classic, film, Holiday, musical, must see

Classic Movie Review: Meet Me in St. Louis

Once again I have to call this a classic because it is. One of my favorite musicals and favorite Judy Garland movies of all time, released in 1944; this might be her second best known work after Wizard of Oz. I’ll even tell you the best time to watch this film is around Christmas, which I will go into later. As always spoilers ahead.

Beginning in the summer of 1903 we are on a journey with the Smiths, a family living in St. Louis: Father Alonzo (Leon Ames), Mother Anna (Mary Astor), one son Lon Jr.(Henry H. Daniels Jr.) and four daughters Rose (Lucille Bremer), Esther (Garland), Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) along with a house keeper Katie (Marjorie Main) and Grandpa (Harry Davenport.) The World’s Fair is a year away and the family is excited, Mr. Smith is questionable. Rose and Esther are struggling with their romantic lives; Rose is expecting her boyfriend Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully) to propose but he has yet to do so and Esther is hopelessly in love with the boy next door John Truett (Tom Drake). When Mr. Smith announces the family will move to New York, the family is devastated because their whole lives are in St. Louis and they will miss the Fair. I cannot go too far without giving away the rest of the movie, you just have to watch it.

This is a film consistently listed as one of the best musicals of all time, and I completely agree. Garland is one of the best actresses ever on film, and she shines just as bright in this film as her other work. However it takes a great ensemble and when it comes to musicals this cast is hard to beat. I also love the stories and how intertwined they are, at first it won’t make sense but give it a few moments and it will. Meanwhile the soundtrack has some of the best songs in a musical. Here are some of my favorites: “The Trolley Song” sung by a chorus of teenagers about the St. Louis trolley and Garland as she imagines about John and “The Boy Next Door” an almost single camera shot with Garland as she expresses her love for John. However there is a song from this film more famous than the film itself, and why you should watch it at Christmas. That song is called “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Yes, one of the most famous and beloved Christmas songs of all time came from this film. Just a heads up the lyrics for this film are different than other versions, you can thank Frank Sinatra for that, but nonetheless hearing Garland sing this song to Margaret O’Brien in this film is hauntingly beautiful. If you are not going to watch this film, although I’d put it on a must watch list, listen to the soundtrack. I promise you will not be disappointed.

classic, film, musical, must see

Movie Review: Fiddler on the Roof

No matter how familiar you are with Broadway, or musicals in general, you had to have heard of this one. Based on the 1964 musical, this 1971 film is one of the few true adaptions of Broadway musicals, a few songs missing but the story still follows. It won three Oscars for the music and was nominated for several others, including Best Picture. As always beware of spoilers.

In the small village of Anatevka a poor Jewish milkman Tevye (Topol) constantly talks to God about his worries, most of which include his FIVE daughters and his wife Goldie (Norma Crane in her final role.) Tevye arranges for his eldest daughter Tzeitel (Rosalind Harris) to marry the wealthy butcher Lazar Wolf (Paul Mann), but Tzeitel wants to marry her childhood sweetheart Motel (Leonard Frey). Tevye at first is not accepting of this because of traditions, but sees how much his daughter loves Motel and finds a way to get out of the arrangement. The second daughter Hodel (Michele Marsh) falls for Perchik (Michael Glaser) a radial Marxist and the third daughter Chava (Neva Small) falls for Fyedka (Raymond Lovelock) a Russian Christian; Tevye is NOT OK with one of these relationships. Meanwhile while the romantic problems are happening the Russian government’s presence in the village soon becomes dangerous, and the residents may be forced to leave. About as far as I can go without giving away the rest of the film.

When watching the film and seeing each character go through their problems, you can’t help but feel along with them (whether it is meant to be funny or heart-breaking.) At one point in the film when Tevye discovers one of his daughter’s marriage’s you see the hurt on his face and how much it pains him when he feels forced to disown her. I just want to be clear on a few things, I do not know if this can give someone an idea of the Jewish culture, so do not make any assumptions please. If you like musicals I would put this on your must watch list.

classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Moonstruck

One of the most romantic and successful films of the 1980’s, Moonstruck is a movie I had heard for a very long time before taking the time to DVR it. It was not what I expected it to be, but it was still one of the best written films I’ve seen in a long time. Nominated for six Oscars, and winning three for Best Actress, Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay, I all but guarantee you will enjoy the film. Spoilers ahead as usual.

Loretta Castorini (Cher), a 37 Italian-American book keeping widow from Brooklyn Heights becomes engaged to her boyfriend Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) despite not loving him. She wants to follow the traditions of a real wedding, believing that is what caused her husband’s death (I am not going to go into these superstitions because I am probably going to offend somebody.) Loretta’s father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) doesn’t like Johnny, while her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) says being in love will drive someone crazy. Leaving to tend to his dying mother in Sicily, Johnny asks Loretta to contact his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) and invited him to the wedding. Loretta, after her previous attempt failed, goes to the bakery Ronny works at and soon learns of the bad blood between the brothers. While trying to get to the source behind Ronny’s anger, Loretta and Ronny fall into a deep love, although Loretta refuses to give in to her feelings for a very long time. I would say more, but I’d spoiler the rest of the movie.

As I’ve stated before as far as writing goes this is definitely one of the best I’ve seen, and I’m not saying it because of the Oscar. The stories that are told, main and side, have you paying attention in case it is important, and it is also very funny. While not everything has to do with the main plot, you do not care as the film progresses. The acting is also superb, Cher being one of the best actresses/singers of her generation and Nicholas Cage in one of his better works (which given his filmography says A LOT.) Cher is a natural on camera, and she shines so bright in this film (she won the Oscar after all.) Would I say this is her best? It would be hard to argue otherwise. Her family as well do fabulous in the film, Olympia Dukakis winning the Oscar for her role of Rose. My opinion, add this to your must watch list, if anything to watch Cher’s performance. Moonstruck is one of the funniest, well acted, well written films of the 80’s, maybe even all time, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. You disagree, “snap out of it!”

classic, Disney, film, musical, must see

Movie Review: Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This is probably the first recognizable Disney movie I have written about. Almost every Disney article, or fan I know has said this movie, loosely based on the Victor Hugo novel, is heavily underrated and I 100% agree. While it is probably not as good as more well known Disney films I think this film should get the recognition it deserves. Once again if you have not seen this movie spoilers ahead.

In the 15th century Paris, France a story is recapped prior to the main plot, courtesy of the gypsy Clopin (Paul Kandel). A group of gypsies were sneaking into Paris but were caught by the self-righteous Judge Claude Frollo (Tony Jay) and his soldiers. Frollo hates gypsies and takes it upon himself and his troops to end them once and for all believe it to be his mission from God. A woman escapes with her baby and when trying to seek sanctuary in Notre Dame, Frollo catches up and kills the woman. He seems the baby is deformed, calling him a monster, and is about to drop the baby down a well before the Archdeacon (David Ogden Stiers) stops him. After be told he has sinned in front of the eyes of Notre Dame and he must atone for it, Frollo reluctantly cares for the child he names Quasimodo (Tom Hulce) which means half formed and places him in the bell tower to be hidden from the world, hence the title of the movie.

20 years pass and Quasimodo has grown into a kind man, but feels isolated in the bell tower with only three living gargoyles for company: Victor (Charles Kimbrough), Hugo (Jason Alexander) and Laverne (Mary Wickes in her final role). Quasimodo longs for a life outside the tower and during his favorite time of the year, the Festival of Fools where it is okay to be different, sneaks out. He is embraced by the people, and soon becomes smitten with Esmeralda (Demi Moore) a beautiful gypsy who treats him with kindness. Unfortunately thanks to Frollo the crowd turns on Quasimodo and he hides away back in Notre Dame. Esmeralda becomes a target for Frollo, not just because of her being a gypsy but because he has developed a lust for her, and Frollo demands she be found. Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline), Frollo’s captain of the guards who does not approve of Frollo’s methods and has fallen for Esmeralda helps her and Quasimodo in their fight against the cruel judge. I cannot go more without spoiling, I am sorry.

Now if you haven’t seen this movie I’m sure you are thinking this: “This is a kids movie!” Yes, it is. Now as a child when I watched the movie I had no idea of the aspects that makes this a dark Disney film, but that’s it. When you are a kid you do not know any better, but then you watch the films as an adult and go “how did I miss that?” In just one music number alone it shows how dark this movie is, but that is what I think makes this film stand out. It is probably not a movie I would show a child until they are a little older, my opinion go seven and up.

Moving on, I absolutely love everything about this movie. The characters are so entertaining whether they are funny, conflicted or, in Frollo’s case, evil, they make you pay attention to movie. Quasimodo is a unique character, not saying that just because of his appearance, as he doesn’t let how he looks stop him. Esmeralda is probably my favorite non princess female as she refuses to let men like Frollo get to her. Phoebus is very different in this movie than in the novel as he is kinder and truly cares for Quasimodo and Esmeralda. The gargoyles are the comic relief of the film, and believe me hen I say it is needed. Frollo is one of Disney’s most evil villains as he basically wants to kill an entire population just because, and his lust for Esmeralda just makes him even more creepy. While it doesn’t follow Victor Hugo’s novel exactly, given it is a Disney movie not surprising, it does take the story and make it different, happier if you will.

The soundtrack is in my opinion one of Disney’s best. It doesn’t have any sappy love songs, or conquering hero ballads; instead the songs are often empowering and deep there is a message behind almost all the numbers. Even if you don’t see the movie, although you should, just listen to the soundtrack it is hauntingly beautiful. If you haven’t seen the movie, whether in a long time or never, it is so good. There was a sequel released almost six years later, which I actually plan on reviewing at a later time.

classic, film, musical, must see

Movie Review: Viva Las Vegas

I know you have heard of the song by Elvis Presley, but have you seen his movie? If not, it is definitely a must watch if you are an Elvis of musical fan. I am confident though you have heard the many stories about this film. Spoilers ahead.

Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) is a race-car driver heading to Vegas for the first Grand Prix Race; but his car, an Elva MK Vi, is in need of a new engine. He also meets Count Elmo Mancini, a fellow race-car driver with a very arrogant personality. When looking at a car both guys see Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret), the hotel swim manager and are both instantly smitten with the red haired beauty. Lucky does his best, but only gets wet (she shoves him into the pool.) Lucky looses the money he raised for the engine and is forced to work as a waiter to gain it back. Rusty and Lucky do fall in love, but Rusty tries to change Lucky into what she wants in a man. However five minutes with the Count and she soon realizes how great Lucky is as he is. Once again about as far as I can go without given away the rest of the movie.

If you are not sure what I’m talking about with the stories about this movie please allow me to elaborate. While filing the movie Elvis and Ann-Margret had an short affair and it received a lot of media attention. Elvis’s girlfriend, and future wife, Priscilla lets just say was worried. The affair did not last and reportedly Elvis and Ann-Margret remained friends ever since, Ann-Margret referring to Elvis as her soul mate, which makes sense as she is often refereed to as the female Elvis. The chemistry between Elvis and Ann-Margret’s characters are very adorable and one of my favorite parts about the film.

The soundtrack is also amazing with many songs standing out. Of course Viva Las Vegas is the title song, Elvis does as amazing as you think, and reportedly that scene with Elvis performing that only took one take. While there are other songs that are great, my favorite song though is “The Lady Loves Me” just one of the duets with Elvis and Ann-Margret as Lucky flirts with Rusty, and she is not buying it. The official soundtrack has never been released but almost all of the songs can be heard on Elvis’s album titled Viva Las Vegas, the 2010 release includes the most from the movie. The movie airs every so often on Turner Classic Movies and I can guarantee you will not be disappointed with this Elvis classic.

classic, Disney, film, must see

Movie Review: Disney’s The Black Cauldron

Haven’t heard of this movie; doesn’t surprise me. Released in 1985 and loosely based on two books in The Chronicle of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander, “The Black Cauldron” is considered to be Disney’s black sheep. It did not do very well at the box office and well it is not something Disney is not too well known for: dark. Once again spoilers will be ahead.

The film opens with the explanation of the mythic Black Cauldron. There was a king so cruel, even Gods feared him. As no prison could hold him he was thrown alive into molten iron. This demonic spirit took form of the Black Cauldron. The legend goes on to say it waits for the most evil man to use it and raise an undead army to take over the world (yep this is a kid’s movie.)

Centuries go by and the story fades into legend, until the Horned King (John Hurt) the skeleton and cruel ruler of Prydain searches for the Cauldron. Dallben (Freddie Jones), an enchanted farmer, fears the Horned King will steal his pig Hen Wen as she has powers able to locate the cauldron. He sends his assistant Taren (Grant Bardsley), who dreams of becoming a hero, to take care of Hen Wen. However the boy daydreams too much, not to mention gets annoyed by Gurgi (John Byner) a creature living in the forest, and Hen Wen is captured. Despite breaking in and freeing Hen Wen, Taren earths the Horned King’s wrath. Along with Gurgi, the magical princess Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), the middle age musician Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne) and a magical sword, Taren decides to find the Cauldron and destroy it before the Horned King can use it for his evil plan. Along the way Taren learns being a hero doesn’t mean having a sword and wearing a suit of armor.

If I were to say what was my favorite Disney movie of all time this might just be it, or top 3 easy and I’m someone who doesn’t like to get scared. I watched this for the first time when I was 4 maybe 5 and it scared the heck out of me, some of it still does! Don’t believe me, google a picture of the Horned King. The guy is a skeleton with bits of flesh on him, has horns sticking out of his head and his voice is CREEPY (bravo to John Hurt by the way.) As far as Disney villains go this guy deserves more recognition. He wants to take over the world with an undead army!

The other characters stand out just as much as the King. Taren is the boy who knows there is more outside the farm and wants it, bet he didn’t expect that adventure he got. Eilonwy is just as much a princess as the official list (because of the poor box office she is not on the list) and is most definitely not a damsel in distress. Fflewddur is the comic relief of the group, which at times is necessary. Finally Gurgi while at times a pest is shown to be the bravest of them all, can’t say why though sorry.

I understand why this film did not do too well at the box office, when you think Disney “dark” is not the first word to come to mind with their movies. The film did gain a cult following and might be the only reason why someone like me can watch the movie. However it doesn’t mean this film is not worth the watch because it truly is. I always recommend people to watch the lesser known Disney films because they are good, might not follow the success as Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and others but they are worth the watch. I will go into more of those at a later time, but for now I highly recommend watching this kinda scary Disney film.

classic, film, James Bond, must see

Movie Review: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

So sorry for the long wait, but I have finally watched “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and once again my heart is just a little broken. Once again spoilers will be ahead as it is unavoidable.

This time portrayed by George Lazenby, Bond is on the hunt for Ernst Stavro Blofeld (portrayed by Telly Savalas) when he saves the life of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, aka Tracy (Diana Rigg), a women seemly committing suicide on the beach when Bond pulls up. Tracy thanks Bond at the hotel they are staying at, and Bond fights off an attacker. The next morning Bond is brought to Marc-Ange Draco (Gabriele Ferzetti), a crime-lord with legitimate ties and Tracy’s father. Telling Bond of Tracy’s past Draco offers his services and money in exchanging for continuing to see Tracy. Desperate to find Blofeld, Bond agrees. M pulls Bond off the Blofeld assignment and Bond submits his resignation, but Moneypenny writes it to give Bond two weeks instead, what would we do without her? Despite getting the information from Draco, Bond continues to see Tracy, falling in love with her. Bond discovers Blofeld is trying to gain a title as a count and poses as a genealogist Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker, who also does the voice when Bond goes undercover) to get closer to his foe. Blofeld has established an allergy research institute along with his henchwoman Irma Blunt (Ilse Steppat) on the Swiss Alps with the promise to cure allergies. Bond meets 12 women, and beds two of them, known as the Angels of Death; they believe they are being cured of their allergies but in actuality they are being brainwashed for biological warfare, destroying plants and animals in exchange for money, the title and amnesty. Bond, along with Tracy and Draco stop Blofeld with Bond forcing Blofeld into a neck brace. Bond and Tracy marry, but the film ends in tragedy; with Blofeld driving Bunt shoots at the couple killing Tracy. No Bond fan can watch that ending and not cry or have their heart broken.

I know Lazenby gets a lot of grief for his only turn as 007, don’t get me started on the clothes even if it was the style in 1969, but I did not think he was that bad. While Bond is usually seen as tough, leading with his head, and not emotional I found it refreshing seeing Bond in love and vulnerable. Seeing Bond in films later after Tracy’s death is almost sad whenever she gets brought up. My feelings for Diana Rigg as Tracy will be at a later time, and I do have a lot to say about her. Savalas’s Blofeld is very good as he actually does something other than threaten Bond and occasionally shoot. Ferzetti is great as Draco and it almost makes me wonder if Bond kept in contact with him after Tracy’s death. Steppat as Blunt is one of the best henchmen in the Bond universe and it is sad we never get to see her character again; the actress tragically died four days after the film premiere.

The action scenes are very intense in the film with the ski segment and the final battle prior to the wedding. The entire film is one of the best in the franchise, and probably the saddest. It is still a must watch if you are a Bond fan. Coming soon, “Diamonds are Forever.”