) and his hoofing! Tap, modern, jazz, Broadway, he gets to do it all here and he’s terrific. 

Ben Whishaw is outstanding as Michael. His sad eyes occasionally twinkle in recognition of his childhood adventures with Mary, and he has a lovely understated singing voice. When things take flight in the penultimate scene, he literally makes you believe his anxiety has been left earthbound while he soars skyward. Emily Mortimer is a solid and spunky Jane. 

There are several great cameo appearances, and while some have been publicized (Meryl Streep) others are a terrific surprise so I won’t spoil that here. Streep, for the record, gets to play a fun and zany character that is saddled with the absolutely worst song in the movie (oh, I’ll get to THAT as well). Colin Firth plays a dynamite bad guy. Julie Walters is fun as the maid.

Disney pulls out all the stops in Broadway director/choreographer Rob Marshall’s production. The sets and costumes look great, and there is nostalgic fun in mixing live-action with animation (and wow, has it come a long way since 1964) but also some true  movie magic once they start mixing live action, animation, AND CGI at the same time. It’s great work.

It makes you almost (almost) forget the dreadful hip hop segment that Miranda performs while books become magical stairsteps. I think people know my thoughts on hip hop, and it’s no different here. On the other hand, his show-stopping “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” gets it just right.

That brings me to the one downside of the affair – Marc Shaiman’s lackluster forgettable score. Shaiman is an expert at making things “sound” like the 60’s which fits the style of the movie completely – just like he did with Hairspray and Catch me If You Can. What he can’t do here is create a single hummable tune. So while the score “sounds” a bit like the original, it comes nowhere near to the powerhouse score that lifted Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke into musical heaven. In fact, I found myself humming Step in Time as I left the theater, not anything from this movie. And there are two horrendous mis-steps…the first, the aforementioned hip hop sequence in “A Cover is not the Book”, an otherwise perfectly serviceable, if forgetable, montage of music-hall songs. But that is nothing compared to the dreadful “Turning Turtle” that Streep is saddled with. I’m not even going to bore you with the details there – you’ll see for yourself and shake your head.

It’s not often that you get an audience of movie reviewers clapping midstream, and cheering along with the action, so on the general movie front, Mary Poppins Returns succeeds grandly.

I just wish it had a score that made it Best Picture worthy. As it is, it’s just Best Picture Nominee worthy. 

Very Highly Recommended.

“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

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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

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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

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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.

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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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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.

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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

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Movies, Musicals.
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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.