Down From the Shelf ~ Fame (1980)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the lives of several teenagers who attend a New York high school for students gifted in the performing arts.

Stars: Irene Cara, Lee Curreri, Laura Dean, Antonia Franceschi, Paul McCrane, Maureen Teefy, Gene Anthony Ray, Barry Diller, Joanna Merlin, Anne Meara

Director: Alan Parker

Rated: R

Running Length: 134 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  Inevitably, when I was perusing my local video store I would spend a significant amount of time in the horror section and on the way up to the check-out I’d have to pass by the musicals where the box for Fame always caught my eye.  It could be that it was that it was next to Grease 2 or it could be that there was a foreshadowing of my interests moving forward.  When I finally saw Fame I was surprised to see that it wasn’t a musical in the traditional sense of the word but more of a drama with musical sequences.  Over the years and with each passing viewing I find a deeper appreciation for a movie that’s about a certain time and a certain place…and winds up being timeless.

A work of fiction that follows a handful of students attending the famously real New York High School of the Performing Arts through their auditions all the way up to their graduation, Fame is a rich film of layers that sticks with you long after the credits roll.  Though it’s dotted with characters that represent mostly broad archetypes (mousy girl, tough guy, black girl, gay guy, tough-love teacher, etc) Christopher Gore’s script treats them all with respect and care so that you find yourself identifying easily with their dreams, hopes, disappointments, missteps, and successes.  It also helps that the cast is uniformly excellent.

The musical sequences spring from real life situations and are staged with flair by director Alan Parker (Evita).   Michael Gore’s original score won an Oscar as did Gore and Dean Pitchford’s classic title song sung by star Irene Cara in a now-famous scene where the students swarm out of the school to dance on top of cars in the street.  In addition to up-tempo songs there are truly lovely ones as well like Cara’s “Out Here On My Own” and Paul McCrane’s wistful “Is It Okay if I Call You Mine?”, to name a few.

As the movie draws to a close it purposefully leaves ends loose and storylines unresolved because the journey these characters are going through still continues.  Ending in a joyous celebration of dance, music, and singing, Fame hits the high notes and goes out on one too.  If you’re someone that resists musicals this and 1979’s All That Jazz are two excellent “kinda musicals” that have equals amounts of music and drama.  Oh…and avoid the awful and unnecessary 2009 remake like the plague.

The Silver Bullet ~ Insidious: Chapter 2

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Synopsis: The haunted Lambert family seeks to uncover the mysterious childhood secret that has left them dangerously connected to the spirit world.

Release Date:  September 13, 2013

Thoughts:  All eyes are going to be on this September horror flick for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost: it’s a follow-up to 2010’s surprise hit that was heavy on atmosphere over gore and quite effectively made haunted house flicks scary again.  Speaking of haunted houses, this will be James Wan’s second film in 2013 that centers on a family terrorized by more than just the things that go bump in the night.  Wan was also responsible for July’s The Conjuring, one of the scariest films I’ve seen in years (you’ve seen it, right…I mean, right?) so we all know he has the goods to tap into what freaks us out the most.  Had this movie been released in 2011 as a quick cash-grab I may be more hesitant about it but knowing that Wan and company took their time with it gives me good vibes…and some ominous chills.

Thoughts:

Movie Review ~ The Wolverine

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Summoned to Japan by an old acquaintance, Wolverine becomes embroiled in a conflict that forces him to confront his own demons.

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hal Yamanouchi, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Brian Tee, Famke Janssen

Director: James Mangold

Rated: PG-13

Running Length:

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  It’s hard to imagine it now but audiences very nearly had a different actor playing Logan/Wolverine when the original X-Men movie was released back in 2000.  Though several A-List stars were sought for the role, their fees provided intimidating and newcomer Dougray Scott was cast as the mutant hero with the Adamantium claws.  When Scott’s work on Mission: Impossible 2 ran long he was swapped out for total unknown Hugh Jackman and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Thirteen years later Jackman (Les Misérables) has suited up again, marking his sixth appearance as the man with the questionable sideburns and some serious anger issues.  Though he stumbled with 2009’s misguided X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Jackman isn’t one to throw in the towel easily so it was back to the drawing board.  After several stops and starts his mea culpa is here, simply called The Wolverine and it’s a much more enjoyable outing, taking the character into some needed dark territory which gives Jackman a chance to infuse a fair amount of gravitas to a character born from a comic book.

Still…a little bit of brooding goes a long way and ever since Christopher Nolan re-invigorated the Batman franchise by giving The Dark Knight a dark arc it seems like every superhero action film since feels the need to follow suit.  That resulted in a troubling Man of Steel but The Wolverine just makes it out from the heavy pathos unscathed…though often times the Man with the Iron Claws gets dangerously close to being dragged down alongside the Man of Steel.

What helps the movie immensely is the nice amount of distance from everything else in the world of X-Men.  Though I love a good mash-up of characters as much as the next geeky fanboy, Jackman’s haunted character needed some room to stretch his claws.  Taking place largely in Japan, the script from Mark Bomback and Scott Frank feels more like a moody crime drama than it does a large-scale action film – don’t be scared by that statement because trust me, the film works more often than not.

That’s mostly thanks to Jackman who also seems more invested in the film this time around. Jackman is an engaging presence both on and off screen but in this film he doesn’t shy away from letting his dark side show, especially as Logan continues to be haunted by memories of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen).  When he’s located by a mysterious woman (plucky newcomer Rila Fukushima) and brought to Japan, he gets neck deep into trouble over unsettled scores and family secrets that turn out to involve him more than he thinks.

Aside from Jackman, the women in the movie are the most memorable.  I was pretty fascinated with Fukushima as well as model-turned actress Tao Okamoto as the daughter of a man from Logan’s past.  Though both actresses are very early in their careers, they acquit themselves nicely…even if Okamoto is somewhat clumsily thrown into a “I saw that one coming” romance with Jackman.  As a viper-like villainess, Svetlana Khodchenkova (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) looks the part right down to her perfectly placed evil mole but her voice is unfortunately awkwardly dubbed.  This makes most of her work fairly distracting and one wonders why director James Mangold couldn’t have figured out a better solution.

Perhaps a tad overlong and lacking the larger than life action sequences that the franchise would seem to dictate, The Wolverine begins to run out of steam around the 90 minute mark.  With about 40 minutes left, that isn’t great news but thankfully several batteries are recharged near the end and through a not-to-be-missed-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you credits sequence.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really mind the last stand-alone Wolverine film.  Yes, it wasn’t the right movie for anyone involved but it wasn’t a disaster like many that have come before and after it.  I know that Jackman wanted to get it right this time and for the most part the film accomplishes what it wanted to.  It corrects some past mistakes and sets up future installments for not only more Wolverine films but other X-Men adventures in the years to come (X-Men: Days of Future Past is set for release in May of 2014).  Is it the best film that could have been made…no, it’s not.  Still, it’s an entertaining entry that rates high on the popcorn scale.