Post Date Feb 11

Revisiting The Sound of Music

Image result for the sound of music

That ear-splitting, glass-shattering sound you hear is me, yodeling. I’ve been doing it for the past several days, ever since I took Nicolas to see “The Sound of Music,” and I can’t stop. It’s fun and it drives my kid nuts, which provides an extra layer of enjoyment.

I’ve seen “The Sound of Music” a million times. It was a childhood favorite of mine, as it has been for so many people, and my parents and I always looked forward to its annual broadcast on television. It was event viewing, back when such a thing still existed. But! My father, who loved musicals and taught me to love them, too, taped it one year (on Beta, no less), so eventually I could watch it whenever I wanted. And I did — along with listening to the soundtrack album and rehearsing a stage production with the neighborhood kids. (As the youngest, I got the part of Gretl, naturally.)

Still, I hadn’t seen “The Sound of Music” in its entirety since my youth in Woodland Hills, and I’d never seen it in an actual theater on a big, beautiful screen. So when I got the chance recently to revisit the movie in 70mm on the Fox lot, of course I had to jump at it, and I had to bring my own child with me. Now, Nicolas insists he hates musicals — which is clearly untrue, since one of his favorite TV shows is “Phineas and Ferb,” where they cleverly break into song in every episode. But I knew that, as a 7-year-old, he’d enjoy himself on the most basic level, just as I did long ago. He’d giggle at the kids’ antics and get into the catchiness of all those classic Rodgers and Hammerstein songs.

Image result for sound of music do re mi

I also wondered how I’d respond to it, decades later, through grown-up eyes as a longtime film critic. Would I cringe at its earnestness, or cry out of sheer nostalgia? The answer is: a little bit of both. I noticed much more in terms of subtext and subtlety of performance — both of which would seem to be in short supply in such a rousing, crowd-pleasing musical. But I also appreciated the complexity of the lyrics and the choreography, and the brisk pacing that makes Robert Wise’s three-hour Oscar-winner zip by. (Besides best picture and director, the 1965 film also won Academy Awards for sound, film editing and music.)

It began as a battle, though. Nicolas complained the whole way over, insisting he didn’t want to see it and complaining he was bored during the 10 minutes or so that we had to wait in our seats beforehand. When Julie Andrews crests that grassy knoll at the film’s start, twirling and singing joyously about the hills being alive with the sound of music in the film’s signature image, Nic leaned over to me without missing a beat and said: “Terrible!” in sing-songy tones.

But I knew it would be OK. And it was. I caught him laughing when the Von Trapp children march their way down the stairs and stomp forward to announce their names at the sound of their whistle signals. (The frog they secretly stuffed in Fraulein Maria’s pocket also was good for a cackle.) He was totally into “Do-Re-Mi” — he had a huge smile on his face and tapped his hand on his knee to the beat of the music. And as Captain Von Trapp is driving home after being away in Vienna wooing the Baroness (Eleanor Parker), with his seven children dangling from the trees in play clothes made of drapes, Nicolas asked me: “Is he back? Are they in trouble? Gulp!” And again soon afterward: “Spoil if they get into trouble or not.”

“You’ll see …,” I said.

Later, he burst into a wide smile at the very sight of the first ridiculous-looking puppet during “The Lonely Goatherd.” (And he’d already heard me singing that song around the house — hence, the aforementioned yodeling.)

Image result for lonely goatherd

 

But this number was one of many that made me realize, as an adult, the great talent and craft that went into making this movie. These people are working their asses off. And even though it’s relevant to the scene that Maria is noticeably wiped after such a taxing performance, Julie Andrews makes it all look so breezy and effortless. She just radiates joy in this film, and has such a winning presence that she even makes some of the cornier moments bearable. (The reprise of “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” which Maria and Charmain Carr’s Liesl sing to each other after Maria and Captain Von Trapp return from their honeymoon, is a prime example. It’s a totally needless song — it’s a stretch — but she sells it because she’s such a pro.)

Other things I noticed as a grown-ass person:

— The first shot of the movie is not, in fact, what you see in the above photo but rather helicopter images of clouds and snow-covered mountains accompanied by the sound of chilly wind. It was a little disconcerting at first.

— Wise, working from Ernest Lehman’s script, really takes his time creating a sense of place at the convent before Maria leaves to serve as governess of the Von Trapp children. I found myself crying at “Maria,” possibly out of a sense of nostalgia, but also because of the sheer beauty of the nuns’ voices and their harmonies. Plus, the imagery in the lyrics is so vivid: “How do you keep a wave upon the sand? … How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?” They don’t write ’em like they used to.

— Christopher Plummer: Good lord, he was a babe.

Image result for christopher plummer sound of music

— I was fascinated by the bike choreography in “Do-Re-Mi.” How did they all not crash into each other? How many takes did that section require? Wondering all this nearly took me out of the rapturous glee of that song.

— Wise and editor William Reynolds move so well between songs. The pacing throughout the film is really fluid and spry, but never at the expense of character or story.

— I never realized what a bad-ass Peggy Wood was. As the Reverend Mother at the abbey, she’s the voice of reason, which sounds like an understated role. But she brings such wisdom and presence to it, she’s a quietly powerful force.

— Max Detweiler is gay???

— Baroness Schrader’s body-clinging, gold-shimmering party dress: It is a stunner. I want it now.

Image result for sound of music baroness dress

UPDATE, Sunday, Feb. 12: Nicolas is singing “Do-Re-Mi” absentmindedly to himself around the house while he plays. I WIN.

Post Date Apr 11

Revisiting Ice Castles

If you were a little girl in the 1970s like I was, you probably loved “Ice Castles” and watched it a million times — whether or not you’d ever actually set foot on the ice yourself.

You know that aspiring figure-skating champion Lexie Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is going to take a hard fall while landing a jump that leaves her nearly totally blind, just as she’s on the brink of superstardom, yet you’re gripped with suspense as it’s about to happen. You know she’ll trip on the congratulatory roses tossed from the crowd once she stages her hard-fought comeback, and that her hockey-player boyfriend, Nick (Robby Benson), will walk onto the ice to lead her to safety before stunned onlookers. (His closing line, “We forgot about the flowers,” has an understated poignancy.)

Merely clicking on the link to this story probably has put the “Ice Castles” theme song, “Through the Eyes of Love,” in your head, and it’ll probably stay there for the rest of the week. (You’re welcome.) Like so much about the film, the soaring ballad is so completely of its time: a Marvin Hamlisch/Carole Bayer Sager collaboration, sung by Melissa Manchester, which earned an Oscar nomination for best original song.

Clearly, I have a ton of fond memories of this movie, but I hadn’t seen it in a really long time and I hadn’t seen it since my son and I started figure skating ourselves a year ago. (Not that we skate together — although that could make for some awesomely awkward, “Arrested Development”-style creepiness.) And so when I saw that the New Beverly Cinema was showing “Ice Castles” last night on a double bill with the Richard Dreyfuss-Amy Irving piano romance “The Competition” (which I’d never seen), I knew I had to go, even if it meant sitting by myself and crying alone like a loser. (Thankfully, my fellow critic and dear friend Amy Nicholson joined me.)

I was curious to see whether it still held the same emotional impact that it did when I was a romantic little girl in 1979 — whether nostalgia would win out over my more critical instincts, or whether it would hold up despite seeming so dated. Looking back, my fellow critics were not terribly kind to “Ice Castles.” It’s at 44 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, with my dear, departed friend, Roger Ebert, giving it two stars out of four and saying: “One of the melancholy aspects of `Ice Castles’ is the quality of talent that’s been brought to such an unhappy enterprise.”

What I discovered in revisiting “Ice Castles” is that it’s pure sports-movie formula about a gifted athlete who rises and falls and rises again, but it’s got such strong performances and a vivid sense of place that it makes you want to root for this underdog to succeed. Despite the inherent melodrama of the story, director and co-writer Donald Wrye stages and shoots it all in a lean, unfussy way. (Wrye also directed a 2010, direct-to-DVD remake of “Ice Castles,” which I’ve never seen and wish I didn’t even know about.) His low-angle camerawork during Lexie’s performances and Nick’s hockey games gives those scenes a natural, propulsive energy. And he doesn’t rely too heavily on blurry images to give us the sensation of Lexie’s muted perspective, but does so just enough to indicate her disorientation and fear.

The fact that an actual figure skater plays the lead role — not an actress pretending to skate — lends a great deal of authenticity. Johnson had skated competitively and performed with the Ice Capades before making her film debut here. Her character experiences a massive arc, requiring her to show a great deal of range, and Johnson rises to the challenge admirably. She’s vibrant and appealing, which goes a long way.

It helps a great deal that Johnson’s got such strong support around her, including Benson as her playful but supportive boyfriend, Tom Skerritt as her overprotective, widower father and the great Colleen Dewhurst as a cantankerous former skating champion who now runs the bowling alley/ice rink in small-town Waverly, Iowa, and serves as Lexie’s coach. (Please tell me that such places actually exist in real life.) Jennifer Warren brings sophistication and smarts to the role of the big-time coach who plucks Lexie from obscurity and places her on a path to stardom.

But the one element that really clanged for me this time was Lexie’s fling with the sports reporter (David Huffman) who’s tracking her meteoric rise: a) She’s only 16 and he’s got to be in his 30s, and b) he’s doing a series of pieces on her and then squiring her around to high-profile events. Just icky all around.

And in retrospect, the choreography and costumes all look so quaint. Lexie’s big move is a double axel and she tries to prove she belongs with the big-city girls by landing a triple; these days, triple-triple jump combinations are standard for elite skaters like Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. Lexie’s signature blue dress with the prim, white collar is meant to be old-fashioned and set her apart as a farm girl, but even the fancy, bedazzled dresses the top skaters wear look hilariously cheesy today.

But the chance at greatness — the aspiration toward being the absolute best at something — still resonates, regardless of aesthetic trappings. And that’s why “Ice Castles” still soars today.

Post Date Nov 11

Revisiting Shia LaBeouf

 

You may have heard that Shia LaBeouf has been doing this nutty thing — er, art project — in which he’s going back and rewatching all his movies, in reverse order, for three days straight at the Angelika Film Center in New York. The project even has a hashtag: #allmymovies. That makes it legit.

As I pulled up the live feed of Shia watching Shia this morning — and cramming popcorn in his mouth, and laughing, and occasionally dozing — my husband commented: “You knew him way back when.” And it’s true — I’d totally forgotten that I’d interviewed LaBeouf at the South by Southwest film festival in March 2007, just as he was on the verge of superstardom. We had lunch on the patio behind the Four Seasons Hotel, surrounded by actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a fellow former child star on the precipice of his own grown-up fame) and Bill Paxton, on a gorgeous spring day.

It seems quaint now in retrospect, long before his high-profile efforts to deconstruct and dismiss his celebrity, but he was proud of the fact that he’d created some mystery for himself — that at 20, he wasn’t providing tabloid fodder. And it may sound contradictory given his volatile reputation, but he was a sweet, polite young man. Anyway, I went back and found the article I wrote when I was still with the AP so you can read it for yourself and enjoy — then go back to watching Shia watching Shia.

Shia LaBeouf talks childhood, future and Indiana Jones rumors

By CHRISTY LEMIRE

AP Movie Writer

Shia LaBeouf is in the position so many former child actors have found themselves in: that murky area between boyhood and manhood, between cute and commanding.

And he’s impatient for it to be over.

“I want to get bigger. I’m sick of being a boy,” the lanky actor says of his recent regimen of running and working out. “I know that there’s this innocence that I have but I feel like I’ve played that guy. The whole goal for me has been diversity and diversifying your portfolio and making sure you do a whole bunch of different things and you don’t get typecast. If I become a type, my career is over.

“I want to be an intimidating presence. I want to be a … killer.”

Strong words from the former star of the Disney Channel series “Even Stevens,” which earned him a Daytime Emmy in 2003. Since then, though, LaBeouf has put together an eclectic filmography for a 20-year-old.

He’s appeared opposite Will Smith (“I, Robot”) and Keanu Reeves (“Constantine”). He’s played a wrongly accused juvenile prisoner (“Holes”), a drugged-out campaign worker (“Bobby”) and a would-be thug (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”).

This year alone he stars in the thriller “Disturbia,” a high-tech teen update of “Rear Window”; the big-screen version of “Transformers”; and the animated “Surf’s Up” in which he provides the voice of a surfing penguin.

And then there are those persistent Internet rumors that he’s signed on to play Indiana Jones Jr. in the fourth installment of Steven Spielberg’s franchise. Even Bill Paxton, who directed LaBeouf in the 2005 golf movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” approaches him during a lunch interview with The Associated Press with a boisterous hug and congratulations on landing the role _ which LaBeouf is quick to say he hasn’t.

“The way that thing started, it’s just wild how it snowballed,” he says between bites of a cheeseburger and fries at the South by Southwest film festival, where “Disturbia” screened before its April 13 theatrical release.

“I don’t have a deal on the table, it’s just a rumor. Would I do it? In a second. It’d be working for a legend and working with legends. Who wouldn’t? But is it something I’m doing right now? No. I’m an out-of-work actor.”

But LaBeouf hasn’t been out of work much since he flipped through the Yellow Pages looking for an agent as a 10-year-old; he was cast as the precocious Lewis Stevens that year. Growing up as one of the few white kids in Los Angeles’ heavily Hispanic Echo Park section (the setting of “Mi Vida Loca” and “Quinceanera”), LaBeouf started doing standup comedy. He’s quick to admit he was drawn to this profession for both creative and financial reasons.

“I grew up on that show and it was the best thing that had ever happened to me. Took me out of my house, it was real dramatic at that time. My dad was on drugs _ heroin and all kinds of wild (stuff) and he was in a rehab facility. My mom was trying to hold down the fort and that wasn’t working. So when the show came along it was a savior. It saved my life, my family’s life.”

LaBeouf’s parents eventually divorced; as an only child, he remains close to both. His father, he says, was a mime and a clown who used to grow pot in the brush along the sides of L.A.’s freeways; his mother was a dancer.

“I feel like my childhood was kind of lost. It was adulthood right away,” he says, turning over his right arm to reveal a tattoo on the inside of his wrist that reads “1986-2004” _ the period from his birth until he turned 18. “I feel like you forget a lot of your childhood so I put the timeline on my wrist. I just don’t want to forget the childhood I did have.”

When asked about working with LaBeouf on “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Paxton jokes that he had to “break him like a mustang.”

“I feel very proud to have directed him and to have kind of helped him at a crucial time in his life and in his development as a craftsman, as an artist. You know, it’s hard to make that transition, to go from being a child actor and then, you know, you grow up and they don’t love you anymore. `You’re not cute anymore, you’re not funny-looking anymore, you grew up.’ But he’s someone who’s making the transition.”

Paxton is one of many people LaBeouf says he’s looked to as a mentor and father figure; Jon Voight, Jeff Bridges and John Turturro are others.

“It’s nuts because in my lexicon, those guys are all in my tops. So when you get to work with them and be on that level with them it’s just, it’s jarring. It’s jarring when they consider you equals and you’re sitting there going, ` … This is impossible. How did this happen to me?'” he says. “These are my heroes. These are my Captain Americas and my Spider-Mans. To be sitting around with them is very surreal, and it never gets normal.”

Despite having worked steadily for the past decade, LaBeouf insists he isn’t famous yet. And unlike some other actors his age, he doesn’t provide juicy fodder for the tabloids.

LaBeouf wants to fly even farther below the radar by going off to college (he’s been accepted at Yale) and experiencing life outside of acting for a while.

“How do you create danger when they’ve grown up with you? How do you create mystery when they know everything about you?” he asked. “You’ve gotta go away. You’ve gotta give them time to not know you. And I plan on doing that, it’s just right now, the opportunities I’m being given are just out of control and I can’t turn them down.”

Post Date Apr 16

Revisiting Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Tonight, I will take my 5 1/2-year-old son to see “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.” (He’ll enjoy the pratfalls. Please don’t call Child Protective Services on me.) Sony wouldn’t screen it for review before opening day, so we’re going to a 7:30pm showing with a bunch of my critic friends at The Grove. Because I am a professional, dammit, I went back and looked up my review of the inexplicably successful “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” which made over $183 million worldwide in 2009. I couldn’t recall what I thought of the Kevin James comedy beyond “it sucked.” So maybe this will be helpful for you, too, if you choose to do your own Blart prep.

Columbia Pictures
Rated PG for some violence, mild crude and suggestive behavior, and language.
Running time: 87 minutes.
One star out of four.

The biggest crime of all in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” is not the bank heist that goes down at a New Jersey mall on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Rather, it’s the egregious way in which Kevin James’ innate likability goes to waste.

The “King of Queens” star showed he could play an underdog with some sweetness and depth as a lovesick accountant in the 2005 romantic comedy “Hitch” — and he practically stole the movie away from Will Smith. This time, he plays yet another misfit, but one who’s so two-dimensional, needy and (frankly) annoying that it’s difficult to root for him.

Trouble is, James himself created the character: “I just love this guy,” he says in the film’s production notes. He’ll probably be one of the precious few who do.

James’ Paul Blart is a portly pushover who tries hard to be the tough guy as a shopping center security guard. Hypoglycemic and woefully out of shape, he’s failed the New Jersey state trooper exam eight times; nevertheless, he squeezes into his polyester uniform and takes his job as seriously as if he were out keeping the highways safe from speeders and drunk drivers. (His vehicle, by the way, is a Segway, which is repeatedly played for laughs but isn’t particularly amusing the first time.)

In an anemic take off on “Die Hard,” Paul gets his chance to prove himself when a bunch of skateboarding, bike-riding, X-Games refugees infiltrate the mall with plans to rob the bank, taking a few hostages in the process. One of them is Amy (Jayma Mays), the wide-eyed salesgirl at the hair extension kiosk, for whom Paul has the geeky hots. He awkwardly tries to woo her with boring trivia tidbits, which is meant to be endearing; instead it’s yet another conceit that quickly grows wearisome in the script from James and his longtime writing partner, Nick Bakay.

Paul bumbles his way around and manages to thwart the bad guys, one by one, with his in-depth knowledge of the shopping center’s intricacies as well as a borrowed pink, sparkly cell phone that allows him to connect with cops on the outside. Their leader is the sniveling Veck (Keir O’Donnell, who played tortured artist Todd in “Wedding Crashers”), who took a job as a security guard trainee under Paul’s tutelage to learn the way the mall works.

This being a Happy Madison Production — Adam Sandler is James’ friend and domestic partner from “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” — there are, of course, plenty of obligatory adolescent sight gags to go along with the man-child hero fantasies, all of them flatly staged and observed by director Steve Carr (“Dr. Dolittle 2,” “Daddy Day Care”).

Surprisingly, though, given our would-be hero’s girth and the physical humor that goes along with it, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” has a soft spot for fat people. In an early dinner-table scene with his mother and young daughter, the single dad smears peanut butter on top of a slice of blueberry pie mere moments after finishing his meal. “Go away, pain,” he says quietly to himself as he prepares to savor his favorite comfort food.

It’s a rare moment of believable humanity. You couldn’t buy another one here if you tried.

Post Date Feb 16

Revisiting The Breakfast Club

Any self-respecting child of the ’80s loves John Hughes and knows at least one of the writer-director’s films by heart. While “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” are a total blast, the Hughes movie that mattered to me most growing up was “The Breakfast Club,” and it remains one of my favorites today.

So when I saw that the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles was showing “The Breakfast Club” 30 years to the day after its original release — alongside “Vision Quest,” which also came out on Feb. 15, 1985 — there was no way I could miss it. While I’ve seen the film a million times thanks to cable and videotape, I hadn’t watched it in an actual theater with other people since it opened. I can still vividly recall walking into a packed auditorium at the UA Warner Center in Woodland Hills on the Friday night it came out; we arrived a little late and missed the first few minutes, but the energy in that room already was infectious. Something was different about this night.

Last night, I was curious to see what it would be like to watch “The Breakfast Club” in a theater packed with people in their 40s just like I am, all of whom know every word, every beat and every punch line just like I do. It wasn’t a “Rocky Horror”-style exercise in cinematic interaction, but there was a definite sensation that we were all aware when a classic line was coming up:

“Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?”

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man, you’ll get the horns.”

“No, I don’t wear tights. I wear the required uniform.” “Tights.”

“She lives in Canada. I met her in Niagara Falls. You wouldn’t know her.”

“No! I never did it!” “I never did it either. I’m not a nymphomaniac, I’m a compulsive liar.”

But I was also curious to see, from the perspective of being a film critic, whether revisiting “The Breakfast Club” would be more about the comforting tug of nostalgia than the allure of actual quality. And the answer is: It was a combination of both.

Quick plot summary, for the two or three people out there who’ve never seen “The Breakfast Club”: Five suburban Chicago high school students representing various stereotypes — a brain (Anthony Michael Hall), an athlete (Emilio Estevez), a basket base (Ally Sheedy), a princess (Molly Ringwald) and a criminal (Judd Nelson) — are forced to spend a Saturday in detention together. The comedy of their initial awkwardness gives way to drama as they break down each others’ identities, followed by the uplift of their unexpected bonding.

I’m happy to report that, three decades later, “The Breakfast Club” remains timeless. It still reflects the narcissistic torment of teen angst: the feeling that nobody understands what you’re going through (certainly not your parents) and that your troubles are all-encompassing and insurmountable. It’s still consistently funny and endlessly quotable. Hughes had an unparalleled knack for writing teenagers — hyper-verbal characters full of self-aware, sharp humor who were also capable of making themselves vulnerable and revealing their hearts. It’s paced beautifully and moves seamlessly in tone from light moments to heavier ones.

But along those lines, the drama seems more melodramatic to me now that I’m a grown-ass woman with a child of my own. This is especially true in the big, cathartic scene once the characters have bonded over smoking pot (a device which has become a total cliche by now) and revealed what they’ve done to earn detention. Estevez’s cries of “Win! Win! Win!” and Hall’s sobbing into his sweatshirt sleeve feel over the top now and even a little cringe-inducing.

Yet there’s also a timelessness to the look of the film, especially compared to so many 1980s movies which seem so hilariously dated with their teased-up bangs and giant shoulder pads. And I wonder whether that was intentional on Hughes’ part — whether it was an attempt to make these people and their feelings universal. The characters’ clothes could really come from any time — especially Estevez’s hoodie and jeans and Nelson’s flannel shirt and clunky boots — but “The Breakfast Club” also refrains from the sorts of pop-culture references that proliferate teen movies today, which would peg it to a specific period. Nelson cracks a joke about Barry Manilow, but it’s in the context of tooling on the uptight assistant principal (Paul Gleason) rather than an attempt to seem hip.

Speaking of which: I never realized until last night how cute Nelson was back then — I was always more attracted to Estevez’s more clean-cut looks — or the fact that he was 26 years old playing a high school student.

Post Date Aug 14

Revisiting Five Most — Great ’80s Soundtracks

'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Soundtrack Hits No. 1 On Billboard 200

In a very cool bit of music news, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack has topped the Billboard 200 chart this week. The 12-song mix of late-1960s and early-’70s tunes ranges from David Bowie and The Runaways to 10cc and the Jackson 5, and the inspired way director James Gunn uses this music is a major part of the film’s appealing, off-kilter vibe.

Come and get your love, indeed.

This got me thinking about a Five Most list of great ’80s soundtracks I did back in October 2011, when Craig Brewer’s “Footloose” remake came out.  These are all awesome mixes, as far as I’m concerned. Enjoy.

In honor of `Footloose,’ 5 great ’80s soundtracks

By Christy Lemire 
LOS ANGELES—A huge part of the allure of the original “Footloose” was the soundtrack of catchy, radio-friendly songs it produced back in 1984. “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” “Dancing in the Sheets,” “Almost Paradise” and, of course, the title tune — they were top-40 favorites and mainstays in our boom boxes, and they brought us back emotionally to a movie that was such a cultural touchstone during our formative years.

With the remake of “Footloose” coming out this weekend, it’s a great opportunity to dig through our cassette collection, reminisce about childhood and pick five other great movie soundtracks from the `80s:

_ “Fame” (1980): This movie seemed so racy in its day — the uncomfortable nude scene involving Irene Cara and a creepy photographer, the ballet-dancer abortion — but my exceedingly cool, film-loving mother allowed me to see it when I was just a little girl. The fact that the songs were so high-energy, so poignant, and ultimately so crowd-pleasing is what made this movie acceptable for kids my age. The idea that high school students would bust out and sing “Hot Lunch” in the cafeteria, or stop traffic to rock out to the film’s theme song, was pretty inspiring back then. And of course we all tried to keep up with Cara on “Out Here on My Own,” even though we didn’t have the vocals — or the life experience — to make it work.

_ “Xanadu” (1980): I have vivid memories of listening to this soundtrack — on 8-track, no less — during carpool on the way to school in the morning. At age 8, I basically wanted to be Olivia Newton-John: She was so pretty and seemed so nice and she could sing and roller skate at the same time. Her collaboration here with Electric Light Orchestra — the combination of her pleasant, pitch-perfect soprano voice and their driving, theatrical sound — was, if you’ll pardon the pun, “Magic.” That’s still a gorgeous song, by the way, as is “Suddenly,” Newton-John’s duet with Cliff Richard. My mom repeatedly caught me belting out these songs and the title tune, and while I was embarrassed at the time, I wasn’t alone in my love of this music, as evidenced by the Broadway musical “Xanadu” inspired.

_ “Flashdance” (1983): She’s just a steel-town girl on a Saturday night looking for the fight of her life. Is that so wrong? Rarely do you see a woman who’s a welder by day and dancer by night, but back in the `80s you did in the film that made Jennifer Beals a star and became a pop-culture phenomenon. You know you cut the neck out of more than a few sweatshirts back then. “Flashdance” came out during the early years of MTV when they actually showed videos, and the clip for “Maniac” was in heavy rotation that summer, featuring Beals’ character leaping, spinning, stomping her feet. Director Adrian Lyne made self-aware, sleazy cheese but the music — including the Oscar-winning theme song, sung once again by Cara — made it palatable for a mainstream audience.

_ “Purple Rain” (1984): Every single song in this movie is ridiculously great — and that includes the stuff from Morris Day and The Time. Just try staying in your seat when “Jungle Love” comes on. It can’t be done. As for the Prince soundtrack itself, we wore out the tape, we listened to it so much in junior high school. We made up silly dances to “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star,” and thought we were so daring for not only listening to but singing along with “Darling Nikki.” The movie itself is pretty melodramatic in retrospect, but Prince wrote some of his most indelible songs for it, and even won an Oscar for best score.

_ “Dirty Dancing” (1987): I recall sobbing uncontrollably pretty much from the time Patrick Swayze utters his famous line, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner,” to the time he lifts Jennifer Grey high above his head in the film’s climactic dance number. Yes, I was a dork. But listening to this soundtrack afterward, ad nauseam, took me back to that surge of adolescent emotion. And my dad was happy to endure it because it featured oldies like “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. Now it seems sort of lame that “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” is used to sell us resort vacations. Back then, though, it really did feel like the time of our lives.

Post Date Jul 19

Revisiting Five Most — Nicolas Cage Performances

An Art show of all Nicolas Cage work in Los AngelesTonight, Chris and I are attending The Nicolas Cage Party Los Angeles, an art exhibit downtown which could be incredibly strange and wonderful (like Cage himself). This got me thinking about a Five Most list I did of his best performances back in January 2011. Which films would you pick?

5 most memorable Nicolas Cage performances

By Christy Lemire

LOS ANGELES — No matter the role — and he’s played a diverse array of them over the past three decades — Nicolas Cage often seems to be teetering on the brink of his own personal, self-inflicted insanity.

Sure, he’s done plenty of forgettable action movies, and lately he’s been at the fore of some family-friendly Disney adventures. Then there was that period in the late ’90s where every movie he made was a drag, and it was a drag watching him in them. But when he’s at his volatile best, it’s an exciting place to be.

This week, with Cage starring in his latest in a series of wheels-off thrillers, “Season of the Witch,” here’s a look at his five most memorable performances. Like the best-of-Jack-Nicholson list recently, this one was hard to narrow down:

_ “Adaptation.” (2002): Cage earned an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his identical (and fictional) twin brother, Donald, in Spike Jonze’s brilliantly mind-bending comedy. And he seemed to be having the time of his life playing these contrasting roles: the self-loathing and stumped Charlie, as well as the goofy and garrulous Donald. After brooding his way through a series of films leading up to this (“8MM,” “Bringing Out the Dead,” “Windtalkers”), he lets loose again here even while creating two distinct, structured personalities, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

_ “Raising Arizona” (1987): One of the Coen brothers’ earliest, most playful and visually inventive films features a deliriously nutso starring performance from Cage. Hi McDunnough is a loser and ex-con who seemingly can do no right, but he finds a way to make his wife Edwina (Holly Hunter) happy when he steals a baby for her from furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona, the father of quintuplets. Like “Moonstruck,” “Raising Arizona” allows Cage to tap into his unique brand of off-kilter, romantic goofiness. He’s a grubby, lovable cartoon character.

_ “Leaving Las Vegas” (1995): Cage won a best-actor Oscar for playing an alcoholic, failed screenwriter hell-bent on drinking himself to death. He and Elisabeth Shue, excellent as a hardened prostitute, forge a twisted, codependent bond in which neither will interfere with the other’s self-destruction. But Cage never devolves into a drunk cliche; rather, he finds shadings within this lost soul’s deep despair. Director Mike Figgis’ film is intense and unflinching, which just happen to be two of Cage’s strong suits. While the movie itself is often hard to watch, Cage’s performance is mesmerizing.

_ “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” (2009): Here he is in classic crazed mode. Werner Herzog’s wacked-out remake is fueled by a wacked-out performance from Cage, whose character is himself fueled by a steady supply of cocaine and heroin, gambling and violence. His Terence McDonagh is a brazenly corrupt detective, a man infested with dark proclivities. As he descends further into drug-induced mania in post-Katrina New Orleans, we don’t know what’s real and what’s in his mind, and it doesn’t matter. Cage makes it all wild and riveting, and all you can do is watch in awe of how far he’ll go.

_ “Valley Girl” (1983): Cage’s first starring role, the one that put him on the map, and a personal favorite of mine, having grown up in the San Fernando Valley in the ’80s myself. So please, indulge me for a minute. “Valley Girl” came from an era of dumb teenage sex comedies, but it’s got an undeniable sweetness that most of those films lack. Much of that comes from the tender way Cage’s L.A. punk, Randy, courts the stylish and pristine Julie (Deborah Foreman), who lives on the other side of the Hollywood Hills. It’s “Romeo and Juliet” set in Southern California, but in his endearing awkwardness, Cage breathes new life into a familiar figure.

Post Date Jun 22

Revisiting Clint Eastwood’s Favorite Clint Eastwood Films

Clint%20Eastwood%20on%20the%20set%20of%20%22Jersey%20Boys.%22%20%28Bobby%20Bank%20/%20WireImage%20/%20Getty%20Images%29

Clint Eastwood’s big-screen version of the smash Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” debuted in theaters this weekend. It’s not the best film he’s directed and it’s not the worst. As I said in my two-star review, it’s very glossy and entertaining as it traces the origins of the ’60s pop group The Four Seasons, but it’s also very conventional and safe.

Still, “Jersey Boys” got me thinking about other movies Eastwood has directed over his prolific career, and about Eastwood’s opinion of his own work. Back in October 2010, when “Hereafter” opened, Eastwood was kind enough to take the time to be a guest programmer for me in my weekly Five Most feature. I asked him to pick his five favorite films from all the ones he’s directed. He wanted to pick six. What am I going to do, say no to the man? Here are his choices, in alphabetical order, with his comments and insights in quotes.

_ “Bird” (1988), Eastwood’s biopic on jazz legend Charlie Parker: “It was a nice story about someone whose musicianship I admired so greatly. It was a good script on the analysis of the self-destructiveness of personality: people who insist on sinking into the abyss. Success, being idolized by other musicians — none of it was enough.”

_ “Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006), one of two World War II films Eastwood released that year: “I got the idea of doing it while doing ‘Flags of Our Fathers,’ which is about the American invasion of the island. But the film pointed out what it must have been like to have been one of the defenders of the island — to have been there, and been told not to plan on returning home. What a difficult request to make of people. Also, the Japanese soldiers were facing certain annihilation. They never gave up hope. A lot of them would have loved to have been out of the war and home, just like soldiers from any nation.”

_ “Million Dollar Baby” (2004), starring Hilary Swank as a boxer and Eastwood as her reluctant trainer: “It appealed to me because it was a story regarding family — a search for the daughter he never had a relationship with, and the search for the father that was no longer there for her. They were both sort of reticent, and ended up putting themselves through the most emotional test possible, ending with her desire to be euthanized.”

_ “Mystic River” (2003), about childhood friends reunited by tragedy in an insular part of Boston: “I liked the book and the screenplay by Brian Helgeland. The way sometimes fate deals a bad hand, and it just keeps getting worse and worse, and there is nothing anyone can do. No amount of sane advice can stop the train.”

_ “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976), starring Eastwood as a Missouri farmer out for revenge after the Civil War: “It was the first Western I had done in some time since the 1960s Leone movies. It came out in the ’70s when the country was restless about Vietnam. It addressed the divisiveness of war, and how it can tear at heart and soul. But it also dealt with the rejuvenation of a cynic, re-instilling his life with purpose, and with a surrogate family.”

_ “Unforgiven” (1992), with Eastwood as a retired gunslinger taking on one last job: “I loved the ‘Unforgiven’ script. You had to get a ways into it before you knew who was the protagonist and who was the antagonist. Even the villains, with the exceptions of the renegade cowboys, had good points to their character, and had dreams. Little Bill (played by Gene Hackman) just wanted a peaceful life. He believed he was doing the right thing. The film dealt with issues — gun control, and the struggles people have ‘within.’ The hero went against instinct. It was a very rich story, involving loyalty to friends, family and rationalizing deeds. It was a very intelligent script.”

Post Date Apr 27

Revisiting Rango

Rango Movie ReviewDamn, I love “Rango” so much. It is absolutely gorgeous: vividly detailed, wildly colorful and thrillingly inventive from start to finish, even as it pays homage to such classic and eclectic films as “Chinatown,” “Apocalypse Now” and Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns. I had the pleasure of revisiting the 2011 animated comedy tonight with my son, Nicolas, who finally wanted to watch it with me now that he’s 4 1/2. I’d been suggesting it for a while because I knew he’d love it — and sure enough, after about 10 minutes, he turned to me and said: “Mommy, I love it!”

Here’s a look back at what my old co-host, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, and I said about “Rango” when we reviewed it on “Ebert Presents At the Movies.” Hopefully it’ll encourage you to seek it out or revisit the film yourself — whether not you have a kid to share it with.

Watch the review here

Post Date Mar 16

Revisiting Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith

http://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/rs_anakin_evil.jpg

We finally reached the end of our “Star Wars” journey tonight. After showing Nicolas the first five films in George Lucas’ saga in the order they were released, we wrapped up with “Episode III — Revenge of the Sith.” I hadn’t seen the finale since it first came out in 2005 and was surprised at how engrossing it was. In retrospect, I’d always lumped the prequels together as being inferior to Lucas’ original trilogy. And for the most part, they absolutely are. But going back and looking up my review of “Episode III,” it seems I gave it a rave.

Nic liked it too, by the way — he was dancing around in front of the television with a pretend light saber, trying to cut down Darth Sidious. “I want to watch another one,” he said once the credits rolled. Sorry, dude — we all have to wait for Episode VII. ‘Til then, enjoy.

20th Century Fox
PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some intense images.
Running time: 142 minutes.
Three and a half stars out of four.

The Force is strong with “Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,” the sixth and final piece in George Lucas’ galactic saga, which represents a welcome return to the ideas and the spirit that made his original “Star Wars” a pop-culture juggernaut 28 years ago.

The circle is now complete, as Lucas’ characters are fond of saying, and much of the film’s joy comes from watching these familiar names and events fall into place.

It is enormously satisfying to see young Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) teeter along the edge that separates good and evil, and to see what finally pushes the would-be Chosen One over to the dark side of the Force.

It’s a wonderful, small discovery when Anakin receives the name Darth Vader once he finally swears his allegiance to Chancellor Palpatine, who reveals himself here as Darth Sidious, a Sith master and the eventual evil Emperor. (And all the other words that ooze from Ian McDiarmid’s mouth leave you feeling so slimy, you’ll want to take a shower afterward.)

But the moment we’ve all been waiting for is one that simply must be experienced in a packed theater: when the mask goes on and the helmet comes down and Anakin takes his first raspy breath as Darth Vader in all his dark, gleaming glory. (You won’t hear anyone else breathing, it’s such an absorbing sight.)

The iconography is powerful to behold, especially when compared to the horrendously disappointing Episodes I and II. In retrospect, the first two “Star Wars” prequels seem even more useless, with their stilted dialogue and their numbing, CGI-infused clone battles.

Lucas wisely has placed the emphasis this time on elaborate lightsaber duels – between Anakin and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) against the Sith lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee), and ultimately between Anakin and Obi-Wan themselves. Some of the biggest thrills come from tiny Yoda, the Jedi master who’s at the height of his powers here. He does as much damage with a well-chosen, structurally inverted phrase or the subtlest wrinkle of his round, green face as he does with a swing of his lightsaber. (And Yoda has mad skills.)

Lucas’ writing still clangs, though, especially during the exchanges between Anakin and his secret bride, Senator Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), who announces in Episode III that she’s pregnant (with twins we’ve come to know as Luke and Leia in Episode IV, the original “Star Wars”).

“You are so beautiful,” Anakin dreamily tells Padme as she brushes her dark, flowing locks on a balcony in the moonlight.

“Only because I’m so in love,” Padme coos back to him.

Thankfully, Lucas also didn’t saddle her with the heavy headgear and distracting dresses she wore in Episodes I and II, or else she would barely be able to get up and move about the galaxy.

That love for Padme, though, is partly the inspiration for Anakin’s conversion. Not to give too much away, but he becomes convinced that Padme is in danger, and the only way to save her is through the powers that come with dark-side membership.

He’s actually just being manipulated by Palpatine/Darth Sidious, who wants to turn the Galactic Republic into his own Empire and sees him as a malleable apprentice, especially at a time when Anakin isn’t getting the respect and authority he craves from the Jedi Council.

“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” Yoda warns Anakin, but it’s too late – and we know it’s too late, and that built-in expectation is much of what makes “Revenge of the Sith” so riveting.

It’s also a visually wondrous film, though. Lucas uses the digital technology to far greater advantage than he did in the first two prequels, which too often had the glossy, detached look of a video game. Crisp daylight streams through the floor-to-ceiling windows of Padme’s apartment, and the cityscapes consist of silvery skyscrapers and golden sunsets. Even Chewbacca and his Wookiee buddies look lifelike as they scamper in battle across the beaches and jungles of the planet Kashyyyk.

Clearly, this is Lucas’ war protest movie _ Obi-Wan shoots a character down with a gun once his lightsaber is knocked away from him, and afterward sniffs, ”So uncivilized.” But it’s also, at its core, a soap opera. It always has been. Think of Darth Vader telling Luke Skywalker, ”I am your father,” during the heat of battle in ”The Empire Strikes Back.” Episode III features fast-paced parallel editing between two staples of daytime TV: a childbirth and a complicated operation.

But despite its drama and darkness, Lucas gives us some light moments, too. He slips in a glimpse of the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks at the very end, and although the big, goofy Gungan doesn’t say anything, his presence alone feels like Lucas’ last little dig at the naysayers – and a reminder with this final farewell that, nearly 30 years later, he’s still doing it his way.