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Passing Strange (2009)
A Great Screen Adaptation of the Broadway Show!
I'm forever grateful to Spike Lee for committing this show to film, and somehow conveying so much live energy and excitement with it. I agree with the other reviewer, that this is one of Mr. Lee's best films, even though it's a very different animal from his others (and, in a way, less his than the others, which makes me even more grateful to him, that he took the time and trouble to put this show on film so well).
The entire cast is no less than BRILLIANT, playing so many incredibly diverse characters totally convincingly. Daniel Breaker plays only the role of the young Stew, and is magnificent! (If there's any justice, he will be a big star, on stage and screen). I really hope that Stew and Heidi Rodewald write more shows together, which reminds me to mention how fabulous those two and the rest of the band are in this. The other cast members are: Eisa Davis (the other cast member playing only one role, Stew's mother); De'Adre Aziza; Colman Domingo; Chad Goodridge; Rebecca Naomi Jones; and, of course, Stew, as himself and narrator and band member/leader. Amazing what such a small group of performers can conjure up! If only all good stage shows could get screen transfers this dynamic and well done, capturing their particular atmospheres as this one does.
Always Goodbye (1938)
Charming movie with disappointing ending. Spoilers at bottom of review.
I just recently read someone's comment about another movie from the 1930s (don't remember which), to the effect that movies from that era tended to be good but 'slow paced.' Watching ALWAYS GOODBYE brought that comment to mind because of how untrue that assessment is of it. I was kind of amazed at how much story and time were covered within the first 12 minutes (and that's including the credits); no time wasted, and all clear. I won't go over the story, to avoid spoilers, but will say the characters were very well made, acted well, and I cared about them (or, in one case, disliked that one pretty intensely). All in all, I recommend this movie pretty highly. The ending was what knocked my rating of it down a bit (from an eight to a seven) All the actors were good in this. Barbara Stanwyck really is lovely, softer than many of her roles allowed (though subtly tough, when she needs to be), and Herbert Marshall is so sympathetic (and handsome), you can't help but root for him to get what he wants. Johnny Marshall, as the little boy, is just charming and (to me, at least) not grating as some kid actors could be. While the humor provided by Cesar Romero's character was perhaps slightly over the top, it was welcome, and he was undeniably handsome. As another reviewer pointed out, he was also a hell of a dancer, and Stanwyck looked like one too, in his arms. Lynn Bari was excellently effective. Binnie Barnes was fine, with not a whole lot to do, given her talents, and Ian Hunter the same. There was even the luxury casting of Franklin Pangborn in a tiny role. I was interested in the Short French conversation between Romero and character actor Ben Weldon, as to whether they both actually spoke the language. Their lips seemed to move precisely with the words, in any case.
SPOILERS BELOW!!!! SPOILERS BELOW!!!: SPOILERS BELOW!!!
The only real problem I had with this movie was the ending. As in so many movies, one grows frustrated that open, honest, truth-telling conversation is apparently so out of the question. I felt there was another way for all to retain honor and kindness, and bring a different outcome. I know we're meant to see it as Stanwyck's character being noble and, in a way, making a great sacrifice (though in another way, not at all--arguably, being selfish; one could see her motives at the end as really equating, in a way, to those of Lynn Bari's character). Marshall's character, too, is meant to be sacrificing for an honorable cause, but I feel the cause is all wrong for both of them, and honesty would serve better. Given the situation (Hunter's character knowing the basic fact of his son's background, and his wife having been dead for some time), I don't think it would have broken his heart to know the rest of the story. Also, Stanwyck marrying him is setting up a very bad situation, which doesn't have to be. And his sudden declaration of love, having barely gotten to know Stanwyck's character, and having only just gotten out of an engagement, makes me doubt the importance and veracity of his love. Better to be honest with him, about everything, and work things out. And, yes, I know times were different, but even so, this seems doable in that context. Besides all that, there is the matter of Stanwyck's original intended's family, and whether it was fair not to let them know about the child. Anyway, still a worthwhile, quality movie.
Smash: The Cost of Art (2012)
Pretty good episode
Just to correct another review of this episode, the art work that Anjelica Huston's Eileen is trying to leverage for money to put into the workshop is actually a sketch by Dégas, not Renoir. She has trouble with that because, although her estranged husband Jerry gave it to her, his name is on the paperwork as owner.
The episode is generally pretty fun (yes, lots of moments that are not exactly 'realistic' or 'authentic,' but to me it's worth putting up with a little of that, if they make it all fun and engaging enough). I especially enjoyed seeing Broadway diva Ann Harada, though in a role that I sincerely hope will have more scope; she plays what appears to be some kind of stage manager, announcing when it's time for rehearsal to break for lunch. That's part of the weirdness of this show, for folks who are real theater and Broadway fans: seeing people who are, to us, great stars, playing sometimes tiny roles that don't let anyone see the marvels of which they're capable (for instance, the thought of having Brian D'Arcy James around and not singing is just bizarre--hopefully that will eventually be rectified). This is not a new phenomenon, given all the television work that New York actors get (especially, historically, soaps, but also shows like the LAW & ORDERs and others), but seems even stranger, since the setting for this show's story is the actual professional world in which they loom so large. I remember seeing Ron Bohmer, an absolutely phenomenal singer and actor, in a fleeting role on a L&O a few years ago--it's just weird, knowing the ratio of talent and ability to the little bit they're doing. Then again, that's how I used to feel, seeing Matthew Morrison in little roles in MUSIC & LYRICS and DAN IN REAL LIFE, and now he belongs to everyone.
Anyway, how likely would it be, in real life, that a youngish, paid-her-dues, experienced, theater performer getting her first shot at a role (beyond ensemble) in a Broadway show--and the lead and title character at that--would behave in such a selfish, unprofessional way as Ivy is doing in these rehearsals? I think very unlikely, at least in as blatant, open a fashion as is being portrayed here. But, for the story, I'll go along. For me, the unrealistic point that bothered most was when Karen's colleagues from the ensemble ask her where/from whom she's taking dance classes, and she appears to be clueless, as if the idea of dance training is completely foreign to her. Her character is supposed to be a trained, professional singer/dancer/actress, and has declared herself so, so why have this silly moment? The writers should have just had her name a studio or teacher, which her colleagues could have then shot down, telling her she must come study where they do. It would accomplish the point, without undermining what we're supposed to believer her character is. Also, in the scene where Eileen arranges for Nick Jonas' Lyle to see and hear a number from MARILYN, his joining in, with correct lyrics, along with some of the others who join in, is somewhat fantastical. But, again, I'll suspend the disbelief because they made it work well enough, and entertained me enough, that I'm willing. Onward and upward, hopefully.
Happy Ever Afters (2009)
Four stars is generous--and that HAIR!
I really wanted to like and enjoy this movie, but it's just not terribly good, all in all. I liked pretty much all the actors, and would like to see them in other, better movies. (I'd particularly like to see the actress playing *I think* Karen, Maura's sister or close friend; her character gets somewhat dropped in the course of the movie.) This movie was just so disjointed and ridiculous; disjointed and ridiculous is not a deal-breaker for me, but it has to work, and this just didn't. One indication of how negative an impression this made on me is reflected in what I just wrote in the message section: The element that most stood out for me in this middling little movie was the ridiculous inconsistency of the hair on Sally Hawkins' head. I'm not one of those people who generally notice goofs and screw-ups in continuity, but this was so 'in your face,' even I couldn't miss it.
Even within many little scenes, from shot to shot, her hairstyle changes. Sometimes it's fairly natural looking, with a part on her left side, the bangs falling in a few segments, and the entire shape not terribly big; sometimes it's kind of like that, but with a slightly larger shape, probably from teasing yielding a bit more 'lift'; sometimes it's kind of like that, but the hair darker and more smoothed, sometimes with the bangs all sticking together in one piece; sometimes there's no part at all; and there's one point (while Maura and Freddy are outside looking for Molly, who ends up being up in a tree) where the hair appears to be a helmet-y, yucky looking wig (no part there, either).
It got to be really annoying; couldn't help wondering why no one could be bothered trying to keep any kind of continuity in that element. In that scene where she particularly seems to be wearing a wig, I was taken out of the story again, wondering if these shots were filmed much later than the rest, and maybe Sally H. had cut all her hair off, so they had to use a wig and didn't have time to get a good one, and get it styled right. Just so sloppy (kind of like the run-on sentence I just typed). Too bad, but at least it's not a great movie otherwise either, in which case it would have been a real shame.
Save the Last Dance (2001)
Dance-wise, this movie's mostly a bust
I can understand folks getting into this movie's story and characters (though even on those counts, I don't give this terribly high marks). Unfortunately, for anyone really interested in the serious dance aspects, it will be a disappointment. Ms. Stiles does not look like a talented, advanced dance student. There is clumsy, obvious use of a dance double, mixed in with shots of Ms. Stiles that should never have made it into the final cut (or they should have been kept to face only, not revealing her obviously non-dancer form); worse still is when they actually have her trying to carry a lot of the dance sequence, as during her audition for Juilliard. Actually, that whole sequence, including the lines and behavior of the teachers running the audition, is pretty ridiculous and unauthentic. And the dance that she performs for the audition is dreadful, although we're obviously supposed to view it as a triumph of rebellious artistry. In real life, that dancer would have pretty much no chance of being admitted to Juilliard's dance program. Hard to believe the movie-makers couldn't even manage to spell "Juilliard" correctly on the placard set up to indicate the location of the auditions.
Watch this movie for the story and some mildly interesting young actors; as far as the dance sequences go, be prepared to strenuously exercise your "suspension of disbelief" muscles.
Cute, enjoyable romantic comedy with folks to care about
I'd actually give this movie almost eight stars, if possible, not because it's so terribly fabulous (though I do think it's good--just don't want to over-inflate my ratings), but because it manages impressively much with the small budget it had. Also, I really enjoyed most of the actors in it, and would seek out other performances they do. If you like somewhat off-beat, character-driven comedies, then go in without huge expectations but with an open mind, and you'll probably be glad to have seen this.
I missed the very first few minutes (caught this by chance on the Starz "black" movie channel late at night), and the first few moments I saw seemed mildly unpromising, but with enough feeling of something to come, and potential in the characters to keep me watching. It was the first moment of magic realism (when Jasmine opens Michael's portfolio) that quickly sharpened my interest. There were further moments of such fantasy judiciously sprinkled through the movie, without heavy-handed explanation or drawing attention--just there, with the writer-director trusting audience members to not need spoon-feeding. Mostly, the characters' normal, human problems, joys and such carry the movie nicely.
There may be some validity to others' criticisms regarding stereotypes, but, if so, I think it's not nearly so heavy a problem as some make it out to be. Certainly, there's less of that in this than in many other movies. Also, some of the aspects and situations that have been cited as stereotyped or clichéd are perhaps simply universal, or just common and true to real life. To me, it's all in what a filmmaker does with such commonplaces, how he/she uses them, and Mr. Sutherland keeps it mostly interesting and fresh.
Anyway, especially for a small-budget first feature film, this is pretty damned good work, and worth watching for a bit of character-driven fun.
Ballets Russes (2005)
This movie is a treasure! Do not miss it!
This wonderful documentary is a joy and a treasure, particularly for ballet fans, but also full of enjoyment for anyone with any interest in humans or art. It is a blessing that Geller and Goldfine happened upon this subject when they did, and decided to take it up. They have done a beautiful job of putting together with style, what was just a fraction of all the material they amassed, including interviews, current and archival footage, photos and excerpts from movies. Hunting down, choosing, eliminating and organizing into coherence all of this must have been an overwhelming task, and they have done it magnificently. The editing and the accompanying music also help to raise this documentary far above the level of most movies of that genre.
It is evident that the filmmakers fell in love with their many subjects and their stories. For anyone who has spent much time around some of these artists, that is not at all surprising, and they make us fall for them too. These dancers represent precious links with some of the richest of our artistic history; while their awareness of that and of the responsibility and gifts given them is eloquently expressed, they also show themselves to be very real, down-to-earth, fun-loving people--witty, too. We can't help but feel deeply for, and enjoy the hell out of them.
Certainly, even staying strictly within the very particular bounds of their subject, there was so much more one might have wished to have included here--this is such rich, juicy terrain. But time constraints would never allow the movie to cover anywhere near all the fascinating material that could have been included. Some important dancers mentioned either only briefly or not at all include Igor Youskevitch, George Skibine, Vera Zorina, Alicia Alonso, Sono Osato, André Eglevsky, Nana Gollner (aka Nina Golovina), Mary Ellen Moylan and Leon Danielian, among others. I would also have enjoyed a mention, and perhaps a photo or film clip, of Cyd Charisse during her time with the Ballets Russes; she used the stage name Felia Siderova (or Sidorova--research hasn't cleared up for me which spelling is correct).
There are also small mentions that should have been made, and could have without much trouble or time. Some of these include: upon mention of the Markova-Dolin Ballet company, a quick mention of Anton Dolin, and his importance; identifying Serge Lifar in a clip in which he playfully partners Tamara Toumanova outdoors on a lawn; even a brief account of the ultimate fate of founding director René Blum, who left the company to return to Europe, as stated in the movie, but who was tortured and killed by the Nazis. There also were still other companies that used the "Ballets Russes" moniker, and were part of the milieu this movie examines. In spite of things and people not in it, though, BALLETS RUSSES is glorious, and essential viewing.
In the end, no movie can be all things to all viewers, especially when focusing on a specialized slice of life and art. The comment here by email@example.com (note: that somewhat negative review has now been taken down by its author, and replaced by a more recent and much more positive one) complains that this film does not follow Balanchine very much outside of his Ballets Russes work, and claims that "there is precious little about the major figures in American ballet and no attempt to explain how American ballet developed from the base provided by the Ballets Russes." I would argue that some of the people in this movie are indeed major figures in American ballet, but that isn't even the point. This movie deals lovingly with a particular, limited (though glorious) slice of cultural history; it is not meant to be a comprehensive history of ballet's development in America, even within the limited time frame it covers. There were certainly other important things happening in American dance concurrently to this movie's events, and I would love to see a movie or movies about them. Those are not the focus of this movie, and not the stories this movie sets out to tell. BALLETS RUSSES keeps its focus and tells its stories lovingly, glitteringly and touchingly. It is not to be missed! Deep thanks to Geller and Goldfine for a great, essential piece of history.
Lone Star (1996)
A great movie--one of the best of all time.
LONE STAR is absolutely one of the best movies ever made (and, yes, I am including the great, older classics in that, not just the past few decades' lot). Reading so many excellent reviews of it here kind of gives me hope for humanity and the possible future of civilization (the prospects of both of which seem dire, so much of the time). The richness and depth of this tapestry of stories, characters, themes, emotions, atmospheres--there's just no doing justice to it here, so see it!
I only hope John Sayles will one day reach such heights again. He has made movies of extreme excellence before and since LONE STAR (his worst movies have more worth than most filmmakers' best), but this one is the zenith thus far (well, I haven't seen MATEWAN, about which I've heard raves for years, or SILVER CITY, which was reportedly not top Sayles, but look forward to both of them). The fact that he and his casts and crews achieve such wonders on tiny (in Hollywood terms) budgets, and that he funds them pretty much himself, makes me all the more impressed. I wish him long life, much energy and inspiration, and MANY more movies!
Oh, and the reviewer here who said Chris Cooper and Elizabeth Pena have no chemistry must be numb--the relationship is intense, leading to one of the hottest love scenes in film history.
Anna Neagle is a delight in this movie, & a lovely dancer...
OK--must confess that I have not seen the entire movie; only saw the last 40 minutes or so, and look forward to getting to see the whole thing soon (which is why I didn't vote yet, though what I saw of it would rate an eight or nine). It is one of those sweet, charming (without cloying--it has some wit to it) movies RKO did so well (Ginger Rogers' 5th AVENUE GIRL is another I recently saw--thank goodness for Turner Classic Movies).
Towards the end of this movie, Ray Milland's character discovers Anna Neagle's Irene dancing by herself, lost in thought and emotion. He and we watch, unperceived by Irene, and the dance was an unexpected delight. While the choreography could have used more variation (certain moves are repeated too much, and some of them have her shoulders up more than is ideal), Anna N. proves herself a graceful, expressive dancer; I hope to see more of her dancing, if it exists in films. The beginning of the dance also uses subtle slow-motion to good effect, which it occurred to me I haven't seen often, if at all, in musicals from this era. I wonder why that wasn't used more, as it would seem to be a relatively easy effect to employ. Anyway, I recommend IRENE, and look forward to taking my own recommendation to see the rest of it soon.
Simply marvelous--Great adult and family entertainment
I sincerely hope that many parents and other grownups will share this wonderful, witty musical with their kiddos and kiddo friends. Start them early with quality fare like this, and don't let them develop a prejudice against black & white viewing, or intelligent creations.
It really is a shame that later television CINDERELLAs messed with the script, and particularly that they cut the ball- and banquet-planning scene with the King, Queen, Chef, Tailor and...I forget who else. The King and Queen are such stronger roles here than in the later versions. Actually, all the roles seem stronger here, as directed and played. (I don't mean to bash the later two TV CINDERELLAs, both of which have their good points, and good intentions, but end up falling so short of the original, for all their larger budgets, full color, more ethnically diverse casting--the last a plus in my book. A shame they didn't stick with the many strengths of this original script, and build and embellish from there. It also helps to have a Cinderella with a gorgeous, majestic voice.)
Besides the wit, humor and intelligence of this musical's book, the big, winning ingredient is the basic sense of love and good will, strong but not cloying. A very Hammerstein element, which, for the most part, he wielded deftly throughout his works. There is an unfortunate tendency to screw with that strong ingredient when people try to adapt and "improve" Rodgers & Hammerstein shows. For a particularly heinous example of this, see the ABC TV, Glenn Close SOUTH PACIFIC. Better yet, don't subject yourself to that horrible desecration of a beautiful work. Watch the good stuff, like this original Cinderella.