Tag Archives: musical

Return to Treasure Island (1992)

The next week’s letterboxd theme[1] was “central and eastern European animation”, which… I definitely have confirmation bias here, and to be fairer still, a lot of the things I had no access to sounded pretty interesting. But what we landed on was a US edit of a Soviet adaptation of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, where the adaptation a) was dubbed[2] and b) edited, I am informed, solely to remove live-action musical interludes. so I think it still counts, as the point was the animation.

The animation was… it had a certain style of its own beyond what I’m about to describe[3], but it was mostly a match for what I’ve seen come out of the 1930s, before Disney and Warner Brothers got fancy, and following the rules and physics of a Looney Tune. It followed Jim Hawkins from innkeeper to treasure map holder to British naval enlister to fort holder to pirate battler. How much of this is true to the source material, I honestly don’t know, but man, I assume it cannot have been much, because in addition to bad animation, bad music, and an overly jokey tone, the plot was far more terrible than a beloved classic could possibly be in real life.

Full disclosure: I got sleepy about a third of the way in, but I followed large chunks of the rest of the film, and I definitely got enough detail to form an opinion on everything except the plot. I’m possibly going to rewatch the parts I missed, and in the unlikely event my opinion changes as a result, I’ll say so. But… wow. Just wow. This was by far the worst thing to have come out of the website weekly experiment.

[1] I am making it appear as though we’re catching up. We’re not, I’m just been on vacation this week.
[2] I have no way of knowing, of course whether there was any initial propaganda nor whether it was edited out. The movie was made before the breakup of the USSR and the adaptation was made after, for whatever that’s worth.
[3] Mostly it (the style) was the hyper-realistic (compared to everything else) low camera angle on people walking forward, with a kind of rolling, striding gait. It was… mesmerizing, is what, possibly because they lingered on it far too long since it was a cheap loop that filled time.

Mulan (1998)

Upon request, I have also watched OD[1] Mulan, and I have thoughts. Sort of.

One thing I think is that I’m missing a lot of context. Not only did I just watch the live-action remake, but I also live in a post-Frozen world, where Disney is going out of their way to be empowering, or at least egalitarian, in their gender politics. So Mulan marching off to war to [spoilers upcoming for a 20+ year old movie] become a war hero who at no point needs anyone to rescue her is pretty groundbreaking for a Disney who started off with main character “princesses” who never even took actions, much less actions to improve their own lives. My point is, context matters and this was probably a bigger deal of a movie in 1998 than it seems to me now. Which is good! I would be much less happy if it felt groundbreaking today.

Another thing I thing is, man, Disney musicals are hit or miss. And this one, musically? Mostly missed for me. Some of the songs were really bad, and almost none of them made any lasting impact on me. The two that rose above that included one that was also cringeworthy. I mean, it was supposed to be, but that didn’t really help? Oh well. That said, the further into the story I got, the fewer songs there were. So that part was helpful!

Lastly, I have comparative thoughts, which are these: I’m really grateful to this movie for existing, because the remake took every good thing about the original, processed and refined it into something that was purely better. The problems I had with the live-action version were directly a result of the movie feeling like a real historical document, as opposed to the animated Disney version of a folk legend. In folk legends, you can believe in people doing the right thing, just because it’s right. It’s harder in real life, and my point is, the remake felt real. I’m not sure Disney could have pulled that off without their own template to pull from. It’s not just “What if one of our old movies, but live action?” that Beauty and the Beast was. It really is its own new thing.

As for this? It’s alright, you know? And I like it when Ming-Na Wen is a badass, even if I can only hear her.

[1] Original Disney

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Fun fact: I only saw the Disney animated Beauty and the Beast once, theatrically, 26 years ago. I had the soundtrack CD, so I know it pretty well, but I only ever saw it the one time. (Less fun fact: Twenty six years ago. I was in high school, which is even less fun still.) Between that dimness and the 30+ minutes of new footage, the original live-action Beauty and the Beast that Disney traced the animation from but then kept locked in a vault all this time was pretty close to watching a new movie; at the least, it was like watching a familiar movie where all I could remember was how it ended. And, I mean, fairy tale, so I would have “remembered” that part either way.

The artificiality of the thing faded sooner than I expected it would. Like, there’s the artifice of most musicals in the first place. Why are they singing? Why does it not bother them that they’re singing? Especially, why does it not bother them that they’re singing in groups?! But that’s not even what I mean. The part where you know all the words and these people should be animated, and they’re moving like the animated people moved in your memory, but they’re real? That was weird. Until it wasn’t, which was my original point, so I guess I’m glad it faded. All the same, there are things in animation that do not translate well in live action. Like, the snowball fight. The girl who has no real options in the world because it’s the 1700s, but even worse, she’s smart enough to understand she has no options, plus everyone dislikes her for being smart enough to know such things, or really any things, so she has even fewer options than that? That girl, and the prince who was such a failure of a human being that a witch cursed him so that his outsides would be more capable of the destructive rages and petulant angers that his insides were already wracked with, that girl and that prince get in a snowball fight. Well, she throws a snowball at him playfully. And, to be fair, he playfully throws one back, only his outside form has not yet caught up with his gradually bettering insides yet, because that’s only just started to happen, so he’s a hulking beast throwing a snowball that fits in his hand and is therefore roughly the size of Emma Watson’s head, and my point here is that Emma Watson getting laid out flat on her back and unconscious from one playfully intended snowball maybe plays better when it’s the animated version of Emma Watson than it does when a 400 pound hairy asshole just nearly murdered Hermione Granger. Y’know? Unless the point of live action fairy tales is to demonstrate just how exceptionally patriarchally bent they are, in which case, nailed it.

The sad part is, I’m not even saying I didn’t like the movie. It was pretty well executed, and he really eventually isn’t an asshole, and probably wasn’t even for the snowball thing; I just twitch at the idea that she had to fix some asshole, as that was her only path to a reasonably good life. I’m sure things have improved since then, though. I mean, not the part where everyone in the village hates Belle, that part is still true. Just ask Hillary Clinton. But the part where it’s possible to have a good life despite being hated for it, that’s an improvement!

I may have gotten off topic? But the truth is, probably not. Anyway, super-awesome coda: there is a drive-in theater like 4 miles from my house! And that is where I saw this. Downside: a hybrid car is not the right car to take to the drive-in. It kept turning itself off to save battery that honestly did not need saving. So, small tweaks. It’ll be better next time.

Also, the back end of the double feature was Rogue One, which I’m happy to report is still good.

Into the Woods (2014)

MV5BMTY4MzQ4OTY3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjM5MDI3MjE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_This is tricky. I do not want to write a review of a Stephen Sondheim musical, partly because I do not feel qualified to review musical theater in greater depth than whether I liked it, and partly because I’ve been familiar with Into the Woods since my choir friends performed it in high school. So, suffice it to say that I like the musical a great deal, even if I can never, ever remember the last 20 or 30 minutes of it.

That said, how do you review a movie when the plot is off the table? Acting? It was all fine; I especially liked Chris Pine’s princely manpain, and Johnny Depp’s excellent cameo was well served by being only a cameo. Special effects? Well, all the staging and sets were pretty great, but the few times special effects were employed, they were…. not so much. I don’t feel like this is a thing that should be cared about, really, of a stage adaptation? Either way, though. Clearly nobody screwed up the singing, and yes, it was a very faithful adaptation.  So, if you like that kind of thing, this is a really good example of it! And if you do not, well… it’s a musical, so you will continue to not like that kind of thing, but it’s also a damn fine fairy tale mashup. If for some reason that matters.

The Phantom of the Opera

Musicals: sometimes I like them. It helps if the entire world doesn’t join in randomly and without feeling the slightest bit self-conscious about it (see South Pacific, although there are exceptions that can make this work, such as if it’s happening due to demonic interference). And it probably makes me overly trendy and without taste that I like Andrew Lloyd Webber better than the generic musicalisician, but nevertheless I do, and it’s too late to do anything about it now. Although in my defense, I hate Cats, as is good and proper.

The upshot of all this is that it was inevitable that I’d go see The Phantom of the Opera as a movie, despite the near universal panning it took. And here’s the thing. It didn’t only not suck, but was, with just a few exceptions, really good. In some aspects better than I’ve ever seen it onstage.

Problems: Too melodramatic. This went away after the first few scenes, which is good. Because that kind of thing works on stage, but makes a movie feel goofy. I’m not sure why there should be such a difference here, but there is. Also: too musical. Like I said, the singing randomly thing, it grates in a cinematic experience. I think it bugged me this time because I was prepared for all the singing, but then they did some of the scenes straight, speaking where I was expecting music. Thusly was the illusion broken, so that when they did sing, some of that failed to fit after all. And, too much naked statuary. Yes, it was in the time before Victorian England took over the social mores of the western world. And it’s not like exquisite (and I should think frightfully expensive) gold statues of women quarter-dressed in sheets bothers me, either aesthetically or pruriently, in an opera house. But the equally detailed granite naked statuary in the cemetary seemed, well, out of place. I’m just saying.

Now, the good stuff. I’m not going to worry about spoilers, a) because if you don’t know the basic story by now, it was by choice and so why should you care about being spoiled, and b) because for a movie like this, the comparison with forebears is the only really important thing to review.

In no particular order, things I liked: The gradual reveal of the Phantom’s madness, via the skew between his perceptions of himself and his world, and external perceptions of the way his world really was. Emmy Rossum‘s portrayal of Christine as a sympathetic character, which is the first I’ve ever seen. (I’ll come back to that.) The chandelier scene, which was greatly improved over past productions (and I’m not talking about the limitations of a movie vs. the stage here, so don’t start). Oh, and the opera house itself, although clearly too large to fit in the external structure they showed, was just really cool in every room.

The random over-exposition scenes were a wash, because on the one hand, blatant exposition makes for a bad film, but on the other, it was (mostly, and here I do not include the cringeworthy Little Lotte lines) interesting and depth-adding exposition.

Cutting here, as the rest contains spoilers for the movie only. Still, they’re the reasons to see the movie, so you should click through anyway.
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