anything goes (robert lewis, 1956)

Musical with a nice pedigree, but it falls flat. In the 1930s, the play, with Ethel Merman, ran for more than a year. A movie came out in 1936 with Merman and Bing Crosby. Twenty years later, here comes the remake, and Bing Crosby is back. But the plot has nothing to do with the original. In fact, other than the title, the two movies have only one thing in common: several Cole Porter songs. Bing Crosby, Cole Porter, Donald O’Connor, Mitzi Gaynor ... what could go wrong?

Well, this movie is dreary. Everyone seems to be going through the motions. You get Porter classics like “Anything Goes” and “I Get a Kick Out of You”, but not much else. Zizi Jeanmaire does a ballet number that stops the show, and I don’t mean in a good way. The plot, a farce about love, lacks sizzle, which makes sense when one of the couples of Bing (53 years old) and Zizi (32 years old).

Gaynor is the best thing about the movie, the only person with a pulse. I’m reminded of a Randy Newman article in Rolling Stone back in the early 70s.

Once he went to see Liza Minnelli rehearse a TV dance number, and after it was over she asked him how he liked it.

"You were a real Mitzi Gaynor out there," he replied, an assessment that apparently did not impress Liza. "But I always liked Mitzi Gaynor," Randy explained later with a shrug.

The great Glenn “DVD Savant” Erickson points out that the best film version of the song “Anything Goes” remains the opening scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom:

Here is the whole movie, if for some reason you are dying to see it:

4/10.


by request: the happiness of the katakuris (takashi miike, 2001)

To some extent, you know what you are getting when you see the name Takaski Miike. About the first of his movies I saw, I wrote, “13 Assassins is also one of the more gory movies you’ll see, if that bothers you (you don’t always see everything, but you know it’s happening, which can be just as bad).” “I have to hand it to Miike”, I said of Ichi the Killer, “he’s committed to his art. If he decides to make a movie about sadists and masochists, then by golly he will, even if he has to stuff it into an otherwise standard yakuza movie.” (According to Wikipedia, “[D]uring its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001, the audience received "barf bags" emblazoned with the film's logo as a promotional gimmick”.) But it was Audition that I found most “inspiring”:

Miike isn’t pussyfooting around, here … he wants to dig deeply into obsession and misogyny, and he is willing to accomplish what he wants, even if it means throwing narrative coherence out the window, closely followed by “good taste”. Even fans of Audition will admit that it is almost impossible to watch the long final segment of the film, which isn’t to say that segment is gratuitous (although it often is) or unnecessary. In the context of the film, it is the best possible ending. That it is also revolting, that it has inspired plenty of walkouts in theaters over the years, that it is entirely possible that there is less than meets the eye, well, let’s just say it is a complicated movie.

The thing is, while Miike’s films can border on torture porn, that’s not all he’s up to. His ability to create startling, unexpected beauty in the midst of horror is great, and his kitchen-sink approach allows room for comedy, as well. Plus, I should note that I’ve been selective in my choice of Miike films to watch ... apparently he also makes comedies and other movies intended more for families.

But I haven’t seen those, so when The Happiness of the Katakuris was recommended in one of the comments to Ichi, I assumed “the happiness” would be meant ironically. And I came at it mostly unspoiled, as I prefer. So I didn’t notice the advertising tagline that read, “The hills are alive with the sound of screaming”.

Yes, among other things, The Happiness of the Katakuris is a musical. A musical with a natural setting (a bed and breakfast near Mount Fuji), to further push The Sound of Music comparisons. But it’s also reminiscent of other movies that weren’t necessarily musicals: Eating Raoul, for instance, and Moulin Rouge. Night of the Living Dead, too, while we’re at it. Meanwhile, Miike throws in a few Claymation scenes (I wasn’t kidding about the kitchen-sink).

It’s nice to see one his movies that retains the ability to surprise the audience without having to hold our hands over our eyes (not too much, anyway). 13 Assassins remains my favorite, but I haven’t yet seen a Takashi Miike movie I didn’t like. 7/10.


music friday: maurice chevalier, "i'm glad i'm not young anymore"

The movie musical Gigi came out in 1958, and it was a big success. Based on a novel by Colette, it was nominated for nine Oscars, including Best Picture, and won every category in which it had a nomination. It was a favorite of my parents. In those days, you didn’t own copies of movies on VHS or DVD or Blu-ray. You saw it in a theater, and maybe it would turn up later on network television, and that was it. But, since Gigi was a musical, you could buy the soundtrack album and listen to your heart’s content. So a copy of the Gigi LP sat on the shelf in my parents’ record collection, and I heard it many times as a child. I imagine that’s one reason I love the movie to this day … it’s like comfort food.

The title song won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and the movie also won Best Original Score. I don’t know which other songs are still part of pop culture … I mean, the title song isn't exactly well-remembered. I’d guess that “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is still in the mix. It’s sung by Maurice Chevalier, who charms his way throughout the film, no matter how retrograde some of his character’s ideas seem to modern audiences. “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” is fun but a bit creepy, considering Chevalier was 70 years old at the time. The song that still resonates, especially for people of a certain age, is “I Remember It Well”, sung by Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, a spring chicken at 61 in 1958.

I don’t think you have to be past 60 to appreciate the song … I loved it when I was just a tyke … but it quite knowingly works those in the audience who are in that age range. What interests me is my parents … when Gigi was released, my dad had just turned 34 and my mom was 30. But, at least as I remember it, “I Remember It Well” connected with them from the start.

Near the end of the movie, Chevalier offers “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore”. He sings it, as he sang most songs, with a twinkle in his eye. Chevalier’s reputation was a bit sullied during World War II, after which he was accused (and exonerated) of collaborating with the Nazis. (He turns up in a very odd scene in The Sorrow and the Pity, explaining his actions during the war.) But by 1958, he was a beloved old-time entertainer, exemplified by the Honorary Oscar he received alongside the nine Oscars Gigi picked up.

He wasn’t done … he lived to be 83.

Here is “Thank Heaven for Little Girls”:

“I Remember It Well”:

And “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore”:

Finally, here is Chevalier in The Sorrow and the Pity:


what i watched last year

A summary, sorted by my ratings. There are a lot of films with my highest 10/10 rating, due to my participation in the Facebook Fave Fifty group where I watched and ranked my fifty favorite movies (the films in that list are in bold, below). I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Thus, the average for the 125 movies I rated in 2011 (not including the Facebook movies) is 7.3/10.

10:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
The Big Sleep
Bonnie and Clyde
Breathless
Cabaret
Citizen Kane

City of God
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Do the Right Thing
The Earrings of Madame de ...
Fires on the Plain
From Here to Eternity
The Godfather
The Godfather Part II
A Hard Day's Night

His Girl Friday

Hoop Dreams
In the Mood for Love
King Kong
Kiss Me Deadly
(“The detective hero doesn’t bring order from chaos, but instead blunders his way into atomic apocalypse.”)
L'Avventura
The Lives of Others
The Maltese Falcon
Mean Streets
Night and Fog
The Night of the Hunter
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Paths of Glory
(“Can the man who created such perfection as Paths of Glory really be the same person who gave us 2001: A Space Odyssey, Barry Lyndon, and Eyes Wide Shut?”)
Performance
The Rapture
Rio Bravo
The Rules of the Game
Run Lola Run
Sherlock Jr.
(“Must have been at or near the top of Jackie Chan’s viewing schedule in his formative years.”)
Singin' in the Rain
The Sorrow and the Pity
Steamboat Bill, Jr.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Taxi Driver
The Terminator
The Third Man
Top Hat
Touch of Evil
Vertigo
Walkabout
(“One of the reasons why, as a film major in the early-70s, I thought Nicolas Roeg was the best director.”
"What's Opera, Doc?"
The Wild Bunch

9:

13 Assassins
A Better Tomorrow

Army of Shadows
Before Sunset
Close-Up
From Russia with Love
Gimme Shelter
Hunger
Inside Job

My Family
My Man Godfrey
Near Dark
Shoot the Piano Player
Sid and Nancy
The Times of Harvey Milk
Under Fire
The White Ribbon
Welfare

8:

Animal Kingdom
Another Year
Attack the Block
Being There
Capote
A Christmas Tale
Crumb
Dumbo
Evil Dead II
The Heart of the Game
Incendies
The Informer
Inglourious Basterds
Juno
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Let the Right One In
Mildred Pierce

Minority Report
Police Story 3: Super Cop
The Red Balloon
Restrepo
Smoke
The Social Network
Still Walking

Stones in Exile
Straight Time
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
Super 8
To Be or Not to Be
Vengeance
The Virgin Suicides

7:

127 Hours
The Big Lebowski
Biutiful
Black Swan
Blow-Up
Broadcast News
A Bucket of Blood
Buster Keaton Rides Again
Catfish
Cedar Rapids
Down from the Mountain
Exit Through the Gift Shop
The Fighter
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
I Am Love
In a Better World
In the Realm of the Senses
Inception
Keane
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
The King's Speech
La Strada
Little Sinner
Lost in America
Magic Trip
The Magician
The Man from Laramie
Margin Call

Moneyball
Morocco
My Fair Lady
Nights of Cabiria
The Other Guys
Outside the Law
Page Eight
Point Break
A Serious Man
Shadows
Source Code
Summer Wars
They Live
The Thin Red Line
Thunderball
Tomorrow Never Dies
The Town
A Woman Under the Influence

6:

Another Woman
Barney’s Version
Bridesmaids
The Cat Returns
The Conspirator
Country Strong
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Doctor Zhivago
Drones
Eraserhead
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Grace of My Heart
Heart Like a Wheel
The Heartbreak Kid
Il Posto
Imitation of Life
It Came from Outer Space
Marathon Man
On the Town
The Producers
The Railrodder
Rango
Red
A Star Is Born

Tucker and Dale vs Evil
Velvet Goldmine
Wagon Master
Waiting for "Superman"
Whistling in Brooklyn

5:

Synecdoche, New York
The Tree of Life

4:

Eyes Wide Shut
The Terror

3:

Bride of the Monster


#32: cabaret (bob fosse, 1972)

(This is the 19th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

Jeff listed Cabaret at #43 and he does a great job of placing the movie amongst the other highlights of that excellent period of American films. It is possible Cabaret could never have been made the way it was at any other period. He notes that while the film takes place in 1931, it is a 70s movie, a point I agree with. He adds that it “comes …figuratively out of David Bowie and Los Angeles,” which is a point I’d contest. Bob Fosse was Broadway, not Hollywood. He was an innovative choreographer who worked in that line for fifteen years before directing his first film (Sweet Charity, which he had directed and choreographed on the stage). I’m not arguing that there is no connection between glam rock and the film version of Cabaret, but I’d say Fosse influenced glam more than glam influenced Fosse.

The key theme underlying Cabaret is decadence: its definition, its social role, its connection to the larger society. I don’t think the film equates decadence with fascism; it isn’t drawing a direct line between, say, bisexuality and the rise of Nazis. What Cabaret does show is how the appeal of decadence in all its guises distracts us from the real world of politics, and in the Weimar period, given our knowledge of how things turn out, “politics” is “the rise of fascism.” While Weimar is a perfect setting for decadence, the film isn’t specific to that period. Instead, it suggests that we always want to escape via the decadence of the cabaret, that we always want distraction, which allows the powerful to have their way. And my definition of “decadence” has nothing to do with any specific acts, but rather is related to our need to be in the cabaret. Life is a cabaret, after all, old chum, and if you can watch Cabaret and not find that statement simultaneously exciting and depressing, you haven’t been watching at all.

Liza Minnelli is sensational; in every way but one, she is perfectly cast. She brilliantly pulls off the combination of bravado and insecurity that is the off-stage Sally Bowles, and when she performs on the stage, she lights up and becomes so sexy she embodies the decadence far more than she does when she applies colored nail polish when off stage. It’s perfect casting, except … her Sally Bowles is so talented, it strains credulity to believe she’d be stuck in a third-rate joint like the Kit Kat Klub.

Joel Grey, on the other hand, is equally brilliant, but his abilities fit the club. You can’t believe his Master of Ceremonies would ever be anywhere but the Kit Kat Klub.

 

I got more comments than usual for this selection, but most of them were about musicians who were also actors.


what i watched last week

Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989). #33 on my Facebook Fave Fifty list. #176 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972). #32 on my Facebook list. #273 on the TSPDT list. 10/10.

Lost in America (Albert Brooks, 1985). Phil had this at #38 on his list. He and Jeff have given me some grief for assigning a rating of 6/10 to every one of their movies, so perhaps I should break that streak here. I liked this one, although I feel the opposite of Phil in some ways. He said he rarely watches comedies, but some scenes in Lost in America "bring me to tears I laugh so hard". I watch comedies on a fairly regular basis, although I don’t usually like them very much; I liked Lost in America, but I didn’t laugh very often. It reminded me of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but a friendlier version (and, of course, Brooks’ brother is a semi-regular on that show). 7/10.

Country Strong (Shana Feste, 2010). You’ll be reminded of many other, better movies while watching Country Strong (most obviously, All About Eve and Nashville). Country Strong is an unambitious movie where actors are singers and the only real singer (Tim McGraw) doesn’t sing a note. Yet it’s not as bad as it sounds, and if it weren’t for an unfortunate melodramatic ending, I might have given it a higher rating. I was interested in seeing Garrett Hedlund, since I hadn’t seen him before and he’s Dean Moriarty in the upcoming On the Road … he’s fine, although I still have no idea how he’ll be as Dean. Gwyneth Paltrow inspires such hatred in people, and I don’t get it … part of me wants to shout, “be nice to Blythe Danner’s daughter!” She can do everything well, even if she’s not spectacular at anything (even her vaunted looks are more “prettiest girl I’ve seen” than “the most beautiful woman of all time”). Oddly enough, despite using actors as musicians, Country Strong treats the music with more respect than, say, Nashville, a far more ambitious (and vastly better) film that nonetheless didn’t bother to get actors who could actually, you know, sing. Paltrow, Hedlund, and Leighton Meester do fine; if they aren’t exactly Miranda Lambert, they’re a lot better than Henry Gibson singing “200 Years.” Too bad the movie isn’t much. 6/10.


what i watched last week

Gigi. Watched it and wrote about it last summer. Watched it again with a young visitor who enjoys classic musicals. 10/10.

The Terror of Tiny Town. I guess everyone should see it once. It’s an all-midget western, but that doesn’t fully describe the movie. It’s a western with a cast of midgets who are terrible actors. In other words, it’s not just another B-western but with midgets … it’s a bad B-western with midgets. 2/10.

Cabaret. This doesn’t really count, since I didn’t watch all of it, although by the time I got done watching the musical scenes over and over again I’d put in a few hours time. I did that for the Friday music post, where I stated that Cabaret is one of two or three best movie musicals of all time. My wife called me on that, so I tried to explain myself, and the explanation had a lot of holes, I admit. First, I limited the choices by saying the other two “best” would be whatever 30s musical was your favorite and whatever 50s musical was your favorite … say, Top Hat and Singin’ in the Rain. This artificially shrinks the field, so clearly I’m cheating. (I also made the assumption that there are no 40s or 60s movie musicals as good as the above.) So I adjusted my claim. I told my wife that Cabaret was the best movie musical of the last 40 years, 70s-today. I said I wasn’t counting concert films like The Last Waltz. Off the top of my head, and admitting I’m not an expert on musicals of the past 40 years, I couldn’t think of one better than Cabaret. The IMDB users have Cabaret ranked as the 25th-best musical of all time, and 9th since 1970. Most of the more recent musicals that rank above Cabaret are either Disney cartoons or Bollywood productions. I haven’t seen most of them, so my opinion is even more flawed (although the one Bollywood film on the list I have seen, Lagaan, is a favorite of mine). So when I say Cabaret is the best movie musical of the last 40 years, remember I’m ignorant about Disney and Bollywood. #281 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 10/10.

Play Time. It’s an odd week for “what I watched.” There’s a repeat movie, a cult classic crapfest I watched for no apparent reason, a movie I didn’t really watch, and now this one. I don’t care for Jacques Tati … have seen Mr. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle and begrudgingly gave them each 6/10. I rented Play Time based on its status as the 88th-best film of all time according to the They Shoot Pictures site … and it sat on my desk for more than two weeks, because I couldn’t get myself to actually watch it. Finally, I stuck it in the Blu-ray player and settled in. It looked very familiar. I checked back on the Netflix site, and sure enough, I had rented it last September. I didn’t rate it, so maybe I didn’t finish it. I knew right then I wasn’t going to finish it this time, either, since not watching it once was enough. So no grade for this one, although if you love Tati, you probably love this one.


random friday, 1972 edition: cabaret

Some of popular music’s most important artists released albums in 1972, with classics from All the Young Dudes to Young, Gifted and Black. It was the year of “Burning Love” and “Coconut” and “Goodbye to Love” and “Superstition.” Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won the Grammy for Record and Song of the Year, while Helen Reddy won Best Pop Female Vocal for “I Am Woman” (and, in one of those stupid selections the Grammys love so much, the Album of the Year was The Concert for Bangladesh).

And here I am, amidst all that goodness, writing about a movie musical. And I’m not writing much, because the video links tell so much of the story on their own. Suffice to say that I think Cabaret is one of the two or three best film musicals of all time, and I’ll forgive Liza Minnelli anything because of her Sally Bowles.

Having said that, I’d say the biggest problem with Cabaret comes from the casting of Minnelli. She is divine, of course, but perhaps too much so … it takes a huge suspension of disbelief to accept Minnelli as a third-rate cabaret artiste in the Kit Kat Klub. Oh well, I can handle it. (For some reason, none of today’s YouTube links allow embedding, so links is all you get.)

Mein Herr

Some of Cabaret’s songs have become inspirational classics, but the truth is, the songs are a depressing lot:

Maybe This Time

The songs are ironically funny at their brightest:

Money, Money

But they are never able to lift the characters out of the pit within which they live: Germany during the rise of the Nazis. We’re not talking “Springtime for Hitler” here.

Tomorrow Belongs to Me

The Nazis are taking over, and the cabaret is losing its ability to offer escape (if, indeed, escape was ever possible). When Sally sings that life is a cabaret, she’s talking about a third-rate cabaret filled with Nazis. She thinks of Elsie, “the happiest corpse I’d ever seen.”

(Life Is a) Cabaret

Cabaret was never a part of that god-awful tradition, the “rock musical” … it isn’t Hair, it’s not Jesus Christ Superstar, not Godspell or Grease. But I would argue that it was very much in line with certain strains in the rock music of the day. Its themes of decadence, bisexuality, and artificial glamour connect it to Glam Rock. Lou Reed, no stranger to decadence or bisexuality, came out with Berlin in 1973, and it sounds nothing like Cabaret, but addresses some of the same themes (arguably in a more ham-fisted manner). No matter. Cabaret is a lot more powerful than The Concert for Bangladesh.