Posted on September 2, 2010. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , |

Having been raised on musicals, it has often surprised people that I have never seen Cabaret. I finally got around to rectifying that.

It’s very hard to write about Cabaret without comparing it to Chicago.  The musical style is similar and that Bob Fosse choreography is unmistakable.  It was the music that finally got me around to watching the film, having spent a couple of days listening to the soundtrack and reminding myself how many of the songs I knew without even realising it.

For me, the stand out number is Money Money. The staging of that scene is spot on, capturing the nature of greed while balancing it with humour.  This is often lauded as the film that made Liza Minnelli, bringing her out of her mother’s shadow and showing her as a star in her own right.  She is a brilliant Sally Bowles, completely uninhibited and free with a childlike naivety.  However, it was Joel Grey who really blew me away.  As the MC, he has an eerie combination of the androgynous and the sleazy, alongside a heavy scoop of wry humour.  More than anyone, you get the impression he sees what’s going on in Germany, but isn’t afraid to poke fun at it.  It’s a fantastic characterisation and I don’t think the film would be half as good without him.

For those who don’t know, Cabaret is set in Germany during the rise of the Nazis.  There presence is initially dismissed as just another group of misfits, but hints of their menace grow, culminating in the disturbing Tomorrow belongs to me. Another brilliantly pitched scene, it begins as a close up of a young boy singing, but as we pan back to see his Hitler Youth uniform and the crowd being to join in with his song and Nazi salute, the idea of “tomorrow” becomes more and more sinister.  The final scene in the Kit Kat bar really hammers the message home.

Against this backdrop of the rise of Nazism is a relatively simple plot of boy meets girl.  In fact the set up of one American, one German and a Brit almost sounds like the beginning of a joke.

Unlike a lot of traditional musicals, characters don’t burst into song in the middle of conversations, with the exception of Tomorrow belongs to me, all the numbers take place on stage in the Kit Kat Club, giving a big scoop of realism to what is quite a dark movie.  Again, I find myself thinking of Chicago, which, particularly in the stage version, balances fantasy music numbers with real life action.

Cabaret is often referred to as a sad movie, with Sally the tragic protagonist, but I’m not sure I agree with that.  I was expecting to feel sorry for Sally, but everything that happens to her is her own choice.  No one is oppressing her, and the way she ends the movie is entirely by her own doing (I’m trying not to give too much away here.)  The final number, Cabaret, is often written about as a powerful moment which disguises Sally’s pain, but in a way I found that rather than feeling hurt and alone at the end of the movie, Sally seems to be triumphant in going back to her cabaret lifestyle rather than the white picket fence that never would have suited her, and that she chose to destroy.  She wants to be on stage, and that’s exactly where she ends up, so can she really be seen as tragic?  I’d argue that poor Brian gets a much rougher deal of it, although even he seems to have gained more than he’s lost.  I guess what it comes down to is that although Cabaret is essentially a love story, we know from the outset that the two characters are incompatible, and we realise with them that although they love each other, they will probably be happier apart.

Having finally seen this much talked about musical, I have to say I don’t rate it as highly as I would many others.  There are some knock out moments, but also some slow ones.  It’s neither a feel good nor a sad film, but I think that’s exactly where it’s supposed to be.  Having said that I would defintely recommend watching it, I think it’s true that it has to be seen, and not just by musical fans, as underneath the jazz hands is a pretty serious movie.

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Quote of the Day

Posted on July 18, 2009. Filed under: Quote of the Day | Tags: , , , , , |

I’m debating whether or not I can post about this since it’s not technically a movie.  So here’s a quote instead:

“It’s curtains for you Dr. Horrible.  Lacy, gently wafting curtains.”

More people need to be exposed to the genius that is this film/mini-series/web phenomenon so here’s the official website.  (And here’s the not so official youtube streaming.)

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Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99

Posted on May 24, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following up on my Ramble about the genius of Tim Burton, I wanted to write another post about a director with an equally distinctive style, namely Baz Luhrmann.  Over the last month I’ve watched 3 out of 4 of his major hit movies, all of them linked by his trademark fast pace cinematography and hyper energetic story telling.

Luhrmann is best known for the Red Curtain Trilogy AKA Strictly Ballroom, Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  All three begin with a red curtain rising, and the rules state that the end of the movie must be given away in the first scenes.  On top of this they’re all linked by some unusual form of expression, for Strictly its the dancing, Romeo and Juliet has Shakespeare’s words and Moulin Rouge, of course, has the music.

All three are great movies, but Strictly is slightly overshadowed by the other two, understandable since it was his directorial debut.  It’s another one on the list of films I need to see again, but its a genuinely funny film following a slightly obvious but still fun plotline about a national dance competition.  Made in 1992, it does show its age a bit when compared to the other films, but while it may not be the best film ever made, if you’re a fan of Baz you’ll definitely like it. (Calling a film made in 1992 old makes me feel ancient…)  Like many of his other films, Luhrmann shows his Aussie patriotism and both sets and casts the film in his home country.

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how good the other two parts of the trilogy are.  Romeo and Juliet is an absolute masterpiece.  Every scene of that film has been planned as meticulously as Shakespeare’s play, from the costumes at the ball (Romeo is a knight, while Tybalt is the Devil and Juliet is an Angel) to the overall design, which puts the Montagues in bright Hawaiin shirts while the Capulets (bar Juliet) dress almost exclusively in black and red.  It’s one of my all time favourite films, partly because as I’ve said before, I love Romeo and Juliet as a play, but more because I love what Luhrmann has done with it.  Keeping Shakespeare’s original text and placing it in a modern setting is brilliant, and the conversion of the scripted swordplay into stylistic gun play is a master stroke.  There’s a reason most kids have to study this film for GCSE; each scene is dripping with symbolism, as Luhrmann plays close attention to Shakespeare’s metaphors and combines them with his own to make the film visually stunning.  My only minor quarrel is the directorial license at the end, which sees Juliet waking up before Romeo dies, mainly because it’s crueler to the audience than Shakespeare would allow, but we’ll let him off.

Never was there a tale of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo

On to Moulin Rouge (I’m ignoring the superfluous exclamaton point in the title) another of my top ten movies.  My first reaction to this film was, “Oh my God Ewan McGregor can sing!”  My second was, rewind and watch again (I’ve since upgraded to DVD).  The rescoring of modern music is so perfect you’d think it had been written for the film, especially the epic Show Must Go On.  Music is something Luhrmann truly understands, with the score of Romeo and Juliet a perfect backdrop to the action.  In Moulin Rouge, it takes centre stage, with some knock-out performances from actors we never knew could sing.  The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the first whirlwind ride through the Moulin Rouge.  This scene exemplifies everything that makes Baz Luhrmann great, the camera twists and spins to capture the energy of the dance hall and every second is filled with vivid colours and flashes of the underworld (including a mermaid in a fish tank).  The music of this scene is also faultless, combining the FatBoy Slim remix Because We Can with Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lady Marmalade, Children of The Revolution and some original music for Jim Broadbent.  It’s dizzying and a complete assault on the senses, just as that first experience must have been for the naive Christian.

At the Moulin Rouge you'll have fun!

I could rave about the Red Curtain Trilogy for days, but what about Luhrmann’s latest offering, which steps outside his well known framework?  Austrailia may not quite hold up in comparison, but I think it perhaps needs a fairer chance than it’s been given.  It’s difficult to follow the two amazing films that have gone before, and perhaps the step away from his established format is what upset some critics, but Austrailia is a beautiful epic, with a realtively simple but still engaging stroyline.  The feel of the film is different to the Red Curtain, although there are enough Luhrmann quirks to let you know who directed the film, and the stunning scenery of the Austrailian outback could easily stand up against the words/music/dance that have gone before as the main device for this story.  Luhrmann recasts two of his Moulin Rouge stars (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) rounding off the predominantly Aussie cast with Hugh Jackman.  Jackman seems to be the Marmite of Hollywood at the moment, but I think he’s good in the role, not that its much of a stretch for him (as he quipped at the Oscars).  Luhrmann, like many directors, definitely has favourite actors who turn up repeatedly in his films, with John Leguizamo also making repeat appearances as Tybalt in R+J and Toulouse-Lautrec in Moulin RougeAustrailia is long, and it does seems to be two films joined together, but it kept my interest and filled a rainy Sunday afternoon pretty well.  It might not match the standard of its predecessors, but this is Luhrmann’s first step away from very insular and tightly controlled settings into a historical epic in the real world.  It’s not nearly as easy to manipulate, yet he still manages to put his instantly recognisable stamp on it.  Again, music is a big part of it, with The Wizard of Oz making a repeat appearance.

Somewhere over the rainbow

Of course the one thing I haven’t mentioned is what exactly I’m on about in the title.  If you’re the same generation as me, I doubt it passed you by.  If it did, take a look.  Sometime after Romeo and Juliet, Luhrmann stumbled on the famous speech and remixed it with Everybody’s Free (written for the movie).  You may not agree with everything I’ve said, but I hope if you haven’t yet you’ll give Luhrmann a go.  But trust me on the sunscreen. 😉

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Quote of the *Valentine’s* Day

Posted on February 14, 2009. Filed under: Quote of the Day | Tags: , |

I’m not a fan of the soppy stuff, but I always thought this was a nice phrase:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

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Burton+Depp+Elfman=Gothic Genius

Posted on February 3, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Ramblings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Most people know that Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have collaborated on a lot of films, I can count six but I’m sure I’m missing some .  Often forgotten though is the addition of the incredible Danny Elfman-composer of The Simpsons theme tune, but also author of a number of Burton’s scores.

Tim Burton has become so much of a cult figure that you can now use “Burton” to describe a genre rather than a person.  The defnining feature in this back catalogue is  The Nightmare before Christmas, a Disney film, believe it or not, which uses stop animation to tell a grinch-like story that is much darker than anything coming out of the studios before (or since).  The iconic character of Jack Skellington adorns the merchandise of many an EMO kid, providing a pretty good example of Burton-design.  Nightmare is also one of the best examples of Elfman’s work, distinct in its use of layered voices which have become a trademark of his composition


Other classic Burton films include Beeteljuice, which I desperately need to see, two of the Batman series and even Big Fish which had a bit of a limp impact on the world, probably because its just that little bit too weird, but its still worth a watch.  The best Burton films though, have Johnny Depp cast in the leading role.  Somehow, the pair seem to bring out the best in eachother, and have often remarked in interviews how easily they can interpret eachothers ideas.

I’m not sure which of these collaborations is my favourite, but Edward Scissorhands has got to be near the top.  Featuring a young Depp desperately trying to shake the “pin up” image, Edward is a twisted fairytale set in an exaggerated steriotypical suburb which is both child-like and intelligent.  Elfman’s score is magical (you can currently find it being sacrificed in the Dancing on Ice adverts) and supports the cinematography of the film perfectly. Like Depp, he seems to know exactly what effect Burton is going for, and produces it to the letter.edward_scissorhands

Creating “kids films” that aren’t quite for kids seems to be a talent of Burton’s, following Nightmare and Edward with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a much creepier version of the story than the original film, but a lot closer to Dahl’s book.  Again Elfman’s score makes the film, taking on the Oompa Loompa songs single handedly by singing each harmony line himself and layering the recording.  Even better, each song takes on a different musical genre- I  particularly love the hard rock cautionary tale to Mike TeeVee.

Depp’s portrayal of Willy Wonka is also far removed from Gene Wilder’s first characterisation.  Said to be based on Michael Jackson, (take from that what you will) he plays him as a Peter-Pan-boy-who-never-grew-up, and Burton supplies a backstory not given in the book to try and develop this.  Both Wilder and Depp give the character a darker side, but while Wilder’s is a scarier angry side, Depp’s is more naive.


Elfman also donates his vocal chords to “Bonejangles” the scat singing skeleton in The Corpse Bride the long awaited “sequel” to Nightmare, where Burton returns to stop animation, this time to tell a story of thwarted love and murder (so another one for the kids).  Depp also got in on the act, providing the voice for Victor, our hapless groom.   The film is filled with ghosts and ghouls, but takes a completely light hearted approach to death as shown by the lyrics to Elfman’s upbeat Jazz track  “Remains of the Day”:

Die! Die! We all pass away!

But don’t be afraid ‘cos it’s really OK

You might try to run, and you might try to pray

But we all end up the remains of the day!

The most recent of Burton’s films lacks the last member of the Trinity, but replaces him with the formidable Steven Sondheim, resulting in what might be the ultimate Gothic film: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

I was painfully excited about this film being made, as a long time fan of Depp, Burton and Sondheim, and I was not disappointed.  Using practically no colour except red was a master stroke, and the casting was perfect.  At times, I’d argue that Helena Bonham-Carter is somewhat oeverused in Burton films, I’m sure having nothing to do with her long term relationship with the director, but in Sweeney Todd she is the ultimate Mrs Lovett, better even than Angela Lansbury’s Broadway original.lovett


I was annoyed by the rumblings of the film being too gory, because to me Sweeney Todd is on a level with Burton’s earlier horror film Sleepy Hollow, where the “horror” part is used more as humour than anything else; done in a stylised way so that it is deliberatley unreal.  All the way through Sweeney Todd there is a dream (or nightmare) like quality which puts it on an ethereal level and therefore removes any realism or true horror.  That’s not a criticism, it’s a clever device by Burton which makes his films so instantly recognisable.

Burton is the master of the Gothic Fairytale.  Of course, the original fairytales were never as cute as one might think, but Burton has created a new genre of dark tales with a true emotional heart.  When Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman are added to the mix, something pretty special is created.  I don’t have time to review them all here (this post is already incredibly long!) but suffice to say that the formula above is pretty much guranteed to give you a great night at the cinema.

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Quote of the Day

Posted on January 29, 2009. Filed under: Quote of the Day | Tags: , |

I might not have this word perfect, correct me if I’m wrong:

-“We got a full tank of gas, a half pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses…”

-“HIT IT!”

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It’s just a jump to the left….

Posted on January 27, 2009. Filed under: Movies to see before you die | Tags: , , , , , , |

As cult movies go, there’s one that out does them all for obsessive fans, and that’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Cross dressing cinema-goers aside, this film is a brilliant pastiche of the classic horror film, set to music just to throw you off!  The brain child of Richard “Crystal Maze” O’Brien, Rocky Horror takes the classic set up of virginal sweethearts caught in a sea of debauchery, mixed in with a unique take on the Frankenstein story and comes out with something which totally deserves its cult status.

The transformation of our two leads (check out Susan Sarandon in the pictures) is classic Gothic imagery of the corruption of innocence leading to evil, which O’Brien exaggerates to the point of the ridiculous, making it very difficult to take other horror movies seriously (Psycho for instance, is a classic good-girl-gone-bad).


The music is great;  most of you will know Time Warp, even if you never knew where it came from, and with performances from O’Brien, Meatloaf and the utterly amazing Tim Curry, this film can’t put a foot wrong.  What I particularly like is the design, with costumes that have to be seen to be believed, and which went on to form the basis of the movies cult status.

Magenta and Columbia

Tim curry owns this movie.  As multisexual transvestite Frank N Furter he gives it his all, which, when you’re wearing nothing but a corset and fishnets, I guess you don’t have much choice about!Furter

This is definitely a film everyone should see.  I wanted to watch it again immediately as it finished.  Not only is it fun, but there’s a lot that’s clever about it.  The way in which O’Brien gives little nods to horror standards (such as Susan Sarandon’s soliloquy) is spot on, but perhaps the most effective are the lyrics to some of the songs, which at times are a lot more meaningful than the light-hearted tone of this movie would have you expect.

“And crawling, on the planets face, some insects, called the Human Race.  Lost in time,  lost in space, and meaning.”

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Mamma Mia: Officially the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Movies to miss | Tags: , , , , , |

Another chance for me to save you from painful suffering, and this time I don’t think I’ll get  much argument.

God knows why this was such a success.  Well, actually, I do know, it was all about nostalgia.  But if you want to reminisce about the 70s stick ABBA Gold on, don’t make a terrible movie!

There are moments of this film which almost redeem it, the plot, for example, is quite good and the script is funny at times.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t notice much of this because I was watching the film through my fingers with an expression of abject horror!  Why such an extreme reaction? Pierce Brosnan. Singing. Or at least he thought he was. And Colin Firth doing….well I don’t know what he was doing but it wasn’t pretty.


Now I’m not an ABBA fan, and I really dislike this wave of greatest hits albums being turned into musicals, but I decided to give this film a fair try (mostly because it was Christmas).  In fact, turning ABBA hits into a musical worked more successfully than any other attempt I’ve heard, although I will never forgive whoever thought “Chiquitita” being sung in a toilet made sense.  This wasn’t my main concern though, what had me diving behind the sofa was the woeful performances given by almost every member of the cast.

I’ve already mentioned Brosnan and Firth’s pathetic vocal renditions, which could almost be excused if it hadn’t caused them to forget how to act.  Brosnan especially seems so caught up in becoming the next Bruce Springsteen (try Billy Mack) that he loses any (limited) credibility he ever had.  It would have been easy enough to dub the actors, although I suppose this would have caused criticism, but after 10 minutes I was begging for mercy.  Meryl Streep is better than I would have expected, and she does put in a good performance, but there were some seriously flat notes in “The Winner Takes It All” which could have easily been tweaked could the sound editor have been bothered enough.

Bad singing aside, there isn’t much going for this movie, (besides the ever-wonderful Julie Walters).  I get that it’s supposed to be fun and light hearted, but you get the feeling that no one invilved in making this movie was really committed to the job, they were just mucking about with some cameras and a few million dollars.  This film is definitely aimed nowhere near my generation.  Even the young couple who the film is supposedly about get barely any screen time compared to our parenting team.  This is a film for the mums, which is fine, but you’d think that Hollywood could come up with something a bit less tragic.

Everyone knows that Dads dancing at a wedding is a pathetic site.  So why make a movie about it?

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Quote of the Day

Posted on January 23, 2009. Filed under: Quote of the Day | Tags: , |

See if you can guess this one, answers on a postcard (or a comment)

“I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey…”

*Update* Pretty obvious clue

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