Archive for April, 2013

Easter Parade

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , on April 27, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1912, Broadway star Don Hewes (Fred Astaire) is buying Easter presents for his sweetheart, starting with a hat and some flowers (“Happy Easter”). He goes into a toy shop and buys a cuddly Easter rabbit, after persuading a young boy to part with it and buy a set of drums instead (“Drum Crazy”). Hewes takes the gifts to his dancing partner, Nadine Hale (Ann Miller), who explains that she has an offer for a show that would feature her as a solo star. Don tries to change her mind and it looks as if he has succeeded (“It Only Happens When I Dance With You”), until Don’s best friend, Johnny (Peter Lawford), turns up. Nadine reveals that she and Don are no longer a team and it becomes obvious that Nadine is attracted to Johnny.

Angry, Don leaves to drown his sorrows at a bar. Johnny follows him and tries to persuade him to talk to Nadine, but to no avail; Don brags that he does not need Nadine and that he can make a star of the next dancer he meets. After Johnny leaves, he picks out one of the girls dancing on the stage, Hannah Brown (Judy Garland), and tells her to meet him for rehearsal the next day. Hannah then performs a duet, singing a musical number with a member of the band (Norman S. Barker) on trombone, “I Want to Go Back to Michigan.” The next morning, Don tries to turn Hannah into a copy of Nadine, teaching her to dance the same way, buying her dresses in a similar style and giving her an “exotic” stage name, “Juanita.” However, Hannah makes several mistakes at their first performance and the show is a fiasco.

Hannah meets Johnny, who is instantly attracted to her and sings “A Fella With An Umbrella” while walking her to her rehearsal with Don. At the rehearsal, Don, realizing his mistake, decides to start over from scratch by creating routines more suited to Hannah’s personality. Hannah sings “I Love A Piano” and she works out a dance routine with Don that proves much more successful than their earlier performance. The duo, now known as “Hannah & Hewes”, are shown to be performing “Snookie-Ookums”, “The Ragtime Violin”, and “When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves For Alabam'” in a montage of their performances.

At an audition for Ziegfeld Follies, where they perform “Midnight Choo-Choo”, they meet Nadine who is starring in the show. Hannah realizes that Nadine was Don’s former dancing partner and demands to know if they were in love. Don hesitates and Hannah runs out of the rehearsal where she encounters Johnny. Later, Don meets Hannah back at the hotel and reveals that he turned down the Ziegfeld offer, believing that Hannah and Nadine do not belong in the same show. Johnny soon arrives and takes Hannah out for dinner at which, after a comical routine by the waiter, Johnny reveals that he has fallen in love with Hannah. While Hannah does like Johnny, she admits she is actually in love with Don; she also admits to deliberately making mistakes when they rehearse so she can be with him longer. She and Johnny continue to have a close friendship.

Meanwhile, Nadine’s show opens and Don goes to see it (“Shakin’ The Blues Away”). He is the only member of the audience who seems unimpressed. Later on, Don goes to see Hannah and tell her that they will be starring in another show and invites her to dinner to celebrate. Hannah goes to dinner at Don’s, only to have him suggest a dance rehearsal. She is immediately upset and turns to walk out, telling him that he’s “nothing but a pair of dancing shoes” and that he doesn’t see her as a woman, but as a dancing aid. Hannah is particularly annoyed that Don doesn’t notice her new clothes and all the effort she has made for him. She tries to leave, but Don stops her and kisses her. Hannah then plays the piano and sings “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” after which Don realizes he is in love with Hannah and they embrace.

The couple take part in a variety show, with a solo by Don (“Steppin’ Out With My Baby”) and then comes the most famous musical number in the film (“A Couple of Swells”), in which Don and Hannah play a pair of street urchins with vivid imaginations. Don and Hannah go out to celebrate after the show and end up watching Nadine perform. Nadine is mad with jealousy when the audience gives Don and Hannah a round of applause as they come in. Nadine is the star dancer in “The Girl On The Magazine Cover.” The song features an ingenious stage act, in which women appear against backdrops that look like the covers of contemporary magazines. Nadine herself appears on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Afterwards, she insists that Don perform one of their old numbers with her for old times’ sake, as she tries to win Don back – “It Only Happens When I Dance With You (Reprise).” When Don reluctantly agrees, Hannah becomes upset and runs out.

She ends up at the bar where she and Don first met. There she pours out her troubles to Mike the bartender (“Better Luck Next Time”). Later, when Hannah returns to her apartment, she finds Don waiting for her. Don tries to explain that he was forced to dance with Nadine, but Hannah thinks Don used her to make Nadine jealous and win her back. Don tells Hannah he’ll wait all night for her to forgive him, but just before Hannah opens the door, Don is kicked out of her building by the house detective. The next morning Hannah is telling Johnny about her and Don’s misunderstanding. Johnny says if he loved someone he would let her know it, implying that Hannah should forget the argument and be with Don. Hannah realizes that Johnny is right and goes to meet Don for their date for the Easter Parade.

Meanwhile, Don has been receiving various gifts at his apartment that morning, such as a rabbit and a new top hat, unaware that they’re from Hannah. She arrives unexpectedly at his house, as if the argument never happened. Don is a little confused by this turn of events, but decides to go out with Hannah anyway. As they walk in the Easter parade, photographers, echoing a scene with Nadine from the beginning of the film, take their pictures and Don proposes to Hannah (“Easter Parade”).

REVIEW:

Yes, I know that I’m a little late with Easter Parade since Easter was about a month ago. That isn’t my fault! Blame Netflix and their waiting system. Still, it was nice to finally get this classic musical in, since this is a watch that was long overdue.

What is this about?

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire sing and trip the light fantastic to 17 Irving Berlin tunes in this romantic classic. The simple plot concerns a hoofer (Astaire) who teams with an inexperienced chorus girl (Garland) in order to show up his former dance partner, Nadine (Ann Miller).

What did I like?

Dance, dance. Avid followers of this blog know that I have a tremendous respect for the works of Gene Kelly. As it turns out, this was supposed to have been his role, but he had to pull out because of an injury, but talked Fred Astaire out of retirement. I don’t know about you, but I’d say that was a pretty even trade. If you can’t have Kelly, Astaire is just as good, and some would argue better. The dancing scenes with him are superb, but do you really expect anything less?

Costumes. Set in the early 1900s, costumes are something that has to be top-notch. The design and scope of these outfits does not disappoint. Then again, this is an old Hollywood musical, back then they cared about putting on a show, rather than impressing a bunch of old fuddy duddy Oscar voters.

Music. Irving Berlin wrote great songs for this musical. A couple of standouts for me were “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” and the titular “Easter Parade”, but there are a bevy of other tunes to please the viewers auditory senses. Make no mistake, though, not all these songs are the greatest thing since sliced bread, but most will have you humming them for days after the end credits roll.

What didn’t I like?

Love story. There is a bit of a love story that wants to be front and center but, as with every Fred Astaire film I’ve seen, it pushed back until the very end. I believe the film could have benefited from allowing some quality time with these characters exploring their feelings for each other, rather than suddenly realizing in the last couple of minutes.

Not in Kansas, anymore. Judy Garland is a great actress. We all know that, but this isn’t her best work. Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t an indictment of her ability, but rather the way this character is written. She just isn’t given much to do. Garland deserves more, or they should have gotten a lesser actress for this role.

Overall, Easter Parade was a pretty good time. It wasn’t the best musical I’ve seen, and I felt that had Gene Kelly actually been able to star in it, it would have been that much better. This is a film that should be seen by everyone, so maybe next year around Easter, how about giving it a shot?

4 out of 5 stars

Top Secret!

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Spoofs & Satire with tags , , , , on April 26, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

The film tells the story of Nick Rivers (Kilmer), a US pop singer. Rivers goes to East Germany to perform at a cultural festival. While there, he becomes involved in the French resistance movement and helps the beautiful Hillary Flammond (Gutteridge) rescue her father (Gough), a brilliant scientist being held by the East Germans and forced to build the deadly Polaris naval mine.

REVIEW:

This is going to be a rather short review and for that I apologize, but Top Secret! just was never meant to be enjoyed by me, or at least the people making all the racket outside seemed to think so.

What is this about?

Following the success of their first feature, Airplane! the directing team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker return with this farce about American rock idol Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer), who’s tapped to play at a cultural festival in East Germany. Nazis are staging the concert to distract attention from a secret attack on a submarine fleet, and before he knows it, Nick is trapped in an international incident, and aiding the French Resistance.

What did I like?

Youth. Val Kilmer these days is twice the man he used to be. I’m not quite sure that he has improved his acting skills. If anything, he very well may have gotten worse, but it was good to see the guy in his youth actually show some promise. I wonder what happened between then and now.

Jokes. Parody films these days suck, let’s face it. They need to go back and look at films like this and Airplane!, where the jokes are funny situations instead of just ripoffs of whatever is going on in pop culture when the picture is being made (usually a year or two before it is released). I appreciate funny, and this film has plenty of it, without going overboard.

What didn’t I like?

Plot. I know that there is some sort of plot going on here. Something involving a kidnapped scientist, an American singer performing for the first time in Germany, and a daughter who wants to rescue her father. Whether these things go together is a mystery, though, as I found it increasingly hard to keep up with what was going on. Keep in mind that there were massive distractions outside, that contributed to that, as well.

Overrated. In the early days of this blog, I caught some flack for my labeling Scarface as overrated. This resulted in a loss of quite a few readers. I guess some people didn’t agree. Well, hopefully that won’t happen this time, but I have to say it. This flick is held in high esteem, but I felt it is overrated.

I feel as if I didn’t really get a good feel of Top Secret!, thanks to the outside interference, but from what I saw, I was not impressed. The few good moments here and there don’t do enough to stave off the mediocrity that sets in not long into the flick. I wish I could give this a better review and rating but, based on what I saw, I just can’t. Do I recommend it? Yes, but only for those that want to see why this is so highly recommended by many people. Otherwise, it is best just catching in on TV when/if it comes on.

3 out of 5 stars

Dinosaur

Posted in Animation, Family, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens with an Iguanodon mother forced to abandon her nest, with only one egg surviving a Carnotaurus attack. The egg is taken by an Oviraptor, who drops it into a river while fighting another Oviraptor, and finally is taken by a Pteranodon to an island inhabited by lemurs, who see the egg hatch, name the baby dinosaur Aladar, and raise him as their own. When Aladar is an adult, the island is destroyed when an asteroid crashes on earth, causing a meteor shower, with only Aladar, his grandfather Yar, his mother Plio, his best friend Zini and his sister Suri surviving the destruction of the island by swimming to the land.

After fleeing a pack of Velociraptor, the family meets a multi-species herd of dinosaurs (consisting of a bunch of Iguanodon, Styracosaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus, Stygimoloch, Microceratus, Parasaurolophus, and Struthiomimus) led by the Iguanodon Kron and his lieutenant Bruton, who are on a journey to reach the “Nesting Grounds”, a valley believed to be untouched by the devastation of the asteroid impact. Aladar and the lemurs befriend a trio of elderly dinosaurs: Baylene the Brachiosaurus, Eema the Styracosaurus, and Url, Eema’s dog-like pet Ankylosaurus. Aladar also develops romantic feelings for Kron’s sister Neera, but she appears uninterested, playing hard to get. Meanwhile, the Velociraptor pack continues to follow them, but are scared off when a pair of Carnotaurs picks up the herd’s trail too. The herd arrives at a lake they’ve relied on for past trips, but it has dried up. Aladar saves the herd from dehydration when he and Baylene eventually dig up the trapped water beneath the ground. Aladar and Neera eventually fall in love after Neera sees Aladar helping the dinosaurs (especially the elderly ones) survive. However, Bruton, having been sent by Kron to find water upon arrival at the lake, returns injured by the Carnotaurus which killed another Iguanodon that was scouting with him. Kron evacuates the herd from the lake bed in a rush, leaving Aladar, the lemurs, the elderly dinosaurs, and the injured Bruton behind, also warning Aladar that he will be executed if he meddles with leadership affairs again.

The small group recuperates in a cave during a rainstorm, with Bruton eventually befriending them. When the Carnotaurus pair attacks, Bruton’s loyalty is proven when he kills one of them as the others escape to the depths of the caves, being killed in the process. But one of the Carnotaurus escapes, enraged by the death of its mate but unable to follow the group. Upon reaching a dead end, Aladar begins to lose hope, after repeated failures and the loss of Bruton. His friends all join in breaking down the dead end, stabilizing his confidence. Finally, Baylene demolishes the wall. The dead end actually leads to the “Nesting Grounds”, where Eema sees that the old entrance – where the herd has gathered on the other side – has been blocked by a landslide generated by the meteors.

Aladar rushes to find the herd on the other side, accidentally alerting and being tracked by the Carnotaurus. He finds the herd being directed by Kron to climb the rocks, which can’t be passed without fatality, but when he suggests the alternate route he found, Kron becomes enraged at his authority being questioned and challenged, and attempts to kill Aladar. Despite landing a few good hits, Aladar is outclassed by Kron, who only stops short of killing Aladar when Neera, tired of her brother’s illogical beliefs, strikes him down and defends Aladar. Aladar and Neera take control of the herd, but Kron refuses to submit to the leadership of another and begins climbing the rocks himself. The Carnotaurus then confronts them, but Aladar rallies the herd to drive it off by standing together and scaring it off with intimidation. The Carnotaurus leaves the herd alone, but spots Kron who mistakes that Aladar lead the Carnotaur to the herd climbing the rocks alone, and is followed by Neera and Aladar as it charges to kill the former leader of the herd. In the ensuing fight, Kron is severely wounded by the Carnotaurus, but Aladar is able to push the predator off a cliff to its death. Kron, however, succumbs to his injuries and dies with Aladar and Neera at his side.

Aladar and Neera lead the herd back to the “Nesting Grounds”, where the two eventually mate and have children, and the lemurs find more of their own kind. Plio narrates the ending, wishing for their story to be remembered in history. She then says, “But one thing is for sure. Our journey is not over, we can only hope in some small way our time here will be remembered.”

REVIEW:

Following the Disney Renaissance, people wondered how the company would rebound after their films started to not do so hot. The unfortunate answer was the beginning of the computer animated Disney (not Pixar) films, of which Dinosaur was the first.

What is this about?

In Disney’s animated film, an orphaned Iguanadon named Aladar grows up in the care of a group of lemurs. But when a meteor shower appears, Aladar and his lemur “family” flee their homeland and seek safety. While on the run, Aladar encounters other dinosaurs for the first time, and they must all work together to survive.

What did I like?

Scenery. Today, scenery like we see here can be created by computers, but back in 2000, that technology didn’t quite exist, so the brilliant filmmakers made the decision to use actual locations as the background. As with most films of this nature, the only place left on this planet that still has its natural beauty is New Zealand.

Dialogue. I remember when I saw the first trailer for this that had no dialogue whatsoever. It turns out that originally, that was the plan, but someone decided it would work better to have talking dinosaurs. I think this worked better, especially when you throw in the fact that this is supposedly a kid’s film. Without the talking dinosaurs, this would have been nothing more than some kind of documentary of sorts, with dinosaurs.

Comic relief. Keeping with the kind formula one can expect from a film of this nature, the comic relief comes from the characters that seem the most out of place, but are the most lovable. Headlined by Della Reese, these supporting characters bring some much needed levity to a film that could very well have just been a bunch of giant creature traipsing around the countryside.

What didn’t I like?

More of the same. I really wonder if the dinosaurs did anything other than wander around looking for oasis areas. If you go by the movies, that is all they seem to do. Think about the plots of Ice Age and The Land Before Time, as well as their sequels. These magnificent creatures deserve something better when they are put on film, besides wandering around like mindless brutes.

History. I was reading the history of how this was getting made and learned that there was a moment when this was set to be stop-motion animation. In the past, I have not hidden the fact that I think stop-motion is far superior to computer generated crap. Dinosaurs also really work when they are computer generated, as we’ve seen in Ray Herryhausen creations.

Lemurs. To my knowledge, lemurs were not around during this time. So, using them is nothing more than a marketing ploy. Soft and cuddly characters are almost always a sure bet to sell, as opposed to scaly dinosaurs. Throw in that whole wannabe The Lion King story where they raise the dinosaur and they just didn’t work for me.

Dinosaur is one of those forgotten Disney films. That isn’t because this is a bad or boring film, but rather because it is overshadowed by far superior films.I find it kind of funny that I’m watching this after watching the old show Dinosaurs (remember Baby saying “Not the Mama!”). So, is this a recommendation or condemnation? Well, it is a decent family flick with a few violent scenes here and there that may be too much for younger children. A good watch, but not something to go out of your way to see.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 20, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Approaching his 111th birthday, the hobbit Bilbo Baggins decides to write down the full story of the adventure he had 60 years earlier, for the benefit of his nephew Frodo.

Long before Bilbo’s involvement, the Dwarf Thrór becomes King of the Lonely Mountain and brings an era of prosperity to his kin until the arrival of Smaug the Dragon. Smaug destroys the nearby town of Dale, killing many of the men and women there, before driving the Dwarves out of their mountain and taking their hoard of gold. Thrór’s grandson Thorin sees King Thranduil and his Wood-elves on a nearby hillside and is dismayed when they take their leave rather than aid his people, resulting in Thorin’s everlasting hatred of Elves.

In the Shire, young Bilbo is tricked by the wizard Gandalf the Grey into hosting a party for Thorin and his company of Dwarves: Balin, Dwalin, Fíli, Kíli, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Bifur, Bofur and Bombur. Gandalf’s aim is to recruit Bilbo as the Dwarves’ “burglar” to aid them in their quest to the Lonely Mountain, of which they have a dwarven map and key to help guide them. Bilbo is, at first, unwilling to accept, but has a change of heart and joins the company on their journey to the Lonely Mountain.

Traveling onward, the company gets captured by three Trolls. Bilbo stalls them from eating the dwarves until dawn, when Gandalf suddenly exposes the Trolls to sunlight, turning them all to stone. They search the Trolls’ cave and find treasure and Elven blades. Thorin and Gandalf each take an Elf-made blade—Orcrist and Glamdring, respectively—with the latter finding an Elven shortsword, which he gives to Bilbo.

The company encounters Radagast the Brown, a wizard who lives in Greenwood. He tells them of an encounter at Dol Guldur with a Necromancer who has been corrupting the forest with dark magic. The company is chased by Orcs on Wargs, with Radagast covering their escape. Gandalf leads the company through a stone passage to Rivendell as the Wargs and Orcs are slain by Elven riders led by Lord Elrond. Elrond discovers hidden writing on Thorin’s map and discloses that the Lonely Mountain has a secret door which will be visible only on Durin’s Day. Gandalf talks with the White Council consisting of Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman the White. He tells them about his involvement with the Dwarves, presenting a Morgul-blade Radagast obtained from Dol Guldur as a sign that the Necromancer is linked to the Witch-king of Angmar and may attempt to use Smaug for his evil purposes. Saruman is skeptical, not believing the Necromancer to be a true threat.

Without Gandalf, the company journeys into the Misty Mountains, where they find themselves amid a colossal battle between Stone Giants. They take refuge in a cave and are captured by Goblins, who take them to their leader, the Great Goblin. Bilbo becomes separated from the Dwarves and falls into a cave where he encounters Gollum, who accidentally drops a mysterious ring while killing a stray Goblin to eat. Pocketing the ring, Bilbo finds himself confronted by Gollum, who is initially deterred from attacking Bilbo because he wields the small Elvish blade. They play a riddle game, wagering that Bilbo will be shown the way out if he wins or eaten by Gollum if he loses. After riddling each other back and forth several times, Bilbo eventually wins by asking Gollum what he has in his pocket. Realizing that he lost the ring, Gollum suspects that Bilbo possesses it and attacks the hobbit. Bilbo discovers that the ring grants him invisibility and evades a furious Gollum.

Meanwhile, the Great Goblin reveals to the Dwarves that Azog, an Orc war-chief who beheaded Thrór and lost his forearm to Thorin in battle outside the Dwarven kingdom of Moria, has placed a bounty on Thorin’s head and is even now searching for the dwarves. As the goblins search Thorin and company they discover Thorin’s sword, Orcrist the goblin cleaver. The sight of this drives the Great Goblin into a fury. He orders the goblins to attack and behead Thorin and company. Gandalf arrives just in time and leads the Dwarves in a desperate escape, fighting their way through the goblin hordes and killing the Great Goblin.

Meanwhile, Bilbo eventually comes upon an exit, but it is being guarded by Gollum. Rather than kill his pursuer, Bilbo spares him and sneaks past him out of the mountain. As Bilbo leaves, Gollum curses him “forever.” Bilbo rejoins the group, keeping secret the ring which he found.

Ambushed by Azog and his hunting party, the company take refuge in trees as wargs try and hunt them down. Thorin then challenges Azog, but is defeated and knocked to the ground by his mace and set upon by his warg. Bilbo saves Thorin from the Orcs just as the company is rescued by the Eagles who fly them to the safety of the Carrock. Gandalf heals the unconscious Thorin who acknowledges Bilbo’s bravery. In the distance, the company sees the Lonely Mountain. The company also see a thrush flying about, which then heads to the Lonely Mountain. There, the thrush catches a snail and knocks its shell against the mountainside, awakening the sleeping Smaug, who is lying beneath a golden hoard

REVIEW:

Following up on the successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, comes the prequel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Following the trend of book series turned into films these days, director Peter Jackson made the decision to expand this to 3 films. Can we say cash grab?!?

What is this about?

Beloved hobbit Bilbo Baggins is back in a visually spectacular tale inspired by The Lord of the Rings and likewise directed by Peter Jackson. Joining the effort to free the Kingdom of Erebor, Bilbo also faces a fateful encounter with Gollum.

What did I like?

Stunning. Say what you will about this film, you can’t deny the beauty present on the screen. Part of it is because it is filled in majestic New Zealand (one of the few places left on this planet that isn’t corrupted with the works of man). The other reason that it is so gorgeous is because of how breathtaking the visual and special effects look. Words cannot do the look of this film justice.

Dwarves. I read this book long ago, and from what I recall, the dwarves did not have their own distinct personalities. For a film like this, adding personality allows the audience to become invested in characters that otherwise would be just random beings. The film throws in a few quirks here and there for each of the dwarves. I still can’t tell you who’s who except for Thorin and Dwalin, but at least they tried.

Action. One of the biggest problems I have with the …Rings trilogy is that, other than the excessive length, those movies drag on so long without anything happening. As was said in Clerks 2, “… [sic] Hobbit movies were boring as hell. All it was, was a bunch of people walking, three movies of people walking to a volcano.” This film ramps up the action and tones down the walking. Don’t get me wrong, there is walking in here, but it isn’t the main focal point, as opposed to the action, which is what most people want to see when they watch this, right?

What didn’t I like?

Aging. I know it has been a few years, but Hugo Weaving and Ian McKellan are looking much older than they did in the trilogy. You can throw Cate Blanchett in there, to a lesser extent. I bring this up for two reasons. First, this is a prequel. I appreciate that they brought in the original actors, but as we saw in Tron: Legacy with Jeff Bridges, the technology exists to make them look younger. With all the money they spent on this, I wonder why they didn’t shell out a few more to do that, rather than let them just look ancient.

Gollum. I won’t bring up the fact that Andy Serkis is more than deserving of an Academy Award for some of his work, but the only reason he hasn’t won is because they don’t have a category for him. This is one of his best performances and Gollum has never looked better. However, I felt that his scene went on a bit longer than it should have without necessarily going anywhere with it until the end.

For all the hype that surrounded and preceded The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it sort of left me feeling flat. Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy it, but I didn’t feel that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread that way some people would have you believe it is. With that in mind, I imagine you are wondering if this is worth seeing. Well, yes, I highly recommend it. Be warned, though. For those that want to know if this is something the kids can see, there are some very violent scenes. Other than that, you should really check it out!

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Wiz

Posted in Classics, Movie Reviews, Musicals with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

A Thanksgiving dinner brings a host of family together in a Harlem apartment, where a 24-year-old schoolteacher named Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) lives with her Aunt Em (Theresa Merritt) and Uncle Henry (Stanley Greene). Extremely introverted, she has, as Aunt Em teases her, “never been south of 125th Street”, and refuses to move out and on with her life.

While Dorothy cleans up after the meal, her dog Toto runs out the open kitchen door into a violent snowstorm. She succeeds in retrieving him, but finds herself trapped in the storm. A magical whirlwind made of snow – the work of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South – materializes and transports them to the Kingdom of Oz. Upon her arrival, Dorothy smashes through an electric “Oz” sign, which falls upon and kills Evermean, the Wicked Witch of the East. As a result, she frees the Munchkins who populate the playground into which she lands; they had been transformed by Evermean into graffiti for “tagging” the park walls.

Dorothy soon meets the Munchkins’ main benefactress, Miss One, the Good Witch of the North (Thelma Carpenter), a magical “numbers runner” who gives Evermean’s powerful silver slippers to her. However, she desperately wants to get home. Miss One urges her to follow the yellow brick road to the Emerald City and find the mysterious “Wizard” who she believes holds the power to send Dorothy back to Harlem. The good witch and the Munchkins then disappear and she is left to search for the yellow brick road on her own.

The next morning, Dorothy happens upon a Scarecrow (Michael Jackson) made of garbage, whom she befriends. The two of them discover the yellow brick road and happily begin to follow it together; the Scarecrow hoping the Wizard might be able to give him the one thing he feels that he lacks — a brain. Along the way to the Emerald City, Dorothy, Toto, and the Scarecrow meet the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell), a turn-of-the-century amusement park mechanical man, and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross), a vain dandy banished from the jungle who hid inside one of the stone lions in front of the New York Public Library. The Tin Man and Lion join them on their quest to find the Wizard, hoping to gain a heart and courage, respectively. Before the five adventurers reach the Emerald City, they must face obstacles such as a crazy subway peddler (a homeless man) with evil puppets in his control and the “Poppy” Girls (a reference to the poppy field from the original story), prostitutes who attempt to put Dorothy, Toto, and the Lion to sleep with magic dusting powder.

Finally reaching the Emerald City (an analogue of the real-life World Trade Center plaza), the quintet gains passage into the city because of Dorothy’s ownership of the silver shoes and marvel at the spectacle of the city and its dancers. They gain an audience with the Wizard (Richard Pryor), who appears to them as a giant fire-breathing metallic head. He will only grant their wishes if they kill Evillene (Mabel King), the Wicked Witch of the West, who runs a sweatshop in the sewers of New York City. She learns of their quest to kill her and sends out the Flying Monkeys (a motorcycle gang) to kidnap them.

After an extended chase, the Flying Monkeys succeed in capturing their prey and bring them back to Evillene. She dismembers the Scarecrow, flattens the Tin Man, and tortures the Lion in hopes of making Dorothy give her the silver shoes. When she threatens to throw Toto into a fiery cauldron, Dorothy nearly gives in until the Scarecrow hints to her to activate a fire sprinkler switch which she does. The sprinklers put out the fire but also melt Evillene. She is flushed down into her toilet. With Evillene herself gone, her spells lose their power: the Winkies are freed from their costumes (revealing humans underneath) and their sweatshop tools disappear. They rejoice in dance and praise Dorothy as their emancipator and the Flying Monkeys give her and her friends a triumphant ride back to the Emerald City.

Upon arriving back at the Emerald City, the quartet takes a back door into the Wizard’s quarters and discovers that he is a “phony”. The “great and powerful Oz” is actually Herman Smith, a failed politician from Atlantic City, New Jersey, who was transported to Oz when a balloon he was flying to promote his campaign to become the city dogcatcher was lost in a storm. The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion are distraught that they will never receive their respective brain, heart, and courage, but Dorothy makes them realize that they already have these things. Just as it seems as if she will never be able to get home, Glinda, the Good Witch of the South (Lena Horne), appears and implores her to find her way home by searching within and using her silver shoes. After thanking Glinda and saying goodbye to her friends, she takes Toto in her arms, thinks of home and the things she loves most about it and, after clicking her heels, finds herself back in her neighborhood. She, now a changed woman, carries Toto back to their apartment and closes the door.

REVIEW:

How many people in 1978, were wondering what it would have been like to have an African-American version of The Wizard of Oz, complete with a funky soundtrack? Well, whoever those people were, they got their wise with The Wiz.

What is this about?

Motown’s Oscar-nominated take on L. Frank Baum’s ageless tale stars Diana Ross as Harlem schoolteacher Dorothy, who exits a family gathering to search for her lost pooch, Toto, gets caught in a blizzard and is transported to the magical land of Oz.

What did I like?

Different. Whether you love or hate the direction the filmmakers went with this story, you can’t deny that this is the same tale we all know and love. Everything is here, the yellow brick road, wicked witch, the friends along the way, flying monkeys, Oz, etc. I guess this was just a different time, when things didn’t have to be changed for the sake of change.

MJ. It should come as no surprise, but Michael Jackson was arguably the best thing about this film. I’m not too crazy about his being the Scarecrow, but you can’t deny that he is quite entertaining, including arguably the best song of the film. On the acting front, one has to wonder why Michael wasn’t in more films. He obviously had the talent, but I guess the scripts weren’t right.

What didn’t I like?

Music. With a couple of exceptions and the funky 70s vibe going on throughout, the music in this film is quite painful to listen to. The songs are forgettable, with the exception of “Ease on Down the Road” and “I’m a Mean Old Lion”, and just make you wonder what Motown was thinking allowing these songs to see the light of day.

Too old. Diana Ross was not mean to play Dorothy. She is too old, and it shows, but somehow she got the role and caused a director change before filming started because of it. I won’t say that Diana has no chops, because she does, as we say in Lady Sings the Blues, but let’s be real…this is a role for someone younger.

Waste of talent. A couple of things bothered me. First, if Diana Ross is going to be in this thing, then let the woman sing. As it is, she sings 1 1/2 songs, and that’s it! If this was because she wanted to do more acting, then that is one thing, but this is a musical, let her flex those pipes. At this point in time, she was one of the best around. Second, Richard Pryor, who is still one of the funniest comedians to take the stage doesn’t really get to be funny. Similar to Diana, if you’re gonna cast someone like that, then let them do what makes them special, not just have them there reading some lines!

I remember the first time I saw The Wiz. I wasn’t too crazy about it because it felt like a bad acid trip gone horribly wrong. My opinion has not changed, but after recently seeing Oz: The Great and Powerful, I was inspired to watch it again. Would I suggest this to anyone? That is a hard one, but I have to say no, as there isn’t enough going for it to merit a recommendation. That being said, there are a some moments in here that are enjoyable. That’s what Youtube is for, right?

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

Blood Creek

Posted in Horror, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

n 1936, the Wollners, a German family living in rural West Virginia, are contacted by a Nazi German emissary to host Professor Richard Wirth. The family accept as they need the money thinking of Wirth as a visiting scholar. Wirth’s project, however, has nothing to do with science but much to do with the occult. Years ago, the family found a Viking runestone on their property and built a stable on top of it. Wirth wants to use its power and energies to do evil but he is interrupted by the family. They hold Wirth captive in their cellar and trapped in the farm with blood markings. This prison however requires the family to sporadically capture people and use them as a source for blood. The horrifying fate of the family is then linked to Wirth’s, so they keep him alive but weak and trapped.

In 2007, 25-year-old Evan Marshall’s life has stalled because he is left without answers after the disappearance of his older brother Victor during a camping trip in rural West Virginia. Evan tries to move on but when Victor returns one night, very much alive and having escaped his captors, Evan asks no questions – at his brother’s request. Instead they load up their rifles, pack up their boat and return to fight the evil.

The brothers head to the farm and confront the Wollners. They, in turn, warn the siblings about Wirth. They do not listen until Wirth gets out of the cellar and begins his terror. Wirth reveals that the reason Victor was able to escape was because Wirth knew that Victor would come back to the farm for revenge and would eventually free him from the Wollners, so he let Victor go on purpose. The brothers manage to poison and decapitate Wirth, however, the Wollners turn rapidly old and die. Before the youngest dies, she tells Evan that SS leader Heinrich Himmler has sent eight more Nazi agents to different farms. Evan finds a map that was under the farm and discovers that others like Wirth are at other farms. While Victor returns home to his family, Evan heads out to the other farms to stop the Nazis.

REVIEW:

If you missed Blood Creek when it came out back in 2009, don’t feel bad. You’re not the only one, because I don’t recall hearing about this either. After seeing it, though, I’m not so sure that was a bad thing.

What is this about?

When a family agrees to host an occult-obsessed Nazi scholar in their West Virginia farmhouse prior to World War II, they’re transformed into his undead slaves and must kidnap local victims to feed his bloodlust. Years later, an abducted war hero (Dominic Purcell) breaks free from the zombie family’s clutches, rounds up his brother (Henry Cavill) and returns to the wilderness for payback

What did I like?

Occult. For some reason, Nazis and occult go together. I’m not enough of a history buff to know whether this is something that actually occurred in history, but movies seem to like to use it as a plot point, that’s for sure. Combining this with the zombie creature Michael Fassbender becomes and it was actually pretty interesting.

Newcomers. At the time of this release, no one knew who Henry Cavil was (though after this summer’s Man of Steel, I’m sure he’ll be a household name) and Michael Fassbender was coming into his own. Fast forward to today and they have come a long way. I always like seeing how far actors have come from their early roles.

What didn’t I like?

Plot. While I liked the zombie/occult angle, it was actually hard to keep up with what was actually going on in the story. I know there was something to do with a Viking runestone and somehow the people in the house never really aged, but it was never explained why this stranger that showed up one day is now a bloodthirsty monster, what it is about the marks on the doors and windows that keeps him out, or pretty much anything that was important to know.

Dominic. In Blade: Trinity, I liked Dominic Purcell. He isn’t the kind of guy you hand over leading man material to, but he is capable of the hulking brute stuff. Here, he just seems either miscast or given more than he is capable of handling. His performance left me longing for more. I wasn’t sold and felt this is a role that should have been given to someone else.

For a quick horror flick to pass the time, Blood Creek accomplished what it was supposed to do, but if you were to watch this expecting some major thrills and chills, you’re sure to be severely disappointed. There are some gory moments and the zombie horses at the end are a bit creepy, but that isn’t enough to save this from being quite mediocre. This is a hit or miss flick for me. Not good, but not bad. Do I recommend it? Eh…it depends on how much of a fan of zombies, Nazis, occult, etc. you are.

3 out of 5 stars

Hitchcock

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 14, 2013 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1959, Alfred Hitchcock opens his latest film, North by Northwest, to considerable success, but is troubled by a reporter’s insinuation that it is time to retire. Seeking to reclaim the artistic daring of his youth, Alfred turns down film proposals like adapting Casino Royale in favor of a horror novel called Psycho by Robert Bloch, which is based on the crimes of serial killer Ed Gein.

Alfred’s wife and artistic collaborator, Alma, is no more enthusiastic about the idea than his appalled colleagues, especially since she is being lobbied by their writer friend, Whitfield Cook, to look at his own screenplay. However, she warms to Alfred’s proposal, suggesting the innovative plot turn of killing the female lead early in the film. The studio heads prove more difficult to persuade, forcing Alfred to finance the film personally and use his Alfred Hitchcock Presents television crew to produce the film.

However, the pressures of this self-financed production, such as dealing with Geoffrey Shurlock of the Motion Picture Production Code, and Hitchcock’s notorious lecherous habits, such as when they confer with the female lead, Janet Leigh, annoy Alma beyond endurance. To find a release, Alma begins a personal writing collaboration with Whitfield on his screenplay at his beach house without Alfred’s knowledge. Alfred eventually discovers what she has been doing, and suspects her of having an affair. This concern affects Alfred’s work on the film, such as giving Psycho’s famous shower scene particularly ferocious ambiance even as he imagines Gein speaking to him.

Despite this tension, Alma’s loyalty is such that she personally takes over production of his film when Alfred is temporarily bedridden after collapsing from overwork. Despite this, Alfred eventually confronts Alma and asks her if she is having an affair. Alma denies it, profoundly insulted at being accused of adultery after all she has done for her husband.

Events take a turn for the worse when Alfred’s rough cut of Psycho is poorly received by the studio executives, while Alma discovers Whitfield philandering with a younger woman at his beach house. With both feeling chastened, Alfred and Alma reconcile and set to work on improving the film. Their renewed collaboration yields results, culminating in Alma convincing Alfred to accept their composer’s suggestion for adding Bernard Hermann’s famous harsh strings score for the shower scene, making it a bracingly effective moment of cinematic horror.

After maneuvering Shurlock into leaving the film’s content largely intact, Alfred learns that the studio is only going to exhibit the film in a handful of theaters with minimal marketing. To compensate, Alfred arranges for special theater instructions to pique the public’s interest in the film such as forbidding admittance after the film begins. At the film’s premiere, Alfred waits in the lobby for the audience’s reaction and is rewarded with a raucously enthusiastic reception.

With the film’s screening being so well received, Alfred publicly thanks his wife afterward for helping make it possible and they affirm their love. At the conclusion at his home, Alfred addresses the audience noting Psycho proved a major high point of his artistic career and he is currently pondering his next project. At that, a crow lands on his shoulder as a reference to his successful follow-up effort, The Birds, before turning to meet with his wife.

REVIEW:

I’m not a die-hard fan of Alfred Hitchcock, but I do enjoy his films. Getting the chance to learn more about the man is something that I have been longing to do for some time now and Hitchcock did accomplish that in some ways.

What is this about?

Iconic filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock struggles with his marriage, the censors and the financiers of his 1960 film Psycho in this biopic. Driven to prove he still has an edge, Hitchcock crafts what would become one of the greatest thrillers of all time

What did I like?

Man, myth, legend. Strangely enough, the film focuses solely on the making of Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho. While there isn’t really anything that is wrong with that per se, I would have liked to have known a bit more about the guy, but more on that later. What we do get to know is how much of an influence his wife Alma was on his career and films. I guess what they say is true, “behind every great man is an even greater woman!” It really doesn’t hurt if that woman is Helen Mirren.

Casting couch. In biopics, I have found that casting directors don’t necessarily look for someone who resembles the person they are playing. I’m not particularly fond of that practice, but sometimes it comes down to the improbability of finding someone who has the look and talent to pull it off. In this case, Scarlett Johansson plays a very believable Janet Leigh. Some may say that she should have been playing Marilyn Monroe at some point in time, and I won’t argue that, but I can see the resemblance between her and Leigh.

Levity. I was listening to a review last night where the reviewer all but called for a boycott of this film because it had a light-hearted, comedic feel in places. More often than not, I appreciate moments like this as they keep the film from going into absolute darkness. Say what you will, but just because Hitchcock created some of the great horror films of all time does not mean that he was always in a dark place, mentally. For that very reason, it is nice that this film realized he was a human who had ups and downs, just like rest of us.

What didn’t I like?

Fat suit. I have an issue with the way they changed Sir Anthony Hopkins into Alfred Hitchcock. Sticking him in a fat suit seemed to be a good idea, but watching throughout the film, it seemed as if he was very uncomfortable and forced to wobble around like a penguin. I’ve never seen Hitchcock walk, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t wobble!

History. As much as I was interesting in the making of Psycho, I would have been more interesting in seeing a little more about what it was that made Hitchcock tick. To my knowledge the few films about him don’t seem to dwell back there and I’m sure that is was this history that shaped him into the director he turned out to be.

Alma. A short side plot involving Hitchcock’s wife, Alma, didn’t really work for me, but only because they didn’t develop it proper. As it is presented in the picture, randomly we saw her and Danny Huston’s character at this beach house a couple of times and the last time he is having sex with some chick, she gets bent out of shape, goes to help her husband make Psycho become a hit, and that’s the last of it. Surely, they could have done something more with that story if they were going to include it. This is a relatively short film, a few more minutes would not have hurt.

So, Hitchcock…what did I think of it? I really liked it. There were moments here and there that I was left scratching my head about, but for the most part, this was my cup of tea. Could it have been better?  Yes, but it also could have been much worse. Fan of Hitchock, you may or may not like it depending on how hardcore you are, but general movie fans will probably enjoy. Check it out sometime!

4 out of 5 stars