J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for the ‘Musical’ Category

Going My Way

Posted by J on January 15, 2009

The fact that Going My Way won the Academy Award in 1944 for Best Picture is as trivially incomprehensible as 200px-goingmywaybingRabbit Maranville’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame or the celebrity status of nine-tenths of the “celebrities” we have today.  We do not mean to attack a harmless, innocent flick.  Pouncing on this movie is like manhandling a kitten.  But, seen from today’s perspective, the movie is too slow and ambling to even deem “okay.”

Probably the golly-gee-whiz good-naturedness of this movie is what wins it brownie points.  Bing Crosby plays a youthful priest who’s ends up at St. Dominic’s, a New  York City parish.  Crosby has to answer to Father Fitzgibbon, an old Irish priest whose 45-year service at the parish gives him the right speak in brogue whenever he wants.  Insofar as there is a plot, it is that Crosby and Fitzgibbon lightly and playfully clash over certain ideas.  Crosby likes golf and piano-playing.  Fitzgibbon prefers to be somber and old-fashioned.  Who will determine the future of the parish?  This is the movie’s only real problem, and it is solved about halfway through.

Yet this is hardly a major plotline in a movie that is really a collection of subplots or vignettes, each of which are clearly designed to make the viewer feel good.  Of course, with Crosby in the movie, there is singing, but not enough of it — just four or five short songs.   The tempo of this movie is what will really test the patience of the modern viewer, who is used to quick cuts and a faster-paced narrative.  There’s even a long, inexplicable pause where we watch with Crosby a scene from the opera Carmen.  We couldn’t figure out what this had to do with anything.

The movie, which features the two priests, is heavy on Roman Catholic iconography.  Yet it is really just generically “religious.”  When Crosby gives advice to two young lovers, for example, he sings a secular song in an attempt to move their hearts towards charity.  There is even an American flag prominently displayed in the cathedral, which might be orthodox for Catholics for all we know, but is more a reminder here that Catholicism fits within the generic American religion, and not vice versa.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 10

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Holiday Inn

Posted by J on December 25, 2008

An acceptable song-and-dance movie.  As with almost any musical, the plot is wholly irrelevant and secondary to the200px-holiday_inn_poster music,  which, compared to today’s fare, is top notch.  Would you rather watch Fred Astaire or washed-up minstrels and athletes on Dancing with the Stars?  Bing Crosby or American Idol karaoke?

It’s a wonder that musical narratives haven’t yet evolved to make musicals a leaner, more meaningful genre of film and stage art.  We have sat through most of the most well-known — Oklahoma, Mary Poppins, Singin’ in the Rain, etc., — and clearly the main storyline is irrelevant.  Those that might be relevant, like My Fair Lady, have been radically altered from the original source material.  If you watch musicals at all, you watch them for the songs and the dance numbers.  Why not string several of these together and omit the filler altogether, while making the songs interrelate musically and lyrically?  Or else go back and learn from something slightly more intelligent, like Gilbert and Sullivan.

Note that Holiday Inn is not exactly a Christmas movie.  It does contain Crosby singing “White Christmas,” but the premise is that Crosby’s character owns a getaway inn which has dinner and performances for its guests on each of the year’s 15 holidays.  So Crosby rouses the troops on the Fourth of July and performs in blackface on Lincoln’s birthday. As for the latter, it’s just another reminder of how quickly values change.  Your great-grandchildren might think that you have hideous, unconscionable beliefs, too.

Entertainment:  7

Intelligence: 0

Morality: whatever

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Enchanted

Posted by J on November 27, 2008

200px-enchantedposterEnchanted is another fouled-up fairy tale, like Shrek and whatever snarky twists on folk stories they’re putting out these days.  We can’t go anywhere without encountering snark.  It’s all over the Internet.  It’s all over TV.  Everywhere, everyone seems to want to make a pointed, wry barb out of something serious.

Thankfully, Enchanted is not all snark.  It is also sappy at times and bizarre at others.  Probably the most enjoyable moments occur when the princess, from the cartoon world of storybook ideals, meets the real world.   She plays her character straight, or as it were, cartoonish.  Still, you will have to deal with a pigeon eating a cockroach right after the cheery “Happy Working Song.”  This is what we mean by snark.

There is good-heartedness here, but that’s what all Walt Disney musicals have.  The plot?  In the cartoon world, a prince rescues a lady, and they decide to marry.  The prince’s mother, however, tricks the lady into falling down a dark hole, the end of which is the three-dimensional world of New York City.  The princess walks around New York, bewildered, until she stumbles into a divorce lawyer.  The cartoon prince, obviously, finds out where his princess is and follows her into the real world.   A hunt ensues.  The characters spontaneously burst into song.  Lots of fish out of water scenes.  You’ve seen all of this before, though this movie feels slightly above average, thanks to good casting.

Kudos to Disney for portraying evil witches as evil witches.  Unfortunately the princess is a princess in 2007, not 1907.  So she looks like a Barbie doll but dresses like she’s desperate for a male.  There are at least two scenes in which the princess accidentally enters a wet T-shirt contest, thanks to the weather, and one in which she gets caught in a bathroom shower.  Her cleavage is available for all to see throughout the movie.  She is supposed to be naive.  After watching this movie, your boys will not be.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 4

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Meet Me In Saint Louis

Posted by J on December 12, 2007

How’s this for surreal? While singing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” Judy Garland holds two crazed-looking toy monkeys and croons to her kid sister, Tootie. This is the same Tootie who proudly announces that she’s been burying her animal toys in the local cemetery, who cross-dresses during an extended Halloween scene, and who gets injured while trying to throw a fake body in front of trolley (leading one of her sisters to announce, “My, you could have killed somebody!”).

Well, okay. It’s not that Meet Me in Saint Louis is deliberately bizarre, like the nightmare sequences in Oklahoma and Singin’ in the Rain. It’s just that from the vantage point of sixty years later, it’s weird. The lone plot point, in a movie set in St. Louis circa 1903, centers on a father’s complete disconnect with his family. They don’t seem to communicate with him, and he doesn’t communicate with them. He, for example, doesn’t know that one of his daughters is being pursued by a young man, in a noteworthy scene where that young man calls long-distance during dinner. His family also doesn’t know ahead of time that the father has taken a cushy lawyer job in New York City. They don’t want to move, Judy Garland doesn’t want to move due to a love interest, and that’s the entire story.

It seems that just when the family looks disconnected, they start singing songs, which make their problems go away. That works well in the world of musicals, but one can see quickly why this syrupy genre faded away: it was too hoaky for a culture knocking at the door of southeast Asian countries and the attendant, all-too-real cultural and political problems with barging in through that door. Meet Me in Saint Louis is too hokey for today’s world too, though all the cutesiness of musical performances is here, ready to be appreciated for their own sake.

Entertainment: 5
Intelligence: 0
Morality: 6 (nothing bad, but you wouldn’t want to emulate anybody in the movie either)

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Walk the Line

Posted by J on November 26, 2007

Walk the Line is never sure if it’s a morality tale or a rockstar celebration. On the one hand, it praises a mass-marketed icon’s rise to fame and iconographic status. On the other, Johnny Cash’s story keeps wanting to veer toward Christian repentance and redemption. He does not exactly find that repentance and redemption here, unless June Carter is an able substitute for Christ. Since she is not, we wonder what lessons this movie actually teaches.

Yes, we learned, celebrities tend to be pampered delinquents. In Cash’s case, drugs, booze, women, and money come all too easy to him. Unfortunately in Walk the Line, Johnny’s fall into licentiousness goes on and on and on. There is nothing else but this fall, for almost two hours of this movie, except the hope that he might be saved by June Carter.

We also learned that being a rockstar is sexy. This movie is a de facto musical, since all of Johnny’s songs are used to augment or comment upon the plot in key moments. And so we see Johnny and June up on stage for what seems like a quarter of the movie. And they look real cute together, even while married to other people.

This was our problem with Walk the Line. While we appreciate the plot arc that leads to Johnny and June’s marriage after which everyone lives happily ever after, the movie throws away opportunities to deride Johnny and June for their three divorces and extra-marital activities. In fact, just the opposite. In several scenes, they are married to other people, but the movie-language makes clear that these two people always have been Meant To Be. In early scenes we almost want them to quit their spouses and fall in love. Then, in a later scene, we encounter a puritanical witch in a corner drugstore, who tells June that she has committed an abomination by twice divorcing, because “marriage is for life.” Here, June is supposed to be the sympathetic character, but this lady has a point. June and especially Johnny have alienated their families by living somewhat decadent lifestyles, from which ensues divorces and wrecked relationships. It is therefore difficult to praise their final marriage when we were supposed to want it to happen when it should not have even been considered.

A more mature screenplay would’ve realized that–gee whiz–Johnny and June’s early flirtations are not just dumb but immoral. June does recognize this to a degree, but yet she keeps touring with Johnny, smiling cutely on stage at his antics. In the end, it is she–and not the message at the church the two of them attend–who saves him from drugs and isolation. When Johnny asks her to marry him for the fortieth time–on-stage, embarrassingly enough–she accepts without any reason, reversing her previous adamant decisions to not marry him. The camera shows the two of them kissing, with the stagelights creating a bright aura around them. This is Johnny’s salvation, of sorts. June has offered him grace, and thereafter we see Johnny reformed and his broken relationship with his father repaired. This is not to say that Walk the Line is necessarily blasphemous; there’s enough Jesus stuff in here to lend weight to a counter-interpretation of some parts of this review. The movie just struck us, in its use of the modes and messages of conversion stories, as a bit cock-eyed.

Entertainment: 6
Intelligence: 5
Morality: see review (but not as bad as a PG-13 rating these days suggests; two bad words and Johnny pops some pills)

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Mary Poppins

Posted by J on July 27, 2007

If Mary Poppins is anything, she’s a savior from the sky. The question is, what does she save? We’re inclined to be a bit cynical about Ms. Poppins’ magic, which is enlisted to turn hum-drum business-types into whimsical sillies. This is something like what Disney movie magic is supposed to do to audiences: after long, dull days at work, you go to the theater and experience the escape that Mary Poppins allows. Most of this movie’s running time is dedicated to its song-and-dance numbers, which contribute almost nothing to its story arc. But they do to its worldview. There is a deep anti-Enlightenment strain in the movie’s plot and form, the view that imagination must overcome reason at all costs. This is what Mary teaches the family she works for, and this is what the crotchety bankers learn in the end.

But imagination itself can be an idol, which is always trouble. Mary saves the upper-class British family (the Banks) to whimsicality through movie magic. Whether it’s jumping into animated worlds or floating above rooms by telling jokes, it is always, as we’re told, a “jolly holiday with Mary.” The Banks’ family structure re-forms because Mary turns a dim house colorful by making the impossible happen. Then she floats away, sadly looking at the family she’s reformed because they seem to have forgotten her. Of course she’s been a bit impersonal all along, and the final results appear to be the effects of her teaching, which advocates lounging in one’s own imaginative world.

Aiding Mary’s cause is Bert the Chimney-Sweep, a figure almost as pervasive and other-worldly as Mary. He enlists his chimney-sweep buddies to sing on London rooftops, then to invade the Banks house and have fun with Mrs. Banks’ secretive “Votes for Women” campaign. While it might be fun to watch these soot-covered sweeps dance till they drop, they will probably all contract emphysema and die within two years. Chimney-sweeping was a deadly profession, yet the bankers in the end learn not to have compassion on the poor but to go fly kites and yuck it up (though perhaps the bird-lady is the exception). And so Mary doesn’t change hearts; instead she teaches minds to create and live in their own jolly worlds. We live in a darker world than the one in Mary Poppins. Movie magic cannot overcome that, but thankfully the operations and offices of our Savior are far greater than Mary Poppins’.

Entertainment: 6
Intelligence: 2
Morality: see review

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