The Prom

The Prom is a joy-filled song fest that works to keep the spirits up in these in-between Christmas and New Year days

I’ve spent a few hours re-reading entries from this time of year on my blog. I realise I wrote a lot of film reviews when I was blogging. As a result, I’ve been reevaluating what I thought about House Of Flying Daggers, Napoleon Dynamite, Love Actually and The Lord of The Rings. The main problem with this, of course, is that blogging is stuck in the early 2000s. So, what about a more contemporary review?

It’s December 2020 and London is in COVID-19 lockdown tier 4 which means that cinemas are closed and, thus, a film review may be hard. Having said that, streaming is the new cinema and tonight we watched The Prom on Netflix.

I do not come with preconceptions of the film based on any prior knowledge of the musical on which this is based. The film was recommended by my friend Rob and my Dad which suggests a broad appeal. The adaption is by Ryan Murphy, who I know as creator of Glee and one of my lockdown highlights, Netflix’s Hollywood.

The movie is set in world where ‘Eleanor: The Eleanor Roosevelt Story’ closes after first-night terrible reviews that tag the stars (played by Meryl Streep and James Corden) as the worst of self-obsessed celebrity. Somehow (and here my memory of any plot is gone), characters played by Nicole Kidman and Andrew Rannells become part of their ‘Broadway liberals’ gang.

Meanwhile, in Indiana a school’s PTA cancels the school prom because a female student – Emma – wants to take a girl to the dance. The schools head teacher seems to be the only supportive character in the town of Edgewater. Thus, a cause is created for the New York performers to prove they’re not as self-obsessed as the reviewers said. They all get on a bus to head to Indiana. This is not a Priscilla road trip movie and, before you know it, Broadway’s stars are trying to check into a Holiday Inn Express. Or something like that.

You do have to suspend disbelief here – in spite of the real-life roots of the story – because it’s a musical and the story is advanced in song. The premise manages to be both a big-old cliche and remarkably well-done at the same time. If you can work with the idea that an entire town’s moral compass can be re-pointed by an Andrew Rannells’ song and dance routine set in a shopping mall and using the water feature fountains as a central prop, performing a song called Love Thy Neighbor, then you’re going love this film. And, if you think you’re not going to find that concept remotely appealing, you probably should still watch this film because it’s funny, with the right amount of musical theatre camp to keep it rooted in a joyful place even when the story, inevitably has it’s downbeat moments. And at this point in 2020 we all need a bit of cheering-up.

The musical numbers are more Legally Blonde than Hamilton (although a pinch of Chicago, with all the associated jazz hands, is added for flavour) but they’re good fun and, in true Andrew Lloyd Webber style, move the plot on at a decent pace.

Two different story lines – the prom story and the redemption plot – work together so well that they can conjure up Tracey Ullman (but saying as who and why would be too much of a spoiler). Supporting cast, Kerry Washington, Jo Ellen Pellman, Keegan-Michael Key and Ariana DeBose are all excellent but we tuned in for the A-listers, didn’t we?

Meryl Streep is a pure joy to watch as Dee Dee Allen (she has two Tony awards, you know). A really solid, believable performance and you could watch an entire movie based on her character. James Corden, as Barry, manages to hold the camp to right side of funny – and tragic, when it matters – while walking a tightrope where he could, at any moment, fall into the offensive side. I think he handles it well. For me, Nicole Kidman playing a Chicago chorus girl is under used, especially at the start because she manages to be the only Broadway liberal to manage empathy and, I think, that provides the thread that holds the story together. Andrew Rannells’ character doesn’t quite have the depth of the others to make him quite so real but it’s a great perforamance and, after all, manages to convince an entire shopping mall that same-sex relationships are not an abomination in under 4 minutes. It’s a work of genius.

The Prom is a joy-filled song fest that works to keep the spirits up in these in-between Christmas and New Year days. And it’s on Netflix so, if you have a subscription, you can spend a couple of hours laughing for no extra cash. An actual New Year bargain

Polar Express Revisited

Does The Polar Express stand-up to a viewing 21 years later?

Back in January 2005 I wrote about the Polar Express on my blog (because film reviews were a thing I seemed to do quite a bit back then). I said that I could see the film enduring.

Almost 21 years later we watched it again, streaming from Amazon Prime. It was £4.99 – I wonder what we paid the first time? In 2005 I really enjoyed it and I did on this viewing too. I may have seen it once in the intervening years but, unlike The Nightmare before Christmas, it’s not a Christmas staple in my life so there were many things I didn’t remember (and that’s no criticism because I don’t remember the detail of many films that I have seen).

I saw the original in it’s big screen 3D glory and noted that the filmmakers “used the 3D format to full-effect” but I don’t think it lost much on my 2D television.

I said I thought this film would ‘endure’ – meaning it would last – and I think it has lasted well. In my opinion, Tom Hanks is still brilliant as the main voice of this movie. Glad I watched it again.

Elsewhere: The hottest piece of technology on Earth right now

I also saw Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 which is very different. There’s one part that’s still amusing me 24 hours later.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Film PosterI saw a couple of films over the bank holiday weekend.

Their Finest (trailer) is an excellent film set in London during World War II. Bill Nighy is really very amusing in, what turn out to be, a very warm and moving film. I also saw Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 (trailer) which is very different. There’s one part that’s still amusing me 24 hours later. I said this on Facebook:

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 is a great sequel, with plenty of amusing lines, and a 70s and 80s ‘awesome’ mixtape that, of course, works better in the film than when you play the soundtrack at home 24 hours later. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that, towards the end of the film, there’s a quick reference to a little device from 2006/7 that, amusingly, fewer people in the cinema seemed to recognise than “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass, which dates from 1972.

A few of us here might remember it.

Also: https://www.polygon.com/2017/4/27/15450274/guardians-of-the-galaxy-vol-2-microsoft

Maybe related: Disappointing Frustrating

My Name’s Not Bond

Casino-Royale-BondI really like the new James Bond film. I think what Daniel Craig has done with the role is excellent. I prefer the back-to-basic approach over the movies that relied on gadgets and digital effects. It’s more Jason Bourne and, for me, that can only be a good thing. This, however, isn’t a review as I am certain you can find plenty of decent ones if you Google.

I saw Casino Royale last Saturday. On the way home I mentioned – in passing – that I had always wanted to be a secret agent. I have always assumed that every kid wanted to be a secret agent at some point. Isn’t this is a perfectly normal thing to say? PY, however, couldn’t stop laughing. It was the kind of amusment that was induced as soon as he set eyes on me. His mouth would curl up and his shoulders start that laughter quiver; he had to look away. I was a little dumstruck. I take it for granted that I don’t look like a spy but isn’t that what being undercover is all about?

Sadly, however, I have to agree that I am not very spy-like. For starters I am not sure I could, Bourne-like, blow a house up with a toaster and a rolled up newspaper. I couldn’t leap building cranes with anything approaching a Bond-like skill. The final proof that I couldn’t cut the MI6 mustard is that I’m useless in foreign restaurants.

You may have gathered from Monday’s post that I am in Finland. I am on business but I am not with any colleagues. Sometimes I must eat on my own in a foreign city. I paced Helsinki the other night looking for a restaurant. I had forgotten my book which, as any solo traveller will tell you is the key to eating alone in restaurants. Have a good book and hide behind it. You eat slower that way and can hide from the local’s stares as they wonder why you have no friends and must resort to dining alone.

Had I been a Bond/Bourne spy I would have walked into the finest dining room in the city, ordered drink in fluent Finnish, had the maître d’ find me a decent table and have struck up an interesting conversation before they put the olive on the stick. Whereas I sulked in a corner and tried to not to lose my scarf.

You hear that travel broadens the mind (it’s like an exercise for the brain, apparently) but I don’t agree. I am sure a certain type of travel expands horizons but my kind only serves to expand the waistline (dining alone you comfort eat for a party of five). I’ve done the airport-taxi-hotel-office-taxi-airport run enough times to make almost every European city appear identical. This week’s arrival in Finland reinforced the feeling that I want to be here on holiday but not on business; I want to see something new.

The day was damp and cold when we landed and it was already getting dark at 3.30pm. I had hoped for snow but there wasn’t any so I got taken straight to my hotel. We passed the outdoor ice-hokey game which, I guess, must be everywhere in winter. I wanted to watch but I have no idea how to get to them. I worked in my hotel room. I didn’t sleep on the first night (I never sleep well on the first night in a hotel). I went to meetings. I drank too much coffee (do secret agents rely on caffeine too?).

It is a perfectly normal business trip. Sure, I hear you. Go out, mix with the locals, live a little. That, though, is a little too Bond-like for me. I guess Bond would have had a hidden revolver to get himself out of any local difficulties. I wouldn’t have made it through the airport with one and so, I comfort myself, that I don’t look good in black and, truthfully, Judi Dench scares me a little.

Garden State

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more.

Film poster for Garden StateI had heard and read almost nothing about Garden State until I saw it tonight. It’s written and stars Zach Braff who is, apparently, a big hit in Scrubs (but I don’t watch it) and was in one of my favorite movies, The Broken Hearts Club (but I’d forgotten him).

The background to the plot is that Andrew Largeman (Braff) is a twenty-something actor from New Jersey who now lives in Los Angeles (which supposedly mirrors Braff’s own life). Largeman returns home for his mother’s funeral after not having been back for a decade. He has almost no relationship with his father, a bunch of slacker friends and a lot of history.

So. it’s another middle class slacker movie but it’s quite well done. It’s got elements of humour (both in dialogue and the visuals) and is well shot. Despite the slow pace of some of the film, I found myself remarkably engaged. Usually I that find films where nothing happens are hard work regardless of the abilities of the actors and directors. It simply wasn’t the case here: the opening scences of Largeman motionless in an all white bedroom listening to his father’s messgae grabbed me and I was hooked.

There are two aspects of this film that I think stand out. The first is the soundtrack. I feel a good soundtrack is usually unobtrusive and you tend not to notice it. This is one film where you have an exception to that rule. I noticed how great the soundtrack was but it didn’t take anything away from the experiennce. The imdb entry for ths film notes, “When Braff sent the script to people, he would also send them a copy of the songs which would eventually be the soundtrack (which he handpicked). That is why on the actual soundtrack album, all of the songs are in the order that they appear in the movie” [source].

The other aspect I really liked about this film is the way the depths of the Largeman character are only revealled gradually as we go through the film. Obviosuly, it’s a very common trick of any story but – sometimes – movies reveal too much too soon in a bid to hook the audience. In Garden State, that’s not the case and it works beautifully.

Certainly not the best film ever but it was a promising work for Braff and I’ll be looking our for more, particularly, if he continues blogging about his work.

Polar Express

An all new Christmas classic movie and all the better for being seen in a IMAX 3D cinema.

One of the films I had been really interested in seeing this Christmas was Robert Zemeckis’ Polar Express, which has been selling out in all it’s 3D glory at the BFI London IMAX. So, tonight, we got tickets for the last screening (although I imagine this will be back quite a lot). It’s a shame that we didn’t make it before Christmas when London was lit up with Christmas sparkle as that would have added to the magic.

Some reviewers of the film have criticised this film for being dark or scary but I didn’t see it. It’s basically the story of the boy who is doubting Santa Claus and is taken on a magical ride to the North Pole to find Christmas. And it’s filled with that wonder and magic that can only be found in really good Children’s films. Sure, the movie makers have used the 3D format to full-effect (the roller-coaster scenes are overdone in many IMAX presentations) but it shouldn’t detract from the wonder of this tale. Tom Hanks is great as the primary voice of the film which just added to the joy.

While the animation may not quite be on a par with The Incredibles it remains pretty stunning and, unlike The Incredibles, I see this film enduring. It’s a fantastic film.

The Incredibles

The super heros are having a mid-life crisis in a great animated film from Pixar.

The Incredibles movie posterThe superheroes are having a mid-life crisis. I guess, following on from Spiderman, it’s not all the unusual for out lycra-clad action heroes to be questioning their purpose. The litigation society that forces the superheroes to, effectively, enter a witness protection-style programme was an interesting take on the world. Of course, it’s not the main point of The Incredibles but much of the enjoyment is in the detail.

What can you say that hasn’t been written elsewhere? The animation is superb; the plot seems to be able to captivate children and adults. Mark Kermode notes, with much justification, that the film lacks, “classic fairy-tale simplicity of Snow White or Finding Nemo” but my main criticism is that I just didn’t find any of the characters that endearing. The Incredible/Parr family (beautifully acted) just didn’t produce the one character that endures. If you think of it in classic Disney terms, there’s just no soft toy to last for generations.

Nonetheless, a great film to start a new year with.

Shaun Of The Dead

I am not sure how well is translates to other countries but if you live in London – check the streets and the faces of those walking towards you for they may just be the living dead.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) OK, so I spent this period watching movies I was not expecting to like and I liked most of them. I found at least one subtitled film that I thought was superb and managed to find a Jim Carrey role that I thought he was pretty good in. So, I thought my luck must be up and I wouldn’t like Shaun of the Dead because, frankly, I dislike the whole zombie movie concept.

The problem is that this isn’t a typical zombie movie and it’s truly excellent. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen for ages. Simon Pegg plays Shaun who is a lit of a loser who comes into his own as London gets over taken by the recently deceased who come back to life. Cricket bats to the head seem to be the way to fight off these zombies and where better to put up the fight but from your local pub? It’s amusing, well-written and there are some great performances (not only from Pegg but also Kate Ashfield, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis and Penelope Wilton). The attention to detail makes for some wonderful moments: as TV channels are scanned for news on the zombie invasion appearances by Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Carol Barnes, Rob Butler, Vernon Kay and a brilliant Jeremy Thompson make the film very rooted in Britain.

I am not sure how well is translates to other countries but if you live in the UK – and most importantly if you live near London – check the streets and the faces of those walking towards you for they may just be the living dead.

House Of Flying Daggers

Visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised.

After yesterday’s trip to the cinema, we decided that we would do it again and PY had been wanting to see House of Flying Daggers (Shi mian mai fu) so it was decided that we’d give it a go. I have to admit that I am not a big fan of subtitled films in any language so the strangeness of Mandarin didn’t bother me too much. It’s visually stunning both in terms of photography and the settings. The fight sequences well choreographed and executed and, overall it’s very stylised. Many people will enjoy the style of the movie and equally as many will see the style as a blocker to following the plot (undercover police deputy becomes captivated with suspected revolutionary on a journey to somewhere never properly defined). I was willing to give it a go and really enjoyed the film for the presentation and visuals but I couldn’t get past the ‘style’ to become engaged in the plot. Hand-on-heart I tried. I can’t knock the film as I think my inability to connect is due to my lack of experience watching films like this and I would urge you to get to see it before it closes and let me know what you think.

Napoleon Dynamite

I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way.

Napoleon Dynamite
Napoleon Dynamite

If Napoleon Dynamite is to be believed, Idaho (or at the very least a place called Preston) is stuck back in the mid-Eighties and everybody is slightly odd. Napoleon is a school misfit with a misfit brother (who cruises Internet chat rooms), a misfit uncle (who is trying to recreate his high school football days) and a misfit friend Pedro who is trying to become Class President and is up against the all-American cheerleader, Summer. Add to that some milk-tasting contest and eating raw egg yolks in a chicken farm and I’m happy to admit it was a very strange experience.

Usually, I like films with a plot and Napoleon Dynamite is missing much of one but somehow the offbeat comedy works in a subtle – not laugh out loud – way. Add to that the massive Idaho landscapes and somehow you have an enjoyable way to spend a few of December’s final hours in a cinema. Just thank goodness for LaFawnduh.

A Mighty Wind

IMDB Says, “Mockumentary captures the reunion of 1960s folk trio the Folksmen as they prepare for a show at The Town Hall to memorialize a recently deceased concert promoter.

A Mighty WindSo the set-up of the DVD we watched last night was a television reunion of a few old folk singers who had hits in the sixties. Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind isn’t as good as Best In Show or This Is Spinal Tap but it’s a passable and amusing way to spend an evening. It seemed less realistic than other spoof-documentaries and I found some of the deleted scenes on the DVD to be funnier than the movie itself. However, there are some good performances and interesting soundtrack and it does make you smile.

Worth taking a chance on.

The Day After Tomorrow

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

Jake Gyllenhaal in The day After TomorrowSo I’ve just got back from a nice – but rushed – meal and a visit to Clapham Picture House to see Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s a vision of what will happen if we don’t all take up cycling, ditch the cars and stop throwing out refrigerators with the trash (or some such thing).

Actually, it’s a disaster movie with a message and it certainly makes the grade as the first, although the message is somewhat lost along the way and the plot is, like all movies in this genre, ridiculously enjoyable. Basically, it starts to rain and then gets very cold and the only place where you seem to be able to survive is in the New York is the public library (and that’s because you can burn the books). Gyllenhaal’s dad, is of course, the only person on the whole of the American continent who can save him so he tries to. Marvelous, stupid and thoroughly entertaining.

Ian Holm puts in a notable performance from a remote Scottish weather station where – at the moment of disaster – they decide to toast England, Manchester United and Mankind (so not very convincingly Scottish – although they, of course, drink a decent malt to ward off the end).

It’s a mankind-in-peril, gripping disaster movie and I found it immensely entertaining. It’s stunning when it’s building and the effects are at their best (and who cares if the ice at the start looks computer generated)? Sadly, it does fade a little towards the end – especially as any last elements of believability fly out the window – but as a couple of hours entertainment you must go and see this film.

The message to all of Planet Earth is, of course, corrupted to work for the film and lost after the first third. But that doesn’t make any difference.

Unexpected Movie Gems

Despite the fact that you can be critical of television over Christmas 2003, I really think that it served me some unexpected movie gems.

There was something of an 80s flashback over the Christmas period which set me thinking about my teenage years – although I am not suggesting you should now read my regurgitated teenage angst. The flashbacks came in the form of three films on free-to-air television that I caught by accident (by which I mean I didn’t know there were on until I flicked past them).

picture of kevin bacon in footlooseFirstly, we had the excellent Footloose (Kevin Bacon, dancing) which is a film I must have seen several hundred times and never get bored. It’s those standing up for you rights and proving your responsibility moments that resonated with people of a certain age when it was released. It’s helped by the fact that the 80s electro-pop soundtrack was pretty good (for the time) and Kevin Bacon is moody and supports a tight fitting vest at one point!

Then, on New Years Day, we had another teen angst film in the shape of The Breakfast Club. From the John Hughes stable (he made one of my all time favourite movies, Some Kind of Wonderful) this was a teen film with a difference. The film is – almost entirely – dialogue driven and there is very limited action. It’s set in the detention room on a Saturday where a small group of students (of all the stereotypes) must spend the day together as punishment for various misdemeanours.

Again, we are treated to the teen isolation, the misfits and the stupidity of the adult world. And, it also features a soundtrack that instantly brings to mind the mid-Eighties including Don’t You by Simple Minds – which is possibly the only Simple Minds track that I can listen to again and again.

Sandwiched in between Footloose and The Breakfast Club and shown sometime in that almost-dead period between Christmas and New Year was the first Back To The Future movie (which again has a soundtrack of it’s time featuring Huey Lewis and The News, Eric Clapton and Lindsey Buckingham). What struck me about it (apart from the now dated effects) was how good a film it really was. There are some superb performances in it (Christopher Lloyd and Crispin Glover) and it was a real combination of teen and sci-fi movies. It was also the first film I can recall going to the cinema more than once to see – it must really have inspired me as a 15 year-old. Superb stuff.

So, despite the fact that you can be critical of television over this past Christmas period, I really think that it served me some unexpected movie gems. And for that, I am grateful.

2003 In Summary

Like Jerry, my final thoughts on Listen To Musak in 2003.

If I can be allowed to be more self-centred – or inward looking – than usual, I have found the process of re-reading the year’s worth of entries to be very interesting. Not only have I surprised myself with some of the pieces that I have written but, when viewing them all together, it seems that the site is a lot more coherent than I imagined. There are some key groupings of themes which have emerged – it’s clear I have a fascination with transport – and there are considerably fewer trivial pieces.

Many of the words I have written are, of course, about my life and might be considered to be trivial to some but I feel I have gained an insight into myself with some of the longer pieces. And it is those longer pieces which have most startled me on the re-reading: I must make a conscious effort to write more discussion works. Perhaps I should open the comments on the main body of the site to stimulate further thinking.

Of all the other sites I have read across the year, I still come back to my old faithfuls. So, this is the point where I should wish Tom, Jase, Jason, Bart, Meg, Phil, Eric, Chris, Bravo, Nick and Luke a very Happy New Year. Oh, and those are just the top listed ones in my bloglines subscriptions.

Bloglines is to be nominated my tool of the year for 2003, it’s made the whole business of reading other sites so much easier (if only Blogger users would provide nice RSS feeds). Of course I shoudn’t forget Six Apart who, via Movable Type, make all this possible.

Writing Listen to Musak is one of the few creative outlets I really have and I am happy to have it as a hobby – it seems more useful than making a model of St Paul’s Cathedral from matchsticks.

Best wishes for 2004 to all who come across this page.

Love Actually

This is really an inoffensive, somewhat amusing, light-hearted, feel-good British comedy.

Love Actually
Love Actually is not the film I imagined it to be. I guess you can call it a romantic comedy and it seemed like a sensible film to watch on New Year’s Day. The cinema was packed which suggests we wen’t the only ones with that idea.
I should say from the beginning, it’s sentimental and feel-good. If those words put you off then you shouldn’t really see this film. I do think, however, that if you have ever (even once) got a little lovey-dovey then could go and see this movie and get something out of it.

It’s weaves a whole stack of separate stories together about people in love or finding love (and even out of love) with the backdrop of Christmas in London. Richard Curtis (of Four Weddings And A Funeral fame) makes his directorial debut and provides a very well-shot image of 21st Century London at Christmas. There are some really well-done sequences around the city which gives somebody like me – who thinks he’s seen all he wants to of London – something to smile at.

Having said it’s well-shot it is not without problems. Too many stories are intertwined leaving too many questions unanswered. When you leave a cinema questioning some of your understanding about who was who and where things were set you know that at some point this film failed. Why have the whole Wisconsin sequence, for example? And what happened to the Laura Linney parts – I suspect there is something on a cutting room floor that explains all that somewhere.

But don’t let that put you off. Liam Neeson’s storyline is great (even if it stretched believability a little), Emma Thompson is superb (and you will feel for her as she opens a Christmas present) as Alan Rickman‘s wife (he too stands out with a great, typical Rickman performance). Even Hugh Grant is believable as a Prime Minister who falls for his tea lady (Martine McCutcheon).

What I liked, although I have no idea if they will translate to the US, are the really British touches. Ant and Dec are the kid’s TV presenters; Jo Wiley is a DJ and Wes Butters does the chart run down for the Christmas Number One. And there wasn’t an over abundance of red London busses – which must be a first for British films.

This is really an inoffensive, somewhat amusing, light-hearted, feel-good British comedy and I hope it does well. If you read the message boards over at the Internet Movie Database you’ll read about people walking out in shock and disgust – which, if you’ve seen the film, is just as amusing.