15 posts categorized "Musical"

June 16, 2012


‘80s Hair Band Fiesta
Broadway Musical Adaptation Leaves a Wet Spot
By Cole Smithey

Rock-of-ages-movie-poster-2Based on Chris D’Arienzo’s campy Broadway musical, “Rock of Ages” is a gaudy, spirited exhumation of music that many would prefer to forget ever existed. Famously described by Elvis Costello as the “decade that music forgot,” this version of the '80s are distilled into a collection of hard rock anthems by the likes of Bon Jovi, Foreigner, Journey, Twisted Sister, and Poison. Even within the realm of hair metal, tastes differ. D’Arienzo could have at least included a song or two from Hanoi Rocks or The Lords of the New Church for their accredited punk glam appeal.

Rock of ages

A Sunset Strip-based musical—circa 1987—constructed around songs like “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Any Way You Want It” isn’t a recipe for a great story. The movie version is left to inject a clumsy narrative with some much-needed kitsch via a litany of stunt casting choices. Contributing screenwriters Justin Theroux and Allan Loeb seem to have polished up the source material with a dose of witty throwaway lines in an attempt to juice up the humor.

Nonetheless, the overlong movie frequently stalls in mid-song as during Mary J. Blige’s set piece, which suffers the misfortune of arriving just when the movie should be wrapping up.

Rock of ages

Most of the action is contained in a raucous Sunset Strip bar called The Bourbon Room (clearly modeled on LA’s Whiskey a Go Go). A less-paunchy-than-usual Alec Baldwin plays aging hippie club owner Dennis Dupree with a goofy twinkle in his eye. Baldwin earns some well-deserved chuckles during comical character-revealing scenes played opposite bar manager Lonny (exquisitely played by the suitably cast Russell Brand). Dennis and Lonny share a special secret. Paul Giamatti does a deft turn as Paul Gill, the slimy music biz manager to Tom Cruise’s slothful heavy metal rock-god Stacee Jaxx. Cruise is easily ten years too old for the part. You can see his once youthful looks cracking around the edges of his face as he goes defiantly over the hill right before your eyes.

Catherine Zeta-Jones turns up the heat in her fired-up role as Patricia Whitmore, a Bible-thumping wife to LA’s newly elected mayor (played by an underused Bryan Cranston). Patricia has personal reasons for wanting to take Stacee Jaxx down a few rungs from his towering ladder of fame and sex appeal. As the site of Stacee’s last band appearance on his way to going solo, the Bourbon Room is Patricia’s prime target for immediate closure.


Vapid romance ensues between Detroit transplant/Bourbon Room runner Drew Boley (charmingly played by teen heartthrob Diego Boneta) and Kansas-escapee Sherie Christian (Julianne Hough). Both are aspiring singers, and Drew is the songwriter of the couple. An acoustic version of the first bars of “Don’t Stop Believin,’” that Drew sings to Sherie under LA’s iconic HOLLYWOOD sign, segues into a joke as he explains that the song goes “on and on and on and on.” Boneta and Hough don’t share enough screen chemistry to raise audience expectations. The fickle condition could be chalked up to the structure of a musical theatrical piece unfriendly to filmic adaptation.


Choreographer-turned-director Adam Shankman (“Hairspray)” is unable to prevent the film’s domino-cascade of two dozen musical set pieces from turning into a visual and aural drone. Still, “Rock of Ages” has enough panache and chutzpah from its well-oiled cast to make for an entertaining good time. Sure, the structure is off and the music is bland, but a centerpiece pool-table sex scene between Stacee Jaxx and Malin Akerman’s sultry Rolling Stone reporter Constance Sack leaves a wet spot.

Screen Shot 2020-04-27 at 10.46.03 PM

Rated PG-13. 123 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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July 14, 2008


 From Greece With Abba And Streep
Meryl Conquers the Mediterranean With Song

Colesmithey.comOnce it gets past its high-pitched squeals of estrogen-fueled excitement in the opening sequences, director Phyllida Lloyd’s screen adaptation of the popular Broadway play based on Abba songs, settles into a harmonically pleasing musical comedy set amid the extraordinary beauty of the Greek isle of Skopelos. Former 80s’ girl-trio singer Donna (exquisitely played by the ever-surprising Meryl Streep) has single-handedly raised her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) on the island where the two operate a rundown hotel villa.


On the eve of her marriage to local hunk Sky (Dominic Cooper), Sophie has used information she culled from her mom’s old diary to invite Donna’s three former boyfriends to the wedding in the hope of discovering the identity of her unknown father. Stellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, and Colin Firth do the honors as the trio of possible dads, and their arrival times well with that of Donna’s cherished band pals Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski). "Mamma Mia! The Movie" is tilted toward the play’s target audience of middle aged to elderly members, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of entertainment to be had for everyone else in this pop-tinged travelogue of Grecian opulence.


The biggest part of any director’s job is casting. It’s a dirty little secret that all the directing experience in the world can’t succeed without the right counterbalance of actors, conscious of the style and subtext of the material. To that end, renowned opera director Phyllida Lloyd makes her foray into feature film with the blessing of a perfectly balanced cast pitted with, and against, type so that each serves to ballast a far-fetched narrative in need of every bit of grounding it can get.


Loosely constructed from the plot template for the 1968 romantic comedy "Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell," starring Gina Lollobrigida, Telly Savalas, Peter Lawford, and Phil Silvers, "Mamma Mia!" artificially shoehorns more than 15 Abba songs into hit-or-miss plot point set pieces that give background on the spotlighted characters. It’s a carousel approach that refreshes the movie every five minutes with infectious joy, and exposition.


Dressed in high-water overalls and flimsy deck shoes, Meryl Streep is the ultimate ex-patriot matriarch living an idyllic existence with her sun-kissed daughter. Streep’s opening number "Money, Money, Money" announces Donna’s need for a man of means and establishes her no make-up approach to the woman at the eye of an emotional whirlwind that we already know will end well. It’s Meryl Streep making musical theater look not only easy, but also natural to a fault. With Streep’s famed glamour kept peacefully at bay, the film makes way for the unconventional casting of character actors Christine Baranski ("Bonneville") and Julie Walters ("Becoming Jane") to shine. The three women tear into an inevitable rendition of "Dancing Queen" that works all the better for the credible chemistry between them as they sing about past glories with Donna as their center of attention.


The lavish beauty of glistening Mediterranean blue water beneath majestic hilltops is barely a distraction during Donna’s climatic singing of "The Winner Takes It All" to the long-suffering Sam (Pierce Brosnan) as he does the math on their missed opportunities for romance and happiness. Brosnan’s palpable discomfort with singing and dancing, supports his character’s sense of displacement, and mirror’s Streep’s doughty embrace of Donna as a strong-willed woman without an ounce of artifice, save her constant need to break into song.


From its imaginative choreography and faux retro music production mode, "Mamma Mia! The Movie" is an explosion of pop sensibilities in a movie that makes lip-syncing look a far-sight better than anything on "American Idol." If there’s anything Meryl Streep can’t do on film, we haven’t seen it yet.

Rated PG-13. 108 mins.

3 Stars


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December 14, 2007


Tim Burton Paints Sondheim Red
By Cole Smithey

Director Tim Burton’s screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 Grand Guignol musical is at once mesmerizing and disappointing. Outstanding singing performances from its capable ensemble cast contrast unfavorably with Burton’s trademark affinity for a monochromatic color scheme of white, blue, brown and gray.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Review  |BasementRejects

Gallons of orange/red blood pour out beneath thankfully abbreviated songs performed in all-too-predictable orchestrations meant to cater to Broadway audiences familiar with the original Sondheim production. For such an idyllic gothic setting, Burton misses his cue to update the songs with orchestration, reharmonization, tempo, and key changes that could have corrected the music’s tendency to slip into a drone of same-sounding pitches.

The Sound of Musicals: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street —  Talk Film Society

Even with such musically backward attention paid to staying true to it’s pit orchestra limitations, Broadway traditionalists will likely chafe at screenwriter John Logan’s shortening of Sondheim’s script that cuts an hour from the play. Yet without Logan’s respectable effort, it is difficult to imagine that film audiences could withstand the material’s already redundant plotting.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street 2008, directed by Tim Burton  | Film review

The film begins aboard a London bound ship where fresh-faced youth Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower) sings the praises of the town upon the Thames as the greatest city in the world in "No Place Like London." Next appears Johnny Depp’s pale profile as Sweeney Todd, a renamed escapee from an Australian prison where the corrupt Judge Turpin (brilliantly played by Alan Rickman) erroneously sent him in order to steal away Todd’s lovely former wife and young daughter.

Best Sacha Baron Cohen movies ranked - GoldDerby

A shock of white hair (ala Dave Vanian of the punk band The Damned circa the "Phantasmagoria" album) cuts across Depp’s black hair and announces Sweeney’s vampire characteristics that blossom when he aligns himself with his former landlady, the widow Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). Giant cockroaches scurry around Mrs. Lovett’s filthy and unoccupied pie restaurant where she woos Sweeney with a song about her disgusting sweet meat pies. Lovett returns Sweeney’s box of well-kept razors from happier days and informs him of his late wife’s suicide. However clearly stated Sweeney’s mission is of slitting the throat of Judge Turpin, the crazed barber is prone to distraction and sets about killing untold numbers of men unlucky enough to wonder into his sparsely furnished barber shop above Mrs. Lovett’s bistro.

Film Fan: Sweeney Todd (4½ Stars)

True to form, each member of the cast gets at least one musical set piece built neatly into the plot. Sacha Baron Cohen gives an especially enjoyable scene-stealing turn as a travelling elixir salesman and barber Adolfo Pirelli who takes distinct delight in publicly abusing his wigged child assistant Toby (Edward Saunders). Sweeney publicly challenges Adolfo to an impromptu shaving duel that becomes more of a musical duet. The audacious display stirs Adolfo’s memory of Todd from before he was sent to prison, and dispatches Adolfo to unwittingly become Sweeney’s first victim when he attempts to extort the returning barber on Fleet Street.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street | Where to watch streaming  and online | Flicks.com.au

Loosely based on a 19th century stage play, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is a particularly bloody melodrama set to a decisively ‘70s Broadway sound. Tim Burton takes advantage of the gory material to press at the boundaries of its head-cracking, blood-spurting visuals and achieve a sublime brand of gothic horror that owes as much to the Hammer Dracula films of the ‘60s as it does to Stephen Sondheim.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street | Best Horror Movies on  Netflix March 2019 | POPSUGAR Entertainment UK Photo 3

There’s a pitch black humor here about revenge as an excuse for bloodlust. In the context of America’s Iraq/Guantanamo quagmire you could read Sweeney Todd as a merciful and equal opportunity executioner who recycles. Torture is beneath him. Our hero is only interested in passionate murder on a grand scale, and yet he is a lazy serial killer. His victims must come to him, just as audiences must gravitate to a Christmas season of bloodletting to relieve the pressure of blood spilling all around us. In the words of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, "The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly. The blood is the life Mr. Renfield."

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) | MUBI

Rated R. 117 mins.

3 Stars


Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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