I never saw Oliver and Company when I was a kid but I remember seeing the trailer for it whenever we watched a Disney film on VHS. Every time I saw it I wanted to watch it but it never happened. Probably because I’d get too distracted by whatever Disney film I was going to watch. It always looked really fun and, as someone who loved dogs, I was obviously into the idea of Oliver Twist being remade with animals. I mean if The Lion King has taught us anything it’s that taking a piece of great literature and retelling it with animals is a great strategy for storytelling. I mean who’d even heard of Hamlet before Disney introduced us to Simba, right? Plus, there is a whole host of Disney films that prove that dogs and/or cats having adventures together is an instant winner. I’m not a big fan of Dickens anyway so I couldn’t imagine how it could get any worse by involving household pets.
I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.
Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.
There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.
But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.
It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.
After La La Land started being nominated and, subsequently, winning a shitload of awards there were plenty of articles suggesting that actors Emma Watson and Miles Teller were livid that they had turned down the chance to be in the film. But it’s just nonsense. The film has achieved such success because Emma Watson and Miles Teller didn’t end up playing the roles. No offence to either of them, and ignoring any rumours of them both being too demanding, but it’s surely the chemistry between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling that made the film. What is a love story without the love, after all? I know I’m not the biggest fan of Emma Watson as an actor anyway but you can’t pretend that La La Land wouldn’t have been a completely different film without it’s two stars. They can regret giving up on the role now that Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are being recognised but who can honestly say that it would have received so many nominations with a different line-up? Nobody. It always strikes me as super bitchy when actor’s talk about giving up on a role. Like they’re just trying to take ownership of something that isn’t theirs and, probably, shouldn’t ever have been. If Emma Watson preferred to be auto-tuned in the remake of Beauty and the Beast instead of the being in this original piece of musical cinema then she has to accept that and let Emma Stone have her moment of glory. It’s just selfish bringing attention to yourself to try and overshadow someone else’s achievements.
If I’m honest, I wasn’t ever sure that I was going to see La La Land. I loved how quirky and retro it looked but I was also incredibly worried about how quirky and retro it looked. I mean I love oddities and quirks. I like to consider myself to be vaguely quirky but, have to admit, that it’s mostly wishful thinking and I’m probably fairly normal. What I do find annoying is quirk for quirk’s sake. You know weirdness that doesn’t belong or is misplaced. Like those super irritating girls who describe themselves as “random” because they like doing incredibly normal things. It’s the Zooey Deschanel thing. I’ve always loved her but found New Girl to be a step too far. As if she’s taken the image she’d created and then turned it up to 11 because that’s what she thought people liked about her. Or Noel Fielding. A guy who was beloved for his weird sense of humour on The Mighty Boosh but who went over the edge in his shitty solo offering Luxury Comedy.
When people go out of their way to highlight the things that make them different it can so easily slide into something that feels more like parody or farce. I worried that La La Land would go off the rails. It looked too good to be true so I was too scared to find out for sure. Thankfully, I was wrong and it’s exactly as good as it looks. It puts me in mind of so many classic films but, more importantly for awards season, also The Artist. Both films have taken inspiration from the Golden Age of Hollywood and have received critical acclaim and countless awards nominations. However, La La Land managed to do what The Artist wasn’t fully able to. It has won around audiences too. People may not be willing to accept a silent movie in the 21st century but they’re more than okay with people singing and dancing in the middle of LA.
Musicals are always going to be accessible and the story is so well-written that it’s impossible not to go along for the ride. The film charts the journey of it’s couple through the changes of the season starting and ending in Winter. We meet Mia (Emma Stone) a struggling actor who, between auditions, works at the coffee shop on the Warner Bros. lot. She has a couple of not so pleasant run-ins with wannabe Jazz pianist Seb (Ryan Gosling) before meeting him at a party. Seb, who has only ever been rude and brusque up to Mia at this point, is humiliated to be seen playing synth for a shitty electro outfit. Naturally, when the pair spend time together they come to realise that, despite her hatred of Jazz, they belong together. Their love is pure and childish and delightful to behold. However, the pair are also battling with ambition and must decide what is more important to them: their relationship or their dreams?
It might seem like an age old story that Hollywood has been tackling for year but La La Land keeps it fresh. It is the chemistry between the two actors that makes their love story so tender and sweet. Every part of the film comes together to create something that is truly beautiful and full of joy. The use of colour, the choreography, the music, and the characters are all so perfect. It is a story that so obviously fits into a contemporary setting thanks to observations regarding the Prius fad and YouTube. However, it is also a story that could fit into any time. It is a basic and honest story of two people caught between their dreams and their love. It’s heartbreaking and incredibly heartwarming in equal measures.
There have, of course, been comments regarding the suitability of the film’s stars in terms of musical performers. It’s to be expected but, really, is complete bollocks. Gosling and Stone aren’t the most seasoned of singers but they do an incredibly good job at holding a tune. If anything the lack of polish just makes their story seem more real and captivating. It’s as if, instead of contrived situations in which singers start singing in the street, we are seeing two people with emotions so strong and pure that they can’t help themselves. And the two actors do stupendous jobs in the roles that it would be a crime to have someone else play them so the songs sound better. Emma Stone is just perfect in this film. She is elegant, witty, charming, and slightly beaten down. She is exactly the type of star that Mia has revered all of her life and hopes to become. Ryan Gosling shows great depth here. Seb is someone who is so lost in the past that he is unwilling to accept anything new. He is holding back from himself and from Mia. Gosling plays Seb in a subtle and lovable way so the character never feels too alienating. He’s passionate instead of pretentious and intense. It’s no wonder these two are getting so much attention.
I’ve never been more glad that I ignored my initial thoughts about a film than I have with this. My first instincts told me I’d love this film and it is definitely one of the greatest things I’ve seen in a long time. I instantly wanted to re-watch it and I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat. I realise, as the Oscars get closer, that people will criticise it for not seeming important enough to be put in the running for Best Picture. It’s true that La La Land isn’t trying to change the world or change people’s attitudes. It’s not giving a voice to people that don’t have one or trying to right wrongs. But, you know what, who gives a fuck? Things don’t always need to be important. Sometimes joy is enough of a reason. I can’t think of a single film that has given me as much sheer joy as this one in a long time. If that doesn’t make it a worthy nominee then I don’t know what does.
This has been a week of great losses. With actress Liz Smith leaving us on Christmas Eve, George Michael’s death on Christmas Day, and Richard Adams dying on 27th December it was already bleak. Then we had the absolutely devastating news that Carrie Fisher had passed away on December 27th after being in hospital for 4 days. Finally. only 1 day after her daughter, the legendary actress Debbie Reynolds died of a suspected stroke yesterday. It’s heartbreaking news and I can’t imagine how their family are coping with everything. Both women were iconic and important in their own time and the world is a sadder and darker place without them. Just as Carrie Fisher made a huge impression in her breakout role as Princess Leia, Debbie Reynolds has been most notably linked with one of her earliest onscreen moments. Back in the 1950s, Reynolds took the part of Kathy Selden opposite huge star Gene Kelly despite having no experience as a dancer. It’s a testament to her skill and determination that Reynolds more than held her own against the more experienced cast members. Singin’ in the Rain sums up everything you need to know about Debbie Reynolds. She didn’t let her inexperience stop her, she didn’t shy away when her co-star, Kelly, reacted badly to her casting, and her natural charisma ensured that she stole every scene she was in. I couldn’t think of any better way to remember the great actress than watching her in this breakthrough performance.
Way back in 2011 I review the Oscar winning film The Artist and I, like everyone else on the planet, couldn’t help but compare it to Singin’ in the Rain. The two films had a great deal in common as they both dealt with the difficult transition from silent movies to talkies in Hollywood in the 1920s. The two films have even more in common because of how goddamn adorable and charming they both are. However, I always felt that The Artist was just retelling Singin’ in the Rain‘s plot with a dog instead of the songs. Let’s be honest, the earlier film is one of those classics that you just can’t beat. It’s stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular musicals of all time. That is thanks in no small part to the success of it’s new star, Debbie Reynolds. As much as I loved The Artist, I can’t say that I’ve watched it since. Whereas I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Singin’ in the Rain. There’s no greater joy than sitting and watching Gene Kelly and co. merrily dancing and singing around the screen.
It’s one of the jolliest films concerning the world of Hollywood that I can remember. Especially when you consider the fact that the plot comes about as two fading stars face becoming redundant as Hollywood modernises around them. Yes, the film simplifies the transition from silent films to talkies but it is grounded in reality. The problems of making films with sound were all based on real life events and there were recorded moments of audiences laughing upon hearing actors’ voices. It’s all played off for humour here in the 1950s but in the 20s and 30s there was a massive impact on movie making and the big name stars of the day.
Stars like Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood and Jean Hagen’s Lina Lamont who had found immense fame as silent movie stars but found their usual act didn’t quite work when you turned the sound on. After his film studio demands that Don’s latest film be made using sound, the pair face certain ruin thanks to their own performances and the many trials of filmmaking. Lockwood’s hammy performance may be necessary to get his point across without words but it looks ridiculous when accompanied by words. But that is nothing when compared to pin-up Lina’s grating vocal performance and thick accent. Their film, The Duelling Cavalier, has a disastrous first screening so, with the help of his friend Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Conner) and love-interest Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds), Don decides to turn the ill-fated film into a musical. The only problem is, what to do about Lina’s voice?
As I’m writing this I’m listening to the soundtrack in the background and just hearing the music is filling me with such an insane amount of joy. There is so much brilliance within this film. The performances are incredible, the musical numbers are astounding, Gene Kelly’s choreography is perfect, and the story is highly entertaining. It hasn’t aged in any way and still feels as fresh today as it did the first time I saw it. Singin’ in the Rain may be, at it’s heart, a love story but its greatest feat lies in the portrayal of a difficult time in Hollywood. It is accurate but doesn’t lose any charm or energy thanks to the bleak situation. Debbie Reynolds steals every scene she’s in and it’s easy to see why so many people fell in love with her after this film. As much as the actress should be remember for her huge body of work, I don’t think it’s any great shame if you predominantly praise her for this film. It’s perfect.
I had every intention to follow up my ‘5 films for people who don’t like Shakespeare’ list with my own top 5 adaptations of his plays. It was a fucking huge undertaking and I couldn’t make my mind up on a a final list. I kept flitting between the good ones and my guilty pleasures. I’m such a fickle human being that I’m never entirely comfortable making a definitive statement of favouritism about a subject. The top two were easy (The Hollow Crown and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing respectively) but the others changed every time I opened the draft post. Possibly because, when it comes down to it, I’ll always prefer to indulge in Shakespeare performed on a stage. I expect something different from a cinematic production to a theatrical one: the scope is much bigger and it’s easier to push the boundaries more. That’s probably why my Shakespeare-related film history has more of a She’s The Man feel than a Kenny B’s Hamlet to it. Although, I tell a lie: there was another film that continued to keep its place on my list. It’s one of my faves even if it wasn’t critically beloved. It’s about time it receives some decent attention so have given it pride of place as my latest TBT.
When the first teaser trailers appeared for Frozen way back when I wasn’t convinced it would be my kind of thing. When it comes to animated films I’m not likely to get as excited about Disney’s offerings as I am about the work of other studios. Though I’ve been a fairly loyal fan since my childhood there can be no denying that they don’t always offer the animated prowess of their sister studio Pixar or the originality and intelligence of Ghibli. I find it hard to mention any recent Disney film that I have got really excited about. I enjoyed Wreck It Ralph but the idea was greater than the execution. However, these days you can’t really go anywhere on the internet with somebody mentioning this supposed ‘game changer’ and its Oscar nominated song ‘Let it go’. So, once again, I bowed to peer-pressure and checked it out.
Frozen, Disney’s 53rd feature film, is another in studio’s traditional yet modern style of storytelling that has become their trademark since John Lasseter made his way over from Pixar. Disney may be well into the technological age with their computer-generated animation but Frozenjust goes to show that the studio still hasn’t given up on its primary principles: namely wholesome family fairy-tales chock full of courage and fun garnished with big musical numbers and charming characters.
I’m beginning to suspect that this blog is mostly going to turn into a list of the famous people I become obsessed with throughout my life. A pathetic and hyperbolic record of the varying degrees of love I have for different actors and actresses. Unfortunately, this post isn’t going to be my first step towards turning over a leaf as I am about to open with the following statement: I love Rebel Wilson. I know. I know. Who doesn’t love Rebel Wilson? She’s incredibly funny and is consistently guilty of stealing every scene she’s in. Like her fellow Bridesmaidsstar Melissa McCarthy, Wilson has often been cast in the type of roles that would solely rely on her size to gain cheap laughs but she has continued to show signs that there is a great deal more to get from her. It is down to Wilson alone that I had any desire to see this loud and shiny assault on my senses.
Although to be quite honest, when it comes to moments of group singing and dance numbers I can’t help but get drawn into the moment. I love them. I’m willing to put up with even the shittest of films thanks to those precious moments of highly choreographed and rehearsed moments of spontaneous musical outbursts. Hell, I didn’t hate Blues Brothers 2000as much as it deserves thanks to the sight of Dan Aykroyd, John Goodman and that kid dancing together whilst Aretha Franklin belted out ‘Respect’. This said, I’m not a fan of Glee. I know it doesn’t make sense but there’s something about those smug 30 year olds pretending to be teenagers that just riles me. Glee takes the fun out of musicals and takes itself far too seriously. Especially considering it’s nothing more than a load of whiny school kids singing classic rock to each other. It’s like Dawson’s Creekpretending it’s Casablanca or something. Plus, why the hell is the fat one called the best singer of the group whilst being the only person who always needs to rely on auto-tuning to reach the high notes she’s entrusted with? Hmm?
I like Les Misérables. I guess it’s the closest you’ll get to a manly musical. It’s all about violence and loyalty and extolls the Revolutionary values of liberté, égalité and fraternité. Anyone who doesn’t leave the theatre after watching without feeling the rousing desire to storm something is someone not worth thinking about. It is safe to say that I was excited about the film version. On paper, it sounded fantastic. A great cast of actors (and Amanda Seyfried) all of whom are known to be competent singers (and Russell Crowe). However, it ended up being slightly disappointing. Thanks to director Tom Hooper who is a director quite keen to stand out from the crowd and point out how clever he’s being. Who can forget the story about The King’s Speech when he delighted in shoving a camera in Colin Firth’s face on the first day of filming to capture his real-life nervousness? At least that had a purpose. The only reason for the awful use of close-up here is to continually point out how clever he was in recording the vocals live on set. It just ends up looking dodgy though.
Take the ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ scene. If you can take your eyes off Anne Hathaway’s outrageous faces you may notice the shoddy camera work on display. So something that was supposed to show the skill of the director and his cast just looks very lazy and badly put together. Heightened thanks to the CGI which, if you ask me, just looks too computerised and fake (this may sound odd but this kind of technology is getting so good that this just feels like this has taken us a few steps backwards). Then we have the all-important singing which is patchy. Even great singers like Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway end up seeming like they belong on the opening rounds of Britain’s Got Talent or something. Russell Crowe was surprisingly good in places but, for the most part, he wasn’t great. Unfortunately, there’s something of a lack of melody and tune about his performance. Oh and the less said about Amanda Seyfried’s screechy warbling the better.