Tag: based on play

Movie Review: Little Shop of Horrors: Director’s Cut (1986)

little shop of horrors
Seen: On blu-ray on our projector set-up, from my personal collection.

So this is the first time I’m re-visiting a film that I’ve already written about on this blog, but this is an important one to re-write I think. Little Shop of Horrors is one of the first movies I ever wrote about, way back in 2008 (if you don’t remember that is expected, if you do I am freaked out that you’ve been aware of my internet presence for that long?). It’s a movie I’ve found myself watching more and more often in the intervening years, and while I’ve always liked it, it’s grown on me even more. Then for Christmas I got the new blu-ray release, which features the original ending, wherein huge alien plant monsters terrorize urban spaces, and goddamn if that isn’t the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a good long while. You see, the stage version is one of my favorite-ever musicals, and I was always disappointed by the cutesy (mostly) happy ending Frank Oz was forced to tack on because test audiences didn’t like the actual true-to-the-play destructive ending. So the director’s cut is kind of like a completely different movie, and now a good thing can become great.

Little Shop of Horrors follows an adorable schlub with no self-esteem named Seymour Krelbourn (Rick Moranis) as he unexpectedly rises to fame and fortune all thanks to his discovery of a strange and interesting new plant. This little guy is named Audrey II, and it grows after Seymour starts feeding it blood, eventually becoming sentient and sweet-talking the put-upon florist to feed it human bodies. Out of his love for his sexy coworker Audrey (Ellen Greene), Seymour finds a perfect victim in her sadistic, abusive boyfriend (Steve Martin), but soon the killing escalates and our hero realizes he’s in way over his head. Maybe he should sing out his problems, I don’t know.

This musical features a lot of my favorite things, which is why it’s remained a favorite since I first saw it in middle school. I mean, it’s got aliens and murder and world domination and songs about dentistry and horticulture and stellar 60s costumes and a nerdy hero. AND THE MUSIC IS AMAZING (by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, so it’s no surprise). I have listened to the Broadway revival soundtrack (starring Hunter Foster, hello) maybe more than any other musical soundtrack I own? Which is saying a LOT, believe you me. I used to put too much stock in the stage version and focused on the shortcomings of the movie adaptation, since it’s missing some of the best songs and I felt the cast wasn’t really strong enough. BOY WAS I WRONG. Honestly Seymour could not be more perfectly cast, since Rick Moranis completely embodies this sweet, doofy nerd who makes the stupidest decisions but I can’t help but love. Plus he wears a sweater vest all the time (SWOON). Ellen Greene has excellent comedic timing and her breathy voice is spot-on, plus I know we can all appreciate her truly impressive cleavage. Her singing voice is strong and it’s kind of at odds with her speaking voice, but that happens to a lot of people who play these funny-voice roles. Steve Martin is, obviously, a super hunk as the studly-but-sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS, and his one musical number is an exquisitely-paced/choreographed sequence that I want to act out again and again. And his scene with Bill Murray is fraught with sexual tension in the best way.

The musical numbers are done pretty fucking well considering the lead isn’t that strong of a singer and the director had more experience directing dancing Muppets than people. Oz captures the emotional crescendo of “Skid Row (Downtown)”, the wistfulness of “Somewhere That’s Green”, the vicious humor of “Feed Me (Git it)”, the tender romance of “Suddenly Seymour”, and now, the grand scale of “Final Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)”. The three Greek chorus-type figures, played by Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, and Tisha Campbell-Martin, are fantastic, rockin’ some fabulous outfits and generally having a fun time as they dance around the protagonists and revel in their highs and lows. And of course as the voice of Audrey II, Levi Stubbs is gleefully malicious and well-suited to the tunes.

The ending, my GOD the ending. It’s this grandiose spectacle of massive mobile plants tearing shit up for like 20 minutes, and it’s amazing. I was literally agape, AGAPE I TELL YOU! One of the coolest things about Little Shop in any of its iterations is always the puppetry involved for Audrey II, and Oz really takes advantage of the film medium for his version. There are a wealth of urban sets/miniatures just destroyed by these maniacally laughing plant monsters, as they’re shown breaking through buildings, devouring streetcars, and wreaking havoc in the streets while extras run around wildly. The final shot of Audrey II climbing on top of the Statue of Liberty is just fantastic, and the bursting-through-the-screen gag is a nice touch.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, I kind of always just want to watch it again after viewing… and in the past I’ve done just that. But if you’re not into that idea, I don’t know, maybe more Rick Moranis? Spaceballs? Or oooooh, My Blue Heaven for another Moranis/Martin team-up!

PS So I made one of the most important discoveries of my young life while doing an image search for this post. The two songs I’ve always been bummed weren’t fully in the movie are “Ya Never Know” and “The Meek Shall Inherit”, which both are included in shortened versions but not to my satisfaction. THEN I found out that a full(er) version of “The Meek Shall Inherit” was filmed but not included on any of the releases, and it’s a dream sequence that explicitly references Singin’ in the Rain, aka my favorite movie of all time. AND SO ALL WAS PERFECT FOR BUT A FEW MOMENTS. Check it out, dudes.

PPS This is just my self-promotional reminder that I made a poster for this movie that I’m really proud of and it’s for sale.

Rockin’ Teens Double Feature: Hairspray (2007) and Shake, Rattle & Rock! (1994)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection (Hairspray); Streamed on netflix instant on my computer (Shake, Rattle & Rock!).

Last time I was at my parents’ house I had a serious hankering for some musicals (I had listened to my musical soundtrack playlist the whole bus ride there). I remembered that somewhere in the depths of my family’s amassed dvd collection lay both Hairspray and Chicago, both of which I’d been meaning to revisit. The former I popped out last week, and the latter I’ll be viewing at some later date when I’m in the mood. I followed up Hairspray with Shake, Rattle & Rock!, a made-for-tv Allan Arkush movie that I had started weeks ago and never finished. Its early introduction of television discrimination against black singers made me think it’d be a good pairing, though that turned out to be a more minor part of the story than I anticipated. Still a fun double feature though, and ahead I shall discuss the relative merits of each film!

Persistently upbeat and an extremely talented dancer, chubby teen Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is delighted to be living in a more open-minded age as the 1960’s transform her beloved city of Baltimore, MD. She dreams of becoming famous and eventually lands a role as a dancer on a local tv show aimed at young people who dig rock n’ roll. While the show’s lead dancer Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) resents an unconventional girl like Tracy stealing the spotlight, her manipulative mother, station manager Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), is outraged at Tracy’s mission to integrate the station so that skilled black students at her school can join the show. There’s lots of singing and teen romance and backstage conniving and body positivity and oversimplification of race issues and silly jokes and DANCING OH SO MUCH DANCING.

I remember in my sophomore year of high school a lot of my peers (especially the wealthier ones) had big fancy sweet 16 parties with candle lighting ceremonies and expensive dresses and huge crowds. Me? My parents took me and a few of my closest girlfriends into New York to see Hairspray with, if memory serves, some of the original cast still intact. It’s one of the best birthdays I ever had. So, naturally, I was PSYCHED for the movie, and I’ve gotta say I think it’s one of the better stage musical-to-film adaptations. Revisiting (and, naturally, live-tweeting) was super fun because gosh darn if it isn’t just a jolly time. The music is catchy as hell and, say what you will about Adam Shankman, but he can choreograph and capture the hell out of an exciting musical number. That sequence on the bus? Thrilling. Well, all of “Run and Tell That”, really, since that’s my favorite song AND the main time Elijah Kelley gets to show off his hot skills. It also helps that most of the film is imbued with candy-colored costumes and sets, creating a hyped-up 60’s wonderland that perfectly suits the lead character’s gleeful energy.

Story-wise, Hairspray does have some problems, though I think the whole “fat girl likes to dance and then finds love” angle is handled pretty well. Tracy is shown as loving herself for who she is, never trying to lose weight (except one lyric about being “hungry for something that I can’t eat”) or change for other people. In the end she gets the hot popular guy and is set to become famous, simply because she’s awesome and has supportive family/friends. But the other plotline about segregation is sort of weird, mostly because it oversimplifies race issues and also has that tired “white savior” angle. BUT it also talks about how black musicians set the standards for a lot of white musicians who stole their songs and style, and it showcases a lot of really talented black singers/dancers, including Queen Latifah who is THE BEST. And considering it’s primarily a happy-go-lucky kind of musical, I can’t expect insightful narratives about race, really. I haven’t seen the original Waters film in a while so I don’t remember how it’s handled in that. The other frustrating thing is John Travolta, who is obviously a great singer and (at times) fun actor, but I remember there being a lot of controversy about his portrayal of a female character. It’s tough because no one could fill Divine’s shoes, obviously, and no one wants an asshole Scientologist playing an overly realistic woman and totally ignoring the context of drag culture. I don’t know, it’s not really something I’m informed about so I wasn’t as offended as I know some others were, though it’s too bad they couldn’t have had Harvey Fierstein back. The third thing I thought would be a problem was Zac Efron, but dammit he’s actually really funny and likable as popular teen singer Link Larkin.

Ok wow I could go on about this movie forever but let’s stop. Hairspray is so much giddy fun I can look past most of its negative aspects, and that CAST, my GOODNESS, just adds to the pleasure. Michelle Pfeiffer gets to be super hot all the time, duh, and Christopher Walken shows off his dancing skills (what a pro!) and Amanda Bynes reminds me why I always liked her, and James Marsden justifies my crush on him and, best of all, Nikki Blonsky charms the pants off every single person- in her first film role! Adorable. I wish she would get super famous already.

4/5

So I started watching Shake, Rattle & Rock! on a whim a while ago and was instantly reeled in by the incredibly cute and fun credits sequence, featuring a young Renee Zellweger as a hip 1950s teen dancing around her room and singing along to “The Girl Can’t Help It”. I realized maybe my favorite thing is when movies open with girls singing along to songs in their bedrooms? Like in Adventures in Babysitting! Anyway, the movie follows Renee’s character Susan as she dreams of a way out of her small town, hoping the rock band she’s formed with her friends will give her an opportunity. After dancing on a local music show that also brought in a teenage doo wop singing group, Susan is chastised by her backward-thinking mother. The more the teens of the town try to express themselves through music, the more their strict (and racist) mothers (led by Mary Woronov!) try to ban it. Eventually rock and roll as an entity is put on a televised trial, with wacky music-loving host Danny Klay (Howie Mandel) defending and the moms prosecuting. And yes, it is loosely inspired by the 1956 film of the same name.

Dealing with some of the same issues as Hairspray (racism/segregation, teen dance shows, parents just not understanding), and sporting a great soundtrack of its own, Shake, Rattle & Rock! turned out to be the perfect follow-up. It’s definitely in the same vein as Rock n’ Roll High School– hell, half the cast is the same- so I’m catching on to what Arkush’s strengths are. The story is super simple, with little depth of character and little actual conflict. But there’s great music, with Zellweger faux-rocking out (that’s not her voice, right?) and awesome performances by R&B group For Real as a cappella quartet The Sirens. And I loved that there’s a wise-cracking teen lady who plays saxophone! I relate to that!

I dig the cast and the pro-rock and roll storyline, especially since the music is so fun, but the romantic subplot is really dumb and I hated that it ended with Susan driving off with whats-his-name Old Greaser Guy. The strongest aspect of the film is definitely Siren lead singer Sireena’s story, as she and her band combat both racial prejudices as well as parental disapproval. Her mother gave up a singing career of her own, and she doesn’t want her daughter reaching for unachievable goals, but she eventually supports her talent and their story wraps up really nicely post-credits. Overall it’s just an enjoyable, easy-to-like movie that had me dancing around almost as much as Hairspray. ALMOST.

3.5/5

Movie Review: Grease (1978)

Seen: On a very worn vhs tape on my tv, from my personal collection.

Welcome to another episode of “Movies Alex Was Obsessed With as a Child”! Today’s program will feature Grease, a movie that’s morally reprehensible in most ways and generally super flawed but still manages to be pretty goddamned perfect. When bad boy Danny (John Travolta) falls in love with Australian goodie-two-shoes Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) over the summer, he’s in for a big surprise when she pops up at his high school after an unexplained “change of plans” in her family’s living situation. They OBVIOUSLY belong together because of true love and hormones, but his cool image among his nonviolent gang The Thunderbirds and their awesome female counterparts The Pink Ladies is threatened by her super boring squareness. They try to date but there are hindrances to their love and also lots of singing. Eventually they both realize they have to totally alter their personalities in order to conform to the other’s perception of the Optimal Significant Other. Oh and also a teenager is maybe pregnant in the 1950s, but that’s like a sub-subplot, no big deal.

I watched this movie all the fucking time in like third and fourth grade with my best friend from down the street, and we would always want to act out the musical numbers. Trouble was, we both always wanted to be Danny because Sandy is SO uncool, so there were some pretty serious fights, that usually involved me being a wimp and accepting dullsville Sandy’s part. Sigh. Old grievances die hard, you know? While watching Grease alone in my apartment after an extremely stressful day/week/month, I was content to sing and dance along to EVERYBODY’S parts the entire time, it was great. The music in this film is sooooo good, you guys, but I’m sure you already knew that. Just thinking about it I’ve instantly got “Summer Lovin'” caught in my head and I am all the better for it. Yes, they cut a lot of songs from the play (though several are heard in pieces at the dance, or on the diner jukebox) and they added two- the way boring “Hopelessly Devoted” to give Newton-John a spotlight solo, and one of the best songs of the movie, “You’re the One That I Want”, which makes all of their changes ok. As a kid the tight-panted gyrations of “Greased Lightnin'” stirred certain feelings, and now I love the song for how incredibly sexual it is. Every song except “Hopelessly Devoted” is great, basically, and I couldn’t care less how ridiculous the story is or how weirdly old all the actors are, because I’m having such a good time.

The script is goofy, relishing its 1950s references and sexual innuendo. The camaraderie among the cast is palpable, so it’s honestly entertaining to just watch them hanging out. I love the more intimate, silly scenes like the girls’ sleepover, and Danny and Sandy’s date at the drive-in. A lot of actually serious topics are dealt with, from teen pregnancy to dropping out of high school to societal divisions, but nothing is treated with gravitas. The only serious moment in the whole movie is Stockard Channing’s beautiful rendition of “There Are Worse Things I Could Do”, a defense of her perceived-as-“slutty” behavior when hit with antiquated moral judgments. The overall message of the film is that completely changing your personality and appearance to please the guy you wanna date will make your life better, but you have to WANT IT, you know? Also: Love makes cars fly, which is terrifying.

It isn’t actually perfect, but it could fool me because I love this movie so much. It’s just fun, and generally its flaws make me love it more. To me it’s adorable that Dinah Manoff (Marty) couldn’t dance so she stumbles awkwardly through “Beauty School Dropout”. Or that Olivia Newton-John is really obviously in her 30’s as she bops around like a 16-year-old. Or that the car chase isn’t very well filmed so it’s kind of anticlimactic. Of course much of Grease is legitimately awesome. It’s great that classic actors like Joan Blondell, Frankie Avalon, and Eve Arden have comedic supporting roles, lending an extra dose of nostalgia to the proceedings. And the SONGS, OH THE SONGS.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well we all know I adore the sequel. I also assume Travolta’s other big musical hit from the previous year, Saturday Night Fever, would go well, but I haven’t seen it.

My original poster design for this film is available for purchase.

Movie Review: Killer Joe (2012)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge, where I got carded for NC-17. Me and my fucking baby face.

When idiot drug dealer Chris (Emile Hirsch) finds himself in debt for several thousand dollars to a local mobster, he hatches a plan to kill his mother so he can claim her life insurance plan. He brings in his father (Thomas Haden Church) and step-mother (Gina Gershon), conspiring to hire a cop known as Killer Joe (Matthew MacConaughey), who works as an assassin on the side. Joe agrees to do the job and get paid his fee once they get the insurance money, but takes Chris’s pretty sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as collateral. Of course, nothing goes as planned and soon the whole family is in deep shit with a terrifying sociopath.

Killer Joe stands out primarily for its performances, especially Matthew MacConaughey and Juno Temple. He is creepy as hell as well as brutally funny, continuing to prove himself more versatile in his more recent roles. She brings a mixture of innocence and self-assurance that makes her character the most formidable of all, as those around her underestimate her maturity and understanding. Thomas Haden Church is great in a supporting role as Ansel, the put-upon patriarch whose easygoing nature and alcoholic retreat allow him little control over his own fate. I was also impressed with Emile Hirsch, who gets uglied up really fast so his acting stands out more than his considerable good looks.

With a decidedly dark streak of humor and little in the way of moral reservations or limitations, Killer Joe is summed up as intense… but also funny. It’s an at-times strange mix of the two but works primarily as a straight thriller. Its moments of levity are often unexpected, offering breaks in the tense and generally seedy atmosphere. I was genuinely uncomfortable during several scenes, and while I realize that’s pretty much the point, it didn’t exactly endear the film to me. I had expected a lot of gore or weird sex stuff from the NC-17 rating, but it’s really the general ickyness of Joe and his interactions that got to me. Shudder.

And I can tell you that I definitely won’t want to eat fried chicken for quite some time.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Buhh I thought of one as I was watching but then I forgot, darn it all. I haven’t seen Bug but that’s the main other Tracy Letts work I know of. Or if you want to see Juno Temple naked some more there’s Kaboom.

Movie Review: The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Seen: On vhs on my tv, from my personal collection.

Adapted from the play of the same name and regarded as the film that brought Katharine Hepburn back into the spotlight, The Philadelphia Story has long been one of my favorite classic films. Hepburn stars as privileged socialite Tracy Lord, who is set to marry up-and-coming businessman George Kittredge (John Howard). Her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) invades her wedding party with two reporters- Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) and Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey)- posing as friends of her brother. Tracy’s wayward father has been romancing a New York dancer and to keep that story under wraps, the gruesome editor of Spy Magazine wants all the details of her big day published. The days leading up to the wedding itself are rife with romantic intrigue and family squabbles as Tracy begins to doubt the decisions that led her to this point.

Riddled with sharp-tongued dialogue, memorable performances, and a strong dose of social satire, The Philadelphia Story is always fun to revisit even if the actual story is pretty simple. It helps that three of my favorite classic actors are pitted against each other in an enticing love triangle, trading insults and compliments equally while dressed to the nines. If I had to choose I’d say Jimmy Stewart is the standout, but then I do favor the man. His character is abrasive, pretentious, and a bit droll, and I love every minute of it. He’s also got one of my favorite drunk scenes, bellowing “CK DEXTER HAVEN!” with that adorable drawl, it’s just great. The unsung hero of the piece is actually Ruth Hussey, who is fabulous as put-upon photographer Liz. She’s witty and sarcastic in the best way, and her character is probably the most sympathetic since she’s the most realistic. She’s got financial and personal problems but she’s never self-pitying, rolling with the punches as the big personalities fight it out around her.

Of course, this is Katharine Hepburn’s show, what with the play being written for her and everything, and she doesn’t disappoint (has she ever?). Her Tracy Lord is fierce and dominant, with enviable posture and a heart hardened to the men who’ve disappointed her. She is not without a sense of humor, and hilariously throws Mike and Liz off guard with her over-the-top performance when they first arrive. Several of those close to her give speeches about how cold and “goddess-like” she is, which makes her feel distant and unloved, and actually I get a little frustrated with how Taming of the Shrew-y this gets at a few parts. I like Tracy’s character a lot and am generally on her side, she’s got high standards and there’s nothing wrong with that since she should expect the best for herself and others. She’s derided by her father and mother for not being more forgiving of his infidelity, which is bullshit, and it’s weird that people seem to blame her coldness for their own weaknesses? Cary Grant thinks she’s a jerk for not being nicer to him about his drinking, or something. I understand that alcoholism is a disease and people need love and support and whatnot, but he didn’t seem like he was trying to get better so I’m pretty sure she was in the right.

Anyway, I do really love The Philadelphia Story. It’s funny and wicked entertaining, and features cool people and fancy outfits galore. I have a few reservations with how Tracy’s character is treated, but on the whole she’s so strong and admirable that I can look past them.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I usually want more Jimmy Stewart romance after this one, maybe The Shop Around the Corner or You Can’t Take It With You.