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Archive for the ‘Musical’ Category

FernGully: The Last Rainforest (and the weird animation of summer ’92, part 1)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

“This ‘weird creature’ is a human!”


FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST is a well-meaning but not so great movie that was more successful than most of the non-Disney animated features in this very strange early ‘90s period. It didn’t make a ton of money, but it seemed to capture the imagination of some kids, and even got a DTV sequel in 1998. I would venture to guess it will be the most normal animated feature of summer ’92, but like most of the movies that were trying to compete with Disney without doing something drastically different from them, it feels kinda off and out of touch.

It reunites PUMP UP THE VOLUME couple Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis, this time with Mathis as the lead and Slater as the jealous secondary boy in her life. Mathis (before SUPER MARIO BROS.) plays a hummingbird-sized fairy named Crysta, and Slater is her shirtless male friend Pips. They fly around and can turn into blue and green (respectively) light and they live in a rainforest that’s supposed to be in Australia and has kangaroos and platypuses living in it. Also there are little goblin guys voiced by Cheech and Chong who fly around on large beetles, but I was a little distracted that they sit on top of their wings, so the beetles seem to just magically float. (read the rest of this shit…)

RRR

Friday, April 15th, 2022

RRR is a 2022 smash hit movie from India that has also been playing some multiplexes here and around the world. I would describe the basic feel of it as the most joyously over-the-top parts of American John Woo movies like HARD TARGET and BLACKJACK multiplied by the PREDATOR handshake, wrapped in the brotherhood and gravity defiance of FAST FIVE, sprinkled with the animal companionship of THE PROTECTOR, and fueled by a couple musical numbers and a show-stopping dance off against a snobby rich white guy. In other words, a strong summary of humankind’s greatest artistic achievements to date.

The title reportedly stands for “Rajamouli, Ram Charan, Rama Rao” – the names of the director and stars – though it says “Rise Roar Revolt” on the English language opening credits. Writer/director S.S. Rajamouli’s last movie was BAAHUBALI 2: THE CONCLUSION, which I also heard superlatives about and still want to see. But you know, if I was gonna watch parts 1 and 2 that’s a six hour commitment, so I didn’t get around to it. But I’m so glad I listened to the hype this time, because RRR is incredible! I kept thinking my mask was gonna slip off because I was grinning so wide. (read the rest of this shit…)

West Side Story

Tuesday, February 15th, 2022

WEST SIDE STORY – it’s very clear when you see it – is a film by Steven Fucking Spielberg. That’s why I saw it. Usually when I write about a remake of a beloved classic I like to be somewhat knowledgeable about the source material, but this late in the game you’ve had plenty of time to read reviews from people who know the musical or the earlier Robert Wise movie forward and backward, can tell you all the things that Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner (MUNICH, LINCOLN) added, cut, updated, etc., and the significance of those alterations. Or at least from someone who has seen the original. I have not. I would’ve, but Spielberg didn’t direct it.

I don’t really gravitate toward Broadway musical type stuff, but I do have a thing for great filmatism, so this thing knocked me out. As even I kind of knew, it’s the story of two gangs, the Jets (white guys) and the Sharks (proud Puerto Ricans) stubbornly fighting over territory in a dilapidated Manhattan slum that (this part is new, I believe) is on the verge of redevelopment. In the opening, Janusz Kaminski (COOL AS ICE)’s camera hovers over what remains of the neighborhood, climbs up the side of a structure under construction, past a billboard advertising the fancy apartment building and entertainment center it will become (featuring the sort of upper class white people who will inhabit it), then hangs out a while next to the wrecking ball waiting to get the process started. Meanwhile, the percussion section (David Newman [CRITTERS, ROVER DANGERFIELD, CONEHEADS, THE SPIRIT] arranging Leonard Bernstein’s music) playfully percolates like the build up to a heist sequence.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Rock-a-doodle

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Let me give you a behind the scenes on the making of this review series: I had been meaning to revisit HEAVY METAL for a million years, and one day when I had kind of an itch for that weird vibe of early ‘80s animated fantasy I finally did it. Then I thought hey, I should also watch AMERICAN POP again, that would make a good review pairing. And then I thought hey, I’ve always wondered what was up with that ROCK & RULE movie, it could be a series. And then late in the game I thought “Oh shit, that would be funny to end on ROCK-A-DOODLE! I finally have a reason to watch ROCK-A-DOODLE!”

Obviously this one is really different than the others. It turns out it’s not much about rock ’n roll, and I already knew it wasn’t trying to be adult or edgy like the other ones. That’s not why I skipped it in 1991 – I wasn’t opposed to watching G-rated animation. It was the year of ROVER DANGERFIELD, after all! Just kidding, I didn’t watch ROVER DANGERFIELD. Until later. But BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was that year and it was nominated for best picture, so this was pretty much the exact moment in the U.S. when the “adults don’t watch animation” attitude was starting to get pushed back.

It’s directed by Don Bluth, mentioned previously in this series as one of the Disney-influenced alternatives to Disney in the ‘80s. In fact, he was an offshoot: starting as an assistant animator and moving up to directing animator, he worked on SLEEPING BEAUTY, THE JUNGLE BOOK, ROBIN HOOD, THE MANY ADVENTURES OF WINNIE THE POOH, THE RESCUERS, PETE’S DRAGON and THE FOX AND THE HOUND. But later in that run he felt so strongly that the Disney movies weren’t living up to the classical animation legacy of Walt and the generation of artists he’d learned from that he and some of the other animators gathered at his house in their off hours to make an independent short, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, from an idea that the studio had rejected. (read the rest of this shit…)

BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

“In the second film the wardrobe people wanted to go glamorous. And they wanted to make Los Angeles look beautiful – that’s why all the colors are bright and friendly. Los Angeles is not like that – they made BREAKIN’ 2 as some kind of a WIZARD OF OZ of dance. And you know what? For a kid that never had anything, not even the money in the family to go to Disneyland – suddenly people were screaming, and cheering, dancing and being happy on the screen. That’s the fantasy. Maybe Los Angeles will never be that way, but Los Angeles was beautiful for one day when people watched BREAKIN’ 2. I think that’s nice.” -Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers to Marco Siedelmann in the book Stories From the Trenches: Adventures in Making High Octane Hollywood Movies With Cannon Veteran Sam Firstenberg

BREAKIN’ was a huge hit for Cannon. It opened at #1 even though it was going head-to-head with Universal’s SIXTEEN CANDLES, and on almost 200 fewer screens. It ended up making $38 million, which was more than twice BEAT STREET’s total, and put it at #17 in the 1984 box office rankings, above such films as BACHELOR PARTY, RED DAWN, THE TERMINATOR and Cannon’s own MISSING IN ACTION. And if you scan down that list, way down to #102, you’ll find BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO.

That sounds more disastrous than it is, because only its first ten days of release were in 1984; its eventual total would’ve put it around #59. More notable than the sequel’s lower box office take is the fact that they got it into theaters less than 8 months later. But it wasn’t just a continuation – they put together a new team of filmmakers, headed by director Sam Firstenberg, who had just directed Dickey in NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (also released in ’84!), and they gave it a goofier, less reality-bound tone and style with more neon and rainbow colors in the clothes and graffiti. (read the rest of this shit…)

Cats

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

Sorry, everybody. CATS was my idea. It was already a record-breaking Broadway musical slated for cinematic adaptation from LES MISERABLES director Tom Hooper, but I was the one who suggested they ditch the traditional makeup and do the cats as hideous mocap animal-human hybrids on oversized sets. In my defense I was picturing more of a RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES type of design where the faces have cat-like structure to them. I didn’t know it was gonna be human faces on furry Barbie doll bodies, which is a different type of creepy than I imagined.

I feel bad that this whole fiasco has caused all kinds of speculation about Hooper being a bad director. I personally didn’t much care for his best picture winning THE KING’S SPEECH, especially after it dissipated from the public consciousness before I could make THE KING’S PEACH to kick off a prestige version of Asylum mockbusters. But I truly was won over by THE MISERABLES. I’m not a fan of the Broadway aesthetic at all, not even Rappin’ Hamilton, and I saw that movie reluctantly for best picture nominee completist purposes only, so I was shocked when I totally loved it. Some of that is due to good choices on Hooper’s part, such as insisting on recording all the singing live and doing Anne Hathaway’s emotional song in one shot in closeup in a coffin, but also I was unfamiliar with it, I was experiencing that story for the first time, and it’s a good one. Way to go, Victor Hugo. You nailed that one. Les congratz. (read the rest of this shit…)

Aladdin (2019)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

ALADDIN. The 1992 Disney animated classic about a “street rat” who’s a “diamond in the rough” and gets three wishes from a hyperactive genie and uses the opportunity to try to marry the princess he just met. See, they come from opposite worlds, but if you think about it, having to sneak out of your gigantic palace in disguise to go to the market while your dad tries to make you marry a prince you don’t know for political reasons is very much the same experience as being an orphan who knows how to make crushing poverty fun with petty theft and parkour. So I don’t see why there would be any awkwardness there. They’ll do great!

Now we have a live action version, and legitimate reason to be skeptical. I’m very proud of my review of SAVING MR. BANKS from just six years ago, which I turned into sort of a manifesto against kneejerk cynicism toward Disney and happy endings and what not. But these days the corporation probly gets less pushback than it honestly deserves – they buttered us up with Star Wars and Marvel movies and then created a disastrous monopoly by purchasing Fox. There are many small, terrible things I could complain about, but it’s in the big picture that it seems to me they’re really doing the opposite of what their founder was beloved for. It seems less about telling great stories and more about trying to own the most popular “properties.” Not only have they entirely abandoned the classic hand drawn animation that was once their entire business, but they’re recycling their own animated stories in live action and/or realistic computer animation that’s sometimes well done but generally lacks the heart and soul of the drawings Walt helped breathe life into.

That fucking sucks. On the other hand, I can recognize that most of these movies are pretty enjoyable on their own merits. So I try to be fair. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mary Poppins Returns

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

I’m usually an optimist, but I had no confidence at all in Rob Marshall directing a sequel to MARY POPPINS, despite the obviously well-cast Emily Blunt (THE WOLFMAN). I’m happy to report, though, that all involved did a great job and MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a warm and enjoyable revival of old school Walt Disney cornball musical family entertainment, for those who might be interested in such a thing.

I really didn’t know what I was talking about with Marshall, to be honest. I’ve never even seen his Academy Award winning CHICAGO. But I was so bored watching PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES that it completely put me off a series I had loved up until that point. I didn’t trust him taking a crack at this much more sacred Disney ground, especially with a script from the guy that did fuckin FINDING NEVERLAND. But in retrospect Marshall had pretty good qualifications for this one. I’ve subsequently learned of his love for MARY POPPINS as the first movie he remembers seeing, his seriousness about honoring the original tone and using material from the P.L. Travers books, that he had Marc Shaiman (MY GIANT) start recording the score beforehand so he could play it while filming, and that he got the cast to rehearse the song and dance numbers for months, something he took from his days as a dancer and choreographer for the stage. Having seen it, all of that makes sense. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beauty and the Beast (Disney remake)

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Disney’s new live-action rendition of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a tale as old as time, a collection of songs as old as 1991, plus new ones created in 1993 for the Broadway musical. Unlike Jon Favreau’s excellent computer-animation-that-seems-like-live-action remake THE JUNGLE BOOK, which melded beloved elements of the 1967 animated classic with more serious drama from Rudyard Kipling’s book, this is a very faithful, at times scene-for-scene re-enactment of the 1991 best picture nominated hit. But that’s the idea: it’s the movie version of the stage version of the animated version of the traditional fairy tale. Director Bill Condon (CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH) and adapters Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (HERCULES with The Rock) seem to look at it much more as a restaging than a reinterpretation. (read the rest of this shit…)

Graffiti Bridge

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Do you ever wonder what happened to The Kid (Prince, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) after PURPLE RAIN? (SPOILERS FOR PURPLE RAIN.) His dad had hit his mom and shot himself. Wendy and Lisa had been mad at him for being a dick, and Apollonia had left him for being abusive and a dick. Club owner Billy had thought his music was too self-indulgent and wasn’t bringing ’em in anymore. But then he came out and performed “Purple Rain” for the first time and… I mean, it was “Purple Rain.”  It was beautiful and it was sort of an apology to everybody and they were all moved and blown away, even Morris Day. And The Kid seemed to make up with Apollonia and his dad was still alive in the hospital and did everything turn out okay for everybody, is what I’m asking?

Well, as far as what happened with Apollonia and The Revolution and some of the other stuff, you’re gonna have to go to the Expanded Universe novels I guess. But to see where The Kid was at in 1990 you gotta watch the last feature film Prince ever made (this time as writer/director/composer/star), GRAFFITI BRIDGE. (read the rest of this shit…)