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Jessica Lange's Triple Crown 

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Monday
Sep222014

Fiddler on the Roof is 50

Fifty years ago today, Fiddler on the Roof opened on Broadway and was an instant success with audiences and also won 9 Tony Awards including the big kahuna Best Musical. It would become the longest running musical in Broadway history until it was surpassed by that crop of 80s mega-musicals from Britain. The musical has been performed countless times since in stage productions all over the world and four revivals on Broadway (76, 81, 90, 04). 

Best Actor nominee Topol in "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971)

By 1971 there was a movie adaptation that was nominated for 8 Oscars including Best Picture and I don't believe we've ever discussed it. That ain't right. I've been thinking about 60s and 70s musicals a lot recently due to that book "Roadshow!" and while the movie studios were definitely overinvested in the genre after the gargantuan back-to-back mega hits that were Mary Poppins and Sound of Music occassionally a hit would crop up within the string of flops that killed the genre thereafter. It helped that Norman Jewison was helming. As "Roadshow!" recounts:

I've never seen a distributor, an exhibitor... or the head of a studio ever improve on a film," said Jewison, "Only creative people can improve on a film." Cinematographer Oswald Morris said, "Norman was under hideous pressure from United Artists to keep costs down. To give him his due, he withstood all this; he had a vision for Fiddler, which he wasn't prepared to compromise, no matter what the front office said, and I greatly admire him for this." Jewison immersed himself in classic Jewish culture. I think he knows more about Judaism today than I do," said Topol. Fiddler lyricist Sheldon Harnick noted that Jewison, "isn't Jewish, but he did so much research in preparation for the film that he became quite knowledgeable about things Jewish. As a result, either Topol, or someone else suggested that he should be made an honorary Jew and renamed Norman Christianson!"

When signed, Jewison was hot off the double Oscar success of The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! (1966) and In the Heat of the Night (1967) with his best work still far in the future; That's Moonstruck (1987) -- you know this to be true!

Critical reactions to Fiddler varied and some people objected to its relentless downplaying (within the marketing) of the Judaism of the story, but it raked in big bucks. Or as "Roadshow!" puts it: 

Roughly half of "The Sound of Music"'s earnings, but half of "Music" still qualifies as a blockbuster.

My last visit with this property was not the movie but the stage show's gorgeous 2004 revival starring Alfred Molina (the set design and lighting were just exquisite stage triumphs but it weirdly won no Tonys despite plentiful nominations) and I was stunned to realize or, rather, remember that virtually every song is a classic. It's one of those musicals.

What's your favorite number in that show and do you like its film version?

Monday
Sep222014

Unlikely Oscar Chances for Brazil and Venezuela with 'The Way He Looks' and 'The Liberator'

Glenn here to take a look at two of this year’s official foreign language film selections from South America. They couldn’t be more different if they tried: from Venezuela we have The Liberator, a historic epic, while Brazil has submitted the rather small-scale gay teenage romance The Way He Looks. The latter is a particularly interesting selection for Brazil, a country that hasn’t been nominated since the one-two punch of 1998-1999, yet it follows in the path of last year’s even more adventurous selection Neighbouring Sounds, which hadn’t a hope in hell, but kudos for that country’s committee choosing quality over what’s perhaps perceived as an easier sell to Oscar voters.

Venezuela would have been wise to do the same. While the exquisite Bad Hair probably wouldn’t have made the Oscar cut even if it had been selected, passing it up in favor of the transparent and flat filmmaking of Alberto Arvelo’s The Liberator disappoints. The cynic in me from my early days of Oscar-watching would have thought this film a shoe-in given its grand war sequences, low-heat romance and exotic vistas, but doesn’t it feel like we’ve somewhat moved away from this sort of film with Oscar voters showing unique bravery in recent years of this category. Maybe the Venezuelan selection committee thought the sight of handsome Édgar Ramirez floating above a swath of flag-waving revolutionaries on the poster would pique AMPAS interest.

VENEZUELA'S THE LIBERATOR
Arvelo’s film is the story of Simon Bolivar, a man whom the opening credits tell us fought in over 100 battles and traversed 70,000 miles, twice the terrain of Alexander the Great. “His army never conquered – it liberated.” An early scene of Bolivar returning to his home in Venezuela with his new wife even shows that the  slaves on his plantation all think of him as a wonderful, noble man and he joins them in a late night dance by a bonfire. He’s basically a perfect human being. A man of the people. That doesn’t exactly make for the most interesting character. Nor does it make for a believable one.

More The Liberator and Brazil's gay romance The Way He Looks after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Sep222014

Beauty vs Beast: There Will Be Beasts

JA from MNPP here welcoming you to another week's "Beauty vs Beast" showdown - this time around we're going good and bad and ugly and everything in between, heading out West to the oil fields of California at the turn of the previous century.

Over the weekend Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood screened at the immense and ornate United Palace Theater here in New York with Jonny Greenwood's masterful (and criminally Oscar-ignored) score performed live by an orchestra, including Mr. Greenwood himself. I was there and it was, to put it mildly, as if somebody liquified all of Heaven itself into drug-form and shot it full-blast into my veins. That is to say -- I enjoyed it. So to keep my happy buzz thrumming just a little longer, let's head back to The Church of the Third Revelation and see where our loyalties lie - with Daniel Day-Lewis' boy-abandoning oil-man or with Paul Dano's oily-man of god who keeps crawling under his skin.

 

We should try to keep ourselves character-minded as we cast our votes (keeping in mind that Eli might be a squirmy little fraud but Daniel Plainview does some, um, very bad stuff), but on the actor side of the equation I do want to say that while Oscar was very clearly definitive about where its hosannas fell (and I'm not about to knock DDL's for-the-ages work) I do think Dano's performance has been under-valued. The film wouldn't work nearly as well as it does if he wasn't purposefully driving us into Daniel Plainview's long, cold, scary arms. But really they're all a bunch of bastards (in baskets).

PREVIOUSLY Last week we revisited the raining rose petals of the insular suburban world in Sam Mendes' American Beauty on the ocassion of its 15th anniversary, and faced the angry patriarch and angrier matriarch of the Burnham clan off - coming out ahead by one fashionable gardening clog, Carolyn (Annette Bening) marched off with just over 60% of the vote. Said Mike In Canada:

"I feel like a major turning point in the road to true grownup-hood is realizing that Carolyn is the true hero of American Beauty and that Lester is a thoughtless prick and the movie's attitudes toward them are a major flaw."

Monday
Sep222014

BAZ DAZZLED!

Manuel here with some Spectacular Spectacular news!

This one goes out to those Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin fanatics out there (there’s still a number of us, right?). Since releasing The Great Gatsby ...sorry, two-time Academy Award winner The Great Gatsby, Baz has been flexing his muscles elsewhere: he directed some beautiful shorts for the Prada/Schiaparelli exhibit at the Metropolitan museum, he directed the musical stage adaptation of Strictly Ballroom currently playing in Sydney, and threw quite the lavish party (does he throw any other kind?) to commemorate the opening of Melbourne’s newest mall, Emporium. We’ve also been hearing whispers of him possibly directing the long-gestating Stanley Kubrick project on Napoleon for HBO. While we wait, those of us in the tri-state area (or those visiting) may get our Baz-fix from the holiday windows at Barney’s this winter in what the retail company is calling a “Baz Dazzled Holiday”; a title which is equal parts flamboyant, ridiculous, and flashy which is to say, Baz in a nutshell.

Style. Fashion. Razzle-dazzle. It really feels like a match made in Spectacular Spectacular! heaven. Let’s throw suggestions out here for what Baz & Martin might come up with for Barney’s. Are you hoping for some holiday pop mish-mash worthy of a Shakespearean couple, or maybe for a 1930s glitzy winter wonderland?

Also, I wouldn’t be doing this news tidbit any justice if I didn’t in some way shoehorn in this picture, taken during New York Fashion week of Baz and his two Moulin Rouge! stars, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor which Nat may have missed in his TIFF-frenzy. They do make quite the dapper trio, don't you agree?

Monday
Sep222014

Box Office: The Lost Cause of September

Amir here, back to weekly box office reporting duty. Coming back from TIFF, I tried to catch up a bit today with all the sales numbers I’d missed since August. It turns out the biggest bit of news was... the release of Forrest Gump IMAX??? Really, September? Is that the best you can do? Turgid stuff.

On the bright side, with awards season now slowly getting into full gear, we can look forward to the highbrow films the studios have been withholding from all us all year, starting with this weekend’s... The Maze Runner and This Is Where I Leave You? Damn it September; get your act together!

big name casts don't always make big time movies

WIDE RELEASE BOX OFFICE
01 THE MAZE RUNNER $32.5 NEW Review
02 A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES $13.1 NEW 
03 THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU $11.8 NEW
04 NO GOOD DEED $10.2 (cum. $40.1)
05 DOLPHIN TALE 2 $9 (cum. $27)

Maze Runner easily topped the weekend’s box office. Our very own Nathaniel didn’t think much of the film and he seems to be with the majority. This is Where I Leave You? premiered at TIFF and was met with something resembling vitriol. Post-festival reactions from the mainstream press are only slightly better. The ensemble comedy starring Jason Bateman, Tina Fey and Adam Driver performed below expectations, as did the film that actually surpassed it to second place, A Walk among the Tombstones. The new entry in the “Liam Neeson as the Saviour in an Action Film” series failed most likely because its only hook was Liam Neeson as the Saviour in an Action Film, with no aid from planes or wolves.

Limited releases were more exciting.

have you seen Love is Strange yet?TOP TEN LIMITED (EXCLUDING WIDE RELEASES LOSING THEATERS)
01 TUSK $.8 NEW 
02 MY OLD LADY $.4 (cum. $.6)
03 THE SKELETON TWINS $.4 (cum. $.9)
04 THE TRIP TO ITALY $.3 (cum. $2.1)
05 CANTINFLAS $.2 (cum. $6)
06 LOVE IS STRANGE $.2 (cum. $1.5) Review
07 THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY: THEM $.1 (cum. $.2) right way to watch? / review of him/her
08 THE GUEST $.08 (cum. $.1) Review
09 ZERO THEOREM $.08 NEW Review
10 CALVARY $.05 (cum. $3.4)  

At least three films worthy of your time opened this weekend. Michael liked Tracks for the most part. I’ve been falling more and more in love with Stop the Pounding Heart, a modest, evocative film that blends fiction and documentary to study a religious community in Texas. It’s almost ethereal in its beauty and very challenging in its subtlety and frankness. There was also 20,000 Days on Earth (review forthcoming) which is a fictionalized documentary about the creation of Nick Cave’s latest album. It’s a very interesting film about the creative process and one that really delves into the psyche of the man at its centre to contextualize his work. None of these films passed the $100k mark and neither did Simon Pegg’s Hector and the Search for Happiness or Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (reviewed), but here’s hoping they get a fair shake soon.

What have you watched this week?

Saturday
Sep202014

Review: The Maze Runner

This review originally appeared in an abridged version in Nathaniel's column at Towleroad. It is reprinted here with their permission for your reading pleasure... or displeasure depending on how you feel about The Maze Runner. 

Dylan O'Brien stars in Maze Runner

The last thing anyone will ever enjoy about The Maze Runner, should they be so lucky as to enjoy it, is a review describing the finer points of its narrative. Let if suffice to say that Stiles from Teen Wolf wakes up in a large glade surrounded by a huge stone maze. It is not a metaphor for Dylan O' Brien's navigation of sudden stardom. The only inhabitants of this sealed environment are a group of similarly aged boys, none of whom are frequently shirtless werewolves, dammit.

Why are they there?

Who put them there?

Can they ever escape?

What’s different about Dylan O’Brien besides the largest paycheck?

Will there be a sequel?

The movie shall answer all of these questions in 113 minutes! And many more. In fact The Maze Runner so loves to ask and answer questions, that it does so in literally every scene rivalling Inception in sheer expository percentages of dialogue uttered.

Since the movie loves to answer, here's 12 more questions if you click to enter the maze

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Sep202014