Frozen

“Frozen”  Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Disney has a magic touch.  Either that or they just hire the RIGHT people for the RIGHT jobs.  Any which way you look at it, “Frozen” is a major success.  It’s not your typical Disney Princess storyline, and it has major vocal talent, a killer single from the movie’s soundtrack, and of course brilliant animation.  All of this rolled into one interesting tale, giving this Disney smash success a big thumbs up from me!

Since I’m an artist, I will talk about the artwork in this film.  It’s even better than “Tangled” – at that is saying a lot coming from me!  The process involved here is like a hybrid of traditional hand-drawn animated cells and CGI.  The film is also shot in CinemaScope – not going to geek it all over the place here, so instead, just read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CinemaScope  Suffice to say it’s a favorite technique of mine, it is great way to shoot films that lend themselves to a more epic or cinematic look.  It is the classical definition of “widescreen” formatting.

Frozen” is inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen tale called the Snow Queen.  Apparently, that story was something Walt himself wanted to see animated, but – long story short here – it got shelved.  The proper way of stating it today is to say that “Frozen” was inspired by the Andersen tale.  John Lasseter helped to anchor the film in a relatable way, giving us a story not as dark as the original material and filled with characters that people would understand better.  What Disney has ended up with is the very compelling story of two sisters that are kept apart from one another because of one sister has developed magical powers that enable her to freeze things.

The story might seem to have a loop hole in there, phrased as “how did she get these powers?”  Truth is though, the answer to this question is irrelevant.  The powers are not the story.  The character is.  I have to say that Disney has done a way better job with Elsa than with Merida from “Brave”.  Merida bothered me because it was like she rebelled because she wasn’t living her life as she wanted.  Really?  That’s your big bitch?  Well, excuse me but this girl Elsa – she got problems.  Yes, yes – I am over-simplifying I know.  But it is so accurate.  Elsa is terrified she’ll hurt her baby sister if she TOUCHES her.  She’s afraid of herself and the strange powers she has.  Basically, she’s afraid of what she could do to others.  Okay, now THAT is something that wrecks a life.  Screw Merida, Elsa has it way worse!

The story of Elsa (wonderfully played and sung by Idina Menzel) would not have been enough to make a movie out of though – if not for her younger sister Anna, played by the sloth-loving Kristen Bell.  The story follows them from being toddlers to being all grown up.  There are twists to the story that many viewers will be taken by surprise with.  (By the way, Anna’s mannerisms are so life-like that it is jaw-droppingly good!)  Anna brings the heart to this story and it is cool.  Of course, there is an awesome little snowman named Olaf that almost steals the movie and he brings the funny.  Over all, the story is fresh and innovative and surprising.  I’d have to say, “Frozen” was way better than I thought it might be.

So, if you have missed this one at the theater, try to catch it as soon as you can.  I don’t think you should wait for Netflix on this one.  Disney has the magical touch and two new princesses join the ranks of Belle, Ariel, and the rest of the gang.  Welcome to the Magic Kingdom, Anna and Elsa!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

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Rent

“Rent”

Yes, Fair Readers, I am once again at that “it’s time to recommend” phase of life.

Today, I recommend the musical “Rent“.  I have always had a soft spot for musicals, ever since I saw “Guys & Dolls” live.   Tack on “7 Brides for 7 Brothers“, “South Pacific“, “West Side Story“, and -OF COURSE- “Phantom of the Opera“, and you have some of the very best musicals out there.

While “Rent” may not be so new, and to those of us in the theater biz it seems a far cry older than that, it has some very deep stuff to it.  The meat of the story is simple and easy to follow, as all musicals should be.  Nothing seems overly drawn out, and the characters seem incredibly real.  These are people you could meet on the street today.  It does seem to be screaming that everybody in this film/musical has AIDS, and through all of the rotten ways of contracting this disease at that.  However, there are some incredibly positive and up-beat messages and imagery in this story.  For all intents and purposes, “Rent” is a classy & well-done musical rendition of the opera “La Boheme“.  Don’t quote me on that, but I believe it to be fact.  {Of course, having never seen an Opera limits me slightly.}  It has tragedy, a love story, plenty of humor, and some fun (sort of) dance numbers.

It appeals to my artistic side, the true Artiste in moi.  And it is so very easy to want to jump right into that whole mentality.  What do I mean?  When you watch the film, wait for the Life Cafe scene (this is a Chinese Restaurant).  Herein, our fantastic cast, lead by the dorky Mark Cohen, belts out “La Vie Boheme“.  I wanted to be there in that restaurant and sing along!  It is inspiring simply because it is anti-establishment and pro-creativity.  That song seems to personify this movie for me.  It is all about being unafraid to face life and to truly express yourself.   It’s about being an Artist, and I really felt caught up in it.

So, for all you artists out there, go catch a copy of this one on DVD.  You’ll be glad you did.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Producers (2005)

“The Producers” (2005) The_Producers_(2005)

In lieu of the usual, more recent films out there, I thought I would take the time to write some reviews about a few older films that I have only watched recently.

I start by speaking about the “The Producers”, the 2nd film version of the musical performed on Broadway.  This version features Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick and Uma Thurman.  I never saw the previous version with the late and very great Gene Wilder, so this was entirely new to me.  The film centers on a hack of a producer that is notorious for producing some really awful Broadway shows.  Nathan Lane plays this role with relish, and he is positively wonderful to watch.  Allow me to say that a large portion of this musical on film is devoted to the zany and often very silly humor that made this Broadway show such a hit.  It works too.

Matthew Broderick comes along into the story as a spineless and quirky accountant that stumbles upon a “brilliant plan” of making more money off a bad show than a hit show.  I usually don’t think of Broderick as a singer or a dancer – or funny to tell the truth – but he was talented in all of these ways in the film.  He is utterly likeable in this role and his hysterical 1st meeting with Nathan Lane’s character is priceless!

Uma Thurman plays the Swedish bombshell that comes into both of these gentleman’s lives and mixes it up with both of them.  Her singing was impressive, and I was really surprised by that.  I mean, I like her as an actress and all, but she has a pretty fantastic voice!  Who knew?  I guess that was the surprise of this movie for me.  The story is funny, but the performers really impressed me.  I knew that Lane would be a smash hit, but Broderick and Thurman really “wowed” me.

Add Will Ferrell as the crazy nut who pens the insane musical “Springtime for Hitler” and this show has a lot of laughs already built into it.  Ferrell is a delight in this role.  His scene on top of the roof with the 2 unlikely partners interested in producing his musical is classic!  There is a fabulous scene also involving the director of the show, played by Max Beach.  For those of us who know theatre and the lifestyle of Broadway, this scene is perfect humor.

Ultimately, I would recommend this film for anyone who likes musicals with a sense of humor.  There are a lot of laughs in this one!  I hope some of you give it a chance because you may just be impressed by the talent in this movie like I was.  Regardless, you’ll laugh quite a bit!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Mamma Mia

Mamma Mia”  MammaMiaTeaserPoster

Alright, so I never saw the musical live – shocking, I know.  I love a lot of musicals, but it’s usually the older ones.  “South Pacific” is really my speed when it comes to musicals.  That being said, some people in recent years have done a fantastic job at creating musicals.   The very 1st one on that list would be “Sweeney Todd” – a film which I adored!  So, even though I am an old stick in the mud when asked my preference for musicals, I DO enjoy some modern works as well.

Mamma Mia” looked like a lot of fun, and so I decided to give it a whirl.

Allow me to say the following very clearly: just because you are a decent actor or actress doesn’t mean you can sing.  Pierce Brosnan most assuredly cannot sing.  It is painful to listen to.  Please, can someone just inform the man of that fact?  Did anyone else notice how badly he stunk it up on film?   It was truly atrocious.  I mentioned “Sweeney Todd” earlier, and I can say that Alan Rickman in that film was far superior to Brosnan in this awful mess.  And that isn’t saying much.

As for the ladies of the film, they were fine.  There was nothing outstanding about their performances, one way or another.  I have nothing bad to say, but nothing good to say either.  Meryl Streep plays the “love interest” of the film and to be honest, she does okay.  Streep is a world-class actress, and I can understand the want of a professional actress to loosen up a bit and have some fun in a film for a change of pace.  Really, she was just adequate in the role – not the usual from Streep, to be sure.

The film is quirky with some of its casting, and the whole film is a little goofy.  The concept was a novel thing: a musical based on ABBA’s music.  The music is good, but it really makes you crave to hear the actual recording by the band.  The whole movie is like that.  Wonderful setting, but it made me want to go there.  Wonderful music, but don’t I own that CD somewhere?  See what I mean?  I forgot about the movie entirely.  That is my criticism of this musical: it is forgettable.

I suppose there are some positive upsides to a film being a little goofy and fairly forgettable.  For one, nobody will care enough to write anything truly nasty about your movie.  Unless I miss my guess, I would have to assume that the live theatrical musical would be better than this film.  It just didn’t strike me either in a good way or a bad way.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Les Miserables

Les Misérables”  Les-miserables-movie-poster1

Before I begin on writing this review, allow me to state this very clearly: there are only 3 ways you will see this movie.  By “ways”, I mean the perspective that you have entering the theater.  These perspectives will change what you think of this film IMMEDIATELY – even before the previews start.

Here are the perspectives:

1)      You have seen the musical on Broadway, or part of the National Tour, or in London, or the 25th Anniversary concert on PBS.  You probably have seen it multiple times.

2)      You have either read the obscenely lengthy novel by Victor Hugo OR you have seen a movie adaption of the story, possibly the 1994 version starring Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Claire Danes, and Uma Thurman.

3)      You have no frame of reference for either the story or the musical, having seen neither.

Those perspectives change what your reaction to this film will be.

Here are your probable reactions that match the perspectives:

1)      You will dislike some aspect of this version.  Guaranteed.

2)      You wonder why the actors have to sing seemingly every line.  It annoys you.  You’d like just a sentence or two of just straight dialogue.

3)      You think the acting is pretty awesome, but you could do without some of the songs.

Regardless of what else I may say, these perspectives alter what you may think of this filmed version of this adored musical.  I know that promoters love to hype things, but the phrase “one of the most beloved musicals of our time” really is not quite accurate.  Les Miserables as a musical is simply THE most beloved.  Cats may have run longer, Phantom of the Opera may have made more money, but I don’t see either one of those enjoying the success that belongs to Les Miserables.

Okay, so now on to the “players” of this film.  Tom Hooper directs.  He did “The King’s Speech”.  Very nicely done – he got an Oscar to prove it.  Hugh Jackman was cast as bread-thief Jean Valjean, and Russsell Crowe is cast as Javert, the policeman that hunts the criminal Valjean.  Anne Hathaway plays the tragic Fantine, the single-mother-turned-unwilling-prostitute.  Amanda Seyfried is Cosette, Valjean’s adopted daughter.  Eddie Redmayne is Marius, Cosette’s love-interest and student-turned-revolutionary.  Sacha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter play the villainous Thenardiers.  Newcomer Samantha Barks play Eponine, daughter of the Thenardiers, who is in love with Marius.  The film is produced by Cameron Mackintosh (the creator of the musical).  The music is all courtesy of Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, the creators of the music for the musical.

Now, allow me to speak to few technical aspects of the film.  The makeup of this film is OUTSTANDING, to the point that I would give the Oscar to “Les Misérables” without question.  The look of Valjean at the beginning of the film is such a transformation that I did not even see Hugh Jackman.  The job that was done on Anne Hathaway for her prostitute look was superb!  In the vein, I also though the costumes were stellar as well!  I don’t know that it is guaranteed an Oscar, but it will certainly be in the running.  It will be up against the stiff competition of “The Hobbit” and “Lincoln” to be sure.

Okay, so now that I have gotten my technical joys of the film out of the way, and told you who was cast in the film, and whom the powers behind it are, allow me to state some not-so great things about this film.  The editing of “Les Misérables” is lack-luster to say the least.  If it is not the editor’s fault, then the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hooper.  There’s a lot of choppiness to the film as the story progresses and that was more than a little disconcerting.  In fact, for “Bring Him Home” this choppiness reaches its apex and it ruined the scene for me entirely.  The song is a sweet prayer and to have it broken up by the camera movement as it follows Valjean through the ruined tavern was atrocious!

As for the pacing of the film, Tom Hooper took a major misstep.  There are scenes where the film jumps from one song piece to another with nothing in between the two points.  There wasn’t any dialogue, sung or otherwise, there to serve as a bridge.  There wasn’t a sweeping score to carry you from point A to point B.  In other words, there was no build up, no pause to serve as the “breath” you take in between belting out those songs.  I didn’t like that aspect of the film AT ALL.  I know this isn’t the musical – of which I am a fan – but this is about pacing the film, which is in the hands of the director.  In this case, it should have been in the hands of someone more suited to the task.  Hooper’s direction is good, and I enjoy his close-ups on the actor’s as they sing, but there are moments where a wider angle would have served the film better.  His over-head shots are a little too contrite to be useful here and there were far too many of them in the movie.

When it comes to performances, Jackman’s portrayal of Valjean during “Valjean’s Soliloquy” is one of the greatest scenes ever from a filmed musical.  It is heart-wrenching and Jackman deserved a standing ovation right then and there!  Jackman’s performance is unique to the character, namely because of this this singing-live approach to the film.  There are prettier voices for Valjean.  There could be better actors for Valjean.  Truth is, in this version of the tale, Jackman does a marvelous job.  I believe as an actor this is THE performance of his career.  He was frightening to behold at first – and unrecognizable.  He looked French, if there is such a look.  I just thought he did a great job at acting his way through this film.  Sadly, there are noticeable lacking moments in his vocal talent.  In particular, “Bring Him Home” was a travesty.  I was uncertain if it was the pacing of the film, the choppy editing, the weird camera angles, or just a rushed performance by Jackman that was to blame.  Regardless, it is without question the worst version of this song I have ever seen performed.

I was blown away by Amanda Seyfried’s voice – how does she DO that???  She sounded like a songbird, truly.  I don’t remember her sounding like that in “Mama Mia” either.  But you know what?  I liked her singing as Cosette and I thought she was perfectly cast in the part.  Eddie Redmayne I did not know at all (I have not seen him in “My Week with Marilyn”) but I thought he was pretty terrific as Marius.  His performance during “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” is beyond brilliant.  How he was able to cry like that and then pull back from that emotion to continue singing was a stunning display of control!

Anne Hathaway has created what I am sure will go down in the history books as the most impressive performance of Fantine EVER.  I guess when you have seen it performed on stage, you get used to the vocal stylings used for “I Dreamed a Dream” and you come to expect it.  You judge each actress on how she sings that song.  It is perfectly natural to do so.  That’s one of the 3 IT songs from the musical, and you CANNOT stress enough how important that song is to the whole story.  Anne’s performance during that song is STUPENDOUS.  It is fragile, vulnerable, and filled with heart-break.  Her acting throughout the song is more than Oscar-worthy.  I saw so much coming through in her performance there that I was stunned.  I love the “pretty” versions of that song (to quote Anne herself), but I have to say that for this movie her way of performing the song was THE way to go and man, is it good!

As for Russell Crowe, well he was fine as Javert.  I heard a lot of people criticizing his singing in this film.  I didn’t find it all that bad.  I love Javert as a character; I find him to be a very complex character and there is just something very intriguing to the role.  (Everybody always wants to state who they would be in the musical, which character they would want to play, well mine is Javert.)  The Inspector is supposed to be ‘the bad guy” I know, but he’s this wonderfully determined policeman that just won’t quit.  I admire that.  Anyway, Crowe’s performance as a singer was pretty good I thought, but his acting wasn’t as great as it could have been.  I expected more from the Inspector.  That’s just my opinion.

The WORST aspect of the “Les Misérables” was Sacha baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter as the Thenardiers.  “Master of the House” was utterly awful in this film because it lacked any real charm.  These characters are meant as the comic relief in the musical and there is this Disney-esque villain quality to them: you dislike them but they are somehow charming nevertheless.  My problem with these two actors being cast in these roles was that neither of them seemed to enjoy their parts.  The acting wasn’t particularly funny – if anything it was the one thing it should NOT have been: campy.  The songs were butchered to the point of being nearly unrecognizable.  The way in which Hooper decided to shoot “Master of the House” was dull, witless, and completely without any real passion for the project.  It seemed to me that Hooper didn’t care enough about this part of the film to make it worthwhile.  It is meant to be a rousing number in the musical, and filmed-version or not, it should have been the same here.  The humor that Cohen and Carter attempted to through into the movie was completely out of place and inappropriate – not to mention the “Master of the Feast” version in this film was uninspired and “the Moon Looks Down” is omitted from the film entirely.

The cameo performance by the great Colm Wilkinson as the Bishop of Digne was an absolute delight.  His usage in the film will bring any fan of the musical to tears.  His serves as the voice of God and it is beyond symbolic when the Bishop gives Valjean the candlesticks.  That scene was worth the price of admission right there.  If you don’t know Colm, you should really acquaint yourself through DVD, YouTube, or a CD or two.  He is an amazing performer!  Colm was the original Valjean & has portrayed the character more times on stage than any other actor.   Frances Ruffelle, the original Eponine from the Broadway & West End productions of the musical also has a cameo as prostitute. Her voice is unmistakable!

I didn’t care much for the students either.  The actors who portrayed them in the 25th Anniversary Concert of “Les Misérables” were fantastic by comparison.  I felt nothing for them or their revolution, sadly.  Aaron Tveit was Enjolras, the leader of the students and he was adequate at best.  But why – in the name of all that is sacred – does Gavroche have to have SUCH a thick British accent?  I have never understood that aspect and I find it so out of place with the story.  It throws me every time I see the musical, in any form.  The young boy that plays him in the film is Daniel Huttlestone, and he did a fine job.  I just cannot stand that accent being used in this FRENCH story.

Overall, there were aspects of the film I loved, and others that I out-right hated.  All I can say is that for any fan of the musical, there is bound to be some aspect of “Les Misérables” that you will not like.  If you want to see the stellar acting and singing performances of Seyfried, Redmayne, Hathaway, and Jackman then you MUST go see this film!  The problem I felt with the film was that these standout numbers have no bookends.  There is no sweeping score to move you from point A to point B.  There is almost no dialogue – sung or otherwise – to serve as that bridge between the big numbers either.  I would have preferred to see those in the film, no matter what the runtime would have ended up being.  I was not utterly disappointed in the film, though.  Please don’t assume that.  I really enjoyed a great number of parts in the film!  I just believe that Hooper or somebody needed to understand that those bridges NEED to be there for this story to work.  Oh, and the casting of the Thenardiers was WRONG.

Take your perspective and go see the film.  I am curious to hear what everybody thinks of “Les Misérables”.  Are you in agreement with me?  Am I way off base?  I’d love to hear back from readers on this review most especially.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

 

Annie

AnnieAnnie-film

Can you believe I had never seen this movie?  I mean, I like musicals quite a bit.  Still though, there’s just something very weird to the story of “Annie”.  As musicals come, it’s okay.  It doesn’t have a real love story at the core of it – which is what I prefer most in the musicals I love.  Of course, I also like musicals to be very dark.  I suppose you could say that my preference in musicals is to have them either sugary-sweet or dark and brooding.  For example, I love “7 Brides for 7 Brothers”, but I also love “Phantom of the Opera”.

That was my 1st issue with “Annie”.  It didn’t have that love story at the core of it.  Okay, so maybe it had A love story, but that was between an orphan and her adoptive father.  Now, I love Albert Finney in almost everything he has ever done, but the concept of his character falling for this little orphan is just a little far-fetched to swallow. Maybe that’s true of all musicals, and I just choose to ignore it?  Maybe so.  However, in “Annie” I just didn’t buy it.  Quite frankly, Annie as the character is a little annoying.  She’s supposed to be this charming orphan, but I saw her as a red-haired, rebellious, hell-raiser.  The character isn’t written to be very appealing honestly.  By comparison, Elphaba from the stage musical of “Wicked” is absolutely charming – and in a unique way.  Therefore, I know they could have made Annie work better as a charmer; the writers just didn’t.

I love Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan and Finney as Daddy Warbucks!  Of course, everybody knows several of the songs from this musical: “Hard Knock Life” & “Tomorrow”.  They’re great, no doubt about it!  Of course, a major highlight of the film (other than Tim Curry as Rooster) was Carol Reinking as Miss Farrell.  She was delightful and if the director was hoping people would find Miss Farrell to be charming, then the casting director did their job very well.  Miss Hannigan is a loathsome character and Burnett just eats up the screen as her!  All in all, the casting was brilliant.

Let’s face it: a street tough orphan gets adopted by a billionaire sounds pretty enticing, right?  I have to stop myself looking too closely at the perfectly unlikely nature of this tale.  The truth is that it is just a fun family film targeted to girls, ages 4 – 12.  Beyond that, I don’t see this film as a great musical.  It certainly is not one that I would buy.  So, while “Annie” may be called a great musical, I disagree – at least in relation to this film version.

… and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages

Rock_of_ages_film_poster

Well, musicals are musicals and – aside from the latest version of “Les Miserables” – they are usually the same.  There’s a love story at its heart.  There’s a conflict as a background that pulls the love story apart.  It’s usually a period piece.  There’s usually a stand –out comedic character or two that is highlighted.  “Rock of Ages” is EXACTLY this formula.  But hey, it’s the hair-metal and power ballads of the ‘80s that this one is set in – and it delivers on “nothin’ but a good time”.

The sex element of this tale is pushed a little further than is comfortable – for pretty much all audience members, regardless of age.  I know: sex sells.  But seriously?  I really don’t need so much of it thrown in my face, especially in a musical of all places!  I know a lot of kids today think they know a little something about the ‘80s and the music of that era.  (sigh)  I can assure you, young readers – it wasn’t all quite like that.  Sex was not THAT rampant.  (There were times in “Rock of Ages” that I thought somebody just wanted a musical ABOUT sex.)

This is what I say about the musical.  Julianne Hough is pretty entertaining, both as singer and as actress.  Tom Cruise really went out on a limb with this role and I think he succeeded in a lot of ways.  His acting is getting better with age, undoubtedly.  Alec Baldwin is pretty awesome in it.  Russell Brand was entertaining.  Catherine Zeta-Jones was okay.  And the main actor in the lead role was fine – and by “fine” I mean his identity is irrelevant.

It is a decent movie, fairly entertaining.  Nothing spectacular and nothing to jump up and down about and howl at the moon about.  What it did do, was plant a lot of ’80s tunes in my head.  I think there were a lot of great songs from my high school days.  Yep, I remember my jean-jacketed senior year and a lot of fashions that came & went in my high school.  I could name the cliques and the music they all listened to.  I often felt that a musical set in the 1980s in high school would be totally rad.  (Yep, I just went THERE.)  Come on!  Admit it: the 1980s music was MADE for a musical!  Everything from Phil Collin’s “Coming in the Air Tonight” to Twisted Sister’s “We’re not Gonna Take It” to The Cars “Heartbreak City” could be strung together and made into one epic ‘80s musical!

That’s the sad part about “Rock of Ages” – it just wasn’t awesome enough.  No parachute pants?  What about the classic bandanas tied over your high-tops?  Where were the Mohawks?  And Quiet RiotCum on Feel the Noize” is only played over the credits?  COME ONE!  That was like my high school’s anthem the year it came out!  No Dire Straits either?  Sheeeesh.  Obviously, my take on the ‘80s differs vastly from the creators of “Rock of Ages”.  Regardless, it wasn’t like gag me with a spoon.  It just wasn’t totally tubular.  I mean, I can sum it up for you in one perfect sentence: for a ‘80s rock song extravaganza, there wasn’t one Van Halen song to be found therein.  ‘Nuff said.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.