Ten Favorite Movie Musicals

Below is a list of my ten favorite movie musicals (seven of them are period pieces) . . . so far: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIE MUSICALS

1. “Mary Poppins” (1964) – Oscar winner Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke starred in Walt Disney’s Oscar winning adaptation of P.L. Travers’ literary series about a magical English nanny. Robert Stevenson directed.

2. “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) – Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds starred in this musical classic about Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talkies. Kelly co-directed with Stanley Donen.

3. “Hello Dolly!” (1969) – Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau starred in this colorful adaptation of David Merrick’s 1964 Broadway hit musical about a matchmaker in late 19th century New York. Gene Kelly directed.

4. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomlinson starred in this entertaining adaptation of Mary Norton’s novels about a woman studying to become a witch, who takes in three London children evacuated to the country during World War II. Robert Stevenson directed.

5. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-Johns starred in this adaptation of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s 1971 Broadway play about the lives of high-school students during their senior year in the late 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

6. “42nd Street” (1933) – Lloyd Bacon directed this musical about the preparation of a Broadway musical during the Great Depression. Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Ruby Keeler and George Brent starred.

7. “Dreamgirls” (2006) – Bill Condon wrote and directed this adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical about the travails of a female singing group from Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s. Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson starred.

8. “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (1967) – Robert Morse starred in this hilarious adaptation of the 1961 Broadway musical about an ambitious New York window washer using a “how-to” book to rise up the corporate ladder of a wicket company. David Swift wrote and directed the film.

9. “1776” (1972) – William Daniels, Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1969 Broadway musical about the creation and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Peter H. Hunt directed.

10. “The Gay Divorcee” (1934) – Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers starred in this adaptation of the 1932 Broadway musical, “The Gay Divorce” about an American woman who mistakes a song-and-dance man as the professional correspondent, who had been hired to help her get a divorce. Mark Sandrich directed.

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MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

 

“MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

Arthur Conan Doyle created a force of nature when he set out to write a series of mystery novels featuring the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. His novels have not only provided a series of movie and television adaptations for the past century, but also the Holmes character has led to a great number of movies, novels and television series that featured original stories not written by Doyle. Among them is Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”.

About a decade later, “MR. HOLMES”, a film adaptation of Cullin’s novel finally hit the movie screens. Directed by Bill Condon, the movie told the story of a 93 year-old Sherlock Holmes, who has returned to his Sussex farm, following a trip to Hiroshima, Japan in 1947. The aging retired detective had taken the trip abroad to acquire a prickly ash plant and use its jelly to help him improve his failing memory. Apparently, Holmes has been unhappy with his ex-partner Dr. John Watson’s account of his last case, which occurred over 30 years earlier, and hoped to write his own account. Holmes recruits the help of Roger Munro, the young son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, to help him regain his memories and care for the bees inside the farmhouse’s apiary. Over time, Holmes and Roger develop a strong friendship. And Holmes’ memories of his last case prove to be different than he had expected.

When I had first decided to see “MR. HOLMES” in the movie theaters, I did not expect it would be a mystery involving crime. I felt certain that it would more or less be a character study about the famous fictional detective. Not only was I right, I was also surprised to learn that Holmes’ last case said a lot about a certain aspect of his personality and how much he had changed through his relationship with Roger Munro and his mother. The movie also focused on Holmes’ trip to Japan and the curious relationship he had developed with a Mr. Tamiki Umezaki, who helped him find the prickly ash plant. Holmes discovered that Mr. Umezaki had a reason, other than admiration for his past reputation as a detective, for helping him. The latter believes that Holmes knows the real reason why his father had abandoned the Umezaki family many years ago. Only Holmes does not remember.

Ever since its release in theaters, “MR. HOLMES” has been showered with acclaim from film critics, aside from a few who were not completely impressed. When I first saw the trailer for “MR. HOLMES”, a part of me immediately suspected that the movie would feature a mystery. But I also suspected that the mystery would have nothing to do with a crime. I was proved right when I finally saw the film. In the end, “MR. HOLMES” proved to be at its core, a character study of the fictional detective. But the movie is also a study of a man struggling with aging and the slow loss of his memories and faculties. Due to Holmes’ failing memory, the details surrounding his last case and the disappearance of Mr. Umezaki’s father served as the story’s two mysteries.

A character study of Sherlock Holmes. The last time I saw a similar narrative unfold occurred in the 1976 movie, “THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION” in which the detective struggled with cocaine and morphine, along with an unpleasant childhood memory. But the 1976 movie also featured a mysterious death and kidnapping. No crimes were featured in “MR. HOLMES”. The interesting aspect about “MR. HOLMES” is that the detective’s last case revealed an aspect about his personality that he had never acknowledge or recognized in the past. A personal shortcoming that led to the final failure of his last case. And this discovery . . . this failure led him to retire as a private detective in disgust. And yet, thirty years later, Holmes finds himself struggling to face that aspect of his personality again, due to his relationship with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her young son, Roger.

Overall, “MR. HOLMES” was an interesting and well-paced experience for me. I thought director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a first-rate job in exploring not only Holmes’ personality, but also the other major characters featured in this movie. I also have to give kudos to both men for being able to maintain the story’s main narrative and unveiling the mysteries of Holmes’ past, while flashing back and forth between the detective’s past and present. And they did this without the movie falling apart in the end.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production values. Production designer Martin Childs did an excellent job of re-creating both London in the 1910s, along with Sussex and Hiroshima in the mid-to-late 1940s. There was nothing earth shattering about his work, but I believe it served the movie’s purpose. His work was ably enhanced by Jonathan Houlding and James Wakefield’s art designs, and Charlotte Watts’ set decorations. In fact, the movie’s entire production values seemed to be in a state of understated elegance, including Keith Madden’s costume designs, which ably re-created the wardrobes of the two decades featured in the movie.

If Ian McKellen failed to get an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the aging Sherlock Holmes, I will be disgusted. I was amazed at his ability to portray the same character in two different time periods, yet at the same time, reflect at how much that character had changed over the years. And remained the same. Another Oscar potential performance came from Laura Linney, who was outstanding as Holmes’ put upon housekeeper, Mrs. Munro. First of all, I thought she did a first-rate job of recapturing her character’s regional accent. And two, she did a superb job of conveying her character’s unease over the growing friendship between her son and Holmes. If Milo Parker can stay the course, he might prove to be an outstanding actor as an adult. He was certainly first-rate as the very charming and intelligent Roger Munro. He also managed to hold his own against the likes of both McKellen and Linney.

I have not seen Hattie Morahan in a movie or television production for quite a while and it was good to see her. More importantly, she was superb as the housewife Ann Kelmot, who was under investigation by Holmes in the past. The actress managed to effectively project an intelligent, yet melancholic air that nearly permeated the film. “MR. HOLMES” is probably the first dramatic project I have ever seen feature Hiroyuki Sanada. Well . . . perhaps the second. I have always been aware that he was a first-rate actor. But I feel that he may have surpassed himself in giving, I believe, the film’s most subtle performance. I was astounded by how delicately he shifted the Tamiki Umezaki character from an ardent admirer of Holmes’ who wanted to help the latter to the emotional and suspicion son, who demanded to know the whereabouts of his missing father. The movie also featured solid performances from Roger Allam, Patrick Kennedy, Frances de la Tour, John Sessions and a surprise cameo appearance of Nicholas Rowe (who portrayed the fictional detective in the 1985 movie,“YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES”).

As much as I enjoyed “MR. HOLMES”, I believe that it suffered from one major flaw. Some critics had complained about Holmes’ visit to Japan and more specifically, his visit to the Hiroshima bomb site. I did not have a problem with Holmes and Mr. Umezaki’s visit to the famous site. Personally, I found it rather interesting. On the other hand, I had a problem with the subplot regarding the mystery of Tamiki Umezaki’s father. I will not spoil the ending of this particular story arc. But needless to say, I not only found it disappointing, but downright implausible. Was this how Mitch Cullin ended the Umezaki story arc? If so, I wish Hatcher and Condon had changed it. There was no law that they had to closely adapt Cullin’s novel.

Aside from the Tamiki Umezaki story arc, I found “MR. HOLMES” very satisfying, engrossing and very entertaining. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a top-notch job in adapting Mitch Cullin’s novel. And they ably supported by the subtle artistry of the movie’s technical crew and the superb performances of a cast led by the always excellent Ian McKellen.

“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

 

“DREAMGIRLS” (2006) Review

When I first learned that “DREAMGIRLS”’ eight Academy Award nominations did not include one for Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Bill Condon, it had seemed pretty odd to me. The movie, based upon the 1981 Broadway musical, had already won plenty of accolades – including a Best Musical/Comedy Picture and two other Golden Globe awards. Was it possible that “DREAMGIRLS” had failed to live up to its hype? 

During the mid-winter of 2007, several movie critics, including one for “The New York Times” had claimed that this might be the case. This critic and others went on to say that although “DREAMGIRLS” was a pretty good movie, it lacked the qualities to be considered as a nominee for Best Picture. Since I had yet to see “DREAMGIRLS” at the time, I wondered if my sister – who had highly recommended the movie – had exaggerated its good qualities.

Eventually, I finally saw “DREAMGIRLS”. And just last weekend, I I watched my DVD copy of the movie for the third time. Needless to say, I now feel that my sister had not exaggerated. The movie not only possessed a rich, in-depth look at the music industry for African-Americans in the 1960s and 70s, it can also boast fine performances and a very unusual direction.

The cast, which included Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, Danny Glover and Jennifer Hudson. Foxx, Knowles and Glover all did competent jobs in their respective roles. I was especially surprised to see Foxx (usually seen in comedy roles and an Oscar winner for his portrayal of Ray Charles) portray villainous record producer Curtis Taylor Jr. in such a subtle, yet intimidating manner. Knowles proved that she can be a competent actress – especially in two scenes that feature her character’s (lead singer Deena Jones) growing resentment toward Taylor’s control over her career and life. It was good to see Glover in a substantial role again, after so many years. He was his usual competent self as the more conservative manager of Eddie Murphy’s character, James “Thunder” Early. Another character connected to the Early role was Lorrell Robinson, portrayed by Anika Noni Rose. I must admit that Rose’s portrayal of the young, star-struck Lorrell seemed a little hammy and unconvincing at first. Fortunately, her performance improved, as her character matured.

Two of the best things about “DREAMGIRLS” turned out to be the show-stopping performances of Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson as R&B singer, James “Thunder” Early and the Dreams’ real talent Effie White. Not only did both performers win Golden Globe awards for Best Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. Then Murphy went on to receive an Oscar nomination and Hudson won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Murphy bypassed his usual comedic performances to portray James Early, a R&B singer doomed to have his raw talent being slowly squeezed to death by Curtis Taylor’s ambition for acceptance by the white audience in 1960s/70s America. Not only did Murphy give a brilliant performance as the doomed Early, he also proved that he could be a knock-out musical talent. “DREAMGIRLS” must have seemed like sweet revenge for Chicago native, Jennifer Hudson. After being dismissed by “American Idol” judges halfway into competition, Hudson managed to win the role of Effie White, a talented and mercurial singer forced to deal with rejection by Taylor because of her “soulful” voice and physical appearance. Hudson’s show-stopping performance of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” combined the best of her acting ability and magnificent voice, and may have possibly rivaled Jennifer Holliday’s performance of the same song in the Broadway version.

Not only did “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” beautifully showcased Jennifer Hudson’s talent, it also proved a theory of mine. I had once told a friend that singing in front of a live audience took more than simply holding a microphone and singing. To get the song across to the audience, the performer needed to act out the meaning behind the song through facial expressions and body language. Such expressions through song has been shown before on both the screen and stage, but Hudson took it to a level that left me breathless . . . and almost crying. Not only did the song’s lyrics expressed Effie White’s desperation to maintain Curtis Taylor’s love, but her facial expression and body language effectively did so, as well. I also have to commend Knowles, Foxx, Rose, Keith Robinson (who played Effie’s songwriter brother C.C.) and Sharon Leal (who played Effie’s replacement, Michelle Morris) for their performances in a scene in which they all express their frustration and resentment toward Effie’s volatile behavior. For a moment, I thought I was watching an operetta.

In fact, one felt the sense of watching an operetta, instead of the usual musical. Since the Astaire/Rogers series of the 1930s, movie musicals have perfected the art of movie dialogue seamlessly segueing in a song. In “DREAMGIRLS”, not only does the dialogue segue into song, but sometimes segue back into dialogue in the middle of a song. Or . . . two characters would end either do the following: 1) interrupt the dialogue with a few lines of song; or 2) switch back and forth between song and dialogue. This made “DREAMGIRLS” feel like no other movie musical I have ever seen and I have to commend director Bill Condon for creating this unusual style for any musical.

Now, I find myself back to thinking about the 2006 Academy Award nominations. Do I agree that those critics had believed that the Academy was right to withhold Best Picture and Best Director nominations for “DREAMGIRLS”? In the end, those critics are entitled to their own opinions. I had learned from another source that “DREAMGIRLS” had enough votes from the Academy members to receive a Best Picture nomination. But from my personal view, all I can say is . . .”What the hell had the Academy been thinking?”