Archive for the ‘SINGING MUSICAL’ Category

Sing & Moana

29 Jan


Sing – directed by Garth Jennings. Animated feature. 110 minutes Color 2016.


Moanadirected by Ron Clements and John Musker. Animated Feature. 110 minutes Color 2016.


Stories: Both stories deal with ambitions thwarted and then triumphed.


Both films are perfectly suited to adults. And where I sat, the children were as quietly attentive as the adults that accompanied them. Why is that?

A maximum of surprises, movement, angles, colors.

An amplitude of wit.

And they supply – worse than any live action film can – horrendous catastrophe. In Sing it’s a catastrophic flood. In Moana it’s deified lava.

But the young hero and heroine surmount all difficulties. Not without unlikely escapes and rescues and a sentimentality that would crush a nun dressed as a dragon. (Neither of these feature such a creature.)

In Sing, to save his theatre, the young Koala Bear owner must put on a talent show. In Moana, a young woman must bring back a talisman to save her island people.

I enjoyed myself no end. I simply wandering in to sample them while waiting for the feature I’d paid for to start. Remained riveted to my seat.

In the watching, these films dwell on nothing. Remarkable individual beauties and Voltaire-like coups of imagination flit by in sumptuous plentitude. I wish they’d wait for me – I was reared on Pinocchio.

 My favorite character of all was played, in Sing, by the director Garth Jennings as Mrs Crawly, a superannuated loyal iguana secretary with a wandering glass eye. Every time the old woman meandered on in her well-meaning way, I rejoiced.

Such films are rightly called “animated.” For they animate the variety and particularity of the truth and comedy of human gesture in a way that no straight film actor can achieve – because animators are more daring than actors. Because more shameless.

In animation, we expect over-acting. Which means more acting than is necessary. Animation cannot achieve depth of performance, which is what human screen acting can, but it can achieve breadth of performance, which is what human screen acting avoids like Swiss cheese.

In Sing the characters are animals; in Moana, humans. I notice the animals in Sing are more human than the humans in Moana. But I quibble not.

I loved them, and you won’t waste your time, nor is time wasted on you, should you drag your inner or outer child to either or both.


Into The Woods

04 Jan

Into The Woods – directed by Rob Marshall. Musical. 125 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: In art, all woods are The Woods Of Error. Here, Little Red Riding Hood, The Miller and His Wife, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Jack and the Beanstalk stumble into one another’s stories in the woods in order to lift the curses of their various character traits.


It’s so unevenly cast that I didn’t know what to do with it. Then I just sat back in my seat and decided to let it wash over me. After all, here I was being presented with a great big dolloping Hollywood musical: just my dish of tea.

What’s wrong with it is that some of the principles seemed not belonging in a musical at all. Actors who might be able to sing, as opposed to singers who might be able to act. No dancers in sight. That sort of thing. I name no names. It’s too late for that.

What’s good about it is the rampant artificiality of the sets. What’s not so good is that one senses the two brothers who sing on a waterfall appear to have been filmed somewhere else and then stuck onto the cascade like paper dolls. They relate neither to the water nor to the peril of their situation. What’s good about it is that the two young men sing a song of the agony of frustrated love wonderfully.

What’s bad about it is Steven Sondheim’s hardened acidity, a quality which has etched away melody from his songs and left him with utilitarian recitatives, systems of music he can open like bureau drawers and put some new words into. (He used the same music in A Little Night Music.) His songs have no song. What’s good about it is that if the words are sometimes too witty to go anywhere inside you, they are matchless in their dexterity, which like a rapid game of badminton, is fun to watch – or rather hear.

What’s good about it is the complicity with which the plots of the story intersect and feed one another. What’s bad about it is that the stories eventually over-complicate.

What’s good about it is that happily-forever-after is just a trope to close down a tale, not an oracle of future bliss. For what’s bad about it is that, once we reach that point, the movie extends itself into unhappily-ever-after. Plot developments then wreck the use of fairy tales. Fairy tales are psychologically profound without the intrusion of a realism inapt to their own decorums.

What’s good about it is that it’s delightful to meet the old friends of these tales. What’s bad about it as that towards the end one wishes they would pick up their skirts and dash for the finish line.

I loved Daniel Huttlestone as Jack and Johnny Depp as The Wolf. I like mischief. I liked the intimacy and realism of Meryl Streep’s witch singing of motherhood to Rapunzel. I wished the story’s director had rationed her trick of goosing the story up by sudden magical appearances out of nowhere.

But I didn’t let any of this bother me at the time. Or only a little. I watched. As I say, I let it wash over me. I shall go to the theatre to see it again – or rather to listen to it again. I say all this to encourage you to go also. But be warned in advance. Gird yourself. The fractured fairy tale does become compound.









Begin Again

11 Aug

Begin Again – directed by John Carney. Showbiz Musical. 104 minutes Color 2014.


The Story: A record producer hitting bottom discovers a singer of uncertain talent.


“Why doesn’t that young woman have her teeth fixed?” is my mantra watching Keira Knightley, and it comes up every time her acting fails her, which is half the time. Otherwise I watch her with surprise that she has any talent at all and with admiration for it when it arises.

The problem lies with over-writing, a common flaw with a writer/director. They never know when to cut the dialogue. There’s some very good stuff in this script, but every word is not a darling. A good example of this is a brilliantly directed scene brilliantly played by Knightley when her singer/boyfriend comes back to New York from a trip to LA and sings a song he wrote while away. It slowly dawns on her that he has been unfaithful. Without a word, the look in her eyes tells the story, and is the only story we need told. She boxes his ear. It’s enough. But no. The banalities start: “It just happened,” and so forth.

Another error is that this boyfriend returns to the story, too late to reengage our interest in him, if it was ever engaged, which it probably was not, because it is played by Adam Levine who is too perfectly cast as self-centered. Again, as the credits roll, the director continues the denouement of the story in a way that is both unnecessary and distracting from the honor owed to those on those credits.

Knightley’s character begins interestingly, as a diffident, sharp-tongued young songwriter, and at first this is so well rendered by Knightley, we actually imagine we are presented with a character. But the script fails her, and she is left, as are we, with an actress having to come up with something. Sometimes she’s pretty good at it. Other times not.

Eventually what she has to come up with is the singing of songs, which she does in a sweet small voice. The difficulty is that the songs by her and Levine are sung with such poor enunciation one cannot make out the words, and, the melodies being undistinguished, the words are where the action is supposed to be. For the punch of the story supposedly lies in the brilliance of these songs. It’s not my sort of music anyhow.

Mark Ruffalo’s acting contained his customary riffs and ruffs and a beard, which is an error of histrionics. He is a leading man whose face you cannot really see. Otherwise he is fine; the script supports him when he is, when it doesn’t he fails. But the ad hoc working up of the demo disc in New York locales is a lot of fun, and so is James Corden as Knightley’s sidekick, Cee Lo Green as an old crony of Ruffalo, Mos Def as his business partner, Hailee Steinfeld as his wayward daughter, and Catherine Keener as his diffident, sharp-tongued wife.

I liked the ending. There was applause when it came. But me? – I didn’t get no satisfaction. Try it. See what you think.


Holiday In Mexico

20 Jul

Holiday In Mexico – directed by George Sidney. Musical. 128 minutes Color 1946.


The Story: The daughter of the ambassador to Mexico convinces herself into an imbroglio and then sings her way out of it.


Jane Powell’s first film at MGM which produced, let’s say overproduced, ten years of her subsequent films. These were the sort of films one stayed away from in the dull days of DDI. Those were the times when The American Dream was just invented. It consisted then as now of two things: a tract home and golf. And that demented fiction: The Girl Next Door. Taken over from Dianna Durbin and Judy Garland, this presented the American teen-age lass as sparkling, as jolly, and as virginal as an icecream soda.

Jane Powell began very good at this, except that she not only plays characters who are irritating but she also is so. And she is so because, at this point in her development, everything she does as an actor is pat. It is new but it is never fresh, which makes it shiny but conventional. For she is never in the moment. She on top of the moment as one might be said to be on top of a carousel horse. So, while her responses are always on the money, they come out as miniature mugging. She’s not riding a real horse.

Three kinds of acting are on display here, and they are wonderful to behold in juxtaposition. Next to Powell as her father is that master of imperturbability, Walter Pidgeon. He is riding a real horse. He never brings anything new but everything he does is fresh, so it looks new. Everything he does belongs to him. Nothing is forced. Everything is right. He is easy in his craft. He has presence. He has bearing. He has humor about himself and others. His alias is Aplomb. He is completely responsive to the actors opposite him. And at the end he gives one of the most beautifully delivered, down-to-earth tablecloth speeches I have ever heard an actor negotiate.

The speech is good also because it’s well-written, although the same may not be said for the scenario as a whole, which involves our Jane, aged fifteen, running after José Iturbi, a grandfather. We won’t go into it. It is a wonder Xavier Cugat himself does not go after her; he was said to have an eye for Chihuahuas and nymphets. Chihuahuas and nymphets? Actually they’re both the same thing.

In the third kind of acting, Mikhail Rasumny, plays a Russian Ambassador whose daughter has fallen for Pidgeon. What was going on in The Moscow Art Theatre at that time had nothing to do with Lee Strasburg. This is brilliant prototypical comic Russian acting. Don’t miss it. One scene. He’s hilarious. A masterwork of its type. A lesson in the craft.

To say the film is a holiday is bunko; it is not a holiday; they are in residence – which is no more Mexican than the MGM backlot. And Cugat and Iturbi were Spanish.

Yet the whole business is beautifully produced and costumed and directed. And Iturbi’s piano numbers are a lot of fun to watch. As is the finale – where they all appear in a outdoor concert with our Jane singing Ave Maria (written by an Austrian) in an open air arena the size of Arizona.


The Jazz Singer

09 Mar

The Jazz Singer – directed by Richard Fleischer. Musical. A Jewish cantor is cursed by his father for going into popular music. 114 minutes Color 1980.

This is the third version I have seen of this and the best. It was originally cobbled up by the great screenwriter Samson Raphaelson for Al Jolson, and became the first talking picture. Jerry Lewis played it; then (with Mildred Dunnock and Arthur Franz) with Danny Thomas, who is no more Jewish than my cat and certainly not a singer (Peggy Lee supplied the deficiency), and now with Neil Diamond who certainly is both. Samson Raphaelson thought it was the cheapest piece of crap he’s ever written, but it’s not. In fact, the versions get better over time.

I didn’t see it when it came out, but I hear that Neil Diamond’s version was much maligned when it came out, which probably had to do with the nature of Neil Diamond’s singing or his music or both. I had never heard him sing before this movie. His energy, in the rock and roll era, rolls but does not rock, true. For his natural beat is settled and steady, not volatile and Bacchanalian. His voice is one of those reassuring male voices like Dick Haymes’. It’s a romantic alto inhered with a pleasant crack and a good yearning. Everything he does with it is simple, straightforward, and straight. There is no gender question here. He is always honest.

As to the songs, I cannot judge; it is not my era. I have long since been inured to the doxologies of popular music. I like “Hello, Again,” though it’s rather witless. But that none of the songs speak to me particularly is no gauge of their charm and of their excellence.

Certainly as an actor Neil Diamond is beyond reproach. In his late thirties at the time it was made, Diamond is 20 years too old for the part and looks it. I guess it doesn’t much matter, though; every actor I have seen do it was too old for it. It’s his first acting job and he’s just dandy. He plays firm, focused, and fluid opposite Laurence Olivier, a trixey actor if there ever was one. They have replaced Mildred Dunnock and Arthur Franz with Olivier, who gives us one of his sweet old dears. Unfortunately Olivier does it behind the oddest pair of spectacles, big square jobs that reflect and screen his eyes. Olivier was a poor technician with American accents, and, while he makes much of his Jewish one here, it also makes little of him.

And Olivier is certainly not slumming. For the film is beautifully produced by Jerry Leider, who provides an amiable commentary. And beautifully acted by Sully Boyer, Mike Kellin, and Franklyn Ajaye. What a treat they are! But the great discovery for me is Lucie Arnaz as Diamond’s manager. What a charming actress. She’s absolutely on the money, in every scene, a delightful light comedienne. And so pretty, isn’t she? I was an extra in a movie she made in Santa Fe. She was nifty then. She is so here.

If you like musicals this is a good old fashioned one. It’s the old story of the prodigal son who never comes back. Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy is another version of it. So is Humoresque. There are many, and this one will hold you, if it held me.

Comments Off on The Jazz Singer



Les Misérables

25 Jan

Les Misérables – directed by Tom Hooper. Musical-melodrama. A prisoner upon his release breaks parole and is hounded by a magistrate all his life, despite his reformed nature. 158 minutes Color 2012.
Many people relate to this material, for it has had a world-wide success which in no way will this film abate. But I am baffled as to why.

All I can suppose is that in an age of crass and faithless self-deception such as ours, the noble strain in humans is invisible, and that folks want to go along with and believe in someone who is faithful, not crass, and undeceiving at heart. Few modern screen actors possess a noble strain, and Hugh Jackman certainly is one of them, and is so obvious for the part one is shocked to hear others had been considered. Jackman has done various musicals before, and has the voice to boot. It is a treat to watch his beautiful face.

The terrible difficulty is that the music is paltry.

The terrible difficulty with the music is that every time someone belches they go into an aria. Every time someone walks through a door, they start singing. It’s a through-written musical, but it never knows when to be through.

The difficulty is that the part of Éponine scrambles to the fore at a late stage, where it is needed not at all, and performs nothing but a drain on our loyalties.

The difficulty is that Russell Crowe cannot perform the role of Javert, the magistrate, either musically or dramatically. He stands there pumping his energy out in little spurts. But what you need to do to play that part is either be Charles Laughton or watch what Charles Laughton did. Javert is a great role, and Laughton’s is one of the great characterizations ever put on film. Crowe’s performance is a nullity.

The supporting performances are fine, more or less, right from the stage though they are. And someone should win an Oscar for the wigs. Anne Hathaway sings her number well. Helen Bonham Carter and Sasha Baron Cohen make hay with the Master Of The House material, which is more stage-worthy than cinematic, but never mind. And Eddie Redmayne, once again miscast as a romantic lead, nevertheless once again rises to the occasion and sings all his little songs well.

All his little songs. There are no other sorts of songs, save the big patter numbers, which are the usual Broadway stuff (and welcome). Every time someone sings one of these little songs, they become self-tragic. And each time they do, the story diminishes in size, just as the songs do, just as the character who sings the song does. Everything gets littler. Perhaps that’s what miserableness means.

There is an opening image of a great huge foundering frigate being dragged into drydock. It seems a suitable symbol for Les Misérables, a vast dismembered hulk hauled before us.

Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button