16 posts categorized "Musical"

December 07, 2012

Les Misérables

Les MiserablesAudiences new to Boubil & Schoenberg’s stage musical — based on Victor Hugo’s novel of historical fiction — may be surprised to discover that the wooly narrative isn't as compelling as they imagined it might be.

The era is 19th-century post-revolutionary France. A villainous police inspector [Javert – Russell Crowe] keeps up an inexplicably motivated lifelong vendetta against Jean Valjean (flawlessly played and sung by Hugh Jackman). Valjean spent 19 years slaving away under Javert’s brutality in Toulon prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child. Upon his release, Valjean breaks his parole. When the desperate ex-convict attempts to steal silver from a church, the priest there forgives the arrested Valjean. The man of God goes further. He gives Valjean two expensive silver candlestick holders. Informed of his freshly imposed duty to God, Valjean turns over his life. Eight years later he is mayor to a small French village.

The plot skips through eight-year time lapses. Javert stays hot on Valjean’s trail. The benevolent Valjean adopts Cosette (well played by Isabelle Allen and Amanda Seyfried), the daughter of Fantine (Anne Hathaway), a young woman who perishes as a direct result of Jean’s involuntary response regarding an incident at the factory where she worked. More eight-year leaps and the womanly Cosette falls in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne) a student revolutionary.

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That’s the gist. However, that little synopsis doesn’t reveal how mundane the songs sound — regardless of their bombastic arrangements. Then there’s director Tom Hooper’s filmic tendency to reduce big-spectacle settings into a claustrophobic experience. Extended close-ups of the actors’ faces hitting their notes accumulate toward an audience-distancing effect. The visual impression loses context over time because the audience is left to be fixated on every wrinkle on Anne Hathaway’s lips.

Nonetheless, Hooper’s style works whenever Hugh Jackman is on-screen — which thankfully is much of the time. I can’t think of a more capable or ideal actor who could have given such an exquisite singing and acting performance. Every time the epic story threatens to lull you to sleep, Hugh Jackman snaps you back with his commanding presence in a soul-bearing role.

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Tom Hooper’s film version of Les Misérables‬ is an entertaining experience, but you might start to nod off from time to time. The film’s opening shot of hundreds of prisoners pulling a giant ship into dock is worth the price of admission alone. Sacha Baron Cohen adds considerably to the film’s much-needed area of comic relief as Thenardier, a pickpocket innkeeper with an equally skilled wife (played by the ever persuasive Helena Bonham Carter).

All of the ensemble performances are solid, even if Russell Crowe’s effort is forced and stiff. You won’t leave the cinema humming any “memorable tune” from the show. You will, however, have newfound respect for Hugh Jackman. It looks like Daniel Day Lewis does have some competition after all.

Rated PG-13. 157 mins. (B-) (Three stars - out of five/no halves)  


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June 16, 2012

ROCK OF AGES

‘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.

Rock-of-Ages

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.

Rock-of-ages

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

MAMMA MIA! THE MOVIE

COLE SMITHEY

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Colesmithey.com

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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