Category Archives: Favorites

Happy Birthday, Gene Kelly

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Some of my most popular posts come from August 2012, when I celebrated Gene Kelly’s 100th birthday. So, since today happens to be the day, I thought I would compile those posts here and share them out again for everyone’s enjoyment! Basically I spent several weeks reading a biography and watching a TON of his movies and just generally immersing myself. It was a fun project and I love that people are still searching for fun information about Mr. Kelly and are led to my blog, of all things. So, whether you’re a fan or not, I hope you’ll enjoy!

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On Thirst

One of the best things about the internet is that whatever you might have an interest in or a passion for, you can probably find other people who feel the same. It brings me endless joy to realize that the folks over at Pajiba take the objectification of movie stars as seriously as I do, and their annual Pajiba Ten list is one of my favorite things that happens during the year (even though I never agree with half of it). Recently, the podcast Thirst Aid Kit has further validated my enjoyment of keeping lists of famous people I will never meet, much less get to make out with. I am not alone in my thirst, you guys.

So, for those of you who’ve always rolled your eyes at my posts about ye olde Top Five list, you might wanna move along. I won’t judge. But for everyone else: The last time I talked about The List on this blog was in 2012. What?! I posted that I’d added Michael Fassbender. I can’t even remember who else would’ve been ON that list. (That’s a lie: it was Crowe, RDJ, Gerard Butler, and Javier Bardem.) But that is a long time ago, and the list has changed a whole bunch since then.

To be honest, I’ve been saying for the last year or so that my list is in shambles. I finally let go of Russell Crowe and Robert Downey, Jr (even though I still love them both) just because it seemed the list should be a more current and fluid thing. While I have a few people who definitely bring the swoon, I feel that I haven’t done my research as carefully as in the past, and I really currently have two or three TRUE thirst objects with a whole handful of other people who just haven’t quite broken through yet. So who’s on the list? I’m so glad you asked!

The Definites:

 

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Dan Stevens

I never watched Downton Abbey, and frankly any time I saw pictures of “Cousin Matthew” I couldn’t see the appeal. But that was before Dan Stevens lost some weight,  gained a beard (some of the time), stopped dying his hair, and started playing the magnificently effed up David Haller on FX’s Legion. I love that guy. His performance(s? If you watch the show you get it) are phenomenal and his accent is great. I seriously loved him in Beauty and the Beast, too. He’s very intelligent and funny (and amazingly sane, compared to David) in interviews. Yep. He’s here to stay for a while.

 

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Oscar Isaac

I truly love any time I am afforded the opportunity to explain to people who Oscar Isaac is. Have you seen the new Star Wars movies? Inside Llewyn DavisEx Machina? I am always delighted to point out when someone can be unrecognizable and wholly different from film to film. Oscar Isaac is super-duper talented and has the best hair in the biz. And have you heard him sing? (PS He wrote that song.) Swoon.

 

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Chadwick Boseman

My love for Tony Stark is true, but King T’Challa of Wakanda is now a close second in the MCU. I really, really need to jump on seeing some of Boseman’s other work but his portrayal of Black Panther had me hooked from the beginning. The man himself seems very intelligent, humble, and sensitive as well and his fashion onslaught throughout the press run for Black Panther was the stuff of legend.

The Maybes:

So many, you guys. Lee Pace was on the list for a good long while, got dropped for Oscar Isaac, and is maybe back on again. I need to jump on Halt and Catch Fire one of these days. Paul Bettany has been “#6” for a zillion years and that really hasn’t changed. Love him as Vision, love his razor-sharp, self-deprecating wit in interviews, just love him. I have a fun spiel about how we were all introduced to James McAvoy in that embarrassing moment where we thought to ourselves “Oh f**k, Mr. Tumnus is … hot?!” I love that he’s making a career out of brawn and menace (loved him in Atomic Blonde) and am 100% here for his casting as Lord Asriel in the upcoming BBC “His Dark Materials” series. Not even sure what needs to be said about Idris Elba: did you SEE Thor: Ragnarok? Post-Infinity War I have given in to the realization that I totally adore Tom Hiddleston’s Loki; not sure that love extends to the man himself, but I probably ought to watch The Night Manager, you know, for research purposes. JOHN CHO, people. Armie Hammer (that voice!  Man from UNCLE!)? Sebastian Stan is so pretty, you guys. I fell madly in love with Bertie Carvel in BBC’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but he sticks primarily to theater across the pond so I don’t know about him. Dominic Cooper is a button. Mahershala Ali burst onto the scene in 2016 but has been kind of quiet since. There is much to love about Chris Hemsworth.  And I’ve probably forgotten somebody else.

See the problem? Help me, readers! Anyone you want to advocate for? Is there anything I should watch that will help me make up my mind? Suggestions welcome! (Not for more pretty people; I’ve got plenty of those.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Judy Garland: Five Favorite Routines

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Today is the anniversary of Judy Garland’s birthday. I’m a latecomer to Garland fandom, but I think I’ve made up for lost time in the last couple of years. It doesn’t hurt that she made three movies with Gene Kelly, of course. Since I’ve got a few major films still to catch up on, I didn’t want to do a “favorite movies” post; obviously, since she’s known for her singing talents, a “favorite routines” post was the way to go. Here they are in chronological order, and before you ask: no. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” isn’t one of them. Enjoy!

For Me and My Gal (For Me and My Gal, 1942)

This is the first Garland/Kelly collaboration, and I just think it’s so charming. They’re both young and gorgeous and have such great chemistry. If you’ve spent any time on this blog you’ve already seen this multiple times, but I hope you won’t mind watching it again. I never do!

The Trolley Song (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944)

Meet Me in St. Louis is a great specimen of Judy Garland’s work. It was directed by Vincente Minelli, who married Garland shortly after making the movie. I think that viewers fall in love with Garland through Minelli’s lens, probably just as he was. “The Trolley Song” became a Garland standard for many years, and so it just barely edged out “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for this list.

We’re a Couple of Swells (Easter Parade, 1948)

Judy’s co-star this time around is Fred Astaire (stepping in for an injured Gene Kelly), and here’s my favorite number from this adorable movie. I love that it’s not the usual, glamorous kind of thing, and that both Garland and Astaire embrace the fun. Garland’s facial expressions and little added mannerisms prove what an amazingly talented and dedicated performer she was.

I Don’t Care (In the Good Old Summertime, 1949)

These last two picks are straight Judy with no help, and she nails them both. I just love this song, and it’s a major showcase for Garland’s singing. She looks like an absolute knock-out in that red dress, too, and a couple of shots of Van Johnson looking super-handsome in a tux certainly don’t go amiss. I highly recommend this movie, which is another version of “The Shop Around the Corner.” Johnson and Garland have fabulous chemistry, and as always, it’s such a cute story.

Get Happy (Summer Stock, 1950)

Summer Stock is the last movie that Judy Garland and Gene Kelly made together, and it’s the last musical she made for MGM. At this point, her many problems were working against her, and I think that seeps into the movie in some ways. It’s very inconsistent: there are some great numbers, but it lacks the sparkle of earlier Garland performances. The “Get Happy” number doesn’t entirely seem to fit the film, in some ways, but it’s such an electrifying moment that I always come back to it as a favorite. It’s a testament to Garland’s huge talent that even with all of her issues, she still commands the screen here.

Happy birthday, Judy!

Musical Moment: Happy Birthday, Debbie Reynolds!

You know what’s coming, don’t you? I don’t need to bother with much introduction. Perfect for a Monday morning, too. Happy birthday, Ms. Reynolds!

The movie: Singin’ in the Rain (duh)
The song: Good Mornin’

Musical Moment: Happy birthday (RIP), Rex Harrison

Rex Harrison was an important actor for a long time, but today he’s probably best known for the classic musical, My Fair Lady. There’s tons of fun trivia about this movie: despite having performed the role of Eliza Doolittle on stage, Julie Andrews was passed over in favor of a better-known actress, Audrey Hepburn, who then had to have her singing numbers dubbed by Marni Nixon. Andrews would go on to beat Hepburn at the Oscars, winning Best Actress for Mary Poppins. Meanwhile, Harrison also won the Oscar, despite barely singing a note. The film won eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Best Director (George Cukor). I’ve always been a fan of My Fair Lady, and today we’ll celebrate the anniversary of Mr. Harrison’s birth with one of my favorite numbers.

The movie: My Fair Lady (1964)
The song: Just You Wait! (‘Enry ‘Iggins)

Happy Birthday: Five Drew Barrymore Favorites

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Let’s talk about Drew Barrymore. She occupies kind of a strange place in filmdom: she’s pretty much Hollywood royalty, coming from a family of celebrated actors. She was a promising child actor, but then she through an extended wild (and troubled) period. She’s sort of A-list as an individual, but I guess I would say most of her movies fall into the B-list category. Still, she’s come a long way, and these days she’s something of a media mogul. She directs, produces, and is by all accounts an accomplished professional. Good for her, I say. I actually used to find her extremely irritating, but at some point I became an unabashed fan. She’s a powerful woman in a business largely overrun by men, and she’s always been herself. For that, I salute her and wish her a very happy birthday (we’re the same age!), and in her honor, I’d like to feature some of her movies that I really love. They’re not high drama or exemplary film-making, but they’re entertaining and enjoyable; the kinds of movies you’ll come back to again and again. Let’s have a little fun on a Friday morning, shall we?

The Wedding Singer (1998)
Remember when Adam Sandler was charming? If you’re having trouble, I’d recommend a viewing of this adorable rom-com. It’s got all the goofy earmarks of a Sandler production, but the story is sweet, and Sandler and Barrymore have good chemistry as a pair of good-hearted dreamers. Drew is at her quirky, adorable best here, and if the climactic scene on the airplane doesn’t get you all sniffly, you don’t have a soul.


Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998)
I think this is the movie that made a fan out of me. Sure, her accent is terrible. But Drew’s version of Cinderella is a delightful tomboy, a reader and a thinker who captivates Prince Henry (Dougray Scott, SWOON) by being unlike every other girl out there. Plus, Angelica Huston and Megan Dodds are deliciously villainous as the evil stepmother and sister, and I just love Melanie Lynsky as the more sympathetic sister. Looking for excellent pick-up lines, guys? Take some notes: Dougray Scott is on fire here. Seriously, how can you not love a Cinderella who wields a sword?


Charlie’s Angels (2000)
A fun, silly action flick starring girls? Sign me up. Barrymore joins Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu for this romp of a reboot of the popular TV show. The long list of supporting players includes Sam Rockwell, Tim Curry, and Bill Murray as Bosley. There’s good action, lots of comedy, and some memorable scenes (Diaz dancing in her Underoos! Lucy Liu dominatrix-ing it up!), too. I hear the sequel is pretty bad, so let’s just stick with this one, eh?


Music and Lyrics (2007)
Barrymore’s up to her usual quirky tricks here, but Hugh Grant shines as a washed-up pop singer looking for a return to the big leagues in this romantic comedy. The plot is pretty straightforward, but Barrymore and Grant have a comfortable chemistry, and it’s well worth watching for the various references and jokes about pop music. Basically, you want to see this movie for the opening credits, but sticking around will be fun, too.


Whip It (2009)
Barrymore’s directorial debut stars Ellen Page as a young woman looking to escape a life of beauty pageants and provinciality who finds herself through roller derby. Barrymore also stars as one of Page’s team members. Whip It is based upon a book written by a derby skater, and although it’s a bit sensationalized at times, I think it captures the fun spirit and camaraderie of the sport (derby friends are welcome to disagree with me). Pretty standard coming-of-age stuff, but there are nice performances throughout, and once again, it’s really all about girl power. The soundtrack’s also pretty sweet.


I want to have a Drew Barrymore marathon right now. How about you? I realize that I haven’t seen some of her bigger movies (Scream springs to mind), so what favorites of yours did I leave off?

Review: Les Miserables (2012)

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Translating a stage musical (let alone a wildly popular one) into a screen musical can’t be an easy task. There are all the issues of how faithful an adaptation one wants to make, and the use of Hollywood actors versus stage actors, and a myriad other questions that ultimately won’t matter because half of your audience is going to think you ruined the show, regardless of how hard you work at it or how well the other half thinks you’ve done. Tom Hooper took on all those challenges in bringing Les Miserables to the screen. He apparently chose to adhere very faithfully to the original show, albeit with some necessary cuts here and there. He opted for mostly known actors. And, to up the ante, he decided to film the singing live, as opposed to working with a pre-recorded soundtrack, in an effort to bring a new level of introspection and personality to the characters. Predictably, it’s proving to be a polarizing film in many ways.

Les Miserables tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a released French convict who breaks parole in order to start a new life for himself. He’s become the well-respected mayor of a small town, but he finds his steps dogged nonetheless by Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe), whose single-minded purpose is to bring Valjean to justice. When another man is captured in his place, Valjean comes forward, and must flee from Javert, even while he attempts to fulfill a promise to a dying fallen woman. Fantine (Anne Hathaway) has lost everything in attempting to care for her daughter Cosette, and Valjean promises to retrieve the girl and raise her as his own. To do this he must not only dodge Javert, but also deal with the Thenardiers (Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter), crooked innkeepers who have been looking after Cosette. Valjean manages to settle down quietly with his new charge for many years, but on the eve of the 1832 Paris Uprising, everything comes to a head. Javert is back on Valjean’s scent, and to complicate matters, Cosette, now a young woman (Amanda Seyfried), has fallen in love with Marius (Eddie Redmayne), a young revolutionary. The second act deals with the failed revolution and its aftermath, in which many will die, and some few will find a happy ending.

Les Mis is an intense experience. It’s almost entirely sung, and well, the title translates to “the miserable.” It’s not a happy story for the most part. The music, however, is transcendent and makes the whole thing utterly worthwhile. To take that music and attach it to a big-screen film is a heady experience. The film, while not always beautiful, is visually stunning and sticks close to all of the iconic images that fans of the musical expect. There are, of course, technical complaints about the camerawork, particularly with regard to the practice of extreme close-ups during big solo numbers. I myself didn’t take issue with this, but I can see where it could be annoying to others. My main interest in a dramatic film is typically the acting, and since the camerawork was designed to heighten the performances, it worked for me. More problematic in my opinion was the heavy use of green-screen. It’s an epic show, and a few huge set-pieces and sweeping panoramas are not out of scope. I only wish they’d been slightly more realistic. However. Let’s get back to the performances.

With an oft-performed show like Les Miserables, it is to be expected that every single production will be different. Every actor has his or her own interpretation of the role, and every actor brings his or her own set of limitations. I found the performances across the board to be excellent. Much has been made of the performances of Jackman and Hathaway, and for the most part, the praise is deserved. Hathaway in particular maximizes her time on-screen and puts everything she has into the tragic role of Fantine. Because she has a smaller role, she is more able to find the right balance of melodrama and subtlety required. Similarly, the roles of Marius and Cosette and the Thenardiers don’t require a great deal of range, and as such Seyfried, Redmayne, Cohen, and Carter do a fine job. Samantha Barks (the lone stage actor) as Eponine, Aaron Tveit as Enjolras, and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche are also worthy of mention, and provide some of the best singing.

Because of the size of their roles, Jackman and Crowe seem to have a much more difficult task in bringing the characters of Valjean and Javert to the screen. Jackman, of course, is an accomplished stage performer and was the only suitable option for the role of Valjean; I would argue that the same is true of Crowe. They seem to have chosen two different approaches to their roles here, with varying success. Jackman sinks his teeth into his musical numbers and nails them, but I found his acting to be a little too melodramatic and unnatural at times. It’s as though you can see the work he’s putting in. Crowe, on the other hand, gives a much more subtle performance. He does not have as robust a singing voice as might be wanted, and so his interpretation of the character of Javert is much quieter and introspective. Although it is a slightly different take on the character, I found it to be no less enjoyable or effective. It was an appropriate decision given his vocal abilities, and his acting is such that he carries it off well, if a bit too understated for the musical genre. His is the most natural and nuanced performance of the film.

While there are things that could be criticized (the afore-mentioned cinematography, a certain awkwardness of transition sequences, a few slow moments here and there), the overall effect is exactly what a fan of the musical would hope for. The decision to sing live, I think, paid off for the film as a whole, and for most of the cast (Crowe perhaps being the exception). It’s a much less polished sound that one would expect, but it fits so well with the story and its themes. Les Mis is a strange entry into the genre: the story (based on the novel by Victor Hugo) is highly dramatic and character-driven; characteristics that do not necessarily lend themselves well to the bombast and spectacle of a stage musical. What Hooper and his actors have tried to do here is bring the focus back around to the individuals and their lives. It makes the film somewhat uneven overall, but ultimately extremely satisfying.