24 posts categorized "Musical"

June 12, 2019

ROCKETMAN

RocketmanHindered by faulty construction and lax editing that tires out the audience long before its two-hour run time passes, “Rocketman” is nonetheless an energetic fantasy version of Elton John’s incredible career in music.

Inspired musical vignettes set to magnificent Elton John songs such as “The Bitch Is Back” or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” arrive with dance sequences that put “La La Land” to shame. There are times when it feels like the scattershot story gets in the way of the music.

This film’s overall success derives directly from Taron Egerton’s infectious performance as Elton John. His facial expressions deserve their own chapter in the latest book on the craft of film acting. There is magic here.

Rocketman-Taron-Egerton

This picture should serve as Egerton’s break-out feature film role given the vast gifts of physicality, emotional register, and dynamics on display here. You may not be familiar with Taron Egerton from his part in the forgettable “Kingsman” movie franchise, but Egerton’s Elton John blows Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury off the stage. Judging from Egerton’s work here, it seems as if there is nothing this fine British actor cannot, or will not, do.

Rocketman

Jamie Bell elevates his supporting role as Bernie Taupin, Elton’s songwriting partner, to something sublime. Bell matches Egerton note for note, beat for beat, in every scene they share. The effect is mesmerizing. Bryce Dallas Howard fulfills her role as Elton John’s cruel mother Sheila with laser-like precision. It makes you want to see Bryce Dallas Howard in more movies.

Rated R. 121 mins. (B+)

Four Stars

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September 16, 2015

THE BAND WAGON — CLASSIC FILM PICK

The_Band_Wagon Widely considered one of the greatest movie musicals of all time, Vincent Minnelli’s “The Band Wagon” connects a jumble of comedic backstage Broadway shenanigans with mix-matched show tunes via Fred Astaire’s impeccable dance routines. Cyd Charisse compliments Astaire’s flashy footwork with her own inimitable dance moves, some involving ballet since her character Gabrielle Gerard is a prima ballerina called upon to slum it in a kitchen-sink Broadway production based on the Faust legend. Yes, really.

The fleet footed Astaire was 53 when he made “The Band Wagon.” He had already lived several lifetimes as a song-and-dance-man, having performed for over 30 years in Vaudeville and on Broadway in a duo dance-act with his sister Adele. For most of the ‘30s Fred Astaire became a household name through his RKO contract with Ginger Rogers that produced 10 musical pictures, including “The Gay Divorcee (1935) and “Swing Time” (1936). Forever doomed to be half of a dance couple, Astaire shared billing with talented dancers such as Eleanor Powell, and Lucille Bremer when he came out of an early retirement to make a string of musical movies under MGM’s production banner.

BandWagon2

Arriving after the dust from World War II had begun to settle, and the American Dream was coming into focus, “The Band Wagon” takes an early stab at deconstructionist postmodernism. Astaire’s actor/dancer character Tony Hunter is an aging veteran of musical comedy whose star is fading. He’s been in Hollywood making movies for the past few years but the spark has gone out of his career. He arrives in Manhattan to read a script written by his husband-and-wife-team pals Lester (Oscar Lavant) and Lily Marton (Nanette Fabray), a couple of swinging kids who know the ins and outs of Broadway. The Martons take Tony to meet theatre renaissance man Jeffrey Cordova (Jack Buchanan), a producer/actor/director capable of putting up the show with his connections to “angel” backers. The irrepressible Cordova has ideas of his own (most of them bizarre) about how to rework the Marton’s script into a wildly dramatized piece of musical entertainment. Zany rehearsal sequences give way to beautifully choreographed set pieces build on tunes from the (Arthur) Freed and (Nacio Herb) Brown songbook.

One such sequence, entitled “Girl Hunt Ballet,” unforgettably mixes noir movie tropes with Harry Jackson’s slick choreography; see Cyd Charisse as a red-sequined femme fatale to Astaire’s fedora-wearing private dick. Astaire throws jazzy kicks and punches as a Mickey Spillane-knock-off in a bar filled with killers and black-clad dames. Here is a glimpse into the future of jazz dance that Bob Fosse helped create in the years that followed. Coincidentally, Fosse choreographed his first Broadway musical “The Pajama Game” a year after “The Band Wagon” came out.

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“That’s Entertainment” (written for the film by Schwartz and Dietz) became a hit and a standard. Director Vincente Minnelli went on to a prolific career that included “Lust for Life” (starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh). Fred Astaire would only make three more musicals after “The Band Wagon,” before turning to a film and television career as a dramatic actor. Clearly, when he made this movie, he still had plenty of gas left in the tank.

BandWagon4

Not Rated. 112 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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November 24, 2013

CABARET — CLASSIC FILM PICK

CabaretBob Fosse won a much-deserved Oscar for his uniquely constructed adaptation of a successful musical drama set during Germany’s brutal shift towards Nazism in the early ‘30s. Weimar Republic era Berlin witnesses Brown Shirt-inflicted violence in the streets. Racism rules.

On-location filming in Germany contributes to the film’s visual sense of historic realism. Mixed crowds of locals, military officers, diplomats, and tourists congregate in the audience of the Kit Kat Klub, a seedy little nightclub of debauched delights lorded over by Joel Grey’s wiry enigmatic master-of-ceremonies. The opening number (“Willkommen”) is a showstopper of exotic style and musical delivery. Welcome to the cabaret. 

The bawdy burlesque stage-show is ribald social theater with smart doses of corrective criticism, however cleverly concealed by an all-woman jazz band dressed in underwear and corsets, and a repertoire of innuendo-laced jokes and songs from their grandiloquent emcee.

Cabaret-Liza

If You Could See Her” is an especially incisive number that Grey’s naughty everyman character sings about regarding a German man in love with a Jewish woman.

Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is a sexually ravenous cabaret singer with a great voice, hot dance moves, and a sexy pixie-hair-cut. She wears green nail polish. However clad in masculine costumes, androgynous — the sultry Sally Bowles is not. Her probable bi-sexuality is another matter.

Fosse subverts the play’s common musical form. He removes the artifice of characters breaking into song. With only two nuanced exceptions, all of the film’s songs occur in the live-performance space of the story’s emblematic nightclub location. Fosse juxtaposes a formal proscenium camera approach during the musical sequences, with precise editing, to give the viewer an intimate theatrical experience inside the cabaret. The story, however, takes place outside where a political and economic tidal wave is crashing.

Cabaret

Fosse’s dazzling choreography is steadily on display. Every leg move or facial expression is provocative. Fosse’s cultured artistic vision inspires otherworldly performances from his actors. The ensemble work from Liza Minnelli and Joel Grey — in roles they were seemingly born to play — convey a cynical and rebellious attitude of free expression that gives pre-war German audiences and performers an intimate form of escapism entertainment — nudity included of course.

British ex-pat English instructor Brian Roberts (Michael York) moves into to the same boarding house with Sally. Hot blushes of romance flicker between them but Brian doesn’t play for Sally’s team, well not at first anyway. Brian’s bi-sexuality carries the film’s main subplot regarding his romantic relationship with Sally after the entrance of Max, a playboy baron who swings both ways between Sally and Brian while the world around them collapses.

“Cabaret” gives the magnificent songs of John Kander and Fred Ebb the proper regard they deserve in the narrative context of Jay Presson Allen’s economical script. Fosse elevates the music with exquisite song and dance performances. The purposefully compartmentalized subplot serves as Greek Chorus of novelistic information.

Bob Fosse is the only director in history to ever win a Tony, an Emmy, and an Oscar, all in the same year. In 1972 Bob Fosse won a Tony for his Broadway production of “Pippin.” He won an Emmy for his television special “Liza with a Z.”

Cabaret-joelGrey

Rated PG. 124 mins. (A+) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)


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