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Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Tribute to Gene Kelly


Today, I am posting something a little different.  Still counting movies for the countdown, but today is a tribute to a man who has had a profound influence on my life: Gene Kelly.


Gene and I began our relationship when I was around 2 or 3, when I first watched Singin’ in the Rain.  At the time, it was just a flash of Technicolor fun, but as I grew older, I developed an appreciation for the film, and for Gene’s brilliance. 

For a while, I would only watch musicals from the Arthur Freed Unit with Gene Kelly or Judy Garland.  I adored the three movies they made together.  I only wish they’d made more.

I remember clearly the day Gene Kelly died.  I was getting out of rehearsal for the winter play at Hanover High School.  I had the ACT exam the next day.  As I got in the car, my sister informed me of Gene Kelly’s passing.  Tears filled my eyes.  


After the ACT the next day, my sister and I talked about his movies, and in his honor, we watched An American in Paris.  I spent the next week watching all of the movies we owned starring him.  The following is a list of some of my favorites, in no particular order (aside from Singin’, because I already did an entire post about that one):



#326: For Me and my Gal (1942).  This was Gene’s first movie, and he starred alongside film veteran Judy Garland.  She held his hand and guided him through the film making process, a favor he would later return to her.  Gene and Judy always had insane chemistry together, apparent from the get-go.  The movie was made right around the time WWII was in full swing, but is about WWI.  Gene plays a Vaudeville actor who partners up with Judy, with big dreams of playing The Palace.  He also freaks out about being drafted and purposefully ruins his hand to avoid going to war.  This movie has a lot of heart and fun, but also has a darker side to it.  Gene’s performance is a wee rough around the edges, but still great to watch.





#325: Take me out to the Ballgame (1949).  This was the second time Kelly was paired with Frank Sinatra (the first being Anchors Aweigh, which is ok, and famous for the dance sequence with the animated mouse, Jerry, but I like this one better).  Kelly plays a hotshot baseball player, who is a Vaudeville performer in the off season.  Sinatra is one of his teammates, along with Jules Munshin.  Kelly is a serious playboy, complete with a little black book.  The boys find out that the club owner has died and left the club to his relative, K.C. Higgins, who they assume, is a little know-nothing dude.  Turns out, K.C. is a know-everything chick, played by the amazingly sexy Esther Williams.  Of course, they fall in love.  This is a fun little flick, which was actually Kelly’s idea to begin with.  Well done, Gene.




#324: Thousands Cheer (1943).  One of the lesser known movies, also an early Kelly film.  This movie teams Kelly up with Kathryn Grayson.  Kelly plays an aerialist (read: trapeze artist) who has been grounded via the draft.  He wants to be a pilot, but is forced to be a foot soldier.  Grayson is the head Officer’s daughter, and love interest.  There’s this weird thing in the middle of the movie in which MGM hauls out its current array of stars to put on a USO-type show, which while entertaining, completely screws with the flow of the film.  I tend to fast-forward through a lot of it, but it’s worth watching if you’ve never seen it.  Aside from that, it is actually quite charming.



#323: On the Town (1949).  The third, and final, teaming of Kelly and Sinatra, plus Munshin.  An adaptation of the Comden and Green Broadway musical, it follows three sailors in New York City on 24-hour leave.  Hijinks and romance!  Also featuring the ever witty Betty Garrett, the always lovely Vera-Ellen, and the always spectacularly saucy Ann Miller.  At Kelly’s request, they shot much of this film on location, virtually unheard of for any movies, let alone musicals.  It was a smart move, though – the city itself plays a nice role in the film. 





#322: An American in Paris (1951).  Most people think of tap or modern dance when they think of Gene Kelly.  But what a lot of people don’t know is that Gene’s true dance love was ballet.  This movie was his love letter to ballet.  There is only one Featuring the music of the Gershwin Brothers, stunning choreography, and a lot of beautiful artwork, this is a must-see for any and all musical lovers. 




#321: Marjorie Morningstar (1958).  This is one of the rare non-musical, dramatic films Gene Kelly starred in.  Also starring Natalie Wood as his love interest (just go with it) and Ed Wynn.  He plays a guy who is a big fish in a small performing arts camp pond, who does not have the chops to make it as a serious, professional playwrite/composer.  It’s a decent movie, but the acting is, at times, very over the top – not just Gene’s, but Natalie’s as well.  The book is a great read, as well, check it out!



#320: Inherit the Wind (1960).  Gene plays the cynical journalist E.K. Hornbeck, based on journalist H.L. Menkin.  This is where he shines in a more dramatic role.  The movie is stunning and relevant today, and beautifully acted. 




#319: The Pirate (1948).  This was the second paring with Judy Garland, and is often overlooked, but stunning and smart.  Kelly performs with the Nicholas Brothers at the end of the movie to the Cole Porter song “Be a Clown”, showing off his tumbling skills.  This really is a unique movie, so you should check it out at least once.






#318: Summer Stock (1950).  This was not only his final film with Judy Garland, but it was her last film at MGM, and who better to work with than Gene?  Just as she took his hand and guided and supported him through his first movie, he did the same for her.  The two of them are insanely magnetic together, and the movie is a lot of fun.  It’s like the old “Let’s put on a show!” movies that Judy used to do with Mickey Rooney back in the day.  Definitely a must-see.



Gene Kelly was my first crush, an artist to look up to and emulate, and the reason I moved to Pittsburgh, PA, where I had the most amazing 3 ½ years of my young adulthood.  The influence he had on dance and the perception of male dancers is profound.  He was a tremendous talent, fiercely loyal, and stood by his convictions until his last days.  Happy 100th Birthday, Gene Kelly.  You are my lucky star.



Monday, August 6, 2012

Strange Brew


#327: Strange Brew (1983).  A couple of days ago, I went out for a drive and randomly wound up in Canada.  You can read about it here.  Anyhoo, after enjoying some coffee and a donut at Tim Horton’s (but sadly, no beer while I was up there – it was late and I had a long drive), I felt the urge to watch this little classic starring my boyfriend actor/comedian Rick Moranis and fellow Canadian SCTV comedian Dave Thomas.  Now, I was totally in the wrong region of Canada, but whatever. 






The Players:








Doug Mackenzie: Played by Dave Thomas.  He likes beer, hockey, donuts and back bacon.  Not too bright.








Bob Mackenzie: Played by Rick Moranis.  He likes beer, hockey, donuts, and back bacon.  Not too bright.









Bewmaster Smith: Played by Max von Sydow.  He owns/runs the local brewery.  Also?  Evil.












Claude Elsinore: Played by Paul Dooley.  He has something to do with the brewery.







Pam Elsinore: Played by Lynne Griffin.  She is the heir to the brewery, our “damsel in distress”. 











The Rundown:

OK, y’all, really?  This is such a bizarre little movie.  It’s pretty much an extended SCTV Mackenzie Brothers skit, with some fantasy thrown in.  Some consider it to be the prelude to Wayne’s World, which I totally see.  Instead of “Party on!”  it’s “Good Day, eh!” 

OK, the story is basically that Bob and Doug drink/break the last of their dad’s beer bottles, and have to figure out how to get more without any money.  So, they attempt this:


and fail.  They’re told to go to the brewery.  So, they go, wind up getting jobs there, and discover that something’s not quite right.  The brewery is haunted, there’s a random hockey team dressed like storm troopers, and the beer has some sort of mind control substance in it.  So, the Mackenzie Brothers have to save the day!  Which they do. 

The end.  Really.  There’s a lot of random shit in this movie, but it’s also slightly intelligent, in that it borrows from Hamlet in various ways.  But mostly, it’s just Bob and Doug being… Bob and Doug.  I recommend you check out some of the videos from the SCTV skits, they are a hoot!  You should also check out this movie if you like movies like Wayne’s World or Super Troopers.  This is the Grandaddy of them all, and actually a fun little bit of nonsense. 


That’s a Wrap!  Up next: Some more baseball!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Field of Dreams


I’M BACK!  After a month off, I finally got a chance to relax my brain a little, and got my movie groove back.  So, here goes!


#328: Field of Dreams (1989).  Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I worked at a “music, movies and more” store called Coconuts.  One day, I was talking about this movie with a co-worker, and he commented that Kevin Costner should only make baseball-themed movies, because they truly are his best.  Tin Cup was ok, too, which was about golf.  So, Kevin Costner should only make leisure-sports movies.  It is a fact. 

Field of Dreams is probably the best thing he’s done, in my opinion.  I do believe that Costner is an actor of somewhat limited range, and in this movie he’s mostly just along for the crazy cosmic ride that the baseball gods are taking him on.  And what a ride.  Being a casual baseball fan, I like this movie.  Being a fan of fantastical, supernatural-themed stories with a little schmaltz and a lot of heart, I love this movie.  Also, the book, “Shoeless” Joe, by W.P. Kinsella is wonderful.  Read it.  Go.  Now.  Buy it or download it or something, I can wait…

Back?  OK.  Here goes.

The Players:





Ray Kinsella: Played by Kevin Costner.  Ray is a guy who has lived a little, but never done anything crazy in his whole life.  Like I said, he’s just along for the ride, and finds a little of himself, and what he’s been looking for, along the way.  He loves his wife, daughter, and baseball.









Annie Kinsella: Played by Amy Madigan.  Loyal readers may remember her from Streets of Fire.  She is much, much better here.  She knows that what Ray is doing is absolutely nuts, and is from time to time the voice of financial reason, but she is completely supportive of Ray.










Karen Kinsella: Played by a little Gaby Hoffman.  One of the few times I didn’t find her annoying as a kid.  Karen is, for the most part, “there”, but is important at the end of the movie.







“Shoeless” Joe Jackson: Played by Ray Liotta.  The baseball field that Ray builds is, he thinks, for “Shoeless” Joe.  “Shoeless” Joe was a real baseball player who was a member of the Chicago “Black Sox”, a group of White Sox players who took money to throw the 1919 World Series.  Whether or not “Shoeless” Joe was really in on the deal, or just signed because everyone else did is still up for debate, but he was permanently suspended from playing professional baseball. 
 






Mark: Played by Timothy Busfield.  Mark is Annie’s brother, and is pushing Ray to sell his farm, especially after he plows up half of it and builds his baseball field.  He can’t see the magical baseball players on the field.





Terence Mann: Played by James Earl Jones.  In the book, this character is J.D. Sallinger, but was changed for the film.  Still a recluse writer, he was also an activist in the 1960s.  He gets sort of hijacked into Ray’s journey, but enjoys the ride.








Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham: Played by the great Burt Lancaster.  He is a straight-up ghost that Ray encounters in Minnesota.  A former baseball player who only got to play one game, and never got to bat.  He went to school and became a small-town Doctor. 









Archie Graham: Played by Frank Whaley.  He is the younger self of Doc. Graham, who finally gets to live out his dream of going up against a major league pitcher.







So, if you are not a big baseball fan, it doesn’t matter.  Watch this movie.  Seriously.  This is not a movie about baseball, but rather about dreams, the father/son relationship, second chances, all played out in front of the backdrop of baseball.  You don’t have to know who the players are (but you might recognize some of the names if you are a baseball fan, or a history buff, or both), all you have to know is they have found a haven for baseball.  OK, I’m getting a little ahead of myself…

Ray is a farmer in Iowa, albeit a slightly reluctant one.  He’s never really done anything out of the realm of normalcy, until one day when he’s in his corn field.  He hears the words “If you build it, he will come” whispered on the wind.  An image flashes before him of a baseball field where is corn currently resides.  He sees “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.  Not entirely sure what this means, he talks about it with his wife.  Afraid he’s going to turn into his father, who never did anything of interest, and died kind of pitiful (in Ray’s eyes), Ray decides to build the baseball field.  After it’s built, it just sort of sits there.  While discussing their dwindling finances, Karen calls to her dad – there’s a man in their baseball field.

Why, it’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson!  They talk baseball, the field, and whatnot.  Suddenly, a group of players (the Chicago “Black Sox”) are playing on his field.  There’s trouble with the bank, but otherwise, things are good.  Until he hears the words “ease his pain” whispered.  Ease whose pain?

Thanks to a censorship meeting in which a book by author Terence Mann is being discussed, Ray gets the crazy idea that he is supposed to ease Terence Mann’s pain.  Oooookaaaay… after a little research, he finds a story in which Mann used Ray’s father’s name in a story, and he once gave an interview about baseball.  Annie and Ray had the same dream about Ray and Terence at a baseball game at Fenway Park.  So, money be damned, it’s off to Boston!

Enter the awesomeness that is James Earl Jones.  There is a lot of humor in the following scene where Ray convinces Terence to go to the baseball game with him.  While there, Ray hears “go the distance”, and sees some stats about a rookie named Archie “Moonlight” Graham.  He has to go to Minnesota.  Terence hears the same thing, and decides to go along for the ride. 

They get to Minnesota and discover that Archie Graham became a Doctor, and died a while ago.  He was a beloved figure in his community, making sure that children got the milk and care they needed, giving them tickets to baseball games, etc.  Not sure what to do with this information, Terence and Ray head back to the hotel.

Terence has to call his father, because his father thinks he’s been kidnapped or is dead or something.  Ray leaves him for privacy, and he winds up on Main Street.  It is the early 1970s.  An old man walks by, and Ray knows exactly who he is.  He takes a walk at night with “Moonlight” Graham, and hears about his short-lived baseball career.  They wind up at his office, and Ray offers to take Doc. Graham with him to Iowa.  He declines, saying it’s past his time; his life is in Chisholm, Minnesota.  Ray pleads with him, telling him that most men would consider getting so close to their dream for only five minutes would be a tragedy.  Doc. Graham? “Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy.” 

So, it’s back to Iowa Ray goes, with Terence in tow.  On the way, they come across a young man looking for a ride.  Ah, the days when it was safe to pick up hitch-hikers.  He says he’s a baseball player, and is looking for a team to play with.  Upon entering the van, he introduces himself.  It’s a young Archie Graham. 

They get to the farm, and Archie gets invited to play.  At this point, there are baseball players everywhere, playing real games.  Archie goes up against the pitcher, gets two strikes, and then nails it.  What’s that?  Am I tearing up?  Must be allergies…

The next day, the family is chillin’ out, watching the game.  Mark (Annie’s brother) shows up, telling Ray he needs to sell the farm.  They are completely broke.  Karen tells them they don’t have to sell the farm, because people will come and pay to hang out at the field.  Grabbing onto this idea, Terence delivers an incredible speech about baseball:


Damn allergies, acting up again…

So, Mark still thinks everyone is crazy, and he knocks Karen off the bleachers.  Her lips are blue, and she’s unconscious.  Seeing this, Archie makes his way through the players on the field, and crosses the baseline, transforming into his older self.  He sees that Karen is choking on the hot dog she was eating, dislodges it, and saves her.  But he can’t go back!  He thanks Ray for the opportunity, makes his way back through the players, and heads back to the corn field.  “Shoeless” Joe stops him, and tells him he was good.  A little smile plays on Doc. Graham’s face, he nods and fades into the corn.  Fuck you, allergies, I’m getting some Benadryl…

At this point, Mark can see the players, and the dollar signs.  He goes into the house, visions of tourists dancing in his head.  Joe invites Terence to go into the corn, and Ray’s a little peeved.  “That’s my corn!  You are guests in my corn!”  I am so gonna use that next time I have people over and they are being assholes.

But, see, Terence had given up on writing.  This is his chance to start writing again, because he has to write about this whole experience, and about what lies beyond the corn.  So, he goes.  Joe just stands there, staring at Ray as he heads to the house with his family.  Finally, he tells him that “If you build it, he will come” had little to do with “Shoeless” Joe, but rather was about reuniting Ray with his father John, who has been playing catcher all this time.  That Benadryl is doing nothing for me…

So, Ray introduces his wife and daughter to a young version of his father, who slowly realizes that Ray is his son.  As Annie and Karen head into the house, and Joe heads into the corn, Ray and his father are left on the field.  As John packs up his gear, Ray calls to him, “Dad? Wanna have a catch?”  Oh, fuck it, I’m crying.

Annie turns on the lights, and as father and son are reunited by tossing the baseball around, cards from nowhere are suddenly lining the roads, headed to the field of dreams. 

This movie is not about baseball.  It is about dreams.  And family.  And second chances.  There is a reason why it resonates so strongly with so many people.  And not only men, or baseball fans.  I am a female who casually likes baseball.  And this is one of my all-time favourite movies.  I strongly recommend that you not only check out this movie, but read the book it is based on, Shoeless Joe.  Also, check out the movie Eight Men Out, starring John Cusak.  It’s about the “Black Sox” Scandal.  It’s fun to compare the interpretations of “Shoeless” Joe – D.B. Sweeney in Eight Men Out plays him pretty stupid, Ray Liotta plays him pretty intelligent, my guess is he’s somewhere in between.






Also, did you know you can visit the Field of Dreams?  Yup.  It’s in Iowa, and still in existence.  There is no entry fee, but bring money to spend on souvenirs!  Someday, I will make a pilgrimage out there and sit in the bleachers, and maybe bring someone I can toss the ball with.  Check it out here!


And that’s a wrap!  Tomorrow (I promise!) a little taste of Canada, eh?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Please Excuse My Dust...

"Please Excuse my Dust as I Refurbish this Area for your Future Enjoyment"

So, I know I've been a shitty-ass blogger, but I got behind, and then overwhelmed by how behind I was, which kind of made my brain say "fuck it" and shut down.  I am trying to reformat how I do this, and may just write about movies I am familiar with to make it a little easier on myself.  I will hopefully be up and running again soon!  In the meantime, here is a video from one of my favourite actors ever, on his birthday no less!  Happy Birthday, Tom Hanks, I love you man! :)




Monday, June 25, 2012

The Little Mermaid


Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin...





#329: The Little Mermaid.  I saw this movie five times in the theatre when it first came out.  I sang “Part of Your World” at my eighth grade talent show.  I love this movie.  It was Disney’s return to greatness, and paved the way for Beauty and the Beast

The Players:



Ariel: Voiced by Jodi Benson.  Ariel is pretty much a spoiled mer-brat, who is obsessed with humans and falls in love with one.  OK, she’s got a good heart and isn’t really too bad, but let’s be real.  She’s a little bit of a brat.







Eric: Voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes.  Eric isn’t too bright.  But he’s cute, and falls in love with Ariel (or, rather, her voice) after she saves him from drowning.  But really, he can’t put two and two together?  Oh, well, he’s cute and owns a castle.  That’s all you need, right?







Sebastian: Voiced by Samuel E. Wright.  Sebastian is a crab, and he is King Triton’s right hand man.  He is also the Mer-Kingdom’s official music director.  He usually tries to be the voice of reason, but no one really listens to him.








Flounder: Voiced by Jason Marin.  Flounder is Ariel’s best friend.  He’s kind of a whiner, but he means well most of the time.








Scuttle: Voiced by Buddy Hackett.  Scuttle is Ariel’s link to the surface world.  He can tell her about all of the things she finds in the ocean from the surface, but he’s usually wrong. 












King Triton: Voiced by Kenneth Mars.  King Triton is the ruler of the sea, and a very frustrated father.  He loves his daughter, and wants nothing more than to protect her, but has a hard time keeping her safe.  Like most fathers.









Ursula: Voiced by Pat Carroll.  Ursula is the sea witch, and the villain.  She’s part squid, and fabulous.  She was banished from the Kingdom, and wants control over the sea.  So she uses Ariel as leverage. 





So, I am assuming you’ve seen this or at least heard of it, and since I had to work insane amounts of hours the past two days, I am in no mood for a full-on rundown.  Ariel is obsessed with the human world, saves Prince Eric from a shipwreck, makes a deal with Ursula to become human (in exchange for her voice), gets Eric to fall in love with her, Ursula deceives Eric and almost marries him, big battle at sea, Eric kills Ursula, King Triton learns to let go of his daughter, and Ariel and Eric live happily ever after.

So, why do I love this?  I remember getting beyond excited for this before it came out – Ariel was unlike any Disney Princess I’d seen before (I think it was the red hair), Eric was a fine Prince, and the music sounded great.  I was in fifth/sixth grade, so everyone thought I was totally lame for being excited about this movie, but I was raised on old musicals and Disney movies, so this was right up my alley.  It was the beginning of the Renaissance Period for Disney, the first animated feature to feel like a Broadway musical, and a major reason for that is it was the first collaboration between Allen & Menkin and Disney. 


The music for this is fantastic.  There is not one bad song here, from the opener “Fathoms Below” to the recurring “Part of Your World”, even the little “throw-away” song “Les Poisson” is delightful.  The score also feels magical and fits with the under water theme perfectly.  Now, if you listen close to “Part of Your World” and “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors, you will find a lot of similarities, but really who cares?  They are both fantastic songs.  “Under the Sea” won the Oscar for Best Original Song that year, and it was well-deserved.  It is fun, it describes the beauty and excitement of sea life, and the visuals to go with it are stunning.


This whole movie is beautiful to look at, especially the under water stuff.  Ever since I was a little kid, I have been obsessed with the ocean, and marine life.  At one point I wanted to be a Marine Biologist and study whales.  I attribute the water obsession in part to my parents, who are from Rhode Island, and especially my dad who is also water-obsessed, and the fact that I am a Cancer, which is a water sign.  At any rate, I fell in love with the under water Kingdom, and wondered why Ariel couldn’t just ask her father to make Eric a merman so they could live together under the sea, because Sebastian was right- life is just better under the sea.

I also have to give serious credit to the animators.  Animating scenes under water is a major challenge, since there is constant movement.  Utilizing a the time new computer technology combined with the artistry and skill of the animators, they were able to create a believable under water world.  Hats off to you guys!


Ursula is a delightful villain, although not nearly as badass as Maleficent, but she’s still sufficiently creepy. 

The only downside to this movie, I think, is Ariel’s depth.  She is kind of one-note, but then again, so are most of the Princesses.  We didn’t really see a lot of character development until Beauty and the Beast.  So, it’s par for the course.  Although, I have to give a mad shout-out to Jodi Benson.  I adore her in everything she does, and she really nailed everything about Ariel.  She made her more sympathetic, because she really could have been a true brat if not voiced just right.

If you haven’t seen this, what is wrong with you?!  If you have, check it out again.  It’s amazing!


That’s a Wrap!  Up Next: get out your dancing shoes! 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sleeping Beauty


Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…



#330: Sleeping Beauty (1959).  Oh, hey, it’s my birthday!  WOOOO!  So, I am writing about my favourite Disney movie of all time (Beauty and the Beast is a very close 2nd).  So, let’s get to it!

The Players:





Princess Aurora: Voiced by Mary Costa.  Aurora (also known as Briar Rose when she is being hidden by the three fairies) has a little more personality than most Disney Princesses from this era, but not much.  She is fairly spirited and whatnot, but mostly is just pleasant and dreams about finding true love.

 




Prince Phillip: Voiced by Bill Shirley.  Prince Phillip has loads of personality.  In fact, he’s the first Disney Prince to not only have an actual name, but a personality at all.  He’s funny, strong-willed, romantic… *sigh*.  He’s also drawn very nicely.  I would like to make him real. 






The Three Fairies: Flora, Fauna and Merryweather: Voiced by Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen and Barbara Luddy, respectively.  They are the guardians of Princess Aurora.  They give her the gift of beauty and song, and… sleep?  Trust me, it makes sense.  Flora and Merryweather fight like woah, and Fauna is just in her own little world.  Love.







Maleficent: Voiced by Eleanor Audley.  Maleficent is the villain, and what a villain she is.  She’s elegant, well-spoken, and scary as hell.  Plus?  She turns into a fucking dragon at the end.  We never know what her motivation is, and we don’t care, because she is awesome.






The Rundown:

Seriously, y’all, if you don’t know what Sleeping Beauty is about… yeesh. 

OK, so we start with the celebration of the much-anticipated birth of King Stephan and the Queen’s (Leah?) daughter, Aurora.  The three fairies show up to bestow gifts upon her: Flora gives her the gift of beauty, Fauna the gift of song, and Merryweather…. gets interrupted by the entrance of one pissed off Maleficent. 

Turns out Maleficent wasn’t invited to the shindig.  So, she curses Aurora with the prophecy that before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die.  That’s a bit harsh for not being invited to a birth celebration.  There’s probably more to it, but it’s never explained.  Again, we don’t really care because Maleficent is crazy awesome.

After she curses the Princess, she peaces out in true villain fashion, leaving the King and Queen quite distraught.  They ask the fairies if there’s anything they can do, but their magic isn’t strong enough to counteract Maleficent’s.  But they can make an adjustment.  Merryweather still have one gift left.  She changes the curse so that instead of death, she will fall into a deep sleep until true love’s kiss awakens her. 

King Stephan wastes no time in having all of the spinning wheels in the kingdom burned, but even that isn’t enough.  The fairies deliberate, and decide the best thing to do is to take baby Aurora and hide her in a cottage in the woods until her sixteenth birthday.  They sneak her out in the dead of night.

Cut to sixteen years later.  Maleficent is still searching for Aurora, but her minions have been looking for a baby for sixteen years.  Stupid minions.  Maleficent decides to send her raven to do the job.

Meanwhile, Briar Rose has grown up to be a beautiful young woman, with a beautiful voice.  When those fairies give gifts, they don’t mess around!  She is all pleasant and dreamy as she wonders if she will ever meet a man. 

The fairies, disguised as peasant women, are planning a surprise party for Briar Rose, so they send her out to pick berries.  While she’s gone, Flora decides that she’s going to make a dress, Fauna will make a cake, and Merryweather will be the dress dummy.  And they have to do it all without magic.  This should be good…

Prince Phillip is out for a ride in the woods and hears Aurora singing to herself.  He in enchanted by her voice, and sets out to find her.  He gets knocked off of his hose, Samson.  His interactions with his horse are pretty funny.

So, Aurora is singing “Once Upon a Dream” to the forest animals (of course she is) and Prince Phillip winds up cutting in.  They fall in love on sight, but she’s not allowed to talk to strangers or reveal any information about herself, so she runs off. 

Meanwhile, the fairies are not doing so well with their non-magical birthday prep.  The cake is a disaster, and the dress… well… Yeah.


Fed up with this nonsense, Merryweather gets the wands and they go to work.  Flora gets to the dress, Fauna makes the cake, and this time Merryweather is on clean up duty.  Poor Merryweather.  She always gets the short end of the stick…

All’s well, until Merryweather and Flora fight over the color of the dress.  Their magic colour streams shoot up through the chimney and are spotted by the raven.  Uh-oh…

Aurora arrives home, and is told that she’s a Princess, betrothed to a Prince (who is actually Prince Phillip, but she doesn’t know that, and they don’t know that she met him).  She doesn’t take the news well, and goes to cry in her room.  Typical teenager.

Prince Phillip goes to his father and tells him all about the beautiful peasant girl he’s fallen in love with, but the King is none to happy about that.  He goes to Aurora’s father and they wind up having it out over stupid Kingdom negotiations stuff, but the scene is great, and they wind up being cool and all.

Back to the actual story… Aurora is taken to the castle, but Phillip shows up to the cottage after they left to be kidnapped by Maleficent. 

The fairies sneak Aurora into the castle just before sunset so they can get her ready to be presented.  She’s all moody teenager on them, so they leave her alone for a minute.  Stupid fairies!  It’s not sunset yet! 

Maleficent lures Aurora to some tower in the castle and she pricks the spindle.  Ah, the best-laid plans.  As the sun sets, the fairies find Aurora in a deep sleep.  They put her in her bed, and decide to put the entire Kingdom to sleep.  Makes sense.

Maleficent decides to pay Prince Phillip a little visit.  She tells him that she is going to keep him there for a hundred years before she lets him go awaken Aurora with his kiss.  Seriously, woman.  I don’t understand your motive here.  But again, it really doesn’t matter, because you are awesome.

The fairies show up to help Prince Phillip break out of the castle, and what follows is the best climax Disney has ever done.  The fairies turn the raven to stone, help him escape, Maleficent raises thorns around King Stephan’s castle, and when he breaks through those, she transforms into this:


Just before the transformation, she says “Now you shall deal with me, oh Prince!  And all the powers of Hell!”  I had a story book of this when I was a kid, and they changed the line from “powers to Hell” to “Powers of evil”.  Totally not as effective.

The Prince slays the dragon, kisses the girl, and they all live happily ever after.

So, why do I love this movie so much?  It was the last of the great fairy tales until The Little Mermaid, and it took them almost ten years to get it from idea to screen.  It is such a unique and special movie. 

The art direction is amazing.  It is based on classical artists.  The only film that comes close stylistically is Pocahontas.  The colours are vibrant, the characters drawn perfectly.  Aurora is stunning, but believable as a sixteen year old, Prince Phillip not only has a personality, but he is gorgeous.  The fairies all have their own unique looks to go with their personalities, as well as colours – Flora is red/pink, Fauna is green, and Merryweather is blue.

The music.  Of course.  The music is almost entirely taken from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet, albeit rearranged.  Some is taken from other classical pieces, and anything original to the film fits right in.  It is beautiful, and used well here. 

Maleficent.  Best villain ever.  Eleanor Audley also voiced the evil stepmother from Cinderella, and is Madame Leona on the Disneyland Haunted Mansion ride.  She is terrific.  Her motives aren’t really stated, and her revenge does seem to be a bit much for not being invited to a party, but she is just so amazing, it doesn’t matter.  Also?  FREAKING DRAGON.

This movie is a reminder that animated does not have to be silly.  It does not have to be directed strictly to children.  It is an art form, and can appeal to people of all ages.  This movie captivated me as a child, and there is only a small amount of slapsticky humor when the fairies are trying to make Aurora’s party without magic.  It is a smart, beautiful film. 


That’s a wrap!  Tomorrow: another Princess…

Friday, June 22, 2012

Chaplin


Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…





#331: Chaplin (1992).  This is a biopic, and really, I don’t want to give you a history lesson here, so this will be a slightly different style of posting.  Let’s get down to it:

The Players:






Charlie Chaplin: Played by Robert Downey, Jr. He’s Charlie Fucking Chaplin.  *Sigh* ok, I get that some of you are all “who?”, since there were a couple of teenagers I work with who didn’t know who Judy Garland was, so quickly: Charlie Chaplin was a silent movie star who pretty much invented slapstick style comedy and political satire in film.  He was also extremely complex, had issues galore, and was a bit of a man-whore. 
 








Hetty Kelly/Oona O’Neill: Played by Moira Kelly.  Hetty Kelly was Charlie’s first love, and an inspiration for many of his leading ladies.  In the film, she is nicely bookended with Oona, who was Charlie’s final wife (he had a few) and had her played by the same actress.  Well done.








Hannah Chaplin: Played by Geraldine Chaplin.  Yes, Charlie Chaplin’s mother was played by his daughter.  Awesome.  Hannah was batshit crazy, and Charlie spent the better part of his life trying to help her, even though he didn't know how to deal with her most of the time.







Sydney Chaplin: Played by Paul Rhys.  Sydney is Charlie’s half brother, is  half Jewish (which explains the support Charlie had for the Jews and why he was so against the Nazis before most Americans realized Hitler was truly evil) and is his manager/business partner.  He is a grounding presence throughout the film.








Douglas Fairbanks: Played by Kevin Klein.  Again, a lot of you are probably all “who?!” so, ok… Fairbanks was the biggest action star of early Hollywood.  He was married to America’s sweetheart Mary Pickford, and along with Chaplin and a couple of others helped to form United Artists.  I am not explaining anymore.  Google it or something… anyway, Fairbanks was Chaplin’s best friend, and had a profound influence on him.


 






George Hayden: Played by Anthony Hopkins.  He is a completely fictional character.  He’s the editor working with Chaplin on his autobiography, so he’s probably not so much fiction as an amalgam of various editors he worked with.  He is the person to whom Charlie is telling his story throughout the film, so he’s kind of important.






There are a bunch of other people (Dan Aykroyd, Marisa Thomei, and others) who pop up as important people to Chaplin and to the film industry as well.  Including all his wives. 



So, this is a really well-done movie.  There are theatrical/fictional elements to it, but then again the same could be said for Chaplin’s life.  Even the main book it is based on, My Autobiography by Chaplin himself has been proven to contain a lot of exaggerated truths and outright fiction.  So, it works.  Because no matter how much of an expert on the man anyone claims to be, no one, not even his closest friends and lovers, really knew who the hell Chaplin was. 

The best thing truly about this movie is Robert Downey, Jr.  So many comedic actors were considered for the role, but thankfully the powers that be realized that this was not a movie about being funny, it was looking at the man behind the tramp.  The opening scene is of a grown Chaplin washing away his famous Little Tramp makeup, revealing the man underneath it, stating that this movie is not about his hilarious on-screen persona, but the complex man behind him. 

Now, obviously Downey can handle the comedy as witnessed here:



But he truly excels at playing him as a real person, and the cinematic innovator he was.  Chaplin understood so much about his persona, that he pushed his brother to find a different way to use sound without the Tramp talking.  Great scene:


Chaplin was a workhorse, and it was what killed his otherwise solid relationship with third wife Paulette Goddard.  Again, portrayed brilliantly by Downey.  He was totally robbed of an Oscar that year, but then again he was up against Pacino, was in the middle of his drug-addict years, and apparently pissed off the Academy with some choice words that year. 

There are a few little moments that he does so well, one of them being when he first falls in love with movies.  He wanders into a little tent in Butte, Montana, which is where the Vaudeville show he works for was playing.  There’s a silly little slapstick comedy playing, and he stops and looks at the projector with wonder.  Then he sits down, and it cuts to him being the only one there, asking the projeciotnist to play the movies over and over.  I know that feeling.  And it is played very understated and with joy by Downey here. 

This is a well-done biopic.  It’s long, but you hardly notice it, as it goes along at a pretty good pace.  All of the performances are great, and it really makes you appreciate all of the hard work and effort that Chaplin put into his movies.  He really did set a lot of Hollywood standards, and even some of his work today holds up beautifully.  Seriously, there is so much on YouTube, you really need to check it out!

It is beautifully shot, and the score is stunning.  Truly.  John Barry did an outstanding job here. 

This is a nice little history lesson, but don’t believe everything you see, especially about Chaplin’s personal life.  But it is a wonderful glimpse into early Hollywood, so if that interests you, check it out!


 And as an added treat, I give you Robert Downey, jr. singing that famous song written by Chaplin, "Smile":


That’s a Wrap!  Tomorrow: It’s my birthday!  So, a little Disney is in order!