Before we get into this, let’s all agree on one thing: When the world experienced the twist at the heart of The Sixth Sense, movies were never the same. We were on the verge of 2000. M. Night Shyamalan was just some kid from Philly making movies, “what a twist!” had never been uttered in an episode of Robot Chicken, Toni Collette wasn’t yet our one and only, and Donnie Wahlberg was the only working Wahlberg. Movies told straightforward stories, and then this little kid seeing dead people knocked us all on our ass.
I’m not gonna lie. I was 9 years old when this movie came out and I was scared shitless. The closet ghost? The dead girl under the table? Hanging bodies in the middle of a school? The color red? No. No. No. No. I would have nightmares with the voice of the unseen ghost’s voice narrating said nightmare. I was a scaredy cat.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I put on my big kid pants, already had the ending spoiled, and finally pressed play on this family drama hidden in the midst of a horror movie, and honestly, even knowing the ending, the movie holds up.
I AM GOING TO SPOIL THIS 21 YEAR OLD MOVIE. GET OVER IT. STOP READING NOW IF YOU WANT.
Shyamalan locked in on loss and the effect it has on people. The story doesn’t hinge on “Bruce Willis was dead the whole time” and is even more illuminating after you know that. The initial shock and awe of such a bold choice is just some added gravy on the meal that is this film. I also need to bitch about the fact that this is Toni Collette’s ONLY Oscar Nomination. Same said about Haley Joel Osment, but that’s not quite as egregious, considering he didn’t really do anything high profile as an adult until Tusk. Toni Collette’s lack of Oscar’s is a testament to how silly and perfunctory the Oscar’s are. I digress.
The Sixth Sense plays like an anthology horror. A series of one-off stories with a wrap-around tale, and every piece works. It keeps you on your toes and is extremely touching. Don’t let Shyamalan’s recent stinkers dissuade you. This movie is a masterpiece of the highest quality.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.com
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL is an atmospheric time capsule
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the greatest film based on a theme park ride, ever made. It may also be the best movie ever made, but certainly the most important movie ever been made for me. I’ve made a career out of being the number one(?) Johnny Depp scholar who knows too much about Johnny Depp, but not in a creepy way, just in a way that I play him in a play sometimes and host a podcast about him. So maybe it is a little creepy.
2003 was a weird year for everybody. The fashion, the pop culture zeitgeist, and I was about to enter high school. YIKES. But then, there it was. The summer blockbuster nobody asked for, but everybody needed. The catalyst for not one… not two… not even THREE, but FIVE sequels. It reinvigorated a forgotten character actor’s career and catapulted this actor to an Oscar nomination, $5.6 million contracts PER MOVIE, and bonafide superstardom. It also made this actor my new 12 year old obsession. I didn’t want to kiss Johnny Depp or date Johnny Depp. That’s gross. (Seriously, have you ever seen him kiss in a movie? It’s so weird.) I wanted to be Johnny Depp. More specifically, I wanted to be Johnny Depp… as Jack Sparrow.
2001-2003 was a great run for action adventure and huge budget blockbusters. We were spoiled with Pirates and Lord of the Rings coming out almost simultaneously, and it seemed movie studios were super tuned in to what movie goers wanted to see. Orlando Bloom was also living his best life and collecting his best paychecks.
I love Lord of the Rings a lot a lot, but I just don’t identify with the characters in the same way Pirates grabbed me. Scallywags and anti-heroes have always spoken to me more than honorable men, and the Curse of the Black Pearl is also very, very, funny. It’s cool in a way Disney… generally isn’t. It was a studio gamble with too many bizarre choices to be a success, and in spite of everything, it broke box office records and became a phenomenon.
I don’t have to tell you, gentle reader, what the Curse of the Black Pearl is about. We’re all familiar with skeleton crews, corsets, and being stranded on a deserted island with nothing but a one shot pistol and a large amount of rum. In my show Johnny Depp: A Retrospective on Late-Stage Capitalism we go around the room and say one thing we remember about the movie. “Skeleton Monkey!” “Why is the rum gone!?” “Geoffrey Rush’s teeth!” and “Keira Knightly is hot!” have been some of the favorites.
But the plot of Pirates isn’t what’s important. The atmosphere is what is important. The plot, like all great Pirate movies, is over-stuffed and overly complex, but that’s part of the magic. The plot isn’t the thing. The adventure, the atmosphere, and the play is the thing. Gore Verbinski knows how to make a movie and the Klaus Badelt/Hans Zimmer score is bumpin’. I asked my middle school band teacher if we could play a Pirates medley for our spring concert. The tenor sax line was fun enough. I was living.
My dad took me and two of my friends to see Pirates 6 times in theatres, including opening night. We cosplayed as Jack, Will, and Elizabeth at historic Fort Mifflin. We wrote each other letters as the characters and dressed up as all of them for Halloween. That Halloween costume parlayed into a show because my co-creator of Depp….a retrospective, Val Dunn, also dressed up as Jack Sparrow. Now I get to travel the world on Sparrow’s coattails and remind folks how good this movie is.
Do yourself a favor, millennial, and revisit Pirates of the Caribbean as an adult. I promise the movie is every bit as delightful as you remember it.
Just maybe skip the 4th and 5th one. Dip into the second and third for the wheel, Davy Jones and his terrifying crew, and if you have 6 hours to kill.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.com
Spotlight On: Daveed Diggs
Actor, singer, rapper, Thomas Jefferson. The man does it all. And he did a lot of it sporting a gorgeous afro, a 900-watt smile, and a unique voice that is legit the most charming sound in the world. I’m of course talking about Daveed Diggs.
He exploded onto the scene after being handpicked by Lin-Manuel Miranda to co-star in an obscure musical you’ve certainly never heard of. Friends from the rap group Freestyle Love Supreme, Miranda invited Diggs to sit in on some demo tapes and the rest is a Tony win, White House performance, and history rewritten in the stars. But what’s so brilliant about Daveed Diggs is how he uses his fame to make art that is a direct commentary on the world around us.
My first experience with his work was similar to most musical theatre artists who couldn’t afford a ticket to Hamilton… I watched the “Slime Tutorial” (bootleg) on YouTube. “Guns and Ships” (Lafayette’s record-breaking rap in Act I) is one of the best songs on the album. Diggs spits the fastest verse in Musical Theatre History (el oh el) while sporting a French accent. Act II, however, is where he shines. As legendary dickhead Thomas Jefferson, Diggs let his natural hair out and charms the pants off the audience, much to Hamilton and Burr’s annoyance. These two vastly different roles earned him a Tony for Best Featured Actor and a Grammy from the cast recording.
From there, he could have followed Hamilton fame to large paychecks and sell out status, but instead he created Blindspotting with real life bff Rafael Casal. Using the poetry of rap, they wrote a knockout of a film focusing on gentrification and class in Oakland, a story Diggs and Casal lived out first-hand. The final ten minutes of the film has Diggs giving a powerhouse soliloquy to a cop. It’s full of fire, emotion, and skill. Three qualities Diggs personifies as a performer.
As a performer, I look for the kind of work Diggs has been creating since his time as a teacher. It’s a career that has ping ponged between MEGAMUSICALOMGNOBODYSHUTSUPABOUTHAMILTON and quiet indie drama that packs a punch. It’s DISNEY and self-producing in an Oakland garage.
Diggs is voicing Sebastian in the upcoming live action The Little Mermaid, continues to appear in Snowpiercer, and had a small voice role in Soul. He continues to create experimental music with his group Clipping and is in pre-production for a TV series based on Blindspotting. His star will continue to rise, and I can’t wait to watch everything he is involved with.
Originally posted on MovieJawn.com
Just in time for Halloween, I re-watched Tim Burton’s 1999 treat, Sleepy Hollow for my podcast Depp Impact and this movie is a wealth of riches. Christopher Walken plays our Headless Hessian and doesn’t say a word, Christina Ricci is delicate and beautiful, and Johnny Depp is using an actual American accent. Burton is at the top of his atmosphere game and gives his female characters something to work with. It’s not the Disney animated movie The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but it’s just as good! Wow! The gifts never stop giving!
It’s a story about Icabod Crane (the Deppster), a squeamish constable sent to Sleepy Hollow to prove a paranormal presence is not guilty of beheading many major clergymen and midwives in the small town, and instead it is some insidious real people shit.
SPOILER ALERT. It’s spooky witchcraft from hell AS WELL as insidious real people shit and the whole town is in on the treachery. If you haven’t seen the film yet, it came out in 1999 and it is on Netflix, but I won’t spoil too much.
The reasons I love this movie are copious. It’s a movie that explores the idea of pompous dickheads being clueless when it comes to the way the world works and if you are a corrupt jerk, you might get a stake through the heart. Science and religion are endlessly compared, but actually have compelling arguments of how both can exist in society, as long as we respect each for the hope they provide their biggest fans, and maybe don’t kill people in the name of either. Ricci and Richardson drive the plot forward and right the wrongs of the more trigger-happy men. They’re methodical and passionate without being boring. They’re bad when they gotta be bad and we’re better off for it. This was also the time when Burton was in love with Lisa Marie, so her beautiful bodice shows up and show out. It’s a highlight.
Burton is operating in peak Sad-Pale-Town-Land and Depp is at his everyman-est. I always say Depp is best when he’s listening and allowed to be squirrely, and this is a great showcase for that. He’s weird without being WEIRD. Miranda Richardson is the true star of this film. She kicks axe (lulz) and takes names and “gets the man” in the end. Christopher Walken says nothing but “HEH” to a horse for the runtime. Sometimes the dialogue is corny in that 1999 way, but the story and the special effects still hold up. There’s also a horse leaping out of a bloody tree, making this the greatest movie ever made.
But truly, this movie is a joy to experience 10 years after I first fell in love with the aesthetic. Sure, the men at the heart of this film are troubled in our modern lens. Burton has been quoted as not believing people of color fit his aesthetic (…what…) and Johnny Depp is… well, Johnny Depp…but Burton’s work is a gateway to horror movies that are often beautiful and moderately disturbing, while still being accessible in their bizarreness. As a kid, I loved spooky things but was so scared of spooky movies. Through movies like Nightmare Before Christmas, Mars Attacks!, and Sleepy Hollow I was able to explore more traditional, and lesser known, cult films , shaping my tastes to this day.
Original article appears on cinema76.com
Krueger. The name on everybody’s sleepy lips. A burn victim. A child murderer. Depending on what adaptation you’re watching, he may have also been a piece of shit child rapist. Fan of one-liners. Not a fan of parents, or having backs turned on him. But to most… a celebrated fashion icon.
In a world dressed for summer, Kreuger stands alone. A sweater in a sea of crop tops. Color clashing in a dreamworld of bright white nightgowns. A single glove without a pair, pre-Michael Jackson. An oversized sweater fit for the pages of an Urban Outfitters or Anthropology ad. Hems? Never heard of ‘ems.
And does anybody still wear…. A hat.
I experienced A Nightmare on Elm Street first as a child watching TV with my father. He loved to put on films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, and The Exorcist not only because he wanted to watch what he wanted to watch, but also because it’s a great way to get your kids to leave you alone when they’re too scared to enter the room.
As an adult, Dan Scully and I revisited the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and it has quickly become my favorite.
Fred (Freddy if you’re nasty) fascinates me. The design of his face (inspired by a pepperoni pizza) is striking and Robert Englund is a treasure of an actor. Freddy is something more than a movie monster, thanks to Englund. He’s a force of nature with a swagger and a twinkle in his eye. In the first few films, he’s barely in the movies. Freddy is a symbol of fear. The unseen Boogey Man who will come after you at your most vulnerable: in your sleep. As the series went on, the folks behind the Nightmare series realized that we weren’t there for Nancy or Rooney Mara. We are watching for Freddy. We want his one-liners and we want to watch him wreck these fine folks in the most gruesome way possible.
But most of all, we want to follow his fashion. In the fall runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 12, Crystal Methyd come out in a full Freddy fantasy.
Freddy is also a DIY craftsman! He welded a metal glove that paved the way for (Nightmare alumni) Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands. Freddy inspired 80’s rap songs and novelty albums. Alice Cooper did a track for Freddy! There was a TV show titeld “Freddy’s Nightmares” in the 80’s that had Freddy hosting each episode, celebrating deaths in Springwood. It’s hard to hate someone with this much talent and pop culture appeal.
It all comes back to the human need to follow bad people. Freddy is the baddest of bad and we love him for it. He’s the ultimate monster because he’s ruthless and cool to look at. We’re “drawn to doom” and “enamored of ruin”. We can’t help but stop and watch the carnage go down. And when you’re as iconic to look at as a dirty ass sweater… well. You’re unstoppable. Take our money.
Oh, and never forget his fashion sunglasses. They really tied the outfit together.
In case you were curious, my very official (unofficial) ranking of the series:
1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
2. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare
3. Freddy vrs. Jason
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: Dream Master
7. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: Dream Child
8. 2010 Remake
9. Freddy’s Dead: Final Nightmare
Original post on Cinema76.com
I’ve been watching every film in Johnny Depp’s filmography over the course of COVID-19 as an experiment for my podcast Depp Impact (Find on Spotify or Apple podcasts).
Waiting for the Barbarians, while completed in 2019, has been sitting on a shelf since then, acting (alongside yet to be released City of Lies) as a ghost on Johnny Depp’s IMDB filmography.
Unlike Depp’s recent output…this one is a quiet piece, with beautiful cinematography, and a pretty interesting performance. The movie asks who are the “barbarians” in the title? The “other” in the country we’re spending time in, or the shitty bourgeoise trying to control said country. Mark Rylance, as a nameless Magistrate, anchors the film with the sort of performance we’ve come to expect from him in the cinema. He’s just, sensitive, and emotive while staying steady and dependable. Depp is a pretty boy piece of shit named Colonel Joll, obsessed with his image and his dumb rules. In our current state of unrest regarding police, the idea of “apply pressure until the truth is released” is annoyingly relevant. Robert Pattinson shows up to sneer and be an asshole. Gana Bayarsaikhan, as “the girl” is a gorgeous and touching presence in a movie filled with white dudes being clueless or cruel.
It’s a beautifully shot film, but not a particularly interesting one. The first half of the movie is a slow procedural with a lot of good ol’ fashioned white people torturing a country they don’t understand. Director Ciro Guerra was clearly interested in the gruesome images of this story. Characters describe the terrible things that happened to them while sitting naked, covered in bruises and scars.
Based on South African author J.M. Coetzee’s novel (he also wrote the screenplay) it seems the director and writer wanted to explore anti-colonization while leaning into stereotypes from an old school style of filmmaking. Yes, Mark Rylance is a “white savior” archetype, but in staying employed by colonizers, he is still part of the problem. Because Rylance is such a talented performer, he succeeds in painting a man trying to do good while still doing his job, but the morality is messy. He is a man looking to help, but by being an authority figure in this non-descript country in the first place, he is one of the conquerors. Watching him reckon with this, even in a small way, is satisfying and interesting.
I don’t know if director Guerra was fully prepared to take on this complicated dissonance, but the refusal to explore deeper makes this movie less than the sum of its parts. The location is as non-descript as the message.
The idea that officers come in and ask “why are these BARBARIANS SO MAD” as if the officers themselves aren’t the reason for the unrest is this movie’s form of gentrification.
At one point, our nameless Magistrate is having a conversation with a soldier from the Empire. They are talking about nomads from the village. Our Magistrate posits “The people here tell themselves be patient, one day these foreigners will pack up and leave.” The solider responds: “Frontier towns are the first line of the Empire”
As if to say, “we won’t be leaving any time soon.”
And when they finally do? Well. You can decide who the title “barbarians” are.
This summer, we are counting down our 25 favorite movies that didn’t connect with audiences on their initial release! View the whole series here.
3. Showgirls (dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1995)
I often wonder if the genius of Showgirls lies in its ability to polarize an audience. I love pop culture “trash” and I love Las Vegas. It’s my favorite place. Losers parading around as successes. I’m rarely interested in prestige pictures and I’d rather see something take a big chance and fail spectacularly than stay the boring course. Showgirls takes all the swings. Between the thrusting we thought was sexy in the 90’s and performances spanning from strained (poor Elizabeth Berkley) and sickening (Gina Gershon eats every scene she’s in) it’s a wildly uneven 2 hours. But maybe that’s the point. Nomi isn’t any good, that’s why she cheats to get ahead. The ONLY nice person in the entire movie gets brutalized. The bad people constantly win. They are corrupt, they are connivers, and they are assholes.
The reason this film works for a lot of people is because it has become something beyond what it was intended to be. I do believe the cast and crew intended to create some sort of biting commentary on the unreal expectations show business puts on women looking for stardom in seedy nightclubs and strip clubs. The fact that the movie stays so serious and SO earnest in this “mission” is what makes it so hilarious. If anybody on set went into the project with the mission being “camp” it never would have worked. Camp succeeds when it’s earnest. It makes the viewer sit back and say “this CAN’T be serious” and allows the film to work as a piece to be laughed with, even if you’re laughing at it.
The reason this movie doesn’t work for some? The drama of the piece is pretty difficult to be invested in. The dialogue is wildly stilted. The ONLY good character in the film (Molly, played by Gina Ravera) gets BRUTALIZED. The movie isn’t sexy. At all. Oh, and the marketing is questionable at best. They tried to sell the movie to women by saying it was an honest portrayal of injustices girls on the Vegas strip… but at the same time they were trying to sell it as a cheap sexploitation film.
Did they succeed with either? Questionable
I’ve seen this movie a number of times now and I just let it wash over me. It requires no brain power to participate as an audience member. And honestly? Often that’s the best way to experience film.
I love this movie because it requires no work on my end.
Hollywood. Gotta love it.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
This summer, we are counting down our 25 favorite movies that didn’t connect with audiences on their initial release! View the whole series here.
10. Shoot ‘Em Up (dir. Michael Davis, 2007)
A live action, R-rated, Looney Tunes episode, Mr. Smith (Clive Owen) and Mr. Hertz (Paul Giamatti) are a Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in the middle of a bloody gun control debate.
The movie isn’t too concerned with plot, but for those who need a refresher: a mysterious gunman delivers a baby in the middle of a gruesome shootout. With the baby’s mother dead, Mr. Smith is on a mission to save this mysterious child from a group of mercenaries, lead by Mr. Hertz, who want to harvest the baby’s organs to keep and old, crusty, presidential hopeful alive. Aided by a lactating prostitute named Donna Quintano (Monica Bellucci), Mr. Smith spends 86 fast-moving minutes destroying every person after him in new and gruesome ways.
It doesn’t get more complicated than that. We know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are. The baby is named Oliver after Oliver Twist, because orphan. There are a lot of “carrot kills” and they are all giggle inducing. The conspiracy at the heart of the conflict is found out quickly and the film plays as a jump cut from action scene to action scene. Each new location brings new kills into the equation. It’s gross and extreme and corny, and because of that it is darkly funny. I laughed a lot in the way that only things pushed to 500 million can make you laugh.
The characters are caricatures. The hero with super-powered gun slinging abilities. The sociopathic evil boss who will stop at nothing to kill our hero and his helpers. Our hooker with a heart of gold. The two women in the movie are treated like mothers or symbols of maternity and not much else, although Donna is a playful badass. There’s even a shoot out while Smith and Donna are having sex. Donna doesn’t seem to mind.
Sometimes these symbols are subverted. For example, Donna gives a back-alley blow job to make some money and buy little baby Oliver a bullet proof vest instead of a blanket. Oliver sleeps to the soothing sounds of heavy metal music. Mr. Hertz fields phone calls (set to the ringtone of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” aka “Kill the waaaabbbit, kill the waaabbbit, kill the waaabbbiiit”) between blowing dude’s heads off to tell his wife he’ll be home for dinner. Giamatti is also not the imposing figure we expect from a movie villain. He’s just some dude. He could be anybody. That makes him all the more terrifying.
This movie is certainly not for the faint of heart. If you’re looking for thoughtful cinema about gun control and the harm extreme violence can do in society, this isn’t it. If you’re looking to see the kind of garbage the world can become if we have no compassion and allow the rich to control the gene pool to save their crusty selves, the movie kind of explores that. If you’re trying to turn your brain off and let something wash over you, this is that movie.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
With Hamilton dropping on Disney+, sans fucks, I have decided to give all the fucks to movie musicals. To see Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldberry, Philipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Oak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda do their dang thing in #hamilfilm… I’m feeling nostalgic for theatre. I’m an actor by trade and the COVID “pause” of theatre and film sets leaves me looking for the jolt good live theatre can give to a day. If you’re also missing the theatre, let me steer you towards some musical gems in the film world.
1. West Side Story (dirs. Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise, 1961)
If you went to public school, you probably saw this movie in middle school music class. Stephen Sondheim considers it his most embarrassing work as a lyricist, but it’s hard to not feel moved by the Shakespearian sentiments of this 1961 take on Romeo and Juliet. You know the story. The Jets and the Sharks are two rival gangs. The Jets are white, the Sharks are Puerto Rican, and one member of each side of the schism falls in love, resulting in unnecessarily violence shaking the core values of the two groups. This film won 10 Academy Awards, including acting accolades for the legendary EGOT Rita Moreno and George Chakiris as Anita and Bernardo. Russ Tamblyn also gives a fantastic performance as Riff, the Mercutio stand in.
Special shout out to choreographer (and co-director of the film) Jerome Robbins for making the transition from stage to screen seamless. The Prologue is one of the most beautiful examples of wordless character set up.
2. A Chorus Line (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1985)
Never has a show explored the disappointment and dehumanization of auditioning for a Broadway show than A Chorus Line. As a working actor, disappointment and rejection is the name of the game. For every 1 Yes you hear 500 Nos. Hard work, passion, experience, and skill does not always equal a job. The show was on Broadway in 1975, Michael Bennet, the show’s creator and choreographer, won the Pulitzer Prize in drama and explores the insides of the industries only the way an insider can. The movie is SO 80’s and has a very stiff performance by Michael Douglas at its heart, but the heart is there. The characters are endearing, the songs are catchy, the choreography is amazing, and I dare you not to want to get up and dance with them at the end. Oh, and it’s directed by Richard Attenborough. Yes. Jurassic Park’s Richard Attenborough.
3. Tommy (dir. Ken Russell, 1975)
A movie, based on a concept album, that was then adapted into a stage musical. If it sounds like a lot, wait until you see the movie! The film is full of wild performances by A list stars. Highlights include an incredible Tina Turner as The Acid Queen, Elton John as a high-platformed pinball wizard, Oliver Reed grumbling and calling it singing, Eric Clapton as the Hawker, and Jack Nicholson as a doctor. Ann-Margret and Roger Daltry, as Mrs. Walker and Tommy, give great performances and the visuals of the piece are fantastically fun. They even have an extended instrumental sequence where Ann-Margret rolls around in a bunch of chocolate, looking like a fresh poop. It’s perfect.
4. Dreamgirls (dir. Bill Condon, 2006)
Loosely based on the story of The Supremes and the Shirelles Dreamgirls follows The Dreams (Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose, and Jennifer Hudson) as they ride the wave of stardom. This colorful adaptation of the 1981 stage play boosts powerful performances by Jennifer Hudson, winning her a Supporting Actress Oscar, and earning Eddie Murphy his only Oscar nomination, which is insane to me. Justice for Dolemite Is My Name. The movie follows the stage play pretty closely, but omits songs to make way for new ones, and the new songs are also bops.
The QUEEN, Jennifer Holliday in the original production.
5. Little Shop of Horrors (dir. Frank Oz, 1986)
A Frank Oz film is always a rip-roaring good time, and Little Shop of Horrors, the 1986 film, based on the 1982 broadway musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, based on the 1960 Roger Corman black and white movie, is no exception. Seymour (a nerdy Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Green, who originated the role on broadway) live on skid row with no way out of their hopeless situations. Seymour will never escape working in a flower shop. Audrey will never escape her never-ending parade of terrible men who are terrible toward her. Suddenly, a plant arrives to the shop (Levi Stubbs voices “Audrey II”, and also has the best singing voice known to man) and while this new plant seems to be turning Seymour’s luck around, it starts requiring blood to live. Human blood. And it demands to be fed.
In a fun cameo, the newest asshole in Audrey’s life is Steve Martin, huffing some gas as Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist. One of the folks he tortures is Bill Murray, making this the only movie they ever appeared in together.
There was a revival of the musical at the Pasadena Playhouse in 2019 with Be More Chill’s George Salazar, Pose’s MJ Rodriguez as Audrey, and Amber Riley voicing Audrey II. This ran the same time as Jonathan Groff (Hamilton’s spitty King George) and Tammy Blanchard were about to lead a COVID-canceled revival on Broadway, showing just how immediate elements of the musical can be when performed by people who don’t look how we “envision the characters”.
6. Fiddler on the Roof (dir. Norman Jewison, 1971)
The musical follows traditional Tevye, a Jewish dairyman, attempting to preserve Tradition as his three oldest daughters find love and marry in a pre-revolutionary 1905 Russia.
The 1971 film naturalizes the action of the musical in ways that ground Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, and Joseph Stein’s 1964 story. When Tevye (a legendary performance by Topel, who still performs the role to this day), talks to the screen, it feels natural. The music exists as a companion to the action, as opposed to stopping momentum to sing. Like, they’re just doing their chores. Feeding chickens and shit. But singing.
The characters in Fiddler are real and three-dimensional. It’s a joyous and shattering to spend time and experience a changing world, for better and for worse, alongside them.
7. Chicago (dir. Rob Marshall 2002)
Did you know that Chicago is still running on Broadway? The same Bob Fosse-inspired revival that opened in 1996 is (was? Thanks COVID) still playing, making it the longest running revival in Broadway’s history. Set in the murder obsessed 1920’s Chicago, two death-row murderesses Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger, pouting) and Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones, doing splits at 3 months pregnant) compete for publicity, fame, and a super star lawyer (Richard Gere) who will save their lives at the price of their fame. Directed by Rob Marshall, the film won 6 Oscars, including Supporting Actress for Catherine Zeta-Jones and Best Picture. In stark contrast to Fiddler on the Roof’s naturalistic tone, Chicago instead decides to spotlight the stage within a screen aspect of Roxie’s personality to varying degrees of success. Queen Latifah as a hard-nosed prison warden and John C. Reilly as Roxie’s sad sack husband are delightful as the best singers in the bunch.
8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (dir. Jim Sharman, 1975)
It’s the pelvis thrust that really drives you insay-ay-ay-ay-ay-ayn and your sexuality probably took a turn for the better if you were a human who discovered this movie at a formative age. Based on Richard O’Brien’s deliciously weird 1973 The Rocky Horror Show, this movie is one of the best things that has ever happened to film. Newly engaged Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick, ASSHOLE) and Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon, HOT) breakdown in a strange area and have to seek shelter at a castle in the middle of nowhere, inhabited by Dr. Frank ‘n Furter (Tim………..SAY IT….. Curry), a sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania. An exploration of kink, seduction, and some banging (lulz) songs follow. If the Disney-fication of Hamilton’s fucks bothered you, give yourself over to absolute pleasure and experience this movie for the first time or the five millionth time. It’s a cult classic and was one of the first popular musicals to depict fluid sexuality in a positive way. The 1975 Broadway run closed after 45 performances. They weren’t ready. The show is rarely produced now. Maybe because the movie regularly comes equipped with a shadow cast. Maybe because people are still prudes.
9. Cabaret (dir. Bob Fosse, 1972)
Bob Fosse was known for being a dickhead, but he was also a master at musicals and let that mastery spill into the world of musical movies. Cabaret is an example of that mastery. Joel Grey and Liza Minelli give game-changing performances in this musical about a crumbling Cabaret in the middle of the rise of Nazi Germany. It’s terrifying, seedy, and there are no good guys. Kander and Ebb set the scene with some of the most famous music to come out of the theatre. Sam Mendes directed a seedier revival starring Alan Cumming as the Emcee. The production kept its punch in 1993 and was touring the country until the COVID shutdown.
10. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (dir. John Cameron Mitchell, 2001)
Internationally ignored songstress Hedwig Robinson, is left questioning who she is in the world. With a botched sex change operation and an ex-lover getting famous of her songs, she is left giving A+ dive bar performances while searching for her other half. John Cameron Mitchell and Miriam Shore reprise the roles they created off-broadway and Mitchell steps into the director’s seat. The result is a fast, funny, and heartbreaking, experience. It’s my favorite musical movie about finding yourself in a sea of loss and unfulfilled potential. It gave a place for all the misfits, and the losers, and the strange rock and rollers to know we’re doing alright, listening to the midnight radio.
11. Hair (dir. Milos Forman, 1979)
We follow Claude, a wannabe rebel, as he is embraced by a group of hippies protesting the draft and embracing free love and drugs during the time of the Vietnam War. The movie, directed by Milos Forman, is vastly different than the 1967 musical. The musical is more of a collection of vignette style protest songs, as it was supposed to be a contemporary celebration of the hippies at the time. Every once and a while we get some plot, but for the most part, we are following a movement and an energy. No, Hair is not intended to be a “period piece”, but it’s been set in the 70’s ever since. The movie reorganized the songs and sharpens the characters into movie stars. We’ll see if a true to the source version of the musical ever gets adapted to film, but for now, we have this goosebump inducing final scene.
12. Cats (dir. Tom Hooper, 2019)
The Gush: Fight Club
The first rule of Fight Club is… you don’t talk about Fight Club….
Well. I’m about to TALK ABOUT FIGHT CLUB.
The first time I encountered Tyler Durden was in high school. Me, a rag-a-muffin garbage person interested in counter-culture and things that are kinda flashy and gross. Enter Chuck Phalaniuk’s book Invisible Monsters. From Brandy Alexander, I found Fight Club. I ripped through the book and walked to the local Blockbuster to purchase a used VHS of David Fincher’s Fight Club.
I was hooked. Masculine and highly stylized, but hyper focused, Fight Club quickly became the movie on a constant loop in my bedroom television’s VHS player. I’d fall asleep somewhere around Project Mayhem most nights, but I still have most of the front half of the film memorized. Marla Singer was the ideal and Tyler Durden was the coolest of the cool. Also, did you know the fictional world of Fight Club is supposedly set in Wilmington? One drive through Wilmington’s city center, with all its credit card companies looming about a poor city, you see the likeness. Apparently, Fincher wanted to film in Wilmington, but the city said no because the same credit card companies Fight Club blows up are the ones paying the city’s bills.
My love for this movie is…. Impressive. It’s endlessly quotable. The performances are next level. The world is fully realized, and David Fincher is at the top of his game. You can smell the churches, the meeting rooms, the cigarette smoke clinging to Marla’s jacket.
Speaking of jackets…. I could write an entire dissertation on Brad Pitt’s leather jacket. I love it so much. Pitt’s contribution this film, besides displaying a six pack of abs that could cut glass, is also a lesson in how far charisma can push a performance into the “iconic” category. Edward Norton has the thankless task of being the audience surrogate, and he carries that burden well, but Brad Pitt is allowed to let loose and have fun. His recent Oscar winning turn as Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time…. In Hollywood borrows some swagger from Fight Club, but without as much of the edge.
Then there is Helena Bonham Carter. Marla is the best character. Perhaps the hardest bitch of them all, she stays steady and consistent in a world filled with little boys punching each other in the face.
Let me speak on those boys. I hate that this film gets a “boy’s club” reputation…because why wouldn’t it….it is LITERALLY about a boy’s club and the destruction that comes from that exclusivity.
Chuck Palahniuk, as a gay man, wrote a book that shows how dumb it is to keep everything inside. He wrote about how terrible it is to not be able to live your truth and have to retreat underground. Capitalism destroyed the narrator at the heart of Fight Club, and so Tyler appears in his life to destroy capitalism and make “toxic masculinity” a brand he can capitalize on.
Without support, a society can turn to violence. Our narrator seeks comfort in support groups. Fight Club becomes a support group without diverse inputs or individuality. Fight Club becomes a destructive unit, and what starts as consenting violence turns into something worse. A rebellion of assholes. The turning point is when Tyler gives the club homework: “Pick a fight with somebody in the real world. But you have to lose.” None of the normie folk consent to this treatment. It’s assholes versus regular people. Tyler says it early on. “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken.” Punching a stranger in the face or blowing up a credit card company does not make you a hero.
Tyler takes advantage of the angry men (mostly white, yes) he appeals to, making the movie more and more disturbing and more and more desperate as it goes along. The film doesn’t glorify this. It’s creepy and fucked up. “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything” is tempting, but it isn’t substantial. It’s self-indulgent, it’s selfish, and it’s soul sucking. It’s a way for the men at the heart of Fight Club to shake off responsibility and be terrorist fuck faces.
The movie doesn’t make this a pretty sight. They’re psychopaths and Marla, the only person in the movie who criticizes this behavior, is the only person our narrator can trust and connect with in the end. Connection and affection (alone with the combination of a bullet to the skull) sets him free of Tyler. The movie doesn’t end with a clean “the end”, instead we watch the world burn as Marla and the Narrator watch. Scared, but ready to rebuild. Together.
Palahniuk has gone on record to say the movie is better than his book.
The book is excellent.
The ending of this film is iconic.
If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person? Well, yeah, I guess. But it doesn’t mean that different person is a nice person.
I love films without easy answers. Fight Club is funny and fucked up. That place between a giggle and a panic attack I search for in all of the work I, as an actor and an artist, attempt to create.
I love it.
Re-post from Cinema76.com
Collected articles, Thoughts, and Film reviews
Re-posted from original publications.