Archive for the ‘Musicals’ Category

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

Having come up in the generation of hip-hop in the cool shadow of the Bronx, The Beatles have never totally felt like music meant for me. They have always been, to me, the music of my parents’ generation. That said; what has always worked still works. I love The Beatles too — how could I not? It’s impossible to discount their importance, to avoid their influence, to escape their music, to fail to be amazed by their story. I don’t own a Beatles album because I don’t need to — A HARD DAY’S NIGHT alone features several songs I know by heart: The title track, and “She Loves You,” and “All My Loving,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “And I Love Her”… I can’t remember wedding toasts I’ve given, or the names of several failed first dates, but these songs I know backwards and forwards. And that doesn’t bother me a bit. Note how many of those song titles feature the same word — “Love” — that’s a nice message to spread around the world, isn’t it?

 

RUN

 

It amazes me that these four musicians all came from one town, it amazes me that they found each other, it amazes me that they could come up with so many indelible songs. It amazes me that they redefined pop music, it amazes me that they put together that many classic albums, it amazes me that they found a formula that worked and then became increasingly experimental when they could have just rode out their own tidal wave. It amazes me that they broke up the band after what was basically only ten years of unprecedented success. It amazes me that they went on to forge four separate solo careers, some of which yielded nearly as many classic tunes as their original partnership did. There is little doubt that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison could have been terrifically successful musical artists on their own — not to slight Ringo Starr — but the specific alchemy of the four of them combined to create a very literal legend.

 

WAY

 

There is nothing to compare to the Beatles. People love to debate the question “Beatles or Stones?” but the Rolling Stones, as phenomenal a band as they inarguably are, have a sound that owes more to their influences, and the arc of their artistic experimentation is nowhere near as astronomical. The Beatles were a supernova which both heightened and upended the pop vernacular of the day and then voluntarily disbanded mid-flight, whereas the Stones never stopped. The Stones soldier on, which is one of the many things that amaze about the Stones. But putting The Beatles against The Stones is a flawed comparison: It’s like comparing a great white shark to a grizzly bear. You don’t want to mess with either of them, but they ain’t the same species.

 

A Hard Day's Night

 

 

Likewise, it’s unfathomable to think of any act with as much initial teeny-bopper appeal as The Beatles did morphing into such an adventurous and sophisticated phenomenon which continues to resonate, more than forty years on. Can you name another boy band who entered a psychedelic phase? Can you name one that birthed as many major solo careers, one with that many musical virtuosos, one with such elementally excellent songwriting? The Beatles wrote pop songs at first that were brilliant but astonishingly simple. Later they added world music influences, orchestrations, literary inspiration, and the weight of life experience to fascinatingly complicate their sound. Today more than ever, there’s just no ready comparison to be made. The best I can come up with is The Beach Boys, but that argument will go too far off-topic.

 

TRAIN

 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is an integral building block in the legend of The Beatles. Richard Lester, an American director in Britain, got the gig and worked off a soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated script from Alun Owen, with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor, now likely best known as the DP of STAR WARSA HARD DAY’S NIGHT is a mockumentary which details the supposed life of the Beatles at the height of “Beatlemania,” not two years since they exploded into international fame, dodging fans and getting into comical hijinks. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT has a documentary aesthetic which makes The Beatles engaging and relatable, while simultaneously managing to make them bigger than life, bigger than what’s-his-name.

 

FOUR THE HARD WAY

 

 

What A HARD DAY’S NIGHT did so smartly was to cement the personas of the four band members. It turned them into recognizable archetypes, almost cartoon characters; only all of them are the hero. They’re all Bugs Bunny. They’re all equally lovable, a four-man comedy troupe who can totally rock. John was the smart one, Paul was the cute one, George was the quiet one, and Ringo was the funny one. (Although here they all get a bit of a chance to be the funny one.)

 

 

In many ways, those delineated perceptions of the four endure to this day. Paul isn’t as cute as he used to be and Ringo definitely isn’t as funny (“Peace and love!“), and two of them (my favorite ones, unfortunately) aren’t even alive anymore but we still generally think of them that way. It’s little surprise that Richard Lester went on to direct THREE MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN movies — he has a smart sense of iconography and in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT he turned a pop phenomenon into icons.

 

And also, you know, this movie has one of the greatest soundtracks of any movie ever made, obviously.

 

Jon Abrams.

 

 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT runs through July 17th at Film Forum in New York City.

 

If you can’t make it, Criterion just released a beautiful new Blu-Ray package of the film. 

 

This piece originally appeared on Daily Grindhouse. 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Leo O’Brien.  He played “Richie Green” in THE LAST DRAGON, maybe the best character in the movie.  Definitely the one with all the best lines.

I don’t do irony well.  I tend to take the movies I like in the spirit they were intended.  If a movie feels genuine to me, then my affection for it is genuine.  THE LAST DRAGON is a kid’s movie, but one of the few I will still watch from time to time because it’s guaranteed to lift my mood.  If I’m being completely honest, I love this movie way more than I love most conventionally accepted “classic films.”  Given the choice, I’d opt without hesitation to watch this movie over CITIZEN KANE, CASABLANCA, and even THE GODFATHER. There, it’s out.  I said it.

I accept that no one will ever let me call this a good movie, but the rest of the world is going to have to accept my insistence that this is a one-of-a- kind genre occurrence, and for that alone it deserves respect.  There aren’t two like it.  As the story of young Leroy “Bruce Leroy” Green (Taimak) and his mission to defend popular VJ Laura Charles (Vanity) against evil arcade owner Eddie Arkadian (Chris Murney) and local bully The Shogun Of Harlem (Julius J. Carry III), THE LAST DRAGON stands alone in its genre — it’s the first, last, and only Motown-kung fu-action-romantic-comedy musical.  There’s so much genuine goodness about THE LAST DRAGON.  It encourages the mild-mannered to stand up for themselves.  It teaches kids about Eastern philosophy.  It teaches kids about Bruce Lee.  It gave early-career employment to legendary character-actors Mike Starr, Chazz Palminteri, and William H. Macy.  It has music from Willie Hutch, Stevie Wonder, and Vanity.  It has a kid (Leo O’Brien) who’s been tied up by bad guys escaping capture by break-dancing out of the ropes.

This movie is a positive force for the universe.  I watch it and I smile.  It’s one of my few nostalgic indulgences – but it’s still fun to watch as an adult.  I fear the potential remake, despite the involvement of Sam Jackson and the RZA and despite the personal assurance I’ve received from Taimak himself (!).  THE LAST DRAGON was lightning in a bottle, and let’s face it, it’s not actually possible to catch lightning in a bottle… unless a genuine miracle is involved.

This post originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.  Give ’em a visit!

Follow Taimak on Twitter:  @iamtaimak

 

Wanted to clue everyone in to a guest post I did for the terrific movie blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks, which has been inviting all kinds of well-travelled movie writers to contribute their lists of favorite quote-unquote “bad” movies.  (It’s all subjective, right?) 

I think you’ll enjoy this one.  I had a lot of fun putting it together.  I’m very proud to be featured on another site I enjoy, amongst some fun people.  You’ll have to click through to get to the meat of what I wrote, but I wanted to share some posters, still frames, and YouTube clips also, so scroll down for those.

>>>Read my list HERE!!!<<<

If you know me or have stopped by my site before, you know that this is hardly the end of my voyage into tremendous cinematic badness.  It’s only the beginning.

The journey continues! 

Find me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb.

 

_______________________________________

 

 

 

 

_______________________________________

 

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

 

 

 

For all the shit that gets talked about Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate, Ishtar, Howard The Duck, Gigli, Waterworld, and John Carter, 1980’s The Apple is one of the lesser-acknowledged costly debacles in cinematic history.  Coming from the legendary Golan-Globus production team, The Apple is a sci-fi disco musical/ Biblical allegory set in a future America (1994!) but filmed in Germany.

Wait, what? 

A couple Israelis take an inexperienced Canadian cast to Germany in order to tell a story about the religious collapse of a futuristic version of America, and the entire thing is set to song?  At the apex of the disco era? 

No way that could fail, right?

Now that you know what it is, here’s what happened when I watched The Apple at 2am one morning while signed in to Twitter:

_______________________________

Now watching The Apple, because I love weird disasters and torturing myself with movies.

Here’s the trailer to The Apple:

 

_______________________________

 

This movie is already hysterical.

Since one of the first sights we witness is that of a battalion of armored policemen synchronized in dance, I have no choice but to follow this movie wherever it leads.

From what I can tell thus far, The Apple is basically a nihilistic, dystopian Running Man/ American Idol fantasia.

The Apple presents us with the Golan-Globus team’s idea of the future, which in 1980 is how they referred to 1994.

Who are Golan-Globus?  The production team of Menahem Golan (The Apple‘s writer & director) and Yoram Globus, they also brought us Cobra, Over The Top, the Breakin‘ films, and a whole lot of ninja movies, among others.

     

   

And this is their musical.

Here’s the opening scene:

_______________________________

(Notice how this movie uses the word “bim” more often than my pals over on Tremont Avenue do.) #thebronx #theapple #urbandictionary

Choose any scene at random, and two things become clear:  A) This movie is an absolute disaster, and B) it’s hard to discard the notion that it’s still got more imagination in five frames than most movies do in fifty minutes.

Half an hour into the movie, and they’ve gone to Hell for a musical sequence with animal masks. There are no longer words.  There are, however, vampires.

 

_______________________________

But is there a reggae-aerobics musical number? Yes! There is that also.

 

_______________________________

The kaleidoscopic musical number “Coming” marks the first time I’ve ever seen a musical number that is explicitly about fucking.

_______________________________

A disco-porno-sci-fi musical featuring clowns, midgets, and Canadians? Yeah. There’s plenty here to chew on comedically.

You might have noticed “Mr. Boogalow.”  He’s this movie’s incarnation of the Devil, and he is mentioned by name very many times. 

There he is, the shit version of Roy Scheider in ALL THAT JAZZ.

Glad I’m not drinking while watching  because if I was, I’d drink every time someone said “Mr. Boogalow”, and if I did that, I’d be dead.

At one point in the story, the young hero seeks refuge in a colony of hippies “from the 1960s.”  Hippies from the 1960s still partying in 1994.  Do you know what that means?  GOLAN-GLOBUS PREDICTED WOODSTOCK ’94!!!

The movie’s heroine is played by Catherine Mary Stewart, who I loved in Night Of The Comet.  Me and every other horror nerd in the universe.

Catherine Mary Stewart in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.

Catherine Mary Stewart in THE APPLE.

 

Catherine Mary Stewart’s character in The Apple is named Bibi, which is also the name of the robot from Deadly Friend. #Iwatchbadmovies

BB in DEADLY FRIEND.

_______________________________

Catherine Mary Stewart is lovely, but did you know The Apple also gives you a svelte young Miriam Margolyes (The Age Of Innocence, Romeo + Juliet, James & The Giant Peach, Magnolia)? 

Miriam Margolyes as you may know her today.

Miriam Margolyes in THE APPLE.

_______________________________

And as long as we’re looking up pictures of distinguished character actors who appeared in The Apple, let’s all take a moment to enjoy Joss Ackland’s IMDb headshot:

 

_______________________________

You know Joss Ackland as De Nomolos from Bill & Ted‘s Bogus Journey, or as the villain in Lethal Weapon 2

“Diplomatic immunity.”

True Hollywood Trivia!:  When director Richard Donner heard Joss Ackland’s …um… distinctive singing voice in The Apple, he considered adding a musical number to the climax of Lethal Weapon 2. #nottrue 

Revision to True Hollywood Trivia!:  If there had been a musical number in Lethal Weapon 2, it would have been called “Diplomatic Immunity.” #definitelytrue 

Just so you know: Near the end of The Apple, God comes down from the clouds in a space-Bentley and walks all the hippies up to heaven.

I was all doped up with cold medicine when I watched The Apple so it seems fair to consider the possibility that I hallucinated that last part. #butIdidnt

IMDb reports that: “Reportedly, during [the premiere of The Apple], audiences threw their free souvenir soundtracks at the screen, causing extensive damage.”  Yet the damage had already been done.

IMDb also reports, “Director Menahem Golan has said that he felt like committing suicide after the picture was booed at the 1980 Montreal Film Festival.” 

I know how Golan felt, or at least I have ever since I wrote up the phrase “a svelte young Miriam Margolyes.”

Seriously though, imagine having to watch this movie over and over again in the editing room.  The rest of us only have to watch The Apple one or none times.  How many times did Menahem Golan have to watch it?  And is it any wonder why he turned his attention primarily towards making violent revenge movies afterwards? 

_______________________________

If you want to learn more about The Apple, there’s this review of the DVD from Entertainment Weekly (they gave it an A!!!), or better still…

Please check out the epic episode of the great Projection Booth podcast which features interviews from many of the principals, including Catherine Mary Stewart.  It gives a thorough picture of the production and the reception of this uniquely bizarre movie, and features more than the usual amount of utterances of the word “Menahem”, which is also great.

_______________________________

And if you’re in need of more from me, follow me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

And the decade-long set of ten favorites continues…

#3.  Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Remember what I said about how I value sincerity?  Here’s another case.  You can love it or hate it, but you can’t argue that this movie doesn’t feel like a letter straight from the heart of its maker.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the poet laureate of the San Fernando Valley.  I’m sure someone has said those exact words at some point in the past, but that would only go to show how true a statement it is.

Having spent plenty of time in all corners of the Valley over the past ten years myself, I can tell you that no movies capture the feel of that very specific landscape as exactly as do the movies of PTA.  Besides porno movies, which, naturally, PTA covered in his breakthrough, Boogie Nights.  PTA next covered the spectrum of Valley dwellers in Magnolia, and Punch-Drunk Love is the logical extension of PTA’s Valley-centered observations.  There’s a very specific loneliness and distancing to that corner of the world, at least as I experienced it – Los Angeles as a whole absolutely has that distancing effect, but most other parts of LA put up a much friendlier front.  Not for nothing, but the Valley is separated even from the rest of LA, so it’s got its own unique feel.

And that’s the feel I get from Punch-Drunk Love, which has rhythms and plot developments that to me have more in common with songwriting than traditional screenwriting. Punch-Drunk Love, like every other Paul Thomas Anderson movie, works on me more like a song than a movie.  It conjures a mood, and makes me hum along.  And it’s more evidence that PTA knows how to use actors perfectly – who else could take Adam Sandler, bar none the most popular American movie star of the decade (only Will Smith comes close), and get such weird magic out of him?

I’m a Sandler fan, personally, but it’s a rare thing to see him in a movie that can be remotely be considered “good.” And I never saw him be this interesting, complicated, and vulnerable on screen, at least until his pal Judd Apatow got a hold of him again, briefly.  Funny People has the other great Sandler performance of the decade, but only Punch-Drunk Love has the Mattress Man.

It’s a bad feeling when you’re a writer whose “real” life keeps denying him the time to write.  Compare it to love: Have you ever wanted to be with a girl or guy who wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t be with you? Yeah? Well this is just like that.  Writing time has been a pricelessly scarce commodity for me recently, and while I’ve been dilligently scribbling away in my notebooks as ever, that don’t do much without the time to type it up and format it for y’all to enjoy. I’m too unhappy with leaving my website without any updates for this long, though, so until I can get up all the new content I’ve been working on, I’ll be posting some old stuff which I’d like to have on here anyway.

Henceforth, the next few posts will be an expanded version of a column I wrote in the last days of 2010 for CHUD.com, about the ten movies of the past decade (2000-2009) which meant the most to me.  As you can see from the headline, the first one was Baz Luhrmann’s gorgeously insane musical Moulin Rouge!  (As you can see by that choice, I’m not necessarily as easy to predict as I may seem to be sometimes.)

I’ll reprint the introductory passages, and then take each of the ten entries piece by piece after that.  Enjoy!

__________________________________________________________________________________________

For my 100th column here, I’m going to namecheck the ten movies released within the Ground Zero Decade that I can’t do without.

That’s right: I’ve taken to calling the years between 2000 and 2009 “the Ground Zero Decade.”  No one’s come up with a better name so far, and while there’s a lot of pain in that name, I think maybe there should be.

Without getting into any major political, spiritual, or philosophical discussions, that decade will be remembered as a pretty awful one in the history of this country and, much less importantly in the grand scheme, in the history of my own life.  I’m a New Yorker and a gloomy little bastard and nothing came easy during those years.  As many other people of my generation did, I sought some refuge in movies, and thankfully, there was plenty of solace to be found there.

Anyway, here goes my list.  The list cuts off before 2007, because I guess favorite movies need more than three years for your heart to fully absorb them as such.  (I used to think it took at least five years, but for these purposes I managed to work all the way up to 2006.)  Given just a little more time, I’m sure that There Will Be Blood, In Bruges, and Drag Me To Hell – my number one favorites for 2007, 2008, and 2009, respectively – would have made it much harder to limit my list to ten.  As of this moment, my mind is at peace with my choices.  There may be several movies I’m dying to add, but there are none I feel like I should have taken away.

These are the movies that I would watch right now if someone asked me to.  None of that “I’m not up for a comedy/drama/action movie/musical” excuse-making bullshit; I’m up to seeing these ten any time of day or night.  These are the movies I will always stop to watch if they’re on a TV set.  These are the movies that I know I’ll be feeling good about ten years from now.  Of all the movies that stuck in my gut over the past ten years (and I listed most of the rest below), these ten have stuck the longest.  These are the ten.  If it’s a little weird and surprising to anybody else, that sounds about right.  When I finally whittled it down, this list sure surprised me.

My Top Ten Of The Decade. (Numbering indicates chronological & alphabetical order only.)

#1.  Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Generally speaking, I can’t stand musicals.  Yet I’m leading off my list with one.  (Four, depending on how you classify my choices for #3, #6, and #7!)  The reason I normally can’t stand musicals is because they’re so showy and broad that for me personally, they push past any semblance of sincerity.  This one is an anomaly, since it is SO cartoonishly showy and board that there are few movies that come off as more sincere.

Moulin Rouge is so far over the top that it’s in some other classification entirely, and my belief that it’s an important movie is more than validated by the fact that it landed on so many other people’s decade-ender lists.  Smarter folks than I agree:  It’s just a bold movie.

It’s cinematically bold – garish, florid, flushed with red, and that’s at a time when movies generally preferred much bluer palettes.  With respect, this is particularly inspired work by the journeyman Australian cinematographer Don McAlpine (previously of scary movies like Stepmom and Predator).

It’s musically bold – using modern pop songs in a period setting remains an unusual and dangerous choice, and it’s quite possible that the soundtrack’s hyperactive blending of those pop songs strongly influenced the mash-up craze of the years to follow.

Most of all, Moulin Rouge is emotionally bold – you never doubt the filmmakers’ belief in the story they’re telling, and the entire cast (particularly Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman) deliver risky, open-hearted performances that convey the same belief.   John Leguizamo, as the drunken dwarf Toulose-Lautrec, has never been more likable than he is here (his shrill annoyingness even becomes endearing when coupled with the most rudimentary knowledge about the historical figure he’s inhabiting), and Jim Broadbent as the master of ceremonies and Richard Roxburgh as the evil duke are so ridiculous as to be completely hilarious.  McGregor proves that he’s one of the bravest actors of this generation, and with the revelation of his singing voice proves he can literally do just about anything.  Kidman has never been more warm and lively (David Thomson must have split his pants), and she proves my theory that people with nice speaking voices can never sound too bad singing, no matter how untrained.  She’s no Mariah Carey, but who the hell would want that?

What haunts me most about Moulin Rouge is the way that, if you go with the movie, it takes you to remarkable heights of feeling, before, at the very end, pulling the rug out.  One of the least naturalistic movies of the decade throws a heavy dose of realism at you right at the denouement, and it’s all the more crushing for it.  I didn’t agree with that creative choice the first time I saw the movie, but nowadays I know better:  That’s life.

  

  

(I guess they were going after the Titanic audience with this last poster.)

The Blues Brothers is actually a very hard one to write about, for me anyway.  Writing about this movie is exactly like writing about music: It can be interesting to do, to a point, but eventually you really just need to listen to the song.  As much as I enjoy reading about and writing about movies, ultimately movies are made to be watched, and The Blues Brothers, maybe more than most, is easier watched than pontificated over.

Maybe it’s because, of all the comedies of the era, The Blues Brothers (arguably) comes the closest to pure cinema.  It’s about the music, the motion, the stunts, the spectacle, and the dancing, with frequent pitstops for jokes, both of the visual and the uttered variety.  There’s not a lot of wasted energy.  It’s an exuberant entertainment machine.

Also, while it may not necessarily be my favorite comedy of its era (though it’s up there), The Blues Brothers is one of the most unassailable.  It’s hard to think of a moment that doesn’t belong.  It’s hard to think of a single frame that could be changed.  You can’t fairly say that about some of the other classics.    Ghostbusters has that weird moment where Dan Aykroyd gets head from a ghost.  Animal House has the borderline-racist scene in the black night club (“Do you mind if we dance with your dates?”)  Caddyshack has that girl’s Irish accent (“No ya doon’t…!”)  The Blues Brothers has nothing like any of those.  It’s pretty damn determined, pretty damn thorough, pretty damn unstoppable.

Plenty has already been written about the music of The Blues Brothers.  It’s hard to say much new about it, but it’s also hard to understate its importance.  The Blues Brothers is a landmark film in the realm of American R&B and soul music.  It brought a renewed spotlight to crucial performers, some of whom were beginning to be forgotten at the time.  It rejuvenated the careers of James Brown, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin.  It features a show-stopping climactic performance by Cab Calloway, who also plays a major role.  It pauses briefly for an extended cameo by John Lee Hooker.  The Blues Brothers Band, which Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi fronted on-screen and off, was stocked with serious musicians, including Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, of Booker T. & The MG’s and literally hundreds of classic records on the Stax label.  This movie was an atomic bomb of taste-making.  I can hardly be the only scrawny runt from the suburbs whose record collection owes plenty to the fact that The Blues Brothers exists.  Music is one of the most immediate factors which can date a movie.  That’s not a problem The Blues Brothers has to worry about, probably ever.  This movie’s sound is evergreen.

Do I exaggerate?

That’s Chaka Khan in the front row of JB’s choir, by the way.  Not the first or the last notable face to flash by in a movie which also includes Carrie Fisher, Frank Oz, Paul Reubens, John Candy, Henry Gibson, Kathleen Freeman (you’d know her when you saw her), Charles Napier (him too), Joe Walsh, Steven Spielberg, and Mr. T (he’s uncredited).  This movie’s IMDB page has you covered for your Trivia Night.

It’s a classic.  Let’s stop talking about it and go watch it again.

Anthology Film Archives will be screening The Blue Brothers in August, as part of its stellar Hollywood Musicals Of The 1980s film series.  (Read what I wrote about Streets Of Fire, Purple Rain, and The Muppet Movie!)  Also, a new Blu-Ray edition is landing in stores on Tuesday July 26th, in case you can’t make it to the theater.