Movie review: Loving

(image via IMP Awards)

 

In a perfect world, the union of two people in wedded bliss would simply be a celebration of love and devotion and not some devious threat to the social order.

Alas, none of us live in such an untroubled idyll, so instead marriage often comes loaded with a whole host of conflicting notions, many of which don’t make sense and reflect not so much the reality of these unions as the prejudice and bigotry of those making allegations both for and against.

Nowhere is this more vividly demonstrated than in the touching, deeply-meaningful Jeff Nichols-directed film Loving, which beautifully and without manipulation or complication takes this down to the simplest and most heartfelt of levels.

In essence, that marriage is about the union of two people who love each other; any other arguments, no matter how volubly or consistently expressed, can’t compete with this self-evident truth.

That’s not say that the holders of contrary views don’t try, as the current marriage equality debate in Australia demonstrates all too well, and up until the 1960s they had prevailed in many states of the Union, which brought in anti-miscegenation laws that prohibited marriage between people of different races.

Like many other discriminatory aspects of American law, this racist notion was put to the test during the Civil Rights era, and quite successfully too as Loving shows, but at the time of the marriage of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) in 1958 it was still very much against the law in Caroline County, Virginia, indeed the entire state, for a white man and a black woman to get married.

Realising this, Richard, a quietly-spoken construction worker who rightly believed that the fact that he loved his wife is enough (as indeed it should be), took Mildred to Washington, D.C. to tie the knot before returning home and proudly hanging his marriage license on the wall.

 

 

In a sign of just how resolutely Richard believed this was sufficient proof of his right to legally cohabit with the woman he loves, and how little regard the state of Virginia, represented by the local Sheriff (Martin Csokas), there is one scene in Loving which powerfully underscores how great that gulf was at the time.

As the Sheriff bursts into the home of Mildred’s parents in the dead of night – Richard was about to build Mildred a home only 1/2 mile from where she’d grown up – and roughly rouses Richard and Mildred from their marital bed, Richard points to the license as if this should be proof enough of his right to be with his wife.

It’s disregarded almost immediately by the sheriff and his fellow policeman who throw Richard into prison overnight and Mildred for three days until they can independently post bail – because Richard is not recognised as Mildred’s husband he is disallowed from acting on her behalf, that role falling to her father (Christopher Mann) – but it speaks with powerful eloquence to the simple but true belief held by Richard that there is nothing standing in the way of their union.

Richard and Mildred don’t win this initial battle nor a number of others that follow, but even through their exile in Washington, D.C., the punishment for the “crime” of breaking the anti-miscegenation law, Mildred especially believes they can win the war.

It’s a war that unspools over a decade, during which the American Council of Civil Liberties (ACLU), represented by well-meaning but green lawyer Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), take the case of Richard and Mildred all the way to the Supreme Court where they are successful, overturning anti-miscegenation laws throughout the U.S. and dismantling another plank in the palpably racist laws that governed the lives of many Americans.

It’s without a doubt a powerful and portentous moment but the script by Jeff Nichols, which is based on The Loving Story by Nancy Buirski, frames in terms of what it means to the Lovings in simple practical terms.

Unwilling to attend the Supreme Court proceedings in Washington, Richard opts to stay on the remote farm in King and Queen County, Virginia, where they have quietly and defiantly returned to raise their three children – who are cruelly described as bastards by the prosecutors from the state – and Mildred, ever the obedient wife, though she is hardly a doormat and is in fact the driver behind the court cases, complies, leaving their lawyer to convey the news down a crackly phone line.

 

 

It might seem like an underwhelming way to document such a momentous development, but it is entirely in keeping with the spirit and intent of Loving, which keeps its focus firmly on Richard and Mildred’s caring and deeply-supportive relationship.

It eschews big bombastic, overly-dramatic court scenes and grandiose pivotal moments redolent with emotionally-manipulative exchanges, for quiet, introspective moments that are not without power or import, but which don’t feel the need to shout their intentions from the dramatic rooftop.

Rather Loving sensitively opts for nuanced understatement, rightly confident in the fact that the real story here is the strength of a relationship so profoundly close that it’s impossible not to be deeply moved by it.

Communicated loud and clear, through various key scenes, is the depth of Richard’s devotion to his wife, who is adamant he will take care of her come what may – in a 2008 interview before her death, which is acknowledged in the credits, Mildred paid tribute to her husband saying “I miss him. He took care of me” – and indeed he does, backing her decision to seek justice all the way to the Supreme Court even if he is uncomfortable with the attention it brings the couple (which includes a photo spread in Life magazine by Grey Villet, played by Michael Shannon).

While the court cases are given due coverage, the film doesn’t linger on them, choosing at every turn to celebrate the reason why the legal battles were occurring in the first place.

Important thought the ramifications for civil rights were, and they were considerable, the real import of the Supreme Court’s decision was to recognise what people like Richard and Mildred Loving, and indeed anyone denied the right to marry knows in their heart already – that there is nothing illegal or deficient in their love and that it deserves the same recognition as that of anyone else, race, colour, creed or sexuality be damned.

 

 

The pain and laughter of Youth in Oregon

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
When 79-year-old curmudgeon Raymond (Frank Langella) makes arrangements to be euthanized in Oregon, his family refuses to accept his decision. But when another family emergency arises, Raymond’s daughter Kate (Christina Applegate) turns to her husband Brian (Billy Crudup) for a little help. So Brian reluctantly volunteers to drive the cantankerous Raymond and his wine-loving wife Estelle (Mary Kay Place) three thousand miles to Oregon. Determined to change the old man’s mind before they reach the Beaver State, it becomes quickly apparent to Brian that convincing your father-in-law to keep living when he’s ready to check out is no simple task. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

You know how decisions can be hard to make but once you’ve made them and know what you’ve decided is right beyond a shadow of a doubt that sticking to it becomes ridiculously easy?

It’s a great feeling, liberating almost.

And you’ll find pretty much everyone will support you if you’re decided to opt for waffles over cereal for breakfast, or to book your annual holiday in Paris, hang the cost. Great decision, go for it, you’ll love it.

But kill yourself? Ah, that is a whole different Pandora’s Box of issues and emotions and you can be sure that if you are completely at peace with your decision, that no one else will be.

Especially if you have a family like Raymond’s who care dammit! And they’re not about to let go and do away with yourself just like that.

Sounds like a fertile ground for a funny yet moving indie drama doesn’t it? Yes it actually kinda does …

Youth in Oregon opened 3 February in limited release and VOD.

 

Movie review: The Great Wall

(image via IMP Awards)

 

The Great Wall, which hurtles us back in time to the Song Dynasty where monsters are more of a threat than mountain bandits , is nothing if not spectacular.

Steeped in immense, Lord of the Rings-epic battle scenes, emotionally-intense exchanges borne of imminent threat and death, and suffused with redemption, hope and greed, it is in many respects the diverting, engrossing blockbuster it sets out to be.

Directed by Zhang Yimou (Ju Dou, Hero), it suggests that the Great Wall of China, the long-lasting behemoth that runs the length of northern China, was built to keep out more than the occasional brigand or acquisitonal Mongolian.

The enemy, in fact, are mystical hive-minded hairless wolf-like supernatural creatures called Tao Tei that arrived on a comet, it is suggested, eons earlier, a punishment for a greedy overreaching Emperor, and which now return every sixty years like clockwork to feast on people, grow stronger and perhaps take over the world.

If may sound inordinately fanciful and of course is, but there is something about the intense way that the people in charge of defending China proper from these bloodthirsty hordes, such as Commander Li (Jing Tian) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau) treat their enemy that engenders respect and makes you take the threat seriously.

It is perhaps a tad too portentous at times, with gravity seeping through every pore of what is essentially a gloriously over the top monster action film, but for the most part it works, lending The Great Wall a driven focus which it might otherwise have lacked.

One person who is taking it all very seriously after an unexpected run-in with one of the beasts is William Garin (Matt Damon), a mercenary from Europe who along with 20 others including friend Pero Tavor (Pedro Pascal) set out to acquire some of the legendary “black powder” (gunpowder), a mission that the band of warriors for hire initially thought would be a quick in-and-out mission.

 

(image via The Great Wall Facebook page (c) Universal Pictures)

 

It is, naturally enough, nothing of kind and when William finally meets the Chinese garrison guarding that stretch of the then-mint condition Great Wall, his party is down to he and Tovar, and the mission over, with Li and others, including longtime unwilling resident Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), making it clear that no one ever leaves and returns home to Europe, the better to keep all the military secrets safe in Chinese hands.

Though William and Tovar chafe at being made prisoners, they soon prove themselves in battle during the first major attack by the Tao Tei, which includes some incredibly acrobatic, near-balletic fighting by the Chinese warriors including the deadly graceful all-women Crane Corps, and are thereafter treated with respect and deference by their onetime captors.

Trained since a very young age as guns for hire, both William and Tovar plan to grab some gunpowder and hightail it out of there with Ballard at the first available opportunity.

But William, struck with the realisation that he has a chance to be something more than a non-aligned mercenary and that he can actually make a difference in the lives of people he has come to care about – including Li, with whom there seems some narrative flirtation with duty leading to romance – decides to stick around and help the Chinese fight off the insatiable hordes of Tao Tei.

The decision doesn’t go down well with Tovar and Ballard but William is finally a man of purpose, possessed of a loyalty that goes beyond money and which ultimately is the making of him as a man and a soldier.

It may sound a little too neat and trite a transformation but it’s clear from the outset that William is a man in search of something bigger than himself, and they don’t come much bigger than the Great Wall and tens of thousands of Queen-directed Tao Tei, and so his shifting allegiance ends up making a great deal of sense.

Contrary to some reviews which have painted this as another Westerners-save-the-Chinese/non-European power film, William is not the tipping point in the story; yes he grants the Chinese, weary from centuries of fending off the beasts, renewed drive and perspective, but they are never painted as anything less than supremely talented, technologically-advanced people who can manage quite nicely without anyone’s help.

There’s nothing remotely colonial in nature about it and William is simply a fresh set of eyes and a talented new archer to their ranks rather than the guiding messiah who rights their sinking ship.

 

(image via The Great Wall Facebook page (c) Universal Pictures)

 

The film does have its issues.

Gripping though the narrative is and intensely spectacular though the action scenes often are, there is not much depth to either the relationships between many of the characters nor to the historical accuracy of the period.

The ending too seems to arrive suddenly, its resolution a little too well-worn trope heavy and convenient, the wrap-up far too neat and tied with a bow.

But then The Great Wall is an escapist fantasy outing, a film that splashes around mystical splendour and near-apocalyptic portent with a fervour that entirely befits the story it is telling, and which glories in its rich, larger-than-life look and feel.

This is a film that is out to tell an engrossing story and which largely succeeds, even if the narrative does occasionally feel a little threadbare and under-developed at times, and which posits the idea there is redemption to be had even a lifetime of selling of your soul to the highest bidder.

This is visually-impressive fantasy with substance and style that, while not the high point of its genre, and certainly not a match for other films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or indeed The Lord of the Rings, nonetheless delivers a richly-entertaining experience that takes you into a world that is every bit as authentically human as it is bombastically fantastical.

 

Move review: Hidden Figures

(image via IMP Awards)

 

Tales of unsung heroes generally follow a well-worn path, particularly when they’re about a pivotal event in history with which most people would assume they are comprehensively familiar.

Such as the Space Race between Cold War rivals the USSR and the USA which saw the two superpowers engaged in a cheek-by-jowl race to get their citizens into orbit and then to the moon first, a period in history about much has been written and many movies and TV shows made.

But like every great moment in humanity’s steadfast climb from the primordial ooze, there was far more going on than just gallant astronauts, cutting-edge technology and daring gambits, and it’s to the people in the background, often the ones crunching the numbers upon which the whole endeavour to get space-borne rested, that Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly and directed by Theodore Melfi, turns its beautifully-wrought attention.

Granted, its telling of this tale, which focuses on three brilliant black women who were among a dedicated team of NASA computors – interestingly the narrative covers the period when the first massive IBM computers arrived at the space agency, a development which has the potential to put their namesakes out of much-needed jobs – whose work was every bit as instrumental on fulfilling the mandate to get the United States into space, is not particularly original.

It is, in many respects a step-by-step chronological biopic which charts the way in which these women – Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) – broke through hitherto impenetrable barriers in their quest to have their considerable abilities valued every bit as highly as their white, mostly male, colleagues.

But it is perfectly and winningly executed, combined a spirit-raising feel good inspirational message with an examination of the emerging Civil Rights Movement which carried with it the real potential to change the way in which America treated its segregated black minority.

 

 

Selma, of course, this is not but it can be seen as a companion piece of sorts, illustrating with humour, tenacity and some raw emotional authenticity, how many black people fought their own battles on a day-to-day basis to gain the acceptance routinely accorded to white people.

Katherine Goble Johnson is a perfect example of how hard and long these women had to fight to prove themselves worthy of the advancements they eventually gained.

Originally just one of many women in the West Computing Group, where the black computors were kept far their white colleagues in the East division, Katherine is hand selected for her genius-level mathematical abilities – a opening scenes show how much of a maths prodigy she was, so gifted she was accelerated through school on scholarships –  to work for Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group who along with head engineer Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) and a team of exclusively white-shirted white men, was responsible for getting the spacecraft safely into orbit and then back down to Earth again.

She has her work cut out for her with Stafford, who is a cardboard cutout character at best, meant to represent the constant opposition Katherine faces, none too pleased to have a woman double checking his calculations and a black woman at that.

Along with his passive-aggressive actions – it’s never clear who is responsible but someone finds a separate coffee pot and labels it “colored” in a pointed reference that Katherine is not welcome – Katherine must face a slew of obstacles including having to go to a restroom for colored women half a mile away from her office.

While her daily trips to the toilet are fodder for some delightfully funny visual gags with the talented mathematician forced to run from her current work building to her old one and back again, they make a serious point – here are immensely talented people, key to the American effort to get people into space, who are treated in many instances like they simply don’t matter.

Katherine’s colleagues in arms and close friends, Dorothy and Mary also must fight their own titanic battles but each rise to the challenge in ways big and small, and in transforming their own lives, contribute to the wave of change affecting American society as a whole.

 

 

In a number of ways, Hidden Figures is reasonably formulaic, using a David vs. Goliath template to tell its highly-engaging story.

But so exquisitely well-told is this inspiring tale, which champions the underdogs and those progressive individuals such as Harrison who was instrumental in racially-equalising NASA’s workplace, that you simply don’t care.

The screenplay by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, barely misses a beat, seamlessly combining the impressive career advancements of all three women with their personal lives which are underpinned by warm and loving families and a strong sense of community.

Hidden Figures is a prime example of how formulas do not need to strangle emotionally-affecting, inspiring storytelling and that it’s what you do with them that counts in the end.

Occupying a period of history when America was in a flux – technologically, culturally and racially, the film is a testament to the power of singing the praises of unsung heroes, of illuminating how profoundly their contributions matter, and how US society would be all the poorer if people like Katherine, Mary and Dorothy hadn’t dared to challenge the odds and fight for their own piece of the American Dream, and in the process, fundamentally alter the way it operates for all.

 

 

 

The short and the short of it: The heartbreaking dreaming of Monkey Love Experiments

(image via Vimeo (c) Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson)

 

Dreams can carry us a long way.

And if you’re a small lab monkey named Gandhi who is very sweetly devoted to his inanimate but cuddly cage buddy, you have every expectation, after witnessing a rocket lifting off to the moon that it can take away from your small barred world and all the way off Earth.

That’s some dreaming and Gandhi takes to it with earnestly enthusiastic gusto.

The only catch? Leaving his lovely cage friend behind.

The true cost of dreaming is revealed in this heartrendingly beautiful short film which shows how pursuing our passions may cost more than we ever dreamed.

Prepare to be deeply moved.

(source: IO9/Gizmodo

 

It’s all connected! New Disney video may prove the Unified Theory of Pixar

(image via Movie Pilot (c) Disney / Pixar)

 

There is a Pixar Theory out in the pop culture ether, courtesy of one very clever Jon Negroni (it’s a book too – you can get it here) – to be fair he was inspired by a video on Cracked but ran like crazy (“obsessed” is the word he uses) with the ideas contained within – that posits that every single Pixar film, and thus every character, is connected.

His reasoning is ingenious and goes far beyond the idea that of course they are since they were all created by the same studio.

Negroni argues, and quite convincingly too, that “The Grand Unifying Theory of Pixar Movies”, to give it its longer title, binds every single Pixar film together in an universe where all are deeply inter-related and have a direct consequential bearing on each other.

It was all just so much brilliantly well-argued speculation – to be fair I was a believer; it all makes such glorious good sense and who wanted to be part of a universe where every Pixar character matters deeply to the other? – but now Disney has added some official credibility to the idea by releasing a video that connects the visual and narrative dots between the Pixar films in a way that will leave you intrigue and breathless.

As Film School Rejects observes, it brings together connections you might not have otherwise noticed (unless you’re Jon Negroni, of course):

“Essentially a montage of Easter Eggs, the video reveals instances of overlap between all the Pixar films, including the titular Good Dinosaur showing up in Monsters University, those same monsters showing up in Brave, and the Brave characters in the background of Cars 2 (which technically came out the year before Brave).”

Watch it and be amazed, delighted and gleefully reminded that everything is connected in one big Gaia-esque Pixar world and we are all the better for it.

Is it enough to confirm the theory? That’s up to you to decide of course but colour me a firm believer.

 

Wilson: Life is crap and then you die … or find your long-lost daughter

(image via IMP Awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Woody Harrelson stars as Wilson, a lonely, neurotic and hilariously honest middle-aged misanthrope who reunites with his estranged wife (Laura Dern) and gets a shot at happiness when he learns he has a teenage daughter (Isabella Amara) he has never met. In his uniquely outrageous and slightly twisted way, he sets out to connect with her.

I have long been, and remain, firmly of the opinion that Woody Harrelson should be the go-to person for playfully mischievously curmudgeonly people in every movie possible.

He has proved his superlative skill in this regard in films like Zombieland and The Edge of Seventeen and is back again in Wilson, playing a man who believes, quite firmly, that “life is lonely and miserable”.

So no overusing of the smile emoji for him then right?

He has managed the transition from childhood to adulthood, or from marriage to single life all that well and has pretty much decided life has little to offer him.

Then he discovers he has a daughter … and everything changes?

Not quite but it is does get a whole lot more interesting and hilarious. Family reunions have never been this dysfunctionally tactless or funny.

Wilson opens in USA on 24 March.

 

Poster Me This! Character posters released for Beauty and the Beast

(image via IMP awards)

 

SNAPSHOT
Disney will release Beauty and the Beast in 3D on March 17, 2017. The beloved tale will be retold for the big screen with a modern live-action lens and the help of transformative CG magic. Emma Watson and Dan Stevens will star as Belle and the Beast/Prince respectively, and Luke Evans will play the role of Gaston. Emma Thompson has joined the cast as Mrs. Potts and Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice.

Eight-time Oscar-winner Alan Menken, who won two Academy Awards for the 1991 animated classic, will score the film, which will feature new recordings of the original songs in addition to several new songs written by Menken and Sir Tim Rice. Bill Condon will direct from a script by Stephen Chbosky, and the film will be produced by Mandeville Films’ David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman. Production begins in May at Shepperton Studios in London. (synopsis via Coming Soon)

Whatever your failings about turning animated films into live action ones, and Disney has acquired a certain mania for the process in the last few years with many such projects in the works, it’s hard to fault how beautiful the new remake of Beauty and the Beast looks.

Assisted by new music from the original composer Alan Menken and an age-old story which shows no signs of losing its engaging lustre, the film looks set to keep Disney at the opt of the Hollywood pile in 2017, after a record breaking time of it last year.

The character posters are beautifully imagined too, with both the human and the living furniture images of each character visible in the exquisitely wrought posters.

Beauty and the Beast opens in USA and UK on 27 March, and in Australia on 23 March.

 

(image via IMP awards)

 

(image via IMP awards)

 

(image via IMP awards)

 

(image via IMP awards)

 

You can see the full set of 12 posters and the motion posters at Hypable.

Beyond La La Land: the top ten toe-tapping film musicals (curated article)

(image courtesy Summit Entertainment)

 

In the Great Depression, movies were an escape from life, and musicals gave audiences hope that things would get better. The recent release of La La Land – a contemporary twist on a classic formula – has reignited interest in the musical genre. At the Golden Globes this week, the film won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), Best Director (Damien Chazelle), Best Original Score, Best Screenplay, Best Original Song (City of Stars), Best Actor (Ryan Gosling) and Best Actress (Emma Stone).

I enjoyed the escapism of La La Land, and appreciated the bravery of both director and cast as they stepped into a challenging field. But there are other musicals that qualify as greats.

As a musical tragic, here is my list of the ten most memorable musicals. It’s not conclusive. It excludes silent films like The Jazz Singer (1927); the first official Hollywood musical The Broadway Melody (1929); ground-breaking films like Grease (1978) and Fiddler on the Roof (1971); cult musicals like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and jukebox musicals like Mamma Mia! (2008). Credit should also be given to shows that reference classic music theatre, for example, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a made-for-television musical comedy-drama series.

However, the following musicals continue to influence today’s world of music theatre. Each has a unique quality that lends to its iconic status.

42nd Street (1933)

 

 

The plot of 42nd Street, based on the creation of a musical show during the Depression, launched the career of Ruby Keeler, a name synonymous with early musicals. The film showcases the visual imagery of choreographer Busby Berkeley, whose method is still unrivalled today. Berkeley was famous for his filming from above. It meant that his choreography was not only visually stunning for a seated audience, but when viewed from above, each step helped illustrate an image. For instance, a series of dancing girls might spin in a circle in flowing gowns. A dancer in the centre would spin in the other direction and the viewer would see a beautiful, spinning flower.

Top Hat (1935)

 

 

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were the leading dancing duo of the 1930s, starring in 10 films. Their pairing happened by accident, when they were brought together for the first time on the set of Flying Down To Rio (1933), as support characters. The production team was stunned by the chemistry between the pair – as the saying goes, Ginger could do everything that Fred did, but backwards and in heels. This was the first film written specifically for them as leading characters, and as The Oxford History of World Cinema puts it, in a Fred & Ginger musical, “boy meets girl; boy dances with girl; boy gets girl”. In the film’s classic song and dance scene, Cheek to Cheek, Rogers wore a dress swathed in feathers, which kept floating off during filming. If you look very closely, you can see one errant feather that fell on the set and was missed in the post-production editing.

An American in Paris (1951)

 

 

This Oscar-winning film brought together dancers Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly. The tale of an American painter living in Paris who falls in love is fairly straightforward. But the dance sequences are sumptuous. One of them, An American in Paris ballet, is a 17-minute extravaganza choreographed by Kelly. It features costumes inspired by a smattering of French painters (including Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec) and a beautiful George Gershwin score.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

 

 

With the recent passing of Debbie Reynolds, this film has a new poignancy. Reynolds was just 20 when she made it, starring alongside Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. One of the most successful musicals ever filmed, it is filled with memorable songs, lavish dance routines and of course, that scene-stealing title song. This film is a light-hearted look at Hollywood, at the time when silent films gave way to “talkies”. Amongst surveys of the greatest American films, Singin’ in the Rain inevitably ranks in the top ten. Several stage revivals have appeared in recent years. And everyone I know is able to sing (or hum) along to Good Morning.

Oklahoma (1955)

 

 

This first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, based on Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs (1931), explores the love story between a cowboy (Gordon MacRae) and a farm girl (Shirley Jones). It develops the idea of the “book musical” – a musical play where the songs and dances are an integral part of the narrative, emerging from the story to evoke profound emotional responses.

There is a darker side to this story, with the secondary character Jud, a farmhand, in love with the leading lady. Some classic numbers from this production include “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and the title song.

My Fair Lady (1964)

 

 

This Lerner & Loewe adaptation of Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion is a tale of transformation. A cockney flower girl wants to “better” herself, so she can work in a flower shop. An arrogant phonetics professor wagers that he can teach her to speak “proper” English, and training ensues. Audrey Hepburn charmed as the wayward Eliza – although her singing was dubbed by another. Her partner in musical crime was Rex Harrison, who, strangely enough, doesn’t sing, but is completely convincing as Higgins. Eliza’s father was entertainer Stanley Holloway, who delighted audiences with the classic “I’m Getting Married in The Morning”, sung in a pub, his favourite place on earth. The film ends with hope, unlike the play that inspired it, and won eight Academy Awards.

The Sound of Music (1965)

 

 

Adapted from the Broadway musical of 1959, this Oscar-winning film introduced audiences to Julie Andrews. As Maria (Andrews) and the Von Trapp children sang and danced their way across the Austrian Alps, songs such as Do-Re-Mi and My Favourite Things became classics. Though not a dance musical, per se, it is still one of the most commercially successful films of all time, and has continued to enjoy revivals throughout the world.

Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

 

 

This rock opera began as a concept album, before launching on Broadway in 1971. There is no spoken dialogue, hence the term “opera”. It is a loose depiction of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, with added struggles between the key protagonists. This musical was the launching pad for singers, such as the late Jon English, Marcia Hines, and more recently, in the West End, Tim Minchin. Again known for its singing rather than the dancing, the title song, and Mary Magdalene’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”, were softer moments in an intense score. The film of the show was released in 1973 and is a leading work in the rock opera genre.

The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

 

 

Lloyd-Webber’s composition is based on Leroux’s novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The plot focuses on a soprano ingénue who becomes the obsession of a mysterious, disfigured musical genius. This musical is surprisingly popular, because its main hero is an anti-hero. He is unbalanced, unattractive and his only saving grace is a God-given talent for composing. Which, I must say, holds him in very good stead. If the Phantom is well cast, one sympathizes with this sad creature. The opening sequence with the chandelier suspended above the stage reduces my sister to tears each time, and is truly a spectacle to behold. And who can resist an overacting opera singer with a dodgy Italian accent and musical spectacles such as the amazing choreography of “Masquerade”, or the simplicity of Christine’s singing to her father’s grave, in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”? The 2004 film featured Gerard Butler in his first singing role, which, as an accomplished actor, he performed very creditably, alongside Emmy Rossum as Christine. The standout however, as the obnoxious opera singer, was Minnie Driver, who put in a sterling performance, evoking much laughter.

Les Misérables (2012)

 

 

Based on Victor Hugo’s novel, this Tony Award winner is another sung-through musical, having run continuously in the West End since 1985. This story of love, freedom and morality, set within the tragedy of the French revolution, evokes great emotion and composers Schönberg and Boublil manage to sustain the intensity throughout. The 2012 film was a vision of cinematic brilliance, with Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe as Valjean and Javert respectively. Jackman has sung with great artistry in other productions, but I felt that in making himself physically portray the struggles and weakness of Valjean, his vocal performance suffered. However, Crowe’s portrayal of Javert showed his moral compass swaying, and he sang with technical proficiency and artistic expression. There are so many pieces of note within this score, but “Do You Hear the People Sing?”, as the revolutionaries face their death, is perhaps for me, the most touching moment. This is a classic piece of music theatre history. It will bring you emotionally to your knees.

If I had to choose one of these as my favourite, I’d be hard pressed. However, Oklahoma stands out as a performance full of love and laughter, where something good can come out of something bad. I like hope in my musicals – as Rosie O’Donnell said to Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle: “You don’t want to be in love – you want to be in love in a movie”. Well, I want to be in love in a musical.

The Conversation

Nicole Thomson, Associate Lecturer – Theatre, CQUniversity Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Fiery red to coolest blue: Cinefix looks at the use of colour by filmmakers

(image via YouTube (c) Cinefix)

 

SNAPSHOT
Color is one of the most effective tools in a storyteller’s arsenal. From fiery red, to the coldest blue, a great filmmaker knows just what colors to paint on the screen. Move over light and shadow, lets take the color wheel for a spin! Here are the very best uses of color in a movie ever! (synopsis via Laughing Squid)

Being a visual medium, film relies every bit as heavily on what we see as the story it is telling.

Cinefix has once again demonstrated how vitally important it is to have every visual piece perfectly in place, concentrating this time on the top 10 ways film has used to colour to convey story, a sense of time or place, emotional states and a host of other elements critical to truly impacting film-making.

The usual well-deserved suspects are accounted for such as The Wizard of Oz, American Beauty and What Dreams May Come, but this brilliantly done piece examines the use of colour in films you may not immediately think of such as Schindler’s List (that red coat is an emotional blow every time), O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Vertigo and Mad Max: Fury Road.

It’s immersive, instructive and a reminder of just brilliant the very best filmmakers are at creating a world away from our own and taking us deep into the engrossing tales they are telling.