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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La La Land (2017)

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Well, not for a long while have I been eagerly anticipating a movie like the release of this musical drama. Add on top the record-breaking Golden Globes haul then you have a very excited chap. For the most part this film delivers, it’s stylish, fun, heartfelt but I don’t agree with all the souped up hype it’s received.

After a minor amount of road-rage where aspiring actress Mia (Emma Stone) and jazz musician Seb (Ryan Gosling) cross paths, they end up bumping into each other again and again which leads to a romance through the year. As they try following their dreams in LA it becomes a harder challenge to keep the love alive.

I have to say that I absolutely adored the first half or so of this film. It harks back to that classic glitz and glamour of Hollywood old with a neat dose of a modern touch thanks to the musical and confident direction from Damien Chazelle. Just from the sweeping opening on a Los Angeles highway to the delicate changes in lighting, the songs and story begin with a bang.

It helps that we get brilliant performances and a clear chemistry between the two main characters but also the style adds a neat note to the song-sheet that is this feature. There’s times that it looks and sounds like a studio set production and you’d expect Fred Astaire to come tap dancing in. The writing by Chazelle, is for the most part a well handled story that lends a two-sided coin to the LA lifestyle but with an obvious landing on dreams to follow and achieve.

As I sat in my seat I found myself hooked and smiling along to a wonderful series of scenes but then annoyingly, there came a specific moment where I even felt myself disengaging and from then on, the writing becomes very generic and almost cliched. It drifts into a romantic plot you’d expect to find in every other manically churned out rom-com. This frustrated me because I was expecting it to keep going with the gleeful whizz of CinemaScope delight but instead…it wains.

It is almost saved as we get a short burst of style near the end showing a quick run of events. So yes I agree it’s a fantastically well made and enchanting film, it deserved 3 perhaps 4 of the Globes it picked up out of 7. This is obviously, as I realised as they were winning, a case of the voters loving films that celebrate America or the US saving the day -(note Argo winning Best Picture)

Song wise, ‘Another of Day of Sun’ is jolly, sun-drenched and a perfect, literally perfect way to start a film of this genre. ‘City of Stars’ is sung well and has a melancholy yet magical sound but I don’t see how that gets the attention when Stone’s ‘Audition’ song is better performed and has better lyrics. Though it’s naff for jazz and a typical Top 40’s track, John Legend’s performance of ‘Start a Fire’ works well in showcasing the path Seb is taking away from his dream.

I’m not a total grouch because I did enjoy the majority of the film, I just don’t feel it should have broke GG records and I hope the Oscars gives some variety because ‘La La Land’ does swerve into a nearly boring not great second half.

7/10

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

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Crazy, stupid and random but totally in a good way, this is a genuinely funny musical mockumentary from The Lonely Island trio, that squeezes in songs, cameos and a vague story about friendship and roots.

After the heyday of The Style Boyz, it was clear Conner (Andy Samberg) was the star breaking out to become Conner4Real. He has fellow Style Boy Owen (Jorma Taccone) as his DJ as they get filmed in the short run up to Conner’s 2nd album release and following tour. However his appeal may be waning as reviews are unkind and past beef with Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) comes into the picture.

The mockumentary style is handled very well and transitions it to this celeb filled environment of the 21st century with plenty of jokes and pop-shots including brilliant lines about Zayn Malik and later, Taylor Swift There’s even humour to be had with the filming as the camera guys miss an epic event or confusion to whose documentary entourage are whose at the Poppies.

Of course with this type of filming for the movie, it gives plenty of chances to know Conner and see him in all stages of ups and downs. It’s the only way this movie would have worked and been as funny as it opens the door to numerous cameos who send themselves up and act deadly serious when portraying Conner as this genius icon. One only problem with the film is there are so many actors involved to portray his people that some get left very underused.

It’s a film that you can tell has plenty of scenes and riffs left on the cutting room floor to be seen on special features or not at all. I loved the CMZ cutaways though, led by Will Arnett that positively rip into the TV gossip channels with gusto and slurping hilarity. As it’s written by The Lonely Island and produced by Judd Apatow you can feel that improv and zany comedy aura. Most of the time it works to be honest which is great, there’s only a couple of places where the comedy seems to lull and the film loses the welcome pacy nature, actually it’s the first half which zips and pows before a second half which is not as good.

To the songs; which are brilliant. The opening ‘I’m So Humble’ to kick in the beginning credits is catchy, over the top and backed by excessive holograms to give a nice little knock to the Coachella buzz of a holo-performer. ‘Equal Rights’ is stupidly hilarious, the one word retorts after Conner trying to seem open to gay acceptance are fast and fun, the Pink duet backs this as she looks on bemused to his lyrics. I would go on and comment on the other songs but truly most if not all of the songs are cleverly penned.

Andy Samberg knows how to play the doofus arrogant man and delivers his moronic lines with perfect timing but still has enough humanity left that you can stick on side with him. Jorma Taccone plays the pointless Conner4Real DJ well, showcasing his booth with humour and going on a journey as he decides whether to stay with his old friend. Bill Hader is hardly in it but gets a laugh out loud scene about flat-lining, Imogen Poots also underused is okay in sending up celeb couples but doesn’t get much to prove. Justin Timberlake is great though in a backseat role but stealing limelight enough to make his character memorable. It’s people like Simon Cowell, Usher and even Ringo Starr that get more of the laughs as they speak to the camera.

A mixture of deadpan humour and dumbness as they wax lyrical about a very obviously idiotic performer shoots this musical mockumentary into the starry heights of satirical comedy that works.

7.5/10

Sing Street (2016)

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Feeling properly 80’s, this Irish comedy/drama is layered with perfect music and a story full of smiles, heart and feel good nostalgia. Hey, I’m not even an 80’s kid, but I know of the songs and styles from that decade and this film pulls off that aura with ease and brilliance.

Due to money problems at home, music fan Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is moved to a free state school. He sees a girl outside one day and talks to Raphina (Lucy Boynton), inviting her to star in his band’s video. Now all he has to do is actually start up a band and write some songs, leading him on a discovery of love, art and lyrics.

John Carney who brought us one of my favourite films to chill out to – ‘Once’ is back with his musical presence and realistic writing for this special movie. He writes a fantastically immersive story that throws us into the life and times of 1985 and the way this band comes across looks and sounds like they’re a bona fide group of that era. Carney directs the film in a way that fills the narrative and us watching with great optimism. It’s a passionate and cheerful feature that may be simple in places but is dealt with so enjoyably that I don’t care.

Amongst the amazing sounds of the 1980’s, including Duran Duran and The Cure to mention just a couple, there’s a magnificent composition of tracks from Gary Clark, along with Carney he truly captures the beats of familiar artists from the time and transfers them into funny yet authentic sounding tunes for the teen filled Sing Street band to perform. If none of the original songs from this movie get an Oscar nomination then justice doesn’t exist because they deserve recognition and I think ‘Go Now’ may be the one to win it because of Adam Levine’s influence. It’s not just the music that makes you tap your feet and hum a rhythm, the way each band’s music video is seen is so on point and the changing fashions of Conor as he enters school is excellent.

An awful lot in this movie makes you smile and laugh, enough to do so out loud even as I did, more than once. It isn’t just a well handled musical comedy though, the amount of tingling heart and coming of age drama involved makes it even more appealing. As we go over the much beaten track of young love and possible heartbreak, this film deals with it in an irresistible way or perhaps in a zany new romantic way to fit the tone of the movie and make you almost forget that you’ve seen these types of films before.

Walsh-Peelo makes a stunning acting debut, his look fits the 80’s mould just right and he’s both likable and emotive ensuring we want to stay following his passage of growth, like a musical Ferris Bueller he’s captivating and bliss to watch. Boynton is gorgeous, mysterious and confident in a role that delves just a sliver into a dark past that makes her more than just eye candy and subject material for a male band to write about. Jack Reynor as Conor’s brother is a funny watch but he’s damaged, knowledgeable of music but feeling trapped by his older age and lack of trying he gets plenty of time to shine and a heroic burst of pride at the end. All the Sing Street band members are acted greatly too, bringing fun characteristics to the piece.

My heart is warmed to the top after watching this film, which is now one of my favourites. Truly I mean that, this is a musical triumph that’s filled with genuine joy and bitter-sweet drama that I want to see all over again. And again.

8/10

Oscars 2015 Look Back

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A fairly predictable night at the 87th Academy Awards, with all acting winners being the ones I expected and on the whole, ones I was happy to see pick up the golden statuette. The show itself started off spectacularly with showman Neil Patrick Harris doing his usual song and dance shtick, but he does it so well it doesn’t matter. ‘Moving Pictures’ was stylish, cool and one of the better notes of Harris’ hosting gig.

J.K Simmons deserved the win, his role as Fletcher in WHIPLASH is blisteringly good. The harsh way he tries to inspire a new musical icon is violent and cold and Simmons does well giving the teacher some light shades from time to time, either in marvellous one liners or a brief scene of sadness. Patricia Arquette was the out and out favourite all along, scooping up major prizes in the run up to last night, it was a shoe-in for her to get the biggie. Don’t get me wrong, I felt her motherly vulnerable performance held a lot of BOYHOOD together but I would have loved to see Rosamund Pike win, for shock value and doing something Pike had never really done before. Eddie Redmayne is someone I never really loved until seeing his turn as Stephen Hawking. He embodies the genius and his bodily acting as Hawking is outstanding, he thoroughly deserved the win and I was glad he got it, a sweet and gentlemanly speech too. Julianne Moore was the fourth out of four predictable acting wins but from the small snippets I’ve seen of STILL ALICE she looks damn good. Just have to see it now and watch what got the trophy.

Birdman got Best Picture and director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu clawed up another two for Original Screenplay and Directing. I’m more than happy with these three big prizes as Birdman was not a bio-pic, it’s theatrical, clever, funny and excellent. I have to admit I thought Boyhood would win but luckily it didn’t. It’s a sheer statement and project but not an overwhelming treat of a film whereas Birdman stands out. The second year in a row for a Mexican to win Director and gladly it seems the Oscars voters are rewarding the talents and not just American releases. Just waiting for more female recognition and they’re doing better.

Glory got Best Original Song for SELMA, beating off earworm ditty, ‘Everything is Awesome’ featured in THE LEGO MOVIE, still a major snub for not being in Animation but it’s too late now! Glory well and truly deserved the win, John Legend and Common collected the Oscar mere minutes after their hair raising performance. The production value of the Edmund Pettus bridge and large groups marching on the Dolby Theatre stage was emotional and powerful. It got a rapturous ovation and tears were shed by snubbed David Oyelowo and Chris Pine also.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lovely Anderson film and the whole look is perfect, so it was 100% agreeable that it picked up all the visual elements, such as costuming and production design. The state of Zubrowka is quirky and sweeps through doll house like mountains, hotels and prisons in typical Wes design.

Neil Patrick Harris himself threw in a couple of good jokes and zingers but on the whole the show did drag on, his magic suitcase prediction gag was a pointless waste of time. The opening number and his Whiplash/Birdman skit were the peaks of his hosting role. Harris stepping out in his tighty whities was brilliant and perfectly spoofed. I don’t know who may get the honour next time but Fey and Poehler are full of character and have chemistry so hopefully they’ll move up from Golden Globes duty.

A long and sometime odd show, Gaga and Sound of Music being a case in point, but I still can’t shake off the Oscar buzz every year it comes around. Even when the films aren’t as exciting or the winners are expected, there’s something fun about staying up to watch the Academy Awards. See you again next year. #stayweird #staydifferent.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008)

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Grunge is thick in the air within this rock operatic horror film. A futuristic and sci-fi theme play their cards too as songs and blood come thick and fast. These could be pretty interesting points but it all counts for nothing in an odd and disengaging pulp cult attempt.

Organ problems and failures in repayments have paved the way for GeneCo to rise up in 2056, giving people organ replacements but if they can’t pay back then the Repo men will come after you and take them off you…alive. GeneCo is led by Rotti Largo (Paul Sorvino) who won’t be around much longer leaving his image obsessed offspring fighting for power. A father called Nathan Wallace (Anthony Head) connected to Rotti, is caring for his sick daughter Shilo (Alexa Vega) and soon stories bleed into one another.

Based on a 2002 musical by Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich, this does boast some out there ideas and grimy sounds but what on paper could have been the modern day ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ doesn’t come into action like that and feels lacking of proper story and after a while the Goth like song stylings become tiresome. The way this film adaptation takes on the plot with some neat comic book visuals is cool and reminiscent of the graphic novel methods of ‘Sin City’ but that is perhaps the only link.

Smith and Zdunich are also on duty for the music and here, some more positives can be noted. I liked the songs, or at least after some time I grew to appreciate the sounds before growing tired of them once again. The way a good many of the songs layer over one another, with different stars echoing their parts of the track onto the titles gives the rocky booms more depth. A song playing out in the run up to the opera features like the grand One Day More aspect of proceedings.

It’s obvious to see that the director and production crew are working hard to create something different and working off of the source material they do a good job in mastering something against the norm. The team have as many guts pulling this off as the amount of bodily pieces ripped from victims within the movie. The camera spiraling round choir sounding advertising towers or Gothic locations filled with mist and darkness all help give this 2008 musical a defined edge of inventive yet off putting feelings.

Anthony Head proves he has a voice for singing as well as a calm assured acting demeanor. Switching from nice to mean in flicks of a lyric, Head is a solid lead to play the shady nice guy. Alexa Vega brings along a pop sound to her vocals, the more Britney or Tay-Tay sweetness as she sings. This is done nicely and then wham, she’s joined by Joan Jett for a funky rock number where she riffs out in skimpy clothes showing the yang to her previous yin. Terrance Zdunich is one of the stand outs, as should be expected considering it’s half his baby. As the gravel toned hypnotic sounding Graverobber he steals a lot of the songs, especially in the pacy Zydrate Anatomy.  Sarah Brightman of course has the opera background to excel and does so in her small-ish role as Blind Mag. Going along with her shining and holographic eyes Brightman is like a steam punk vision of the future tainted with agonising debt. Paris Hilton isn’t even too bad in this film, playing what Hilton would be expected to play as vain surgery loving rich daughter. She can hold a tune and doesn’t act awful, in fact the acting isn’t bad in this gross out film.

Too many songs and a try hard attitude fail to ignite any musical sparks, in fact the sci-fi/musical and horror angles make the film fall flat. It’s fun in places and looks the part but apart from a brief space of enjoyable songs Repo should be repossessed for being unnerving in all the wrong ways.

4.5/10

Into the Woods (2014)

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A gleeful and sometime dark look at fantasy and fairy tales through musicality and typical Disney glossy production value. It falls down in seemingly never ending happy or unhappy endings and the film does feel too long for underwhelming songs and nothing majorly special.

This musical has The Baker (James Corden) narrate and feature in an intertwining tale of fairy tale classics as he and his wife (Emily Blunt) need to find four items to try and reverse a curse placed by the Witch (Meryl Streep). Along the way in the woods is a wolf (Johnny Depp), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his cow, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and dark twisted paths leading to unexpected conclusions.

The film does have some neat clever moments that stem from the original 1987 Broadway story, the intriguing and playful turns of children’s fairy tales make the Disney film a little less kiddy than it could have been and in fact the middling section of this screen adaptation is good for hitting that stride of Brothers Grimm territory. Sadly it doesn’t seem to linger on the darker endings of the actual fairy tales which is a shame.

Stephen Sondheim has a knack for creating music and lyrics but so too does he have a knack for creating a sense of similarity in all the work he does. This film begins to feel tiring as each song comes in sounding the same as every other. The music builds up the fantastical village and foreboding forest really well but the songs leave something to be desired. None of them, in my eyes, are astounding or wholly memorable which isn’t a great sign for a musical, perhaps it not being something I knew of didn’t get me giddy for hearing how big names would do the songs I’d never heard, but then it hasn’t opened a door to me wanting to find out more about this show.

The only singing success I felt the movie had was in the quick paced number titled, ‘Your Fault’, an inventive, overlapping and snappy ditty that is stuffed with fast accusations and brilliant harmonies. The quick paced style can’t be said for the movie itself though as it felt like the dinginess of the woods was magically slowing down time and dragging us through the mud. It could have benefited from a few slight chops of Jack’s axe as the near two hour run didn’t feel spritley like a musical should. The beginning did but it began to labour as the twisted tales unfurled.

It’s shot very well, Rob Marshall directing the ensemble cast with his talent of behind the camera musical sparkle. The cinematography is very believable and the gnarled woods really do feel intimidating, large and troublesome. The make believe of towers, castles and forests grab attention and the costume/make-up department have a lot to feel proud of because the vision of the entire piece is remarkable, as if Hollywood and Broadway have combined in hybrid fashion to make this stage show film.

Meryl Streep is as pretty much always a formidable talent on screen. Her portrayal of this bad yet good yet bad yet so on and so on witch is mischievous, wicked and thoroughly fun. The song ‘Stay with Me’ (not by Sam Smith) that she got specially from Sondheim is the only other number that stands out and it’s not even originally from the show, maybe Streep’s shine could see it featuring on stage from now on, that or it’s going for Original Song at the Oscars. I’m in no way a fan of James Corden, in fact I find him overly irritating but after a few sighs getting used to his voice and presence he’s not terrible, he holds his own and is down to earth figure in this kingdom of wolves, princesses and giants. His marriage to the beautiful Emily Blunt perhaps the most unbelievable aspect about this story! Blunt herself is kind and a warm actress that sells the good intentioned and often funny Baker’s wife, her singing is damn good too. Johnny Depp is a credit only, a pull for punters to see him being Johnny Depp as always. The creepy factor he exudes is turned up ever higher in a brief scene and song. Much applause from me goes to Lilla Crawford who makes Red Riding Hood bounce with naughtiness and charisma every time she appears. Anna Kendrick is mightily convincing as humble being turned gorgeous princess and her stage background benefits her singing moments. Chris Pine has fun and near evil delight as a mocking one dimensional Disney prince, cliched air grabs and all.

I haven’t seen the show but it retains that stage like quality and magical darkness which is a good thing, a worthy example of thumbs up adapting work. I only disliked Sondheim’s songs which blend boringly and the length begins feeling overly long. I would have desired more teasing of worrying dark ends to keep in with Grimm glory but it’s fun and looks amazing.

5.5/10