Throwback Thirty – Oliver and Company (1988)

30 years, 30th birthday, animals, animated, animation, anniversary, bullshit, Dickens, Disney, dogs, film, film blogger, film blogging, film reviews, films, meh, music, musical, TBT

oliver_poster5_star_rating_system_2_stars 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.

TBT – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

animated, animation, childhood favourite, Disney, fucking beautiful, fucking funny, music, musical, rom-com, romance, TBT

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.

Tuesday’s Reviews – La La Land (2016)

Emma Stone, films, fucking beautiful, fucking sweet, music, musical, review, Ryan Gosling

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.

TBT – Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

debbie reynolds, films, fucking funny, fucking sweet, golden age, Hollywood, in memoriam, musical, review, TBT

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.

Into the Woods (2015)

Anna Kendrick, boring, Chris Pine, fairy tale, meh, Meryl Streep, musical, review
When it comes to this blog I think I’m starting to come across as a bit of a grump when it comes to musicals. I don’t really understand why as I’m a not so secret lover of the genre. Whilst writing my postgraduate dissertation I listened to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack on repeat. I have been known to portray my feelings through the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber (especially when I’d finished the aforementioned dissertation). However, most modern musicals just don’t get me as excited. I see trailers and just get angry. Especially if they star Meryl Streep. Thankfully I have the good sense not to associate with anybody who responded to the release of Into The Woodswith any other attitude than “who the fuck cast Meryl Streep in another musical?” Don’t get me wrong I love the Streep but, you have to admit, it’s a bloody good question. After the travesty that was Mamma Miait’s difficult to see who would have decided casting big names was better than talented singers.

Into the Woodsis a weird fairytale mash-up of the stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel. These many strands are tied together through the tale of a baker and hid wife who embark on a quest to lift a curse that has left them childless. In order to get their angry neighbourhood witch to reverse her spell, the pair must enter the titular woods and track down four very specific items from each of the four tales.
The problem with cutting and pasting bits of these existing stories together is that each one ultimately loses a lot of the excitement and become a lot more complicated. Taken singly you can accept the crazy decisions that the characters make but torn into bite size pieces it becomes harder to go along with everything. The mixing of the narratives only succeeds in watering them down without adding any fresh perspectives or humour. It’s all a bit dull and unnecessary.
And fucking repetitive. The problem with musicals as a whole is the needless desire to tell the audience what is happening over and over again. Almost as soon as the baker has rescued Red Riding Hood from the belly of the wolf, she feels the need to sing about it and provide us with a flashback. Clearly targeted at the stupid or those with non-existent short-terms memories, Into the Woodsis a 2+ hour film that probably only has about an hours worth of material in it.
Which considering there has still been something of a narrative cull seems even more ridiculous. The whole plot feels as though it’s full of holes and never feels complete. Take for example the relationship between Cinderella and her Prince Charming: in the stage show Prince Charming tires of Cinders and falls for the sleeping Snow White. In the film, their relationship goes from being happily ever after to soul destroying in the blink of an eye. Despite still being pretty fucking dark compared to Disney’s big hitting musicals, Into the Woods has traded narrative integrity for being family friendly.
There is just not subtlety at work here, which, if we’re honest, is the fucking great thing about stage musicals. They are limited in how they can present their material and so can’t distract from the music and the performances. Into the Woodsis the opposite of this who steamrollers over everything else with its massive production values. The epic sets, costumes and orchestration make it almost impossible to enjoy the witty and clever work of both Sondheim and writer James Lapine, who also wrote the book for the original production.
Into the Woodsis a musical that takes itself too fucking seriously and, considering the general air of the show, is just the most ridiculous decision. I was so bored during the whole film and I say that as someone who’s natural reaction to people singing instead of talking is to jump for joy. That’s not to say that the cast don’t try their hardest and obviously many of them try too hard. Into the Woodsis full to bursting with huge names to the extent that great actors like Simon Russell Beale are mere afterthoughts. With a mix of Hollywood A-listers, musical theatre brats and classical actors, it’s exhausting.
Meryl Streep, despite the fact that I’ll never warm to her as a singer, is fabulous as the desperate witch and Anna Kendrick adds some real legitimacy to proceedings as Cinderella. Emily Blunt and James Corden make a good duo as the Baker and his wife but get sort of lost in the confusion and musical numbers. Most memorable is Chris Pine as the sleazy but charming Prince who wins Cinders’ heart. Pine, who will now forever be Captain Kirk 2.0, channels his best William Shatner for his performance. It’s a role that is a fantastic parody but never really finds its feet on the big screen.
I’m not entirely sure who Into the Woodswas made for. It doesn’t quite work for the lovers of Frozenor the faithful Sondheim audience. It’s simultaneously dumbed-down and over-complicated. The watered down script is still too edgy for children but not dark enough for an older audience. Into the Woods is all pomp and no circumstance. Getting too carried away in the spectacle that it didn’t really think about the content that they were trying to introduce people to. The whole thing just left me cold.

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Anna Kendrick, films, musical, Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson, review, teen movie
Pitch Perfectwas one of those films that took me surprise when I eventually saw it. Expecting it to be nothing more than the story of awful teenagers whining self-indulgently in between songs, I found myself actually enjoying it. I spent most of that year trying to convince my cynical friends that, despite appearances, it was worth their time. Pitch Perfect is never going to be my favourite film but I liked it enough to be fairly excited about the sequel. Especially when it was announced that YouTube sensation Flula Borg was joining the cast. I’ve been hooked on Flula’s channel ever since I was introduced to his video on Daddy Longlegs where he bemoaned their weird appearance and “spiderweb leggies”. Flula is an underrated comedian and could easily serve as a great foil for the likes of Fat Amy.

I don’t think anyone really expected the a cappella comedy to be such a runaway hit back in 2012 but as soon as it did there were whispers about a second and a third film. It’s taken a few years but the Bellas are back. Clearly not confident with their ability to strike lucky a second time, the sequel is bigger, brasher and bursting with even more pop culture references and cameo appearances. There’s a slight whiff of desperation that hangs in the air until the closing credits.
Still on the winning streak started at the end of the first film, the Bellas are given the honour of singing for President Obama. Unfortunately, with higher expectations come more complicated routines. One particular stunt in which Australian Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) is suspended in the air singing Wrecking Ball ends with her revealing her Down Unders to the President. As you can expect, this is a massive fucking scandal and the Bellas are banned from any further national competitions. It only seems fitting after all.
Luckily, the group find a loophole that allows them to compete in the World Championships in Copenhagen. Their plan is to crush the competition and regain their once flawless reputation. Much like last time, they come up against some incredibly talented opponents in the shape of Das Sound Machine, their German counterparts. They must face a ca-challenges like another riff-off, another heart-to-heart and Beca’s divided attention. Now doesn’t that all sound a little bit familiar?
To say that Pitch Perfect 2 is following the same formula as the first is a bit of a joke. It’s a copy and paste job where even most of the jokes are recycled. Where we once had weirdo Lilly freaking everyone out, we now have the awfully misjudged Flo, a Guatemalan Bella who creates awkward silences thanks to incessant references to her impoverished upbringing. Then we have the antagonists, DSM, who are relegated to horrible stereotypes whose heavily stereotyped renditions of ’90s hip-hop just feels like cheap and lazy comedy.
Although one major positive outcome to the new film is that the focus is no longer solely on Beca and Jesse, although I will say that Jesse is so underused it’s a fucking waste of a wage check. Of course, we have the awful teen movie cliché plot about Beca’s internship showing her that life isn’t as simple as the naïve student believes it is. The only positive to come out of this narrative strand is Keegan-Michael Key’s hard-assed music producer. In just a few scenes Key almost steals the film.
Pitch Perfect 2acts more like a group film and gives other characters, like the incredibly popular Fat Amy, more material to work with. There are two, yes TWO, new romance plots to contend with and some moments of heavy realisation where the Bellas realise they need to think about their life after college. This widened lens has both positives and negatives: the film actually feels like an ensemble piece but there is still too much happening to allow everyone to get their moment to shine. Most of the girls are still left in the dark.
What does work this time around, just as it did before, is the music. The arrangements are chock-a-block with modern hits and classics of recent history. Forgoing the ’80s nostalgia that was so annoying in the first film, the soundtrack is another winner. Even if the more obvious presence of auto-tune felt like we were moving more into Glee territory.
Pitch Perfect2 was never going to be a failure in terms of money and will continue to see the immense success it already has. The winning combination of Elizabeth Banks (in her directorial debut), Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson was always going to have some laughs and enough heart to work. However, there is just too much that doesn’t quite make it. I mean if you throw enough darts at a board at least one will land but the majority won’t.
This film has energy and passion, that cannot be denied. However, it is so desperate to ride the coattails of its predecessor that it becomes fucking annoying. Even the reprise of the fucking Cup Song is so obviously pandering that I couldn’t help but cringe my way through it. Pitch Perfect 2could have been better and could have been funnier; there can be no denying that. However, I can’t quite bring myself to write it off. There is enough to like about the characters, the familiarity and the underlying message to bring enough joy. Even a cynic like me found the Bella’s final performance heart-warming.

TBT – Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)

Kenneth Branagh, musical, review, rom-com, Shakespeare, TBT

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.

 Shakespeare, Cole Porter and Big Kenny B: well if that doesn’t sound like the equation to create the best fucking film ever then I don’t know what does. Although, actually Love’s Labours Lost isn’t really that great. For one thing it’s based on one of the least exciting plays: the comedies have never really been my thing. The plot is really nothing to get too enthusiastic about: the Prince of Navarre (Alessandro Nivola) and his three companions (Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Lester and Matthew Lillard) all swear off women to concentrate on their studies for 3 years. Conveniently, only moments after the ink on their agreement is dried, the Prince is reminded of the imminent visit of a beautiful French Princess (Alicia Silverstone) and her equally comely companions (Natascha McElhone, Emily Mortimer, Carmen Ejogo). D’oh! Hilarity, and unnecessary disguises, ensues.
So right from the off, you’re working with a play in which very little happens and is merely an indulgence in witty banter. So it’s kind of bizarre that Branagh’s script takes away a certain amount of that banter. You also have to question the success of an adaptation when it’s got more holes than a fucking doughnut shop. It’s a fucking literary bloodbath of the Quentin Tarantino variety. For the most part this isn’t too big a deal even for someone as fucking stubborn as me when it comes to literary adaptations. Traditionalists certainly won’t be happy, particularly coming from Branagh, the Shakespearean master: whose almost anally faithful adaptation of Hamlet was so celebrated.

Unfortunately, Branagh’s cull has limited some characters to mere fleeting glances that waste the talent that he has brought together. Gathering together the comic talent of Richard Briers and Geraldine McEwan and giving them one scene is perhaps the biggest travesty on show. Thank fuck then that the scene in question is an absolute stunner: McEwan and Briers prance about singing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ is definitely one of the films most inspired and light-hearted moments. Then you have the incomparable Timothy Spall playing the larger-than-life Spaniard Don Armado. Upon rewatching the other day I have ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’ in my head all day thanks to his heavily;y accented rendition. The supporting cast is sublime but Branagh has left them next to nothing to do. It’s fucking criminal.
These stings only cause more irritation when viewed alongside the casting of Alicia Silverstone and Alessandro Nivola as the two leads: not only does Silverstone fucking suck at the singing side but the pair never really get to grips with the Shakespearean dialogue. Unfortunately for the pair, Branagh and McElhone always outshines them in terms of performance, to the point that it becomes difficult to remember which pair are the Royalty and which their social inferiors. Although that’s not to say that Branagh is on his usual hammy form. His Berowne is as relaxed and understated a performance as he’ll probably ever give: Branagh is clearly having the time of his fucking life and it’s impossible not to get swept up in his excitement.
Despite the few bum notes within the cast, there are plenty of shining lights to make up for it. Nathan Lane excels in the, admittedly shortened, role of Costard and Adrian Lester is a fucking phenomenon that only shines the brighter next to his less musically inclined co-stars. I have to be honest, it was watching him show off his smooth moves that created another of my pathetic lifelong imaginary love affairs. Lester is on top form but the entire cast throws themselves into their performances and don’t let their unsuitability stop them going all out to impress. If anything, the lack of skill only makes the film more endearing.
That’s really the overall message for Love’s Labours Lost; there are probably more problems with this film than positives but I still fucking love it. It is fun and absolutely adorable. I love the use of songs and the annoyingly catchy mix of songs included on the soundtrack. There are things to quibble over, obviously and I’m not entirely sure that the pre-War setting adds anything to the play or the characters. But who gives a fuck when it’s so much fun. Love’s Labours Lost is by no means the greatest adaptation of Shakespeare’s words you’ll ever see but it is fun and utterly compelling: especially for those of you who, like me, miss the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

Frozen (2013)

animation, Disney, family, fucking beautiful, Kristen Bell, musical, review

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.

Disney has been playing around with the idea of adapting Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queenfor a fairly long time but it wasn’t until Jennifer Lee’s screenplay that they found the best way to translate the tale for its audience. Lee took the decision to rebrand the villainous Snow Queen into an isolated and scared teenager with the power to control ice and snow.
That teenager is Elsa (Idina Menzel) who, after an incident involving her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), is taught by her father, the King of Arendelle, to conceal her powers and hide herself away. When their parents are tragically killed, Elsa and Anna must fend for themselves and Elsa goes to greater lengths to hide her powers from both her sister and the rest of the kingdom. Unfortunately, her skills are revealed at her coronation leading the new Queen to flee the city whilst accidentally enveloping it in vicious winter weather.
Anna is much more impetuous than Elsa and, after hastily getting engaged to a virtual stranger, the youngster instinctively rushes off after her sister to bring her back and fix the situation. On her journey Anna is aided by an ice harvester Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his pet reindeer and a talking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). The sisters must battle great obstacles to save each other and their subjects: taking part in the ultimate battle between love and fear. It’s hardly a massive leap from the tales of old but there is something refreshing about the focus on two females.
Frozen contains all of the state-of-the-art and breathtaking animation that we have come to expect from the studio. The frosty landscape is engrossing and shiver-inducing: Elsa makes her magical flakes whirl across the screen; frost collects beautifully on windowpanes and boats; and the ice palace is an awesome glistening spectacle. The focus here has been put more on visuals than narrative but I can forgive the patchy nature of the story when the animation is so wonderful.
Like any self-respecting Disney film, the action in Frozen is occasionally halted to make way for an uplifting song and dance routine. These musical numbers have been written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (known for their work on Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon) and have a musical theatre style to them. Not only do these moments appear infrequently but they also happen to sound fantastic: at the very least they’re annoyingly catchy. Kristen Bell proves to be a formidable vocal talent and plays Anna perfectly. Unfortunately, she has been overshadowed by Idina Menzel (a Broadway personality) who, in my opinion at least, has been horribly miscast as Elsa. Menzel’s rendition of ‘Let it go’ has been eaten up by audiences but I just found it uncomfortable. The lovely song has become hyperbolic in her hands and sounds very nasally and strained. It is too Broadway (not meant as a compliment I’m afraid) and Menzel is far too mature to play the youthful Queen.
Though this isn’t really Elsa’s film and, after Anna, the key figures are the more high-profile supporting characters of Kristoff, Sven the reindeer and Olaf. Sven defies Disney logic by being unable to speak but, in a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek touch, Kristoff often provides the voice for his friend in their one-sided conversations. It is Olaf, though, that comes out on top here. Despite the annoying presence he had in the endless marketing campaign, the snowman is a naive and caring figure who provides plenty of warm and humorous moments.
Frozen can certainly be classed as a ‘modern’ take on a Disney princess films thanks to its awkward and dorky heroine Anna, its knowing winks to the tropes of the genre and its unrelenting focus on the two female leads. However, I have seen a worrying number of people claiming it is the first major step to a feminist Disney era. Whilst watching the film I found myself enjoying it more than I expected, having long passed the age when I unquestioningly engulf these types of narratives, but I can’t say that I saw it as a major step towards any real gender equality at the studio. Yes, it does portray strong female relationships over the typical male/female ones and I obviously celebrate that. However, there are still enough worrying gender stereotypes to prevent me from celebrating too quickly.

Pitch Perfect (2012)

Anna Kendrick, comedy, musical, Pitch Perfect, Rebel Wilson, review

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?

Anyway, Pitch Perfecttakes us into the seedy underbelly of collegiate a capella competition and tells the touching underdog story that Hollywood was crying out for. Namely the journey undertaken by all-girl a capella group, the Barden Bellas, to save their reputation whilst bringing down their bitter rivals, the Treblemakers. Pitch Perfectisn’t exactly breaking new ground here and the narrative structure is pretty obvious from the outset. However, the slick writing and absurd characters ensure that it is far from pedestrian. Feeling less like High-School Musical: The College Yearsand more like a musical version of Mean Girls. Penned by one-time 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon it’s no wonder that we are well catered for in terms of catty humour and ridiculous scenarios.
The crux of the comedy comes in the form of Rebel Wilson’s Tasmanian diva Fat Amy (don’t worry the comedy is more sophisticated than the name suggests) and Hana Mae Lee’s whispering but deranged Lilly. Wilson is the queen of ad-libbing and she shamelessly steals every scene away from her fellow stars. She is always a delight to watch and, as Fat Amy, she gets the chance to be as outrageous and over-the-top as possible. If is wasn’t for the utterly unbelievable actions of Lilly she would stand-out as the one character to lift this out of the mainstream. Add to that Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins’ link with the likes of Dodgeballand Best In Showthanks to their cutting commentators and we have stand-out moments of pure comedy.
Whilst not as noteworthy, the rest of the cast are anything but the usual stock characters we see in so many of these films. We have great supporting roles from both Anna Camp and Brittany Snow and a slightly higher class of rom-com leads courtesy of Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin (even if they do sit within the slightly ridiculous Hollywood view of what it is to be alternative). Kendrick has found her market playing the edgy outsider who despairs of the people around her. Beca finds herself stuck at Barden due to her father’s wishes whilst she dreams of running off to LA to pursue her DJ career. She’s not the most obvious new Bella but, as the audience will quickly pick up, she is the one they need to reinvigorate themselves. She makes quite an impression on Astin’s Jesse who, showing the apparently necessary appreciation of John Hughes movie and a misguided love of Simple Minds, plans on being a composer of film music. Romeo and Juliet they are not but there is something sweet about their flourishing romance.
My major issue with Pitch Perfectis the unmistakable sense that much of the original narrative was cut out to shave down the run time. We are introduced to interesting plot points that are quickly forgotten about before anything can really come from them. The hint of a love-triangle between Beca, Jesse and their radio station boss is sent into oblivion after a few moments of pouting jealousy on Jesse’s part. The relationship between Beca and her father is never really allowed to gain much ground and a brief discussion concerning his divorce from her mother is all we get of any real attempt at emotional reconnection between the pair. Whilst this doesn’t really take a great deal away from the film it does make it feel slightly sloppier than the script and the performances deserved. Well the part of the script that doesn’t rely too heavily on projectile vomiting anyway.
I didn’t want to like Pitch Perfect, I really didn’t. There was nothing I wanted to sit down and watch less than Gleemeets Bring It On. Although, after watching it and listening to the soundtrack non-stop for a couple of weeks I can’t deny that it’s certainly worth a watch. Pitch Perfect doesn’t rely too heavily on the ‘getting actors to sing pop mash-ups’ gimmick and if anything, the music is an after thought in the whole plot. That’s not to say it’s not good (as the number of plays on my Spotify can confirm) but it is an add-on to a compelling and entertaining film. The potentially unnecessary but slick icing on a well-structured, tasty but at times disturbing cake. By no means is it going to be a modern classic or the finest teen comedy you’ll ever see but it is arguably one of the slickest films in this genre you’ll have seen in the last few years. I can’t deny it my friends, I’ve been pitched slapped.

Les Misérables (2013)

Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman, musical, review, Russell Crowe, stage, Tom Hooper, unintentionally funny

les-miserables-movie-poster1I 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.