Friday, January 29, 2010

Alice in Wonderland: The 1985 Made for TV Musical Spectacular

I LOVE the books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it's sequel Through the Looking Glass. I've read each one inside and out and have even studied The Annotated Alice which has notes in the margins so one could get a sense of the mayhem which isn't really mayhem once you understand where Lewis Carrol is coming from. For the die hard fan, one should check out the almost forgotten movie, Dreamchild. I say almost because, hey, I didn't forget it.

1985 saw the production of a big musical production of Alice in Wonderland, based off of both books, complete with acclaimed director Irwin Allen who was known for disaster movies. Poseidon Adventure being one of his most famous.

Along with a big name director came a big name cast that included Carol Channing, Imogene Coca, Ringo Starr, Sammy Davis Jr., Shelley Winters, John Stamos, Harvey Korman, and man this list could go on and on.

The TV Musical spanned two nights on CBS and was a HIT. Well, it was to me, heheh. I don't know the real stats.

Newcome Natalie Gregory played Alice and went on later to play Jenny in Disney's Oliver and Company. Like in that movie, she doesn't do her own singing here either.

Once in Wonderland, Alice meets the familiar faces and the casting goes from genius to insane.

A stand out would have to be Carol Channing as The White Queen who really makes this character her own. And she turns into a creepy lamb.

Shelley Winters in the small part of The Dodo Bird seems very wasted as they do nothing with her and she's a huge name. Come on, she's Shelley Winters, not someone with a small name. Even John Stamos had more screen time than her.

Martha Raye as The Duchess, Steve Lawrence as Tweedle Dum and Eydie Gormé as Tweedle Dee look like they've been doing these parts of years now. It came so natural to them.

Pat Morita plays a horse.

Natalie Gregory really holds her own next to all these veterans.

The music is very energetic and some of the songs contain lyrics from Lewis Carrol's text.

That's one thing I LOVE about this production. A lot of Carrol's dialogue is contained which is what prompted me me to read the original books when I first saw this as a kid in the 80s. It was the first book I read. It's still my favorite.

If you want an old fashioned, fun, family musical, go   check this out, and watch it like how Mark and I watch Bette Midler in Gypsy. Turn off all of the lights, sit in your living room as if you're in a theater and watch it and behave like how you would in a theater. Give yourself a 15 minute intermission even between acts. It's an experience let me to tell ya.

For fans of this movie, please visit this website You can obtain a copy of the long sought after soundtrack here as well.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jem - The Movie (?)

After writing my Jem article yesterday I did some digging to see what was up with those legalities keeping Jem from being released. Well I found out that it has all been sorted out and Hasbro is going to go ahead and give Jem a full come back, and that includes a live action movie.

I originally found the news in some website that had bad grammar, so I went to a more reliable souce.

Check out the full article

I think this is pretty exciting news. A live action Jem movie has been a dream of Jem fans for years now, many of whom have their own casting choices for the main character and her friends. I think they should get Samantha Newark, the speaking voice of Jem to play her. She still looks pretty young and she's now a very established singer. She also hasn't forgotten her pink roots. Check her out.

I think this will be a very different movie if produced. Not only do you have main female characters, but you'll have the sci fi aspect of Synergy and musical numbers. I have faith in this film.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jem - Truly Outrageous: 80's Nostalgia

I am taken to a place where music is magic in what is obviously the first 5 fifteen minute episodes of the TV series Jem. These 5 fifteen minute segments combined form the movie "Jem - Truly Outrageous."

I went in the movie knowing a few things:

1) This show was also used as a commercial to sell dolls

2) I grew up hating these 5 episodes

3) I used to avoid these songs like the plague

Upon re-watching this movie in 1995 (1985 was when it was released) I came to realize a few things about the expectations I brought with me:

1) Even though the show was used to advertise dolls sales, it didn't stop the writers (Christy Marx in particular who wrote all 5 segments as well as the series' bible) from creating fully believable characters that we care for.

2) These first 5 episodes have a certain charm. The early animation now has this special 80's retro feel. It's almost like a love letter to all things 80's: pop music, rock music, bright fashions, clashing colors, foster children (Punky Brewster anyone?)

3) These songs are so awesome. Sung by the talented Britta Phillips as Jem and Ellen Bernfeld as Pizzaz, lead singer of The Misfits.

Truly Outrageous chronicles Jerrica Benton's journey to keep Starlight Music, her father's legacy. Having just died, Jerrica and her sisters (Kimber and foster sisters Shana and Aja) are left with Starlight House, a home for foster girls and Starlight Music, a music studio that was made to support Starlight House. Jerrica's share of Starlight Music is being phased out however when co-owner Eric Raymond decides to take Starlight Music in a much harder direction with The Misfits. Jerrica finds a holographic projector with artificial intelligence named Synergy who helps her create her alter ego rock singer Jem as Kimber, Shana and Aja become her bandmates, The Holograms. The movie centers around a battle of the bands between Jem and the Holograms and The Misfits in which the winner gets Starlight Music and a movie deal. Eat that American Idol.

Among all of this we have "excitement, adventure, fashion and fame." Throughout just this one film, our heroes almost get driven off a cliff, hit by a boat, kidnapped and held hostage. On top of that, there's the on going drama about Jem's secret identity. Will she be found out? Will Jerrica's boyfriend find out that she's also Jem whom he also has feelings for? Will Starlight House and Starlight Music be saved? We want Jem to win for the most part because her struggle isn't just for her, it's for her family. All of that while wearing heels and playing instruments.

The movie is obviously episodic, but I didn't find it too distracting, and the songs are hella catchy. I'm surprised a soundtrack hasn't been released, but I hear it's stuck in all this legal drama as well as future DVD releases of the series. I bet Jem herself could solve it if she were for realsies. Oooh, fan fic idea.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Chipmunks - Squeakquel: Chipettes Almost Steal the Show, Almost

I'm a huge Chipmunk fan. It's not Jem but it never failed to please. I looked forward every afternoon to hearing Alvin and the Chipmunks do their take on modern songs at the time. My ultimate favorite is still their rendition of "For the Longest Time" and I could never forget The Chipettes and The Chipmunks singing "The Boys and Girls of Rock n' Roll" in their 2d animated feature debut.

Now The Chipmunks have made the leap from 2d to CGI.
I didn't like the first CGI Chipmunks movie and it had nothing to do with the fact that Dave was out of character, the story was predictable, the villain not threatening enough and the boys really looked like real chipmunks. It had nothing to do with that. The movie just didn't come together. I could make a list of my gripes with this movie, but this review is for it's sequel, which recycles what was in the first movie, but with some very welcome additions.
I'm a huge fan of Jason Lee. I can't get enough of him in "Mallrats." I thought he was perfectly cast as Dave in the first movie. I wish someone had told the writers that. Dave was oddly out of character in the first movie and that bugged the hell out of me. Gladly, this is remedied in this second outing. Kinda'. Now Dave is in the hospital for most of the film. I wish they didn't have do this, but Dave feels like Dave now.
I didn't like the villain in the first movie, played by comedian David Cross. I was surprised he came back to play the same role. He was very public about how his involvement in the 1st movie was more about exposure and had nothing to do with him actually liking the material. Well, here he is again, exposed. Not the good naked exposed. He does the same exact thing he did in the first movie in this movie, but this time with The Chipettes, so I don't mind him as much.

The best thing to happen to The Chipmunk franchise: The Chipettes. The leader, Britany, is voiced by the awesome Christina Applegate, chubby and cute Eleanor is voiced by Amy Phoeler and brainy Jeanette is voiced by Anna Farris. all are perfectly cast.
The boys in this one experience a rift in their relationships as they attend High School and experience how the social order can rip innocent little chipmunks apart. A highlight of the conflict is when the boys tell a bunch of bullies that they're going to build a nest in them. Creepy.
But alas, I wanted more of the girls, and they get second billing in this movie. The scenes they are in however allow them to shine.
The same cast that plays Alvin and the Chipmunks (Justin Long as Alvin, Matthew Gray Gubler as Simon and Jesse McCartney as Theodore) return to reprise their roles.
Don't expect too much here. This movie is strictly for kids. I only gave a hoot about it because those Chipettes are so darn cute. You all should check out the CD.
I barely liked the first CGI outing, but this one I'll rewatch just for those Chipette performances.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"How Do You Avoid Crappy Movies?"

I've worked in several stores that sell DVDs and Blu Rays and even VHS, and there's one thing I learned: There's a lot of crap out there.

I'm not saying that movies are crap, but I am saying that word of mouth has a powerful affect. Avoid movie reviews. Reviews tend to be read as fact, and that is wrong. Reviews are opinions and everyone has one. Allow yourself to have one too.

I've been known by my friends to avoid movie trailers like they're the plague. Trailers really do have a negative affect when it comes to raising or lowering expectations.

Adaptations are also something to look out for whether it to be from stage to screen, or book to screen.

So how do I pick a movie to watch with all of these things to avoid, and look out for? In this day and age where everyone seems to be struggling with money, you can't just blindly go into a movie, but you also can't trust everyone's opinion, or trust the marketers who make the trailers, or watch a movie based off expectations because you loved the book or musical it's based off of.

Most people start to decide on whether or not to watch a movie by reading a review, or listening to what they're friends have to say about it (whether that friend has watched the movie or not.) First, recognize that everyone's a critic. Everyone is going to have a different experience in watching a movie. Just because Matt hates a movie doesn't mean Zach is going to hate it. Zach might love the movie. Why? Because he is an individual. We are all individuals. Allow yourself to view the movie as an individual.  try this as an experiment: Pick a favorite movie of yours, go to and type that movie in a search engine. Then scroll through the movie reviews of that favorite movie of your picking and take note of how many opinions there are of that one movie. Some agree with you, some don't. Bottom line: Opinion is not fact.

The people that are in charge of marketing movies to the masses usually target to the lowest common denominator. It's not hard to believe that trailers misrepresent the movies they're supposed to be advertising. It used to be that the worst a trailer could do was show the best parts of the movie. Nowadays it's gotten to the point where trailers are misguided entirely. Some might even lower or heightened expectations. Avoid trailers all together, it will help you in the long run. Instead try seeing who's in the movie. Is it an actor who makes wise choices? Or go look to see who the director or writer is.  Do you trust that director or writer? Don't let the marketers fool you. Follow your instincts, then when you watch your film, lay back and just watch it. No expectations. It's kind of like a blind date huh?

Adaptations are tricky. Books, Stage and Film. All of these are different forms of art. Why do audiences seem to forget that? How often have I heard "the book was better than the movie" or "the movie version sucks?" I am so tired of hearing statements like these. Adaptations have been around for years, but every time one comes out, it's the same statements and arguments over and over, and these people think they're being original when it's really just plain ignorance. Books, Stage and Film show stories in different ways, so such statements don't make sense. It's like saying you didn't like that movie because you couldn't turn the page fast enough or stay on one page long enough.

A popular example would be the recent Harry Potter movies. I have never read the books, nor do I plan to, and why should I? I love the movies. Pot heads call me a poser and say the books are more in depth. Well duh. Books are allowed to be in depth. Film is a different medium. Different medium. Film is about moving images telling the story as opposed to words in a book. Motion Picture. Get it?

I sense a similiar passion with fans of The Twilight Books, but it's a different type of scary. Maybe it's because there's only four books in that series as opposed to the massive 7 books of the Potter books.

Adaptations, are just  that, adaptations. If you expect the book or musical to be exactly how you dreamed it on the screen, then maybe you should stop whining and be a film maker. If you think  a movie version of your favorite book or musical is a bad idea, then you obviously shouldn't watch it. When going into an adaptation, remember three words: Let it go! And if you can't, then you won't get your money's worth.

So, when watching a movie, follow our instincts. If you think you'll enjoy it, go watch it. If you want to avoid it like the plague, go right on ahead. If you go in with certain expectations and they're not met, then you're not watching the movie, you're watching yourself.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Nine: The Movie Musical, not 9 The Tim Burton Movie

One thing went through my mind during the extravagent overture of the 8 1/2 musical remake "Nine." Holy Moly that's a lot of famous women: Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson, Marion Cotillard, Fergie... and Sweet Christmas... SOPHIA LOREN!!!
Directed by  Rob Marshall (my favorite) this movie musical uses the same motif he used in Chicago (and also used in the Bjork movie "Dancer in the Dark") in which all the songs happen in one of the main character's head. Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis) is making a movie and has writer's block so the musical numbers throughout "Nine" are his muses singing to him. Or more like the women in his life who have formed him into who he is now. Or forced him. It doesn't matter really. Daniel Day Lewis' Guido is just an excuse to have all these gorgeous women in one movie.
I thought the device of having songs be within a singular character's head was shaky in Chicago and it's a bit shaky here as well.
Why are director's still scared to just do a musical? It's been before and I do mean recently: Rent, Moulin Rouge, Hairspray, friggin' High School Musical even.
I think Rob Marshall could've dropped the device completely.
Hollywood and audiences have viewed movie musicals as risky. Everyone's worried about if it's believable on screen to have characters just burst out into song. Some people think that the music takes away from the plot.
The thing about that is, both statements are incredibly ignorant. In a musical, a character just doesn't "burst out into song." A song happens in the musical when emotions are so strong, that mere words aren't enough. Who doesn't want to watch that. We're in this drama hungry society where everyone's on the brink of wondering about the fates of Jon, Kate and they're eight children and whether or not Octomom is serious about suing these people. So who doesn't want to see high drama? Musicals are just that. High drama. Drama so high that you've got to sing, and dance and change the lighting on some scenes just so you get exactly how these characters are feeling. That's art baby.
And that whole thing about how the songs take away from the plot. No. The plot is found in the songs. It's a musical. One thing I've noticed about audiences who don't like musicals: they turn they're attention away once the music begins. BIG MISTAKE. In these movies, songs contain important plot information that they miss out on. These songs aren't just thrown  in there, they're there within reason. They push the story forward. Makes you want to rewatch some of them huh? I'm gonna watch "Dreamgirls." BRB

I love that movie. Now, back to "Nine."

Of all these A list actors, Fergie stood out the most for me. I was suprised. Mostly because I wasn't expecting her too. Fergie and I go WAAAAY back. I remember watching her when she was just little 8 year old Stacey Ferguson singing "Gloria" in Kids Incorporated and playing Sally Brown on those Charlie Brown Specials calling Linus her "sweet baboo."

When I saw her on the big screen it was like watching family. Go Fergie and your kick ass scene.

Penelope Cruz also stole the stage in her role as Carla, Guido's mistress. Her song however was auto-tuned as you can tell obviously from that last note she hits. Listen for it.

Still, very effective in her part. You all should watch her in Banditas. Selma Hayek is in that one too.

Marion Cotillard as Guido's wife Luisa left me speechless. She is GORGEOUS. She looks like she could've played Audrey Hepburn. Sometimes when I listen to the soundtrack I pretend she is Audrey Hepburn. Then I get a happy.

How can you not feel the emotion in that? Gold star for Marion. Marry me Marion.
Kate Hudson seemed out of place. Her song sounds like it would've been perfect in one of Disney's movie musicals though, or at a gay club. Check out this remix by Ron Fair.

What a kick ass song huh? Sadly I think Kate could've easily been edited out of this one. She wasn't bad though. I think Kate Hudson should do musicals more, like her mother Goldie Hawn. Or maybe Rob should've given her more to do? It's too late now. She's immortalized forever in a weird part that is almost a cameo despite being in most of the promo materials. Like Lucy Liu in "Chicago." Forgot she was in that one huh? Makes you want to rewatch "Chicago" huh? BRB

Okay back to "Nine."
This is a movie I will watch over and over again. People expecting to see "Chicago" will bedisappointed. This movie is low key. "Nine" may have musical numbers, but each one has a weird gloomy feel to it. At some points while watching it in the theater, I turned over to my boyfriend Mark who was asleep during most of it. He did like Kate Hudson's energetic song, but even that has an underlining of dread.
A movie musical that's not for everyone, but I'm not everyone. Boy when this comes out on Blu Ray I'm totally watching this repeatedly. Sorry Mark ;-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tim Burton's Maleficent

That's right. Tim Burton is taking the Gregory Macguire route and doing his own take on a classical villain, this time one owned by Disney Studios. Wow, another Disney post.

click here for the full story at Filmonic

I'm very excited for this project. Sleeping Beauty is one of my least favorite Disney movies for the mere fact that our female protagonist, Rose, doesn't really do anything pro-active. Now the villain in this piece, the dark and evil Maleficent, she's something else. Who here doesn't like her? She's a powerful woman with super powers who rules her own kingdom (of trolls) and can turn into a dragon. Hell, when Prince Phillip was rescuing our sleeping princess, I was rooting for the dragon.

This might be coinciding with the recent announcement that the "Wicked" movie has been greenlit. Get it?

Two green females duking it out for the number one spot at the box office.

The Princess and the Frog: Almost There?

I've always loved the saying "You've got kiss a hundred frogs to find your prince." Who hasn't. But sometimes one gets the feeling that you're the frog waiting to get kissed. If you haven't, then you're a better person than the rest of us. Get your diploma in life at the front of the line please. For the rest of us, it sucks doesn't it?
Disney's newest animated, 2d film explores this theme... kinda. Joining the sorority of Disney Princesses is Tiana, a waitress in New Orleans trying to own her own restaurant. Her life turns around while dresses up as princess at her friend Charlotte's costume party. A talking frog claiming to be a visiting prince says that if she kisses him, he'll make her wealthy, so of course she kisses him, what could she lose? Well Miss Tiana, since you weren't really a princess, instead of turning the frog into a prince, you have turned yourself into a frog. Thus begins Tiana's journey into turning back into a human girl so she could own that restaurant she's been dreaming of. On the way, she befriends a trumpet blowing alligator named Louis, a firefly named Ray and a voodoo woman named Mama Odie who is voiced by Jenifer Lewis. If you don't know Jennifer Lewis, google her right now. Trust me, you know her.
Being a Disney movie, of course it's also a musical. Most Disney movies with talking animals are. With songs written by the best. "Princess and the Frog" has songs by Randy Newman. His style is undeniable and catchy. These songs are destined to live forever like "Wish Upon a Star" and "A Whole New World."

It's a great movie and destined to be a classic.
I do have one gripe though. Throughout the movie, the characters refer to the fairy tale, "The Frog Prince." I could've done without the references. It would've been like if Belle was walking around "Beauty and the Beast" saying "This is just like that story where the girl turns the beast into a prince." It takes you out of the film.
Also, if you haven't noticed, in my above review I have ignored all of the controversy surrounding this movie:
1) Why is Tiana, who is black, a servant?
2) Why is Naveen's race ambigouos?
3) Why is our heroine, who is black, spending most of the time in the movie as a frog?

There's really nothing I can say about this movie that hasn't been said yet, good or bad. "Princess and the Frog" has been highly anticipated for two main reasons:

1) Disney's first 2d animated feature since "Home on the Range."
2) Disney's first African American Princess.

For these two reasons, this movie has been the victim of both controversy and renewed faith in the Disney animation empire which recently has only been releasing tween musicals, comedies and CGI family friendly films.
But how does it's female hero, Tiana, stack up to the other classical female heroes that Disney has immortalized through DVD/Blu Ray sales, doll sales, etc. ?
Tiana is voiced by Anika Noni Rose who is a Tony Award Winning singer and has been featured in the movie version of "Dreamgirls" and the musical flop "From Justin to Kelly." She was only supporting in those previous films, but in "Princess and the Frog" she really gets to shine. She brings a very classical yet modern feel to Tiana.
Tiana reminds me of Belle in a way. She's very headstrong, independent and does not fall immediately for our main hero. She also has a very close relationship with her singular parent, this time a mother, Eudora, who is voice by Oprah Winfrey.

Like Ariel, Tiana has a set goal. While Ariel's goal was to explore the human world, as stated in her 'want song,' "Part of Your World," Tiana's goal is to own her own restaurant.

Like Cinderella, Tiana is a servant, but unlike Cinderella, Tiana gets paid. I say that's a step up.

With her group of talking animal friends, I'd say that Tiana is very much a classical Disney hero already.
I highly recommend this movie, so ignore the hype, ignore the controversy, and just back and enjoy a movie done in the good old fashioned Disney tradition because their next movie is in CGI with a white girl as the main character.
Meet Disney's Rapunzel, due out in November 2010

Lovely Bones, Lovely Film?

I viewed the new Peter Jackson film "Lovely Bones" recently. My initial reaction to the movie was "pretty, but do I keep it with me?"
There are movies audiences watch that they just, you know, watch. Then there's movies audiences watch that they keep with them. They buy it on DVD or Blu Ray and re-watch it several times whether it's to share it with friends and family or during a rainy day when one is not motivated to do much. Or they dissect it. I love to dissect a film.
During my viewing of "Lovely Bones" I was instantly hooked to these characters and their world. I feel so five years ago though. My friends have been hooked on the original novel by Rape Victim Survivor, Alice Sebold, for awhile now. Sometimes I can look like such a poser.
Set in more innocent time, a time before digital cameras, (rolls of film? gasp) "Lovely Bones" deals with the death of it's main character, Susie Salmon, (Saoirse Ronan) and how it affects those who have been touched by her whilst she was alive. Kind of like "Dead Like Me." The movie goes back and forth from Susie in the world of the afterlife, to the aftermath of her death. Hmmm.... The Afterlife to the Aftermath. I bet that could've been an alternate title. I really miss "Dead Like Me."
After watching the movie I realized that during the course of my viewing, I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I called my mom to tell her I love her and I ended up leaving the movie kind of pissed. I know, what a mix huh?
This movie has very nice touches of humor despite it's risky subject matter. I mean, Susie gets rape and killed, the killer (played by Stanley Tucci) lives on the same street as her family and his "risky subject matter psyche" is somewhat explored. There's also a very effective scene of suspense shown in the trailers that involves Susie's sister and the killer, but I'm not one for spoilers so that's all I'm saying on that.
Susan Sarandon is cast in the movie as Susie's really cool, really drunk grandmother. She's funny and outrageous but never unbelievable.
Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz play Susie's parents effectively. Rose McIver plays Susie's younger sister Lindsey, nearly stealing the show from our main female lead. I'm going to put a smiley face here :-)
I really only had one gripe with the film, and that was cleared up upon reading the book and I think it's the one thing that keeps it from being a true classic in my own personal movie collection at least.
I prefer my movies based off books to be just that: movies that are based on books. I've said this many times and I feel like I have to keep saying it, or in this case typing it: Film is a different medium. "Lovely Bones" should be able to stand on it's own, and it doesn't. Peter Jackson handles the material very well, but it's just that one part that bugs the hell out of me. Of course it's a part I won't reveal here. Don't you hate when a movie is spoiled for you? Okay I'll spoil it:

(spoiler warning)

Ruth, Susie's friend who can totally see her ghost self, seems to be close to finding Susie's body which is about to be dumped into a hole that is about to be filled in with cement. Susies posses her body and has a moment with Ray, a boy she had a crush when she was alive. Ray and Susie kiss and Susie leaves Ruths body. That's at least what I thought happened. I was confused. Later on, the killer who runs off scott free, gets killed in an accident involving a cliff, a slippery ground and conveniently placed icicles.
The book gave me the impression that while in Ruth's body, Susie could have told everyone where her body was, but what could would it have done? Who would believe her? Would it alienate Ruth even more than she was alienated. Being in Ray's arms, and knowing that Ray knew it was her, she had sex with him, and she left, knowing that everyone she left behind was finally at peace, just as she was. Her killer was identified, and not arrested, but did meet a gruesome end that Susie's spirit witness. It was implied that Susie's spirit caused the chain reaction that killed him. Sweet justice. That makes sense now.

(end spoiler warning)

Now that that's out of my system, I am definately going to buy this movie on Blu Ray when it's released and then buy subsequent versions of that Blu Ray or whatever next generation of movie viewing device that will be marketed to the "HOME OF THE FUTURE."
So what do you think? Lovely Bones, Lovely Film?