Month: July 2014

To Movie or Not to Movie? A Question for Musicals

I remember my excitement when I stood in line for my ticket to see 2004’s Phantom of the Opera. I was at the height of my craze of listening to the musical. Singing along to it. Switching between the Canadian cast (my favorite) and the London cast.

Sadly, watching the film was disappointing. Gerard Butler’s rock and roll voice did little to make me believe he was the angel of music, but his performance wasn’t the only one to bedevil the film. It seemed the film took a turn toward the parody that Andrew Lloyd Webber had originally intended his musical to be before making it something better.

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I remember hearing a woman in the audience sobbing during the climactic scene. I wanted to cry, too, but not for the Phantom’s pity, but for the wasted opportunity of the film. And for the money I spent on the ticket.

Not all musical films are bad. My favorite is 1972’s Cabaret. It adapted the stage production excellently, and even altered the story for film in a way I find superior. The musical numbers were plausible yet exciting and the parts were all well portrayed, garnering two of the film’s stars Academy Awards.

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In 2002 we got Chicago which also garnered much critical acclaim. It was glitzier and flashy and trashy in the best ways, and I barely noticed Catherine Zeta-Jones was preggers.

Otherwise, film adaptations of musicals seem to be a spotty affair. Damn Yankees mixed mediocre Hollywood and the best of Broadway together for a “blah” experience, Mamma Mia! was really hokey, but maybe it was supposed to be that way. Les Miserables seemed to do okay, and let’s not forget ever popular Grease whose dismal sequel is largely forgotten (as it should be).

It’s this inconsistency that makes me nervous when someone wants to adapt musicals to film. They are very polarizing, catering either to hardcore fans or the laymen movie goers. What is the magic formula that caters to both?

Probably the next big thing, now that Les Mis has come out, is Miss Saigon. It’s one of the most recent musicals in both setting and conception, and even features a more modern structure and darker, more contemporary conflicts.

Miss Saigon is practically begging to be on screen, but would a film do it justice? Could a cast match the magic that is Lea Salonga; could a director translate the vision to the screen without making it a mess?

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I can imagine a version of the film that recreates the tragic love of a young girl not just for a man, but her love of a dream for a better place. It’s a film that celebrates her spirit and warns us of a world that threatens to break it.

I can also see an over-politicized mess with extra scenes of the Vietnam War that draw us away from the intimate nature of a musical in favor of a Michael Bay-esque orgy of cheap effects and lens flare.

These are the thoughts that come up with these adaptations. There is beauty in adapting a musical to the cinema so that millions can see what most don’t get to experience on Broadway. But the question remains, does it compromise the integrity of a musical to be shoehorned into a medium that is tauntingly similar but fundamentally different?

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Iron Man 3: A Review

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I never expected to like the Iron Man films. By the time I felt this way I had seen my share of super hero movies go wrong, and figured Iron Man would be no different. Sure enough Robert Downey Jr. pulled off the unexpected and with his sardonic wit won me over in the first film.

The second film also surpassed expectations by taking me on an even bigger ride, breaking the sequel curse by not sucking all the good things from the original.

Then, of course, there was The Avengers, one of the better superhero films of recent memory that somehow made all these superheroes that I found individually uninteresting exciting and charismatic. Disney/Marvel definitely has a plan here. So how does Iron Man 3 fit into this plan?

Surely, following such a colossal hit such as The Avengers was a daunting task, and how exactly do you sell a movie ticket for one hero for the same price as one for several?

Apparently, the idea is to make the story more personal, more intimate. Perhaps the hero is struggling with the aftermath of his outings in the previous films? Iron Man 3 is a darker film and it does attempt these things.

But… it doesn’t do them well.

First of all, I can’t stand action movies that take place during Xmas. The only exceptions are Die Hard, a true classic, and The Long Kiss Goodnight, which shares director Shane Black with Iron Man 3. How odd.

There is really no big reason for Xmas to be happening. The only gift-giving I saw was for someone’s birthday.

We are also introduced early on to a villain whom comic book fans would recognize, Mandarin. In this film, he is made out to be some kind of terrorist leader, and you’d think this would cause Tony flashbacks from his time captive in the middle east, but no, it doesn’t come up.

Besides, the true villain is easy to figure out in the first minute. (Hint, don’t shun nerds in the elevator. They *will* seek revenge.)

Also, Tony and Pepper Potts seem to be having love troubles. No one knows why. Perhaps not even them. And Tony is working on remote control suits that will allow him to fly through plot holes and the strings of deus ex machina with ease.

The majority of the plot focuses on Tony Stark trying to find the Mandarin guy, who turns out to be a proxy for nerd-turned-stud Guy Pearce. Pay attention here, though, because Ben Kingsley gives a masterful portrayal of this non-villain.

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The rest of the plot revolves around Guy Pearce and his army of exploding glow stick people trying to assassinate the prez. It’s all very flashy and stuff, and Pepper Potts even becomes a glow stick girl and might have a bigger role in the next Avengers film alongside every other side kick this side of D.C. Comics.

Overall I felt this film was a letdown, and not because it followed after The Avengers, but because, aside from Pepper being able to heat up her own water back at the office, nothing really changed. Tony Stark developed like a fake tree, and the villain was really nothing menacing.

The film could have been darker, more emotional, tore at our hearts, but it really just kind of scratched at my nerves. Oh well, at least there was an excuse to sell more toys.

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The Egg-O-Naut and I

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Space week in 5th grade was supposed to be the penultimate week of the school year, filled with fun games, creative projects, and a movie day, all based on the subject of space. My teacher, Mrs. Smith talked about it all year.

Something else she talked about all year aside from her precious Rottweiler dogs (we lived in the same neighborhood and I can attest that they were, in fact, mean as all hell) was my classmate Andy.

Andy was the teacher’s pet. He knew everything. He was good at everything, except sports and hand-eye coordination. Being a “classroom of the future”, we had five or six computers, and Andy got to test all the new software (i.e. play games) while we did assignments.

Mrs. Smith loved Andy. Mrs. Smith did not love me.

I was smart too, but I was lazy. I didn’t like doing my homework, but I did okay on the tests. A couple of years later I was selected to take the ACT in middle school since I tested in such a high percentile, but it didn’t bother me that she didn’t like me, because no matter whom she loved in class they would always be third to her two ugly dogs.

By the time the anticipated space week arrived, Mrs. Smith had such a low opinion of my abilities that when I had to use alternate materials to build a rocket ship (we were supposed to use bare paper and toilet paper card board rolls, which my mom said was trash, so I resorted to plastic cups), she so begrudgingly gritted her teeth when she “complimented” my improvisation, that I expected her Fixodent to disintegrate.

The project which served as the week’s climax was the Egg-O-Naut challenge. The task was for us to use an empty soda bottle (more trash) which would serve as a space capsule for an egg, which we were to ensure could survive being dropped from the height of a utility pole truck’s fully extended bucket thingy. Mrs. Smith would do the honors of tossing our labors to the ground and watch as they shattered to pieces.

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When it came time for me to construct my capsule, I felt an urge to ensure that my egg survived, but I didn’t really know what to do. So I began to stuff my empty Sprite bottle with paper towels, hesitantly at first. Once I began to realize that this strategy may work (padding, padding, padding!), I continued to fill the bottle with as much as possible. Then for good measure, I wrapped the egg with plastic wrap and tape, and I even drew a face on him, because at that moment it became a him.

The next day, Mrs. Smith went around the class room to inspect our capsules. When she looked at mine, she raised her eyebrows as if so say, “We will see if that actually works later.”

She continued around the room, and shrieked with joy when she got to Andy’s desk. Of course it was Andy…

Mrs. Smith began to show the class Andy’s capsule as he described how it would work. It was quite intricate, actually, and impressively so. This capsule was outfitted with an array of rubber bands which held his Egg-O-Naut within. It was quite visible to the rest of the class that the egg was contained within as snug as a bug in a… spider web.

Mrs. Smith, practically aroused with excitement, went on to say “I’ve never seen anything like this. If this doesn’t work, nothing will!”

So up went Mrs. Smith in the utility bucket thingy with all of our capsules. One by one they came smashing down. Some of them more decorative than practical, which sent the Egg-O-Nauts into scrambled oblivion. Others, creative or ingenious, managed to deliver their passengers unscathed, while most suffered from unexpected design flaws which left the victims battered and cracked.

When I retrieved mine, I tore into the vessel and found my happy little traveler alive and unspoiled. Well, in the heat of late Spring, he was probably spoiled, but unbroken nonetheless. He was among the few survivors that day.

Now we all waited as Mrs. Smith prepared to drop Andy’s technological wonder, a feat of egg safety. We even counted down like it was a new year. The year of Andy?

Down, down it went, like Frodo to Goblin Town and impacted against the parking lot, not with a dull smack, but a kinetic crack. We all rushed to the landing zone to see the achievement or catastrophe. Andy arrived first and screamed, not in victory, but bitter defeat. As if it were a child he cradled the goopy remains of his prototype. Mrs. Smith arrived and it was a solemn moment. I wonder now if she enjoyed the taste of her own foot, which was lodged quite deftly in her mouth.

And that poor egg, trapped within a web of death meant to be a mesh of protection, must have ricocheted terribly.