In the early 1940s "Uncle" Bill Williamson (Robinson) is sitting with… MoreIn the early 1940s "Uncle" Bill Williamson (Robinson) is sitting with some neighborhood kids in Hollywood when a theatre magazine arrives celebrating 25 years of African American music. Bill was present for all of it, so we flashback to him as a soldier returning from WWI and get a glimpse of the changing landscape of music for black performers over the previous quarter-century. Bill, his buddy Gabe (Dooley Wilson), and Selina, the girl he wants to make a life with (Lena Horne), carry the show exceptionally. Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, and The Nicholas Brothers give signature performances as well. Some songs and dances like the Cakewalk and the African jungle number show the inherent racism in show-business of that era even though no white characters appear to put up obstacles to these black characters achieving success. This movie treats us to two especially unique experiences. First, The Shadracks was a vaudeville comic duo who do a routine around a broke down jalopy. They demonstrate that even African American performers wore blackface as a mask that was acceptable to white audiences. Second, Katherine Dunham and Her Troupe do a balletic routine as a bridge in Lena Horne's performance of the title song Stormy Weather. This reminded me of Gene Kelly's balletic breaks in films from ten years later, and made me wonder if this could be the origin. I have not seen Cabin in the Sky yet from this same year. Were there other films from this time period that had fantasy dance numbers like this, or is this in fact the inspiration for those later movies that were beloved by the Academy? Great entertainment with rare opportunities to see black stars of this era own the screen.
One of my favorite soundtracks. I recently checked out the three… MoreOne of my favorite soundtracks. I recently checked out the three episodes in which The Blues Brothers performed on SNL (one appearance was in bee costumes with sunglasses added). Dan Aykroyd shares writing credit with John Landis. The subplot with Carrie Fisher as the musterious, vengeful former flame seems like it came straight out of a Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon. With the continuous car chase and smash-up of dozens of cop cars it also has a juvenile comic strip vibe. But hey, the brothers are trying to escape angry country-western good-ol' boys and white supremacists. Luckily the picture is saved by energetic song and dance numbers with cameos by James Brown, Ray Chales, Aretha Franklin, and the scene stealing Cab Calloway. Like the rare movie Storym Weather from about 40 years before that gave African American singers and dancers a chance to shine on the big screen (and also featured Cab Calloway), this brings a small selection of black music to mainstream audiences. Jake and Elwood with their Blues Brothers Band put a white face on this great American music. Overall, the movie is rough around the edges, but makes up for it with enthusiasm.
Funny, funny movie. It is full of exciting adventure and tender… MoreFunny, funny movie. It is full of exciting adventure and tender romance. Rob Reiner continued his string of 80s hits. I love all the performances! Fred Savage and Peter Falk provide the context of a bedtime story. Cary Elwes as Westley and Robin Wright as Princess Buttercup provide the romance. As Westley pursues his lost love and forms an alliance with Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya and Andre the Giant as Fezzik, the quest takes shape. I recently listened to the recording of Cary Elwes' memoir As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride. So, upon re-watching this modern classic, I had even more appreciation for the "greatest sword fight ever filmed." I also paid extra attention to Andre's performance, Wallace Shawn's insecurity, and Cary's broken toe.
Long time friends Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest partner up for this… MoreLong time friends Rob Reiner and Christopher Guest partner up for this first great mockumentary that hits all the right notes. Spinal Tap even opened the '84-'85 season of SNL a few months after the movie opened (Guest was a cast member that season after all). Guest, Reiner, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer all share writing credit on this improvisational gem. Hilarious songs and performances including the "archival" footage showing the band's phases through the '60s and '70s. We get a look behind the scenes with this British heavy metal band, their manager (Tony Hendra), and the girlfriend who nearly breaks up the group (June Chadwick), with cameos by Fran Drescher, Billy Crystal, and Fred Willard. I once used the "This amp goes to 11" scene to illustrate an argument in a philosophy class in college. We were talking about the two schools of thought: Rationalists and Empiricists. Listen to what Reiner and Guest say in this scene and their tone of voice. I'm with Marty, who I identify as being in the Empiricist camp. Amps go to 10, whatever the loudest level is should be called 10, you don't just invent 11 and all of a sudden your amp is better than any other. These British rockers are not all there in the head, so Nigel, the "Rationalist," is stumped when Marty presents his evidence and argument. The Rationalists are the philosophers generally arguing that there are ideal forms apart from the physical world, and arguing for the existence of God. Anyways, these were the ideas discussed in my one philosophy class, and that will continue to be discussed. Let's not forget that this movie is hilarious. I also love the scene where they get lost in a Cleveland theater trying to find their way to the stage from their dressing room. This movie set the stage for all future Christopher Guest mockumentaries.
Let's just get it out of our heads right now that The Wizard of Oz… MoreLet's just get it out of our heads right now that The Wizard of Oz from 1939 was the first technicolor film. This won three Academy Awards and is a grand, romantic, technicolor adventure. This is probably the source material for the Disney animated adaptation and the Mel Brooks spoof. This one focuses on the Saxon/Norman conflict in England. King Richard is away Crusading and Robin Hood gets right to stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Robin (Flynn) slowly brings Maid Marian (de Havilland) around to seeing the plight of the poor. The movie is joyful in showing Robin best the villains played by Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains. Despite several good sword fights I felt the movie as a whole lacked that extra oomph.
While working on Ken Ludwig's new comedy A Comedy of Tenors, which… MoreWhile working on Ken Ludwig's new comedy A Comedy of Tenors, which takes place in Paris in the late 1930s, I became curious to see this version of the Medieval legend since one of the characters mentions multiple times that he wants to be like Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood. It appears that there are several cuts of various lengths. The DVD I borrowed was an hour and fifty minutes. I think that over half of that run time was exposition. Having seen two other Fairbanks silent action flicks I expected more to happen and more appearances by the title character. Instead, Fairbanks as a rich Earl proves himself to King Richard in a joust. The Earl is nearly as chaste as Maid Marian but then they begin to fall in love. In a nice visual she outlines his silhouette to remember him. The Earl earns the scorn of Gisbourne and Prince John (the splendidly evil Sam De Grasse). Then we follow the King and his knights as they leave for the Crusades. Wallace Beery is very good as King Richard, but I'm not familiar with any other version of the story that spends so much time with the King. Prince John abuses the people and sets in motion a plan to kill the Earl and the King before they return. After more complications, the Earl and his loyal servant Little John (Alan Hale, who would play the same role 16 years later opposite Errol Flynn) finally return to right wrongs and recruit merry men in Sherwood Forrest. You can tell they are merry because they skip and leap everywhere with sweeping gestures. With so much exposition this Robin Hood becomes less about his catch phrase "I steal from the rich and give to the poor." Instead, this rebel character symbolizes the soldier who realizes there are more pressing problems to address at home rather than wiping out infidels in far off countries. Douglas Fairbanks under a pen name is given story credit here as well. There are only a couple well choreographed chases and fights, including Robin bringing swift justice to the vile Gisbourne, that bring some much needed excitement to the final quarter of the film. The outdoor shots and the amazing castle set support a capable cast in this silent with a lot of "talking" through title cards, but as I said before it needed more action and more Robin Hood.