The Movie Musical

The Movie MusicalThe Movie Musical!
Jeanine Basinger
Knopf (November 5, 2019), 730 pages
Kindle edition $17.99, Amazon hardcover $27.11

As you can see from the page count, this is a big book. Basinger presents a comprehensive history of the movie musical. She starts in the silent era, discusses a sort of hybrid in which the studios added sound to some sections of silent films (“part-talkies”), and then continues on to films with sound. Although she focuses a lot on films of the twenties, thirties, and forties, Basinger mentions movies released as late as 2018.

The author’s knowledge of the subject is encyclopedic, and she discusses scenes from some movies in what is at times excruciating detail. The book was nonetheless an enjoyable diversion from the struggles and travails of this most unhappy year, and Basinger offers many insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses. When discussing Broadway shows that were made into movies she distinguishes between filmed stage performances and shows genuinely adapted for film. She prefers the latter.

Basinger has some odd perspectives. She refers to certain Broadway adaptations from the seventies, including Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar, as being not “truly successful.” Say what? In discussing Straight Outta Compton, she dutifully acknowledges the complaints of plagiarism, violence, and abuse of women, and then tells us what an excellent film it is. The author goes to great pains to explain how the opening of Meet Me in St. Louis is such an excellent example of how to start a musical because it lets the viewers know what to expect. She then later praises the opening of The Sound of Music, with its helicopter view of Julie Andrews singing the opening number on a mountain meadow. That scene, while spectacular and uplifting, gives the viewer no idea of what to expect in the movie, with its love interests and its Nazis.

But enough complaining. The book was both informative and fun to read, and if you enjoy movie musicals I think you will find it well worth your time.

Ocean’s 8

Ocean's 8Ocean’s Eight
starring Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett
Warner Bros., 2018

Terry had seen Ocean’s 8 in the theater. She watched it with me when I streamed it using the new Roku Redbox app.

The premise is that Sandra Bullock’s character is Danny Ocean’s estranged sister, Debbie. Danny Ocean was, of course, the ringleader from Ocean’s 11 (the original and the remake). Like Ocean’s 11, Ocean’s 8 is a movie in the heist caper genre, but with the perpetrators all being women.

The Bullock and Blanchett characters bring in a group of accomplices to carry off the theft of a diamond necklace worth $150 million. They recruit a computer hacker, a pickpocket, a diamond expert, an expert in fencing stolen goods, and others to manage the complex plot. With actors such as Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna, the whole thing was quite entertaining.

If you’re counting the crew you’ll come up one short until after the heist, when the full eight of Ocean’s 8 is rounded out. An interesting twist in a film that was a lot of fun.

Just Play

I am not immune to the current streaming phenomenon. We subscribe to both Netflix and Hulu and we can get movies via Amazon Prime as well. (In addition we’ll re-subscribe to CBS All Access when Star Trek: Discovery returns in January.)

Just Watch app screen shotThe problem is that it’s not easy to find out what is available where. I have had to check each service individually to see where a given movie is available. I was looking for a better solution and found one. It’s called Just Play. When I set it up I specified the services to which I subscribe. Now I can search for a movie and it will tell me which services have it available for streaming.

How cool is that?

It’s available for iOS. Google couldn’t find the app, so I don’t know if there’s an Android version.

the art of Casablanca

I recently read  a review about a new book on the movie Casablanca. It reminded me of some things I had read in the past.

Apparently the first choice for Rick was Ronald Reagan. Really? That never would have worked.

Bogart and BergmanHumphrey Bogart was essential in making the movie what it became. He was a master of dialogue. I understand that the script read, “Here’s good luck to you kid,” but Bogie made it “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.” The original script said, “Of all the bars in all the world why did she have to show up in mine?” Bogart rendered the line, “Of all the gin joints in all the world why did she have to show up in mine?”

The movie holds up well. We have it both on Blu-Ray and DVD. Terry and I like to watch it on a cold winter’s Saturday evening, preferably with a bottle of port. The ending always brings tears to both of our eyes.

Here’s lookin’ at Casablanca.

movie careers

Hollywood is a fickle place.

MusicManTerry and I watched The Music Man on the 4th of July. It was a great experience watching the DVD using our Blu-ray player on our flat screen television with the sound bar and woofer. It is a marvelous movie and it holds up well after 54 years. Robert Preston and Shirley Jones were superb in their respective roles and seeing them at the time I am guessing that Hollywood producers and critics would have expected them to have stellar movie careers.

So what happened? Robert Preston never got past being stereotyped as the Harold Hill con man. He played that role in both Victor Victoria and in The Last Star Fighter. He really didn’t have any other significant movie roles. (That’s not to say that The Last Star Fighter was a significant role.)

And Shirley Jones? There were her four years in The Partridge Family. But she never did anything that came close to her role in The Music Man.

Hollywood. It’s a fickle place.

Star Wars after 38 years

It is hard to believe that the latest Star Wars movie appeared more than thirty-eight years after the original (May 1977 → December 2015). I was twenty-three at the time. I had little interest in seeing the movie and in any case I was busy getting ready to leave my beloved Claremont for the unknowns of Laredo, Texas. I was an employee of B.Dalton Bookseller, and I was getting my first manager’s gig, opening up the new store in Laredo. My section of the mall was the first to open. Later that summer the section of the mall containing the multiplex opened, and the first batch of movies included the original Star Wars. I was hooked. I saw it multiple times while I was playing there.

Now here I am at sixty-two and the first episode from Disney has arrived. Terry and I avoided Star ForceAwakensWars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens during its opening weeks, but we saw it last Friday after the crowds had dissipated.  My take: Harrison Ford was great. I loved Daisy Ridley. I don’t know why people were complaining about how Carrie Fisher looked. I thought she looked perfect in the role. Bottom line, though: it was too much of a fan flick for me. There were too many scenes that were simply remakes of the original three movies. I mean, really, [*spoiler alert!*] did the confrontation between Han Solo and Kylo Ren have to take place on a narrow catwalk above a deep chasm?

But you know what? I might well see the next movie. I would like to see more of Daisy Ridley’s character. Where did Rey get the powers of the Force? Is she, as my nephew and I suspect, Luke Skywalker’s daughter? And as my nephew said, there has to be more to Fenn’s story. There are unanswered questions there.

And so it goes in the Star Wars world.

Mr. Holmes

MrHolmesMr. Holmes
Ian McKellen, Laura Linney
Roadside Attractions, Jul 17, 2015
Rated PG, 104 min
Amazon DVD $14.14, BluRay $16.99

I very rarely write about movies. There’s a good reason for that. I rarely watch a movie. If I recall correctly, the last time I was in a movie theater what when The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a new release in 2012.

I was intrigued, however, when the Los Angeles Times reprinted a summer review of Mr. Holmes in December, presumably to remind the Academy about the movie. Terry and I streamed it via Amazon Instant Video on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Very well done.

The premise is that Sherlock Holmes was a real person, but that the accounts of his work by Dr. Watson greatly fictionalized and embellished the actual facts of his cases. In the movie Holmes is 93 and has retired to the country as a beekeeper, just as in Arthur Conan Doyle’s account. His memory is failing and he is trying to recall the facts of his final case, which he vaguely remembers he did not solve successfully, contrary to Watson’s depiction.

The cast is small. In addition to Holmes, there is his housekeeper and her son, who is integral to the plot. There is a man in Japan, who invites Holmes to his country in the aftermath of Word War II. We see the man who engages Holmes in his final case, and the man’s wife, about whom the man is suspicious. Holmes’s doctor plays a small but key role.

The movie started slowly, but I became engaged as it moved along. A couple of interesting twists at the climax led to what was for me a satisfying ending.

This is what is called a “small” movie, I suppose, but was well worth the hour and three-quarters I spent watching it.