film, classic, Disney, must see, musical

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, loosley 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 renegotiation 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, must see

Movie Review: Ever After

There have been many stories, movies, TV shows and episodes that involve Cinderella. One could argue what is the best version of the classic fairy tale, but it would be hard not to include this version, maybe not at the very top but pretty high up there. Spoilers ahead.

This film is actually a story within a story as the Brothers Grimm were invited to meet with a Grande Dame in the 19th century. She has read their stories and had a problem with the story of Cinderella, telling them the story of Danielle de Barbarac (Drew Barrymore).

Stop me if this sounds familiar: Danielle was a young girl when she lost her father suddenly, forced to become a servant in her home because of her stepmother Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) and her stepsister Marguerite (Megan Dodds.) Her other stepsister Jacqueline (Melanie Lynskey) is kind to her, but is picked on by her family who, thanks to Rodmilla, is heavy in debt. One day when picking apples Danielle sees someone stealing her father’s horse and throws at him, only to realize he is Prince Henry (Dougray Scott) a man trying to avoid the responsibility of marrying a woman he does not care for. He buys Danielle’s silence, but is soon caught after stopping gypsies from robbing (yes you are reading that name correctly) Leonardo da Vinci (Patrick Godfrey). Henry is able to convince his father to hold off on the engagement until he finds a bride at the night of a ball honoring da Vinci. Meanwhile Danielle dresses as a noblewoman to save a fellow servant form being sold off using Henry’s money. Henry is able to help out, but does not recognize her. Danielle and Henry spend time together and it is not long before they fall in love. Once discovered, thanks to her stepmother lies, Henry rejects Danielle. Danielle is then sold off to another man Pierre le Pieu (Richard O’Brien) by Rodmilla to get out of debt and free of Danielle, but she rescues herself from the creep. Henry realizes his huge mistake and goes to Danielle. Rodmilla and Marguerite pay for their cruelty while happily ever afters happen for Danielle and Henry.

If you haven’t seen this movie this is probably what you are thinking: “Sounds almost like every version of Cinderella right, well what makes this different?” For starters it was not love at first sight with Danielle and Henry, but when Danielle dresses up and tries to save her friend, that is when Henry notices her. He does fall for Danielle for who she is, but after discovering her somewhat deceit it takes a while for his to get past his bruised ego. Danielle also has another unwanted suitor in Le Pieu, but unlike other versions of the story, Danielle rescues herself. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with classic versions of Cinderella of her waiting for the prince. I loved how Danielle did not need the prince to save her.I also lve when Cinderella and the Prince actually have a relationship prior to the ball. Another stand-out, and this is more frequent now, is one of the step sisters is actually nice to Danielle. Jacqueline gets her just due in the end.

This is one of my favorite fairy-tale movies of all time, yes that includes Disney, and the cast is perfect. My grandfather said I looked like Drew Barrymore in ET when I was a kid, so she has always been someone I look for in films. Would I say this is her best work? Up for heavy debate but it has to be high up there. Dougray Scott is somewhat charming in this movie, would have been fully if not for the ball, as Henry. The stepsisters are great but of course a big standout is Anjelica Huston as the evil stepmother. A fine actress is there ever was one, Huston is an absolute joy to watch.

If you like fairy-tale movies or somewhat modern romances than this is perfect for you. Another highly recommend movie from me.

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 mitten 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.

Disney, film, must see

Movie Review: Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Now this may be a Disney film you’ve heard of but may have not watched. To say that Atlantis is not a typical Disney film would be a small understatement. It doesn’t have musical numbers, the characters are not the usual heroes and princesses, the villain is well hidden and the body count is high. That being said, this is one of my favorite Disney movies. Once again spoilers ahead.

In 1914 Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) a cartographer, linguist and like his grandfather lover of the Atlantis legend, is denied the chance by the Smithsonian to look for the Sheppard’s Journal, long believed to be the map to the lost city. However fate seems to have a plan for Milo. A mysterious woman named Helga (Claudia Christian) shows up at his apartment on behalf of her employer Preston B. Whitmore (John Mahoney), an eccentric millionaire and an old friend of Milo’s grandfather. Paying back the debt he owed Milo’s grandfather after finding the journal, Whitmore wants Milo to find Atlantis with the same team that found the journal: Commander Rourke (James Garner), Helga as his second in command, “Mole” (Corey Burton) a genealogist with a slight obsession with digging and dirt, Vinny (Don Novello) explosion expert, Dr. Joshua Sweet (Phil Moris) medic, Audrey (Jacqueline Obradors) teen mechanic, Wilhelmina Packard (Florence Stanley) radio operator and one of the last Disney characters to smoke on screen and Cookie (Jim Varney in his final role) the chef. After a long and tragic journey, the team does find Atlantis and the still alive citizens including King Kashekim (Leonard Nimoy) and his daughter, Princess Kida (Cree Summer) who forms a connection with Milo. Kida reveals the city is dying and doesn’t know why, asking for help from Milo. However while Milo is willing to help, something wicked may be underway preventing the city from becoming what it once was.

As I’ve said before this is not a typical Disney picture. In fact the staff on the movie had T-shirts made that said “Fewer songs, more explosions.” And boy were there explosions. I have never seen a Disney movie with that much fire power and sadly bodies dropping. In fact this movie has the highest body count of a Disney movie. The characters are also not typical heroes and princesses. Milo is a total geek and takes a while before he goes into hero mode. Kida was unlike many princesses at the time as she was more than willing to go into battle and do whatever it took to save her people. The team does take some getting used to with their different personalities, but they are awesome in one way or another. I won’t go into the villain of the story because it is a massive spoiler, but it probably is who you think it is.

Now I’m sure I know what you are thinking: “if this movie is so good why haven’t I heard of it or seen it?” Well the film, which premiered in 2001, did not do very well at the box office and was sub-par with the critics. Again though it wasn’t what people had expected from Disney so maybe that was a factor. It is also the reason why Kida is not on the official Disney princess list, though she completely deserves it. There was a sequel, Atlantis: Milo’s Return, released a few years later, but all I’m going to say is unless you absolutely loved the movie do not watch it. Short explanation because of the poor box office the planned TV series was scrapped and the episodes planned were made into a movie. Any movie made up of TV episodes that have nothing to do with each other is not great. However the original is still worth watching.

film, Holiday

Movie Review: Last Holiday (2006)

I had to put 2006 because there are different movie titles with that name. This was a loose adaption of the 1950 UK film with the same name and originally was going to star John Candy, but he sadly passed away. A newer version would be made but staring Queen Latifah as the main character. Spoilers will be ahead as always.

Georgia Byrd (Latifah) is a very shy woman selling cooking supplies when she wants to be the one cooking. She lists her dreams in a notebook, which includes traveling, becoming a professional cook and marrying the man of her dreams, her co-worker Sean Williams (LL Cool J). One day while flirting with Sean she hits her head and has to go to the hospital. According to Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) Georgia has several brain tumors from a rare disorder called Lampington’s disease. As her cheap boss will not pay for her operation, Georgia decided to live out the rest of her weeks by quitting her job, gathering all of her money and spending it on the vacation she’s always wanted: the deluxe Grandhotel Pupp in the city of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. Once she arrives Georgia soon becomes beloved by the hotel guests and staff with her free spirit and kindness. She finally gets to do everything she loves, including cook for the hotel chef. However one of the guests, greedy self help guru Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton) believes Georgia is trying to sabotage his business, yeah you are not going to like him in this movie. I would go further but I would be spoiling the movie further.

A film I would describe as a feel good holiday movie, “Last Holiday” was another movie to showcase just how good of an actress Queen Latifah is. While critics at the time had mixed feelings of the film, no one doubted her performance. I have always loved Queen Latifah in much of her work, and this is at the very top. LL Cool J is also a good actor and I liked him in this movie, maybe not his best work but still. The rest of the cast was good as well, I actually really disliked Timothy Hutton’s character in the movie as a very greedy man who doesn’t realizes just how unhappy he is. Now begs the question of would I recommend this movie? My honest answer would be yes and no. Yes because it is cute, but no because it is not on my must see list. I will say if you are a fan of Queen Latifah then see the movie.

film, James Bond

Movie Review: Diamonds Are Forever

Might not have been Connery’s best but it was a nice conclusion to his official Bond career. Spoilers ahead.

After killing off Blofeld, or so it would seem, Bond moves on to his next mission. M believes diamond are being stockpiled to dispenses prices via dumping and orders Bond to find a way in. Disguised as smuggler and assassin Peter Franks, Bond meets with Tiffany Case (Jill St. John) a diamond smuggler to find the diamonds. The real Franks shows up and Bond is forced to kill him and switches IDs. With the help of CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Norman Burton this time) Bond gets in, but is quick to realize anyone in contact with diamonds gets killed by two assassins Mr. Witt and Mr. Kidd (Bruce Glover and Putter Smith). Bond believes recluse billionaire Willard Whyte (Jimmy Dean) is behind the scheme, after following the diamonds with Whyte’s casino manager Bert Saxby (Bruce Cabot) to a location owned by Whyte. There Bond finds a satellite being built by genius Professor Doctor Metz (Joseph Furst). However Whyte is not behind the scheme, instead it was the supposed dead Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray this time, told you he’d be in another movie) who has many look a likes. His plan: to use the satellite and diamonds to destroy nuclear weapons and basically hold the world at ransom in an auction for nuclear supremacy. Bond and Leiter are able to make sure Blofeld does not succeed with his plan.

While it was not his final turn as 007 it was in the official franchise by Connery and I thought he did just as good as before. My thoughts on Tiffany will be later so I’d like to focus on the stand outs of the film. Mr. Gray’s performance as Blofeld is my personal favorite of the character, showing just how desperate Blofeld is to kill Bond and as head of SPECTRE. While there are memorable henchmen in the movie, two stick out the most: Mr. Witt and Mr. Kidd. They are always together and seem to take pleasure out of killing, almost everyone they come into contact with ends up dead. It is implied the two of them are lovers, which given the improv of them holding hands all but confirm it. Tiffany is not the only women in the film as three others make lasting impressions: Plenty O’Toole (Lana Wood) a gold digger Bond almost sleeps with until she is literally tossed out the window and is later killed at Tiffany’s place, wrong place wrong time, and Whyte’s female bodyguards Bambi and Thumper (Lola Larson and Trina Parks) who give Bond a hell of a fight. M, Leiter, Moneypenny and Q all do their bit in the film.

As for the film itself it was somewhat campier than what the previous films were at the time, but given the next set of films to come it was not too bad. The most memorable part of the film for me was the car chase in Vegas between Bond and the police. At one point Bond drives the car on two wheels, yeah don’t try that with your own car. Other than that I can understand why this film is more than often forgotten, but it is still a decent Bond picture. Coming soon, the begging of the Roger Moore films, Live and Let Die.

classic, film, musical, must see

Movie Review: Quest for Camelot

I bet I know what you are thinking: “What is this Disney Movie and why haven’t I heard of it?” Hate to burst your bubble, but this is not a Disney movie it’s Warner Bros. (though given it was 1998 during Disney renaissance I can understand the confusion.) Unfortunately the film did not do as well as Warner Bros. would have liked, both box office and critically, and the studio ended up loosing $40 million. However the film did develop a bit of a following after the success of the soundtrack and while probably not a must watch for a kid it is still enjoyable. Spoilers ahead.

Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig as an adult, Sarah Rayne as a child and Andrea Corr singing) wants to be a knight like her father Sir Lionel (Gabriel Byrne), a knight for the Round Table, yes King Arthur’s round table. During a meeting Ruber (Gary Oldman), a knight desiring to be king, tries to kill Arthur (Pierce Brosnan and Steve Perry singing) but Sir Lionel saves Arthur at the cost of his life. Years later Ruber returns to take over by stealing Arthur’s sword Excalibur. Ruber’s griffin (Bronson Pinchot) does steal the sword, but thanks to Merlin (John Gielgud)’s falcon Ayden (Frank Welker) the sword falls into the forbidden forest. Ruber seizes his army, including the comical rooster Bladebeak (Jaleel White) and Kayley’s mother Juliana (Jane Seymour with Celine Dion (yes that Celine Dion) singing) to gain entry into Camelot. Kayley escapes and decides to go after the sword, gaining allies in Garrett (Carey Elwes with Bryan White singing) a blind hermit and a two headed dragon Devon and Cornwall (Eric Idle and Don Rickles) in her quest.

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid and I still watch it every now and then. I am a huge fan of the Arthur myth and while I haven’t seen every version this is probably my favorite of the ones I’ve watched; which includes The Sword in the Stone. I get why the story itself gets a lot of grief, but as a kid I didn’t mind.

However the most successful part of the movie is the soundtrack, with spectacular songs. Here are some of my favorites: “On my Father’s Wings” by Kayley as she grieves for her father and how much she wants to keep him alive through her, “I Stand Alone” is Garret’s song about how he doesn’t play well with others, there is a reprise when he doesn’t feel good enough for Kayley and “Looking through Your Eyes” a romantic duet between Kayley and Garret as they fall in love. The most famous song from the soundtrack is Julianna’s number, you may have heard of it, “The Prayer.” That’s right people, the song famously covered by Celine Dion, Andrea Bochelli, Josh Groban and just about everyone doing an opera number on the talent shows came from this little known movie. First time I heard this song outside the movie I thought, “this cannot be the same song I heard” but no it was and I could not have been more gleeful. Whenever someone tells me they haven’t heard of the movie but the song I always say check it out, and I’m telling you the same thing. Regardless if you are a kid or an adult this movie is great and I highly recommend it.