The Greatest Showman (2017)

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Pulling out all the stops, this movie tries shooting for the ol’ razzle dazzle and though there is a definite amount of flair and showbiz style through transitions and musical numbers, it all feels empty and try hard. The story of the man himself; Mr. P.T Barnum is glossed over to make way for a post Christmas family feature that requires no smarts.

As a child, Phineas Barnum was less well off but a dreamer and he finally got the girl he’d loved. Now residing in New York with their two daughters, Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and Charity (Michelle Williams) seem happier than ever, but Barnum wants more and he eventually creates a ‘circus’ of sideshows and freaks to sell tickets and give his family all they could ever wish.

Riding on the success of Academy darling and theatrical luvvie of late 2016/early 2017 ‘La La Land’, this musical drama employs the writing talents of Pasek and Paul to conjure up a bunch of songs. They certainly come under the ear-worm label as I’m still annoyingly humming them as I write this. Saying that, they’re nowhere near as close as subtle or stylishly cool as the songs in the Gosling/Stone led runaway hit. To be honest, there came a time when a character began to sing that I audibly groaned because they just appear almost consistently. I know it’s a musical but they are irritating hokey songs that strive for the stars but end up somewhere amongst bland superficial lyrics of being special – whoever you are – yeah that old chestnut.

Certain elements in this just stood out like cheap distractions at a local funfair. The alarming dubbing of an older man speaking for the clunky walking dwarf. The ‘Siamese Act’ who were clearly two performers standing side by side and the ‘Bearded Lady’ who’s facial fuzz looked like glued on hair a couple of times. I know Barnum revelled in fooling audiences and providing fake attractions but this film doesn’t even show us this as it makes him seem like an idol of blossoming variety entertainment.

Hugh Jackman is a charismatic actor and he certainly helps this film from totally falling flat but I feel he’s too much of a nice guy to play the role of someone who hoaxed the public. Michelle Williams is a glamorous wife and mother and gets to showcase some singing prowess and dancing ability but she has little to do, other than stand by and watch Jackman parade as the enigmatic showman he is. Rebecca Ferguson plays opera singer Jenny Lind but doesn’t even wow because she’s there as a cheap sideline narrative and her song is sung by someone else, plus she’s meant to be a pro opera performer but her song sounds like the typical X Factor winners track. Zendaya carries a believable amount of emotion in her role as acrobat and racially shunned figure for Zac Efron to fall in love with. For me, I found her to be the most engaging and interesting character to follow, with Efron close behind.

All the lights and stage magic never lit a spark in me and it just became a tiresome boringly told story, filled by ever irritating songs. It’s a mess of a musical but one that has just enough charm in places to keep the circus tent from falling down.

4.5/10

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Frank (2014)

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Wonderfully absurd and somewhat engrossing, this comedy/drama manages to be off-beat, clever and heartfelt enough in places that makes it a worthwhile film of unique content and a giant fake head.

Wannabe singer/songwriter Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) crosses path with a band and chats to one of the guys, which leads him to fill in and perform with mysterious papier-mached masked man Frank (Michael Fassbender), an enthusiastic musical visionary who takes to Jon even if the rest of the band don’t. Jon and his social media decide to try taking the band to America but first they have an album to record.

What’s great about this film is the general quirkiness involved, the way scenes cut and the unusual things we see in them makes it different to most movies you’d have seen before. Of course just having one of the main characters covered up for the majority of the run time helps make it different because we get a sense of who Frank is but not the true quality of his story.

The music in this film is as off the wall weird as you may imagine, from theremin’s to a burning Korg on stage, the screams and scrapes of ‘music’ involved tells us all we need to know about the extremely indie sound of Soronprfbs. Yes, even their band name is so hipster it hurts. It is done in a funny way though as some strained cabin fever episode sets in whilst they all try to complete a recording of their album. Jon, as the outsider is the character we link to and with him we see the strangeness yet interesting vibe this unpronounceable band give off.

Lenny Abrahamson; most wonderful director behind most wonderful ‘Room’, directs this thoughtful story about identity and togetherness in a coolly refreshing way. A lot of it is shot in Ireland as he wanted that landscape and the music is actually the actors performing their weird tracks live. Abrahamson manages to well connect us to Jon and Frank, which is something considering we never see him for most of it. The comedy of their failings and aspirations is handled very well through most of the movie.

What I can say is that sadly, this film is let down by a mopey third act that drift tediously into Frank’s home-life and issues that perhaps for me got too bogged down and lost that black comedic spin of the first two acts. It’s what I’d comment on as being too dramatic and soap opera like, the unique nature seems to be lost in almost conjunction with Frank losing his head. It wasn’t annoying, just a weak close for a screenplay and idea that had up until that point been silly, smart and hypnotic.

Domhnall Gleeson takes us on the journey very well, the painful lyrics delivered in voice over at the beginning are laughably performed and as he transitions into the band, he thrusts his wanting leadership over things very convincingly. Maggie Gyllenhaal is kooky and 100% loopy, if not psychotic as a sidekick of the piece, her staring eyes and scowls saying it all about she feels with Jon joining them. Michael Fassbender manages to act as Frank extremely well, so much so that even with that hunk of unmoving art on his head you can sense his mannerisms and facial expressions through the mask making every thing he does funnier and more poignant. It’s a shame he ever had to remove the thing!

Oddball is the word of choice to explain this film; with unusual music, loud personalities and honest ideas this movie turns into a more sad film than you’d expect and though it has a bad third act, it doesn’t dampen on the sheer brilliance of everything before.

7.5/10