Hollywood to Broadway – Hello, Dolly!

Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Original Broadway Show: Hello, Dolly!, opened on January 16, 1964
The Movie: Hello, Dolly!, (1969)
The Broadway Show: Hello, Dolly!, opened on April 20, 2017

 

When Hello, Dolly! first ambled into town it had built in elegance.  Produced by legendary theater impresario David Merrick, directed by famed choreographer Gower Champion, and starring Broadway favorite Carol Channing, the musical was traditional as they come and played like gangbusters winning 10 Tony Awards and remaining on the Great White Way for a record setting run.  Well known for its stunt-casting after Channing left, famous Dollys included stars like Ethel Merman, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, and Phyllis Diller, not to mention an ingenious staging of an all-black cast led by Pearl Bailey.  Hello, Dolly! also had a healthy life on the road with Channing touring as Dolly for years (decades, really), occasionally stopping back in NYC for limited engagements.   Strangely, the first exposure I had to the show wasn’t from a Carol Channing tour but Sally Struthers who performed the role in a local community theater production.

Four years into the Broadway run, 20th Century Fox released a film version of Hello, Dolly! and poor Carol Channing once again got the short end of the Broadway-to-Hollywood stick.  Channing was famously passed over for Marilyn Monroe when Gentlemen Prefer Blondes made the silver screen leap and this time around none other than Barbra Streisand got her part.  This might have been some sweet revenge for Streisand who lost the Tony Award for Funny Girl to Channing in Hello, Dolly! – it’s well known that Channing and Streisand used to lunch regularly when both were treading the boards but Streisand stopped talking to Channing soon after she was bested by Carol.

Actually, maybe Channing had the last laugh since the film version of Hello, Dolly! was a fairly enormous flop when it opened…almost ruining 20th Century Fox in the process.  Miraculously, it was nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Picture!) and won three but the film hasn’t aged well over the years.  However opulent the production and costume design were, if the musical itself was by the numbers oatmeal the film is dry melba toast.  It’s worth watching for the complete disdain co-star Walter Matthau has for his leading lady…even when he’s supposed to be falling in love with her.

Endlessly produced by theaters big and small across the world, Hello Dolly! still hadn’t had a Channing-less revival on Broadway until it was announced the Bette Midler had agreed to return to NYC in her first musical in over four decades.  Naturally, the theater community erupted with delight and the show’s advance soared to a record-setting $40 million dollars.  In fact, the show is so sold out that Midler isn’t even doing any press for it.  There’s no need…no one can get a ticket without paying a huge chunk of cash or waiting in line for a limited amount of standing room seats given out each morning.

That’s how I lucked out at seeing the show on my recent trip to The Big Apple. Getting in line with my friend around 4:30 in the morning, we weren’t even the first in line but had no trouble getting a ticket when the box office opened at 10:00am.  Already having opened to glowing reviews, I knew this would be a memorable experience and it truly was.  It’s hard to express the pure joy this production elicits…it’s just something you pretty much have to see for yourself.  Midler was in fabulous form, nailing the comedy and nuance of the role and doing a darn good job singing Jerry Herman’s score along the way.  While she’s a bona fide superstar and everyone there was there to see her, she never upstaged her co-stars…all of whom are the cherry-picked best of the best.  From David Hyde Piece’s droll but sincere Horace to Kate Baldwin’s gorgeous Irene, the voices are beautiful and the ensemble is sharp and crisp.  Special mention must be made for Beanie Feldstein  (Jonah Hill’s younger sister) who makes for a hysterical Minnie Fay.

With Midler scheduled to remain in the show for a year, ticket demand may free up as newer shows populate the landscape but be prepared for this to remain a tough ticket for some time.  The production itself is designed to run after Midler leaves…it just needs a star of her caliber to bring in the audiences.  With uber-producer Scott Rudin running things, expect some stunt casting to rival original producer David Merrick’s in the A-list department.

Hollywood to Broadway – Anastasia

Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Movie: Anastasia (1997)
The Broadway Show: Anastasia, opened on April 24, 2017

Yes, yes, I know that there was a version of Anastasia from 1956 that netted star Ingrid Bergman a Best Actress Oscar but since the Broadway version was inspired/adapted from the 1997 animated movie let’s focus on that one instead.

Of all the non-Disney animated films that started popping up in the mid to late ‘90s, there was something about 20th Century Fox’s Anastasia that hit the right chord. Hard to believe that a pretty grim plotline involving the family of a Russian Czar being murdered and a mystery girl that could be the lone surviving heir became the basis for a fancifcul musical romp, former Disney animator Don Bluth was riding a nice wave of second banana popularity and managed to massage this one into a family affair. Digging into the supernatural for its villain Rasputin, it wasn’t to be taken very seriously but it surely seemed to remain a fond favorite of a lot of little girls over the years.

Honestly, it’s never been a particular favorite of mine, though full disclosure I’m writing this review from memory instead of recent exposure, but I do remember the handful of songs from Broadway composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty being a definite highlight. Nabbing two Oscar nominations for their work, Ahrens and Flaherty would get their chance at a full blown musical version of Anastasia twenty years later but would the adults that were pre-teens in 1997 shell out Broadway prices to bring their children to see Anastasia live again live onstage?

From the screaming crowds and squeals of delight emanating from the Broadhurst Theatre in NYC, the answer is a resounding ‘Yes’. I have to say, though, that the entire affair was completely lost on me and I’m debating whether it was just fatigue from doing standing room for my 7th show in five days or if I simply didn’t care for the piece in general. Make no mistake, it’s got a lovely cast led by the beautiful and genuine Christy Altomare and two swoon-ready leads in Derek Klena and Ramin Karimloo (the only actor to receive rapturous entrance applause) but there’s something fairly vacant about it all. Director Darko Tresnjak, scenic designer Alexander Dodge, and projection designer Aaron Rhyne work wonders with making sense out of swiftly changing scenes by nimbly moving the action around St. Petersburg and Paris and Linda Cho’s costumes are downright stunning.

Yet for all the gloss and glam the material feels kind of ham-fisted and the new music from Ahrens and Flaherty, while orchestrated grandly, never actually soars. The best music is still the two most popular songs from the movie, ‘Once Upon a December’ and ‘A Rumor in St. Petersburg’. Aside from a more than capable set of leads, there’s dynamite supporting work by theater grande dame Mary Beth Peil (Tony nominated here) and a riotous Caroline O’Connor as her mischievous lady in waiting. Whenever those two are onstage the musical snaps to life but with too many ballads and songs that sound the same it’s enough to lull even the most alert tourist into a gentle slumber…I actually dozed off a few times and I was standing up!

Already doing great box office numbers and with productions announced around the world, Anastasia will be coming to your neck of the words eventually and I think the design elements would travel quite well. Here’s hoping the tour gets tweaked a bit to take the air out of some of the scenes and one or two songs get the heave ho to keep the mystery at the heart of Anastasia something we actually want to get to the bottom of.

Hollywood to Broadway – Groundhog Day

Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Movie: Groundhog Day (1993)
The Broadway Show:
Groundhog Day, opened on April 17, 2017

As usual, I find myself confessing some deep dark movie sins on this blog and here’s another one to add to the list. Ok…here we go. Promise you’ll still like me after? No turning back now… Until recently, I wasn’t a fan of Groundhog Day.

Are you still there?

Good…thank you for sticking around.

Y’see, I think Groundhog Day was originally sold to 13 year old me as the kind of comedy that would have me rolling in the aisles at Bill Murray’s crazy antics as a cranky weatherman that falls into a vortex of having to repeat the same day in an endless loop. The trouble was, the comedy ran deeper than surface gags and one-liners and there was a sadness to it all that I just didn’t understand at that time. Coming back to it as an adult, I found the film to be a real delight with a dynamic craftsmanship most modern conceptual comedies could only dream of.

As Phil Connors, Murray is in top form as the over-it-all newscaster seemingly slumming it reporting from Philadelphia on whether good ‘ole Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow and foretell six more weeks of winter. Waking up the next day with an eerie sense of déjà vu, Phil eventually realizes he’s stuck re-living the same day over and over and over and over and over again with no way to break the cycle. Along the way he becomes an expert piano player and learns French. Eventually he tests the limits of his “power” and experiments with what life would be like as a jerk or as a nice guy, finally overcoming his mythological torture when he gets things right. Murray had good support from Andie MacDowell who feels like a good straight man to Murray’s particular type of comedy…and who can forget Stephen Tobolowsky’s nebbish Ned? Directed by Murray’s frequent collaborator, the late Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is one of those near perfect comedic treats that works across multiple age-groups, even if the humor was lost on me as a teen.

 

Unbelievable as it sounds, the one and only Stephen Sondheim was the first composer who showed an interest in bringing Groundhog Day to the stage but by the time the musical premiered at The Old Vic in London last year, the composer was Tim Minchin. Minchin is a well-known Australian comedian that found success back in 2010 with his adaptation of Matilda. Having recently seen Matilda, I knew that Minchin favored tricky lyrics and music that wasn’t always hummable…but that Down Under style of comedy seemed like a great fit with Groundhog Day’s structure and it turns out I was right.

While I literally couldn’t relay a bar of music I heard in Groundhog Day if you paid me $10K, the show was constructed so well and performed so effortlessly that I have to give great credit to the creative time that saw this one through to the finish line. It’s fascinating to me that a show so American would have its successful world premiere in London (it won the Olivier Award for Best Musical) but perhaps producers thought if they could be a hit in the UK then a US run would be a slam dunk. Nominated for 7 Tony Awards, Groundhog Day started performances at the tail end of a solid year of new musicals so it faces an uphill battle on Tony night for most of the categories it’s nominated in. One category up for grabs , though, is Best Actor and while I haven’t seen star Andy Karl’s biggest competition (Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hanson), Karl is downright beloved in the Broadway community and would surely deserve the honor. Coming back from a potentially sidelining injury during previews is sure to garner more goodwill (if not an outright sympathy vote) but what Karl’s doing onstage is pretty exemplary work. Phil is one of those classic musical characters we shouldn’t be rooting for but wind up cheering on and that’s thanks almost entirely to Karl’s genuine performance as a man that turns a corner after reaching multiple dead ends.

Minchin’s music and lyrics blend nicely with Danny Rubin’s faithful adaptation of his screenplay, only making minor adjustments that translate better to the stage. Karl’s co-stars are all solid, though a song for a local babe that opens Act 2 feels extraneous. Kudos also to the director and choreographer for making some enjoyable sleight of hand stage magic to get Karl back to the beginning of his day in increasingly creative ways.

Though it’s housed in the beautiful August Wilson Theater with its quaint (read: too small!) seats, this feels like a show that might work better on tour in Middle America. I’m not sure the entire production with its multiple turntables and high tech LED displays would easily transition to a bus and truck road show and it does need a star performance to anchor the evening…but if it comes to your neck of the woods give it a shot.

Check out my look at Sunset Boulevard!
Check out my look at Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

 

Hollywood to Broadway – Sunset Boulevard

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Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Movie: Sunset Boulevard (1950)
The Broadway Show:
Sunset Boulevard, opened on February 9, 2017

You don’t get more Hollywood than Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Released in 1950, the movie was a scathing bite at the Tinsel Town hand that fed the majority of the people involved. Nowadays there’s nothing Hollywood loves more than patting itself on the back and showering movies about the film industry with plaudits (hello, La La Land!) but back when Sunset Boulevard arrived not many industry people were immediately lining up to sing its praises as an insider’s look into the studio system. Nominated for 11 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress, the movie was up against some stiff competition (All About Eve, Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride) and wound up winning just three: Art Direction, Screenplay, and Franz Waxman justly took home gold for his haunting score.

Even if over the years Gloria Swanson’s unhinged fading silent film star would be fodder for parody from the likes of Carol Burnett, the picture remains oddly timely and still a strikingly beautiful film. Filled with unforgettable moments such as Swanson’s creepy crawl toward the screen as it fades to black, it’s an unqualified classic that earns its place as one of Hollywood’s crown jewels of filmmaking. It’s also a pleasure to see legends such as Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, and Buster Keaton play themselves, further blurring the line between reality and fiction.

I was barely a teenager in 1993 when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical adaptation of Sunset Boulevard premiered in London. I’m not even going to go into its troubled path behind the scenes involving lawsuits from two divas (Patti LuPone & Faye Dunaway) who were both hired and fired before the show even premiered stateside. When the musical arrived in NYC in 1994 it easily won a host of Tony Awards including, among others, Best Musical, Best Actress for Glenn Close, and another for its gargantuan set designed by John Napier. The sheer size of the production was legendary but made it difficult to recoup its investment so it didn’t wind up being the true smash it could have been. Even a touring production folded quickly due to the constraints of such a behemoth making the move from theater to theater on a weekly basis. Subsequent productions scaled back the proceedings (one even had its actors playing their own instruments…shudder!) but it wasn’t until 2016 when a semi-stage run in London with Close reprising her role that there was talk Broadway might get another trip down Sunset Boulevard.

I’ll admit the chief reason I planned my trip to NYC was for the chance to see Close in the role she will forever be identified with (at least onstage). Seeing Close, um, up close was too good of an opportunity to pass up and add to that a 40 piece orchestra in Broadway’s famed Palace Theatre and the writing was on the wall…I had to see it.

There’s no way to accurately describe the experience of seeing Sunset Boulevard the way I think it was meant to be seen, with its original leading lady and a grand orchestra in a scaled back production smartly restaged by director Lonny Price that may have been smaller set-wise but felt grandly operatic all the same. Removing the lavish set dressings allowed the music (some of it borrowed from Waxman’s original score) and the performances to be the justified stars of the show.

Handsome Brit Michael Xavier sports a spot-on American accent and handily takes on doomed screenwriter Joe Gillis while Swede Fred Johanson is imposing but loyal as Max, Norma’s chauffer – both men sing wonderfully. Price has assembled a well-oiled ensemble including one that plays a ghostly visage of a young Norma Desmond that haunts her elder self throughout the evening.

The show is all about Close, though, and she’s unforgettable. She already made for a thrilling Norma in 1994 (at least on CD) but seeing her take on the same role over 20 years later was revelatory. The voice isn’t always rock solid but these moments of grated fragility only add to the overall sadness of the character. From her first entrance to the goosebump-inducing finale, it’s impossible to look at anyone but Close because she’s always completely ‘in’ the scene even during the very few times where she’s not the focus.

Gloria Swanson and Glenn Close will both be remembered for their interpretations of Norma Desmond, and while Close’s original reading was just adjacent to Swanson’s screen performance in this revival she goes deeper and recreates the role from the ground up. It was everything I wanted and more – well worth the trip!

Hollywood to Broadway – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Your old pal The MN Movie Man took some time away from dark movie theaters in May for a long overdue visit to The Big Apple and caught up with what Broadway has to offer. Theaters in NYC and London’s West End are continually being filled with stage adaptations of movie properties and out of the 10 shows I saw, half of them either began as a film or are revivals of shows that generated a movie version of their own. In this short series, I’ll go through these five musicals from the Great White Way and see how they compare to their Silver Screen counterparts.

The Book:
  ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, by Roald Dahl. Published in 1964
The Movies: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
The Broadway Show:
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, opened on April 23, 2017

Mention Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to anyone of a certain age and it’s highly likely the first image that pops into their brain is Gene Wilder’s master of chocolate from the film adaptation in 1971. Titled Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory to highlight Wilder’s star presence, there’s a valid reason why people have a certain fondness for it. With a script from Dahl himself that was wacky with whimsy while maintaining his overly sinister edge, the film chugs along nicely although it always has felt longer to me than its 100 minutes. This is largely in part to several dud songs from Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley (‘Cheer Up Charlie’ is such a morose cocktail it should be followed with an anti-depressant chaser) and a gross belching scene with Charlie (Peter Ostrum) and his grandfather (Jack Albertson) that I’ve found less tolerable as each year passes. And how about that terrifying journey on Wonka’s boat with images of slimy insects and a chicken getting its head chopped off? Don’t remember it? You’ve probably been watching an edited version toned down for the kiddies coming at it fresh.

Still, though it takes a while to get there with a whole heap of exposition that’s admittedly mostly necessary, there’s nothing quite like that first glimpse of Wonka’s fabulously designed factory centerpiece with its edible plants and chocolate river. It becomes less appetizing as it goes on but for a while there is truly is scrumdidilyumptious.

What wasn’t so tasty was Tim Burton’s 2005 re-imagining that put Charlie back in the title but became an even more tripped-out version than it’s ‘70s predecessor. Typically Burton-esque with oversized CGI set-pieces and oversaturated candy-coated colors, I still don’t see any real reason to spend much time digesting this one. Featuring another creepy performance by Burton muse Johnny Depp and a forgettable supporting cast of oddballs, the Bricusse/Newley songs were ousted in favor of new compositions from Danny Elfman and are pale comparisons with even the most throw-away tunes from the original. It’s a dark and threatening film and while it’s been some time since I’ve seen it all the way through, I remember wanting it to be over before Charlie and his fellow Golden Ticket winners even set foot inside the fabled factory.  The less said about this one, the better.

Flash forward to 2013 when London’s West End featured the premiere of a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory stage musical. Maintaining several of the Bricusse/Newley songs and padded with music from Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman the show was directed by Sam Mendes to be bigger than life. From the clips I’ve seen online, this show was huge from beginning to end and was a popular title during it’s nearly four year run in the UK. Bringing it to Broadway was inevitable but by the time it jumped the pond Mendes was out as director and it seems like he took most of the set with him. What opened in April at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre has been drastically reworked, ditching the overwhelming enormity of its Brit big brother and replacing them with production values seemingly designed to make the show easier to tour (it’ll be coming to a theater near you in 2018) and that just didn’t sit well with me.

While Christian Borle sounded great and played the sarcastic side of Wonka to a T, the actor is just one of many in the show that looks like they are dying a slow death while children in the audience scream and beg their parents for more candy at intermission. In a way, I felt sorry for them because these are talented performers who likely signed up to participate in a spectacle but learned too late they’d be Our Town-ing it for much of the show. Just wait until Act 2 when the big reveal of the edible room appears on a rolling platform the size of a department store window. The ‘children’ (strangely played by adults in NYC, save for Charlie himself) don’t even all fit on it at the same time! The one bright spot of the show were the Oompa-Loompas, brought hilariously to life via some overly simplistic theater magic that nonetheless had me howling with laughter along with the rest of the audience.  Parents be warned, some of the children go out in increasingly perverse fashion…with one unfortunate being ripped apart and another exploding in a cascade of purple glitter.

The last show I saw during my eight days in NYC, I couldn’t help but be a bummed out by this small scale bon-bon that often looked appetizing but wasn’t filling in the least.

2016 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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Well hello there!  

So here we are about to start the SIXTH year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2016.  In all honesty, by the time it came to make this list things became a bit of a jumble and I decided to choose the movies that I had the strongest reaction to when I saw them.  I don’t revisit movies often but anything in the Top 5 are films that I’d add to my collection.  

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month/year and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)


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5. Zootopia – no one, least of all me, was thinking Zootopia was going to be any kind of blockbuster at the box office but this intelligent and riotously funny entry from Disney animation hit a perfect bullseye.  Equally entertaining for adults as it is for children, it has your typical Disney moral but it’s disguised cleverly in a plot that encourages parents to have a deeper discussion with their children on the ride home. From a DMV run by sloths and a running joke parodying The Godfather, I don’t think I laughed harder (or longer) in any movie this year.

4. Sing Street – as he’s shown in his previous films Once and Begin Again, director John Carney knows how to seamlessly weave music and story together to form a not-quite musical but not-quite non-musical feature. For me, this is his best effort yet.  Focusing on a merry ragamuffin band of teens in Dublin during the 1980s, Sing Street wore its heart on its sleeve and won me over nearly from the start.  The songs are wonderful (much better than the ones in Moana or La La Land, in my opinion) and the performances warmly winning. This got completely ignored during its theatrical run but I have a good feeling it will have a long life once people find it on streaming/on-demand services.

3. Pete’s Dragon – oh boy was I NOT looking forward to this remake.  The original was a nostalgic personal favorite of mine but, let’s be honest, was no classic.  Still, I just couldn’t fathom why or how Disney would redo Pete’s Dragon when there are new movies to be made.  Turns out this is one reimagining that managed to respect the past while making its own path…and what a wonderfully moving path it was.  Buoyed by director David Lowery’s sensitive script and across the board excellent performances, all these months later I still remember the unmitigated joy this one brought me.

2. Manchester By the Sea/Moonlight – I’m cheating, I know but I just couldn’t decide between the two.  Though both movies couldn’t be more different (culturally, at the very least) they shared an uncanny understanding of human nature and emotion few films can grasp.  Manchester’s tale of a troubled man called back to his hometown to take care of his nearly orphaned-nephew forced to face his demons is chock full of superlatives: performances, script, direction, ambiance.  Moonlight’s triptic of the life of a black man coming to terms with his sexuality and rising above the pain of his past is representative of the bold, staggering filmmaking all films should aspire to. There’s good reason both movies are going toe-to-toe in end of the year awards talk as each film leaves a lasting impression resonating in your heart and mind.

1. The Nice Guys – I don’t remember the last time a movie ended and I wanted a sequel immediately. Though I’m sure The Nice Guys wasn’t imagined as a franchise starter and its meager box office might not inspire its studio to fund another entry, I’m praying for another two hours to spend with these characters.  A mystery set in 1970s California, the movie starts with a bang and rarely takes a breath as it piles on dead bodies, twists, and turns.  Chemistry in movies is so important and no one nailed it better in 2016 than Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe who seemed like they’d been working together forever.  Writer/director Shane Black created the Lethal Weapon series…maybe The Nice Guys could follow suit?  Pretty please?

Honorable Mentions: A Monster Calls, Jackie, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eye in the Sky, Everybody Wants Some!!, The Invitation, The Meddler, The Shallows, Kubo and the Two Strings, Green Room

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5. The Divergent Series: Allegiant – unwisely split into two movies, this third entry in the Divergent series was so bad and performed so poorly, the second half is now likely to skip theaters and go straight to video.  If I had my druthers, they’d just stop now and let this agonizingly awful series fade from memory. With terrible effects and even worse performances, this series has always been a rip-off of The Hunger Games but with this chapter it comes off like a parody of itself…and no one is laughing. Titanically terrible.

4. Suicide Squad – in all honesty, I was more than half-hoping Suicide Squad would be the movie that helped DC Comics get their footing back after the critical drubbing Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice took earlier in the year (for the record, BvS:DoJ wasn’t a bad movie at all…so there).  Sadly, Suicide Squad isn’t just more of the same…it manages to somehow be even worse.  All sound and fury that yields literally nothing, it’s got a strong cast and talented director whose vision was clearly neutered by the studio. An extended edition of this was released on video but I’m not sure how anyone could have fixed what was never whole to begin with.  A waste of time, resources, talent, and air.

3. Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – funny that in 2012 Jack Reacher was on my list of favorite films and this turd of a sequel nearly made it to the top of my worst of the year report.  This seven-car pile-up of an action film broke the box office winning streak of Tom Cruise and with good reason. There’s literally nothing commendable or recommendable about Cruise’s second go ‘round as the titular character.  I have carpet squares more talented than Cruise’s co-star, Cobie Smulders, and the rest of the supporting cast isn’t any better. Painfully trite and exceedingly dull, I was looking for the exit before the opening credits were complete.

2. Mother’s Day – Director Garry Marshall died shortly after this movie was released.  That should tell you something.

1. The Bronze – supposedly this film was a huge hit at various film festivals, inspiring a bidding war between independent studios but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. The most singularly repulsive film I saw in 2016 earns that honor by having zero redeeming qualities or likable characters, least of all Melissa Rauch’s one-joke (told badly) lead performance.  Rauch co-wrote the film with her husband and both should be fined somehow, someway for this crime against black comedies.  I don’t walk out of films ever but if someone were to have granted me a free pass to leave any film this past year, I would have grabbed my golden ticket less than fifteen minutes into The Bronze.

Dis(Honorable) Mentions: London Has Fallen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Inferno, Rules Don’t Apply, Anomalisa

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Most Misunderstood: The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Despite it’s big stars, this remake of The Magnificent Seven failed to catch on with audiences or critics and I’m still scratching my head as to why.  A respectable Western that takes its time to carve out some otherwise stock characters should be celebrated instead of dinged for being too slow.  I actually enjoyed the pace of director Antoine Fuqua’s ensemble guns and guys gathering and if nothing else it’s a worthwhile experience just to see the normally stoic Denzel Washington loosen up a bit and have some fun.  It’s not as criminally misunderstood as previous choices but I was bummed out this one didn’t go further.
Honorable Mention: Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015: The Choice – I’ve been burned and bored by many Nicholas Sparks films over the years so I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to get a look-see at The Choice.  Not featuring any big names and arriving with little fanfare, this turned out to be surprisingly strong and maybe the best adaptation since The Notebook.  True, it follows the Sparks pattern without deviation but I was taken with the characters and soaked up the beautiful location filming.  I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll revisit this one and feel differently than I do now, but for the time being I’ll give the film its due and say that I went in thinking I’d hate it but came out more than decently pleased with what I saw.
Honorable Mention: The Boss

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should

Captain Fantastic

Circle

Holding the Man

Housebound

I Smile Back

Imperium

Jenny’s Wedding

Kristy

Short Term 12

Tallulah

The Invitation (2015)

The Wave (Bølgen)

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2016
Total Movies Seen in the Theater96
Total Movies Seen at Home212
Grand Total for 2016 (not counting films seen multiple times)305
Where I Saw the Most Movies – Showplace Icon (48!)

Oscar Predictions 2016

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Hello!

Well, though I always find it difficult to nail down my Oscar selections pre-nomination day because I feel like I’m somehow cosmically jinxing  potential favorites, I’m once again taking part in The 2016 Oscar Contest over at Film Actually because…well…it’s just the right thing to do 🙂

This being a contest and all I threw in a few dark horse candidates and left out some bigger names just to keep it interesting.

I hope there are a few surprises tomorrow morning, though….even if it means I lose a few points in the contest 🙂

Below are my predictions for who will go to bed tomorrow night an Oscar nominee…

BEST PICTURE
Bridge of Spies
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
The Big Short
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST DIRECTOR
Tom McCarthy, Spotlight
Ridley Scott, The Martian
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
Todd Haynes, Carol

BEST ACTOR
Matt Damon, The Martian
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl
Will Smith, Concussion

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett, Carol
Brie Larson, Room
Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn
Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Christian Bale, The Big Short
Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
Michael Shannon, 99 Homes
Sylvester Stallone, Creed

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
Rooney Mara, Carol
Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria
Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

BEST EDITING
Creed
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Big Short
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Ex Machina
Inside Out
Spotlight
Straight Outta Compton
The Hateful Eight

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Carol
Room
Steve Jobs
The Big Short
The Martian

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
A War
Embrace of the Serpent
Labyrinth of Lies
Mustang
Son of Saul

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Martian

BEST SOUND MIXING
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton
The Martian
The Revenant 

BEST SOUND EDITING
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
The Martian
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

BEST COSTUME DESIGN
Brooklyn
Carol
Cinderella
Crimson Peak
Mad Max: Fury Road

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Bridge of Spies
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Hateful Eight

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Amy
Going Clear
He Named Me Malala
The Hunting Ground
The Look of Silence

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Anomalisa
Inside Out
Shaun the Sheep Movie
The Good Dinosaur
The Peanuts Movie

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Jurassic World
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Martian
The Walk 

BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Black Mass
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
‘See You Again’, Furious 7
‘Writings on the Wall’, Spectre
‘Love Me Like You Do’, Fifty Shades of Grey
‘Til It Happens to You’, The Hunting Ground
‘Simple Song 3’, Youth

2015 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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Well hello there!  I wound up skipping my Best of 2014 list because when 2015 rolled around there were still too many “2014” movies that I hadn’t been able to catch.  Then one thing lead to another…and it was March!

So here we are starting the fifth year of this blog!  Hard to believe it and boy, does time fly.  Below I’ve compiled my list of the best and worst of 2015.  At first I was going to do a Top 10 for both because I absolutely had candidates to fill all the slots, but then I decided to stick with five each to truly highlight the best of the best and worst of the worst.

As always, I’ve appreciated your feedback, your patronage, and your general presence in my blog. Even if you read this everyday but have never commented or made contact I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership and subscriptions continue to increase every month and it’s all thanks to your word of mouth, likes, and shares.  If you haven’t already, make sure to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter (@joemnmovieman), and like my Facebook page so you can help me continue spreading the news about The MN Movie Man.

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

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5. Mad Max: Fury Road – like a lightning rod, the fourth Mad Max film conducted the kind of electricity that could fuel a dozen other pictures.  Director George Miller upped the ante for not only summer blockbusters but for filmmaking as a whole with his non-stop action flick that took no prisoners and left most 2015 films in its fiery dust. Starring Tom Hardy but owned by Charlize Theron, this Mad Max signaled the start of the summer season with a rocking battle cry. Truly amazing.

4. Creed – the best unexpected TKO of the year, Creed is really Rocky 7 but don’t let that stop you from entering the ring.  Star Michael B. Jordan brings a blistering intensity to the role of a young boxer trying to make a name for himself out from under the shadow of his legendary father’s career.  The biggest surprise is original star Sylvester Stallone stepping into the mentor role for his best performance since the original Rocky.  Stallone is valiant, vulnerable, and, under the direction of writer/director Ryan Coogler, fairly unforgettable.  A champion of a film.

3. Carol – anchored by two of the strongest performances of 2015, this love story between young Therese and married Carol is an achingly beautiful achievement from director Todd Haynes.  Delicate as a flower but steely enough to cut deep, it’s a picture about the understanding and acceptance of one’s own desires. Unlike anything else I’ve seen this year, it’s a gorgeous looking film that lingers in the memory long after you’ve left the theater.

2. Brooklyn – the most charming film of 2015, Brooklyn is a sweet love story set against the backdrop of Ireland and New York in the 1950’s.  It’s funny, sad, poignant, and delightfully underplayed so that by the time it reaches its emotional climax the tears it wrings from you are well earned.  Superbly acted and glowing with grace, it’s a wonderful wonderful period piece.

1. The Martian – the best film I saw in 2015 (twice) is Ridley Scott’s grand space adventure adapted from Andy Weir’s best-selling novel.  A full meal of a movie, there’s a little bit of something for everyone here from comedy to action to drama to suspense and even some surprisingly emotional arcs.  Powerfully led by Matt Damon and a small army of familiar faces, movies like The Martian are the reason why we go to movies, to be transported and changed. 

Honorable Mentions: Paddington, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Cinderella, Jurassic World, Magic Mike XXL, Far From the Madding CrowdThe Visit, Sicario, Crimson Peak, RoomStar Wars: The Force Awakens

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5. Love the Coopers – arriving like a stale piece of fruitcake, this turkey is reason enough for even the sweetest Christmas fan to say “Bah Humbug”.  It’s an obnoxious and lazy attempt at creating a warm family togetherness film with neither the direction nor the performances to help it rise from the sludge. Wasting the talents of its diverse ensemble cast, this is a White Elephant of a yuletide film.

4. Point Break – making the original 1991 film look like High Noon in comparison, this atrocious remake diverts so far from its dopey origins that it should have just ditched the title and shrugged off the obvious comparisons from its detractors.  With his unforgivable man-bun, heinous fake tattoos, and not good enough for the Sci-Fi channel acting, Luke Bracey leads the film right off a cliff sans parachute.  More focused on being an eco-message film than a heist flick, it sports beautiful cinematography but is overall a lamentable effort.

3. The Lazarus Effect – Kudos to you, Olivia Wilde.  You appeared in two of my least favorite films of the year.  Beautiful as she is, Wilde just can’t seem to find a film that suits her in the acting department and The Lazarus Effect is a prime example. Barely 80 minutes long, there’s no amount of spiritual help that could raise this one from the graveyard of bad horror thrillers.

2. Aloha– pay no attention to the critics that championed this gigantic turd of a film in 2015…they’ve been blinded by a devotion to a filmmaker that has lost his way.  Cameron Crowe’s colossal misfire makes every wrong turn in the book, from casting pale Emma Stone as a Native Hawaiian with a half-Asian father to an inability to assemble a movie that makes any kind of sense.  Legendary in its production for going through titles and reshoots like candy, the final product was more of an ‘adios’ to Crowe’s storied status in Hollywood.

1. The Water Diviner – this waste of a film won three Australian Academy Awards.  Three.  And one of them was Best Picture.  Well, turnabout is fair play and I’m awarding Russell Crowe’s directing debut with Worst Picture of the year honors.  An interminable slog through an incomprehensible plot and ridiculously banal performances, I was praying for some sort of divine intervention to cut the screening short.  It’s bad from the moment it starts until it releases us from our agony.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Inherent Vice, Blackhat, The Boy Next Door, Woman in Gold, Terminator Genisys, The Gallows, Dark Places, American Ultra, Freeheld, Jem and the Holograms, Victor Frankenstein

 

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Most Misunderstood

Hot Pursuit – Ok, so I’m not going to sit here and waste my time telling you that Hot Pursuit is a good movie because it’s fairly derivative from countless other female buddy pictures, too broad for words, and in the end is an inconsequential blip on the careers of stars Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara.  Where I took issue was how the movie was dragged through the grime by critics that would laud the same type of movie had it been released with males in the leading roles.  People took actual offense that Witherspoon went from an Oscar nominated turn in Wild to something so lightweight as Hot Pursuit and I kinda just wanted to tell ‘em all to scoot up a tree.  The film plays right into the strengths (and assets) of both leading ladies and is ultimately harmless.  It’s not great entertainment, but it’s not the garbage mess that people would have you believe.

Honorable Mention: San Andreas

Joe’s Humble Pie Award of 2015

The D Train – I’m a die-hard anti-Jack Black fan but even I had to admit that The D Train was one of the more unexpected small victories of 2015.  Black is winning as a lovable loser running his class reunion that makes a bid to get a famous-ish classmate to attend.  Flying out to California to convince the guy (James Marsden) to make an appearance, the film takes an unanticipated turn that audiences just won’t see coming.  The film has a dark charm and strong performances to justify your seeking it out.  I think you’ll be surprised…I was.

Honorable Mention: Mistress America

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

I’ll See You in My Dreams

Song of the Sea

The Hunting Ground

Beyond the Lights

Playing by Heart

Good Kill

Starry Eyes

The Taking of Deborah Logan

Click HERE for a full listing of films seen in 2015

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 146

Total Movies Seen at Home: 176

Grand Total for 2015 (not counting films seen multiple times): 317

Where I Saw the Most Movies: Showplace ICON – 66!

Down From the Shelf ~ The Gambler (1974)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Axel Freed is a literature professor with a gambling vice.

Stars: James Caan, Paul Sorvino, Lauren Hutton, Jacqueline Brookes, Burt Young, M. Emmett Walsh, James Woods

Director: Karel Reisz

Rated: R

Running Length: 111 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: Movies like 1974’s The Gambler exhaust me.  Like, honestly exhaust me.  Though clearly a product of its time in direction, production design, costume design, and performance it features the same hopeless characters that still populate movies 40 years later.  I call these Lost Cause Characters because it’s clear from the get-go that no amount of mountain moving or lesson learning will move them from their path to ruin.

With his star on the rise after his tough-guy role in The Godfather earned him an Academy Award nomination, James Caan (Misery) plays the role of the lit professor by day / gambling addict by night (and sometimes day) with all the right moves.  With his groovy print shirts never having more than three buttons in use, he looks the very image of 70s hunk with a tough edge.  Opening on a daytime binge of cards, dice, and lost cash the movie wastes no time in establishing that he’s an experienced gambler but one on the endless hunt for a winning streak.

Even in his early 30s Caan always looked like he was pushing 40 so it’s hard to buy him as a spoiled trust fund kid that manages to weasel out of any sticky situation.  His doctor mother (Jacqueline Brookes, playing conflicted to the point of incapacitation) continues to bail him out even when his wealthy grandfather won’t.  His relationship with a pretty thing (Lauren Hutton, American Gigolo) isn’t fleshed out enough to give audiences anything to grasp onto and the overall effect is that this character is very much alone in his universe…with his best relationship a shady guy (Paul Sorvino) who would just as soon break his legs as he would sit down for dinner with him.

James Toback’s script is heavy with far too many scenes that feel repetitious but light on the kind of forward momentum that would allow director Karen Reisz (The French Lieutenant’s Woman) the opportunity to make something memorable out of this mish-mash.  Maybe the whole point was for the audience to be talking back to the screen yelling “Don’t double down!” and if that’s the case then bravo to all involved…but I doubt that an early 70s film would be (or could be) that self-aware.

The film totally loses all focus in the last twenty minutes and never more so than in the final moments.  I had to rewind it to see if I missed a key plot point but alas, it’s just another bust for this rough crap table of a film.

Down From the Shelf ~ The Big Chill

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of seven former college friends gather for a weekend reunion at a posh South Carolina winter house after the funeral of one of their friends.

Stars: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, Jeff Goldblum

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Some movies set in the 80’s just do not age well.  I can’t tell you how many films I’ve had fond memories of until I took them for another spin and squirmed uncomfortably at their failure to have the same hold on me years later.  On the other hand you have the films that age like a fine wine, getting richer and more meaningful as they age and such a film is 1983’s The Big Chill, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar nominated ensemble dramedy.

Taking place over a long weekend for a funeral of a close friend that dies suddenly, The Big Chill introduces us to a group of baby boomers that are all at different phases of their adulthood.  Kevin Kline (In & Out) and Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs, Jagged Edge) are the stable married couple, the ones that their less mature friends look to for support and guidance.  Gathering their old college friends in their expansive South Carolina home, Kline and Close (who was Oscar nominated for her work) are perfect hosts…ones that allow their friends the chance to let loose, grieve, and cavort like they did when they were younger.

As we all know, there is a time to put away childhood playthings but in Kasdan’s eyes people need to let go in their own way at their own pace.  Saying goodbye to their friend (an unbilled Kevin Costner) means saying goodbye to a part of their youth they can never get back and for some that’s a frightening notion to wrap their heads around.

Hollywood playboy Sam (Tom Berenger) rekindles a romance with married Karen (JoBeth Williams) while actors like Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) and William Hurt (The Host, Altered States) find themselves at different crossroads of their romantic lives.  I’ve always found Mary Kay Place’s nebbish attorney the most interesting yet consistently frustrating character as she struggles to pinpoint exactly what she wants in life…and when she does the solution surprises everyone.

As famous as the film, the soundtrack to The Big Chill is remarkable, and not only because nearly all of it was added in after the movie was shot.  All the choices from music of the present day to the folk/rock music of the past blends so well together, resulting in a bestselling soundtrack that takes on a life of its own.

Kasdan’s script is extremely funny with a dry wit that speaks to the frustrations of the Baby Boomer generation yet still remains apt to modern audiences viewing it thirty years later.  After all, becoming an adult hasn’t gotten any easier in the decades since The Big Chill was first released and the movie is a lasting reminder that even in the worst of circumstances it’s nice to have a group around you as screwed up as you are to help you find support.

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