Shrek

  • Title:  Shrek
  • Directors:  Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
  • Date:  2001
  • Studio:  Dreamworks Pictures
  • Genre:  Animation, Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, John Lithgow
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen, Animated
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Bachelorette Number Three is a fiery redhead from a dragon-guarded castle surrounded by hot boiling lava. But don’t let that cool you off. She’s a loaded pistol who likes pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Yours for the rescuing, Princess Fiona!”  — Magic Mirror

“You know, Donkey, sometimes things are more than they appear.”  — Shrek

 “It’s the world that seems to have a problem with me. People take one look at me and go, ‘Oh help, run!  A big, stupid, ugly, ogre.’ They judge me before they even know me. That’s why I’m better off alone.”  — Shrek

Shrek takes the typical Disney-style Fairy Tale and inverts it, casting the Ogre as the hero who must rescue the Princess. But not only that, Shrek pokes great fun at Disney and as traditional Fairy Tales and even nursery rhymes. It’s almost like watching a parody of the Disney Fairy Tale genre; and the sight gags and verbal humor work very well. But what Shrek is also about is being true to yourself, seeing yourself as beautiful for who and what you are, and coming to terms with the “real you”. And that is a very good message to be sending to kids and teenagers — especially girls, but boys too. Because, for all that Shrek seems to be comfortable with his Ogre lifestyle — he’s also completely alone. And although at first he seems happy that way, very early on in the film, Donkey becomes his friend, and eventually Shrek and Fiona realize their feelings for each other and are married. Or, at least, become a couple.

The film begins with a musical introduction of Shrek, a content and happy ogre. When townspeople show up with pitchforks and burning torches — he runs them off. Meanwhile, all the fairy tale, magical, and even nursery rhyme characters are being rounded-up by Lord Farquaad. Farquaad dumps these “unwanted creatures” in Shrek’s swamp. Shrek wants peace and quiet, so he goes off to Lord Farquaad’s castle, fights off the Lord’s champion knights, and agrees to take on a quest:  he will rescue Princess Fiona, in return for Farquaad giving him his swamp back.

In a fairly standard fairy tale way, Shrek and Donkey get to the castle where Fiona is being held, rescue her and escape from the dragon. However, the dragon is female and develops a crush on Donkey. This will be important later in the story.

The way back to Farquaad’s castle will take three days and nights. And Fiona has a secret — she refuses to let anyone see her at night because of a curse. At night, Fiona turns into an ogress and thinks she’s ugly and unlovable. She wants to marry and experience “True love’s first kiss” to break the curse. Fiona also is adept at martial arts, doing the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” thing to take out Monsieur Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Gradually, over time, Fiona and Shrek come to like each other, but there’s a horrible misunderstanding, and Fiona chooses Lord Farquaad. Meanwhile, Donkey has learned Fiona’s secret. Shrek also rejects Donkey, mostly due to the same misunderstanding. Donkey, though, goes to confront Shrek and the two make-up and become friends again. Donkey then sets Shrek straight, and the two are flown to Lord Farquaad’s castle to stop the wedding. Shrek interrupts the wedding, Fiona chooses Shrek and kisses him, and the curse is broken — revealing her true form to be that of  an ogress. Shrek and Fiona drive off in an onion-shaped carriage.

Overall, Shrek is an excellent film. It’s very funny, it’s got a good story, and the “moral” of being true to yourself and learning to love who you really are is good for children, teens, and adults. I recommend it.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Shrek 2

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Footloose

  • Title:  Footloose
  • Director:  Herbert Ross
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Musical, Drama, Romance
  • Cast:  Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer, Dianne Wiest, Christopher Penn, Sarah Jessica Parker
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Well, boy, a lot of folks are going to give you problems, right off, because, you see, you’re an outsider.  You’re dangerous.  They’re going to worry about you.”  Foreman at the plant where Ren works

“There was a time for this law, but not anymore.  This is our time to dance.  This is our way of celebrating life.  That’s the way it was in the beginning.  That’s the way it’s always been.  That’s the way it should be now.”  Ren McCormick

Ren and his mother Ethel, arrive in the small town of Beaumont, Utah, after being abandoned by his father/her husband.  Almost immediately, Ren has trouble fitting in, really through no fault of his own. The townspeople, especially fellow student, Chuck, and his own uncle seem determined to ostracize him from having any social life in the town.  Ren makes a few friends — Willard, and his girl, Rusty.  He also, eventually becomes friends with Ariel, the preacher’s daughter.  Ren longs to dance to work out his troubles, but the small town of Beaumont has outlawed dancing.  About halfway through the film, Ren discovers why — several teenagers were killed after going to the next town to party in a drunken car accident on the one lane bridge back into town.  One of the teenagers was Ariel’s brother.

Ren is now more sympathetic, but he still wants to have a senior dance, a prom.  He gets most of the high school class together and pleads his case at the town council meeting.  Ren even quotes the Bible to make his point about dancing being a celebration of life.  But the council is stacked against him.  Almost immediately after the council meeting, several of the more conservative adults in town head over to the town library and begin burning “inappropriate” books.  This time the preacher intervenes, aghast at what’s happened.  At his next Sunday sermon, he gives his permission for the dance to be held at a warehouse just outside of town.

Footloose is a film filled with teenaged rebellion in the metaphor of dance.  It’s Ren’s story, perfectly played by Kevin Bacon, but by the end of the film we understand everyone’s point of view, even the preacher’s (perfectly played by John Lithgow).  Well, except maybe Chuck, Ariel’s former boyfriend the lout who beats her up when she officially breaks up with him to go out with Ren.  The preacher’s really just an over-protective father, partially destroyed by the loss of his son.  Ariel’s has a bit of a death wish — both because of what happened to her brother, and possibly as a rebellion against her father.  Willard and Rusty are normal teenagers who are being denied a normal teenaged experience by the Draconian rules of the town.  Ariel’s mother, Vi, is silent and dutiful (she even dresses like a Quaker), but eventually is so fed-up with her husband pushing the family apart that she challenges him.

Classic dances include Ren going to the deserted factory where he works, and dancing by himself to “Never”, in powerful moves full of gymnastics.  Ren had also tried out for the gymnastic team, but was cut for pure malice.  Ren teaching Willard to dance to “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” is classic.  And the first and finale/reprise of  “Footloose” are both excellent.  Plus the movie gives us, Ren and Chuck challenging each other to a game of chicken in tractors, to the music of Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out for a Hero”.  Overall, it’s a modern, yet 80s, musical.  Heavy on plot, music integrated fairly well into the plot, but, the dances are not full-frame and contain a lot of cuts, edits, cutaways, and close-ups, with no flow.

Musical Numbers / Songs

  • Footloose — Kenny Loggins
  • The Girl Gets Around — Sammy Hagar
  • Dancing in the Streets — Shalamar
  • Holding Out For a Hero — Bonnie Tyler
  • Never — Moving Pictures
  • Somebody’s Eyes — Karla Bonoff
  • Let’s Hear It For the Boy — Deniece Williams
  • I’m Free (Heaven Help the Man) — Kenny Loggins
  • Almost Paradise (Love Theme from Footloose) — Mike Reno & Ann Wilson

Recommendation:  See it.  I especially recommend this film for teenagers.
Rating:  3.5 out of  5 Stars
Next Film:  Frankenstein (1931)

All That Jazz

  • Title:  All That Jazz
  • Director:  Bob Fosse
  • Date:  1979
  • Studio:  20th Century Fox and Columbia Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical
  • Cast:  Roy Scheider, Jessica Lange, Ann Reinking, Leland Palmer, Erzebet Foldt, John Lithgow, Ben Vereen
  • Format:  Technicolor, Anamorphic Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

It’s Showtime!  — Joe Gideon

My second favorite musical (my favorite being Moulin Rouge (2001)). All That Jazz is truly one of those movies that gets better every time you see it, and as Roger Ebert once said — I can’t imagine never being able to see this film again. It’s good — and you notice more each time you see it. Or, at least I noticed more this time, and I’ve seen it half a dozen times.

All That Jazz is a fictional biopic about a choreographer who is falling apart from his excessive lifestyle — too much smoking, too much drinking, too much fooling around with women, and a life of nothing but work are wearing him down to a point of exhaustion. While preparing his new Broadway show, and cutting his film “The Stand-Up”, Joe Gideon’s life spirals out of control. He has an angina attack – and then things get really interesting, before the choreographer choreographs his own death.

But more than that is the way the film uses everything — music, dance, songs, little bits of Joe’s life, and interspersed throughout it all some very strange scenes with Jessica Lange as the Angel of  Death — to tell it’s story, make it a visual masterpiece. I cannot imagine this film in any other format – book, magazine spread, TV series – only the film format works, which is a high compliment to a film and a reason I highly, highly recommend it.

The film also references many other musical films – visually. And not in a “cutsy” way, but if you know the reference it adds to what’s being told and if you don’t – it doesn’t distract from it.  For example, the first fifteen minutes or so are A Chorus Line as Gideon chooses the cast for his new production from an open call (or “cattle call” as they are sometimes known). Then, as Gideon starts to prepare his show – it briefly brings to mind such “show within a show” films as 42nd Street or The Bandwagon.  However, where those films are solely about getting a Broadway production made — and the successful show is the end of the film, in All That Jazz, once Gideon develops an artistically pleasing but very adult production number — the film turns more to his complicated life and quickly to his complicated death. Then, while Gideon’s in hospital, a group of producers are sitting around discussing the life insurance policy on Gideon. Their cold, hard discussion determines that if Joe dies, the insurance pays off, and the show will make a profit — without opening. Remember The Producers?  That’s the original one by Mel Brooks starring Wilder and Mostel. Also, in the handful of quick numbers at the end as Gideon’s hallucinating in the hospital – includes a dance that’s a dead-ringer for a Busby Berkeley musical, including white feathers.

But, the film is NOT a parody of musicals — not by a long shot. It’s about Gideon, a choreographer, and his life, which is spiraling out of control. And despite the way he abuses himself with too much booze, smoking, fooling around, and driving himself at work, Gideon, as a protagonist is a fascinating man. Because we, the audience, don’t hate him. His behavior may at times be despicable – but we don’t hate him. Bit by bit Scheider’s portrayal of Gideon wins the audience over and we come to care about him. Gideon has a pre-teen daughter whom he loves very much. In fact, in my opinion, some of the best scenes in the film are between the two, especially when they are dancing together (he’s helping her with ballet and jazz dancing). His ex-wife, despite having left him because of his numerous affairs – still loves him. And his long-time girl-friend also loves him, and gets along fine with his ex-wife and daughter.  (Told you his life was complicated).

While working on his new production, Gideon has an angina attack. After the initial scare the doctors keep him in the hospital to try to get him to relax and calm down — Gideon, however, fools around, smokes, drinks, throws parties, and has his surgeons convinced he doesn’t care if he lives or dies.  Gradually, through his hallucinations – he comes to realize he wants to live – for his daughter.

However, that isn’t to be and in a final, triumphant number  we see the choreography of his death in a duet between Scheider and Ben Vereen — which becomes a major production number.  The first time I saw the film I was confused by the chorus girls in the white stocking outfits with the red and blue lines — the next time I saw it, I realized those were meant to suggest blood vessels.

 

This time around, I kinda’ wondered if either the suits on the Broadway production, or a conniving fellow director/choreographer (played to the chilling teeth by John Lithgow) actually arranged Gideon’s hospital “accident” that leads ultimately to his death.

Either way — the final production number is outstanding! And the mini-numbers leading up to it, with each of the important people in Gideon’s life trying to convince him to live are also outstanding. Bob Fosse’s direction throughout the film is brilliant, as is his choreography. And yes — the film is said to be a fictionalized version of Fosse’s life. It’s still brilliant.

Roy Scheider is also brilliant in this film – and actually looks his best in the production number at the end, when he’s performing his duet with Vereen. (Yes, he sings, and fairly well.  Not sure if it was dubbed – it doesn’t sound like it, Scheider’s New Jersey accent is still there.) And the dancing in that number is brilliant!

OK – and standard 1970s disclaimer here:  All That Jazz is an adult film with adult concepts, however that means it’s a film adults can enjoy without feeling it’s an insult to their intelligence. There is a lot of sex, smoking, drinking, swearing, drug use, and bare breasts — deal with it. For a film this brilliant, I’m not sweating it.

Recommendation:  I highly, highly, highly recommend this film.  If you’ve never seen it – rent it, give it a try, maybe even watch it a couple of times – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Apartment

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

  • Title:  The Adventures of  Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
  • Director:  W.D. Richter
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM / Sherwood Productions
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, Jeff Goldblum, Rosalind Cash, Robert Ito, Clancy Brown, Vincent Schiavelli, Carl Lumbly
  • Genre:  SF, Adventure, Comedy
  • Format:  Color
  • DVD Formats:  Anamorphic Widescreen, R1, NTSC

“Remember, no matter where you go – there you are.”  — Buckaroo Banzai

“History is made at night, Character is what you are in the dark.”  — Lord John Worphin

This is a movie where I actually owned a copy on VHS tape.  However, it is amazing just how good the DVD looks, especially the anamorphic widescreen.  It is, without a doubt, one of my absolutely favorite movies.  I have seen in many times, and have several of the best lines memorized.

Buckaroo Banzai comes at you all at once and never slows down, producing a wild ride, filled with great lines and snappy dialogue.  However, it also quickly establishes it’s characters, so we come to care about them as people, as the film zips along at warp speed and then some.  If you have never seen this movie before – I highly, highly recommend watching it at least twice in order to figure out what is going on.

The crawl at the beginning of the film attempts to explain part of what’s going on and introduces some of  the humor of the movie, mentioning that Buckaroo, with an American father and Japanese mother — was “brought into life the way he was destined to live it – going several directions at once.”  It also mentions those “hard rocking scientists – the Hong Kong Cavaliers”, Buckaroo’s friends who have just sort of drifted into his circle.  And in the movie – he picks up a couple of new followers.

The opening of the film attempts to introduce the many sides of Buckaroo — brilliant neuro-surgeon (Jeff Goldblum gets some great lines in that scene so watch closely), experimental scientist and physicist, head of a rock band, and founder of the Banzai Institute.  He’s also an incredibly sensitive man, able to pick out a girl crying in a crowded audience while on stage playing jazzy rock music.

However, the majority of the plot involves the 1938 Radio Broadcast of “War of the Worlds” by Orson Welles – the one that panicked the country, when people believed it was real.  This movie posits – What if  it was real?  But the aliens weren’t from Mars, but rather trapped in a prison called the 8th Dimension, an inter-spatial place between the tiny particles of matter.  That is, matter is mostly empty space, so Banzai is attempting to prove it is possible to cross inside it.  An earlier experiment into the 8th Dimension had released several aliens from this prison.  When Banzai’s experiment opens the Dimension again, more aliens from the Planet 10 arrive to cause World War III – if Whorfin (formerly imprisoned in the 8th Dimension) isn’t stopped.

But that really simplifies this brilliant movie.  There are many extremely likable aspects to the film — a brilliant cast; the idea that the film treats it’s audience as intelligent and just drops one into the middle of events, trusting the audience can figure it out without spoon-feeding information; some truly brilliant, funny lines; a rip-roaring, fast-moving fun plot; great characters.  In many ways, it has everything.

By the bye – the sound design in this film is also notable.  Pay attention to the background announcements in the scene when Whorfin escapes from a mental hospital (Whorfin is inhabiting the body of Dr. Emilio Lazardo) or in the scenes at YoYoDyne Propulsion Systems.

Recommendation:  Run don’t walk to the nearest rental store or Netflix and get a copy of the film.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Adventures of  Robin Hood

2010 The Year We Make Contact

  • Title:  2010 The Year We Make Contact
  • Director:  Peter Hyams
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  MGM
  • Genre:  SF
  • Actors:  Roy Scheider, John Lithgow, Helen Mirren, Keir Dullea, Dana Elcar
  • Film Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Dual-sided Standard/Widescreen
  • DVD Formats:  R1, NTSC

“My god, it’s full of  Stars!”
“What’s going to happen? / Something Wonderful.”

The common problem with older SF movies is often their anachronistic nature. It’s 2010 now  — I don’t see a mission to Mars, much less to Jupiter. It’s easier to ignore out-of-date fashions in a drama, than someone using a computer that looks like it came from Radio Shack 30 years ago. However, if the SF film is a space-fantasy like Star Wars or resembling a drama more than anything else, like 2010, sometimes little inconsistencies can be overlooked.

2010 The Year We Make Contact is a sequel to 2001 — but with a completely different look and feel.  It’s not weird, hard-to-follow, visually stunning but character poor like 2001. The plot is straight forward, in 1984, when I originally saw it, this film had drama and tension, and seemed incredibly realistic in a futuristic way.

Watching the film again in 2010 — things pop up that seem strange (like Schneider using a Word Processor with a lift-up 4-inch screen instead of a computer, laptop, or even an iPad.) And the cold war plot seems really, really strange and out of place. After all, the Soviet Union broke up, when, in the 90s? But Russia, will always be Russia — any country that managed to survive even a little bit under the Czars… But it was weird to see the Soviet flag on the Russian spaceship and on the Russian uniform. I mean, I don’t think I’ve even seen a picture of it in over 10 years.

However, about halfway through the film, the Cold War turns hot — messing up the join space mission considerably. And the answer to the survival of both crews turns out to be cooperation. Also, the end of  the film is fantastic and awe-inspiring! It makes the film worth watching, even with all the technical “problems” (more along the lines of “oh, come on — tech doesn’t work that way”). And HAL still seems chilling, and strangely advanced, compared to any other computer in the film, or what I’m typing on right now.

Scheider and Lithgow are both wonderful, as usual. Watch for them to team-up again (previously) in 1979’s All that Jazz. Scheider’s a magnetic actor — simply because he never seems to be acting. Lithgow can do just about anything — he melts into his characters extremely well. Helen Mirren, doing a passable Russian accent, manages to be less annoying than usual (she must have been pretty young here). Keir Dullea of 2001, makes a re-appearance. Dana Elcar plays a Russian diplomat of some sort, his exact title isn’t spelled out. But his Russian accent is terrible.

The plot of 2010 is considerably less complex than 2001 (which no matter how many times you see it always leaves one scratching their head, thinking, “Huh?”). Nine years after the mission of the Discovery went south rather spectacularly — the man who designed the mission (Scheider), the computer engineer who designed HAL, and an engineer (John Lithgow), hitch a ride on a Russian ship to Jupiter to investigate the monolith, figure out what went wrong on Discovery, fix HAL, and pretty much find some answers. And they do…  ultimately 2010 is satisfying as a film because it explains the loose ends left in 2001 and has it’s own plot of cooperation overcoming Cold War oppression and stupidity, that works. Some of the other issues in the film can be overlooked. And it also looks pretty good, so that’s helpful. That is, the special effects don’t look particularly dated.

Recommendation:  See it, after seeing 2001 and boning up on your 1980s culture and history.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars
Next Film:  42nd Street