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.
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.)
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.
— 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.
UPDATE, Sunday, Feb. 12: Nicolas is singing “Do-Re-Mi” absentmindedly to himself around the house while he plays. I WIN.
For a movie about two people who loved each other so deeply, they risked losing everything to be together—their families, homes, even their countries—“A United Kingdom” plays it frustratingly safe. David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike can do no wrong, but they can only do so much to convey passion in a film that’s well-made but restrained to a fault. My mixed RogerEbert.com review.
“The Space Between Us,” about the romance between a boy from Mars and a girl from Earth, plays like a “Muppet Babies” version of “Starman.” It’s nutty. Not nutty enough that you should run out and see it, but still. It features an exploding barn. My 1 1/2-star review, at RogerEbert.com.
This psychological thriller marks a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan, featuring a tour de force performance from James McAvoy as a kidnapper suffering from multiple personality disorder. The big twist is, there is no big twist: It’s just a suspenseful, well-acted film. My RogerEbert.com review.
This was a really terrible year in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons, but it especially sucked when it came to movies. The good ones were very, very good — look no further than my 2016 top-10 list for examples — but the bad ones were horrid. Here are 11 of the worst, listed alphabetically, because I couldn’t cut it down to 10. I suspect you’ll excuse the indulgence. Feel free to chime in with the worst films you were forced to endure this year — and here’s to a better 2017.
“Alice Through the Looking Glass”
This movie is just hideous — garish, bloated and surprisingly joyless, given that’s it’s supposed to be all about wonder and whimsy. It’s a time-travel movie with zero stakes. Johnny Depp needs to stop playing these wacky characters and start actually acting again. (Although Depp also did some of his best work ever this year beneath serious prosthetics and makeup to play Donald Trump.) It’s clear that nobody on screen is having fun here, so how can we?
It is impossible to explain how truly bizarre this movie is. It must be seen to be believed — and even then, you’ll wonder how anyone thought it was a good idea. This mawkish slog about the miracle of interconnection is a waste of a tremendous cast: Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Michael Pena, led by an unusually sullen Will Smith. When a movie can suck all the life out of one of the most charismatic actors on the planet, you know it’s done something noteworthy.
“Gods of Egypt”
The look on Gerard Butler’s face says it all: This is a silly spectacle of epic proportions. It’s got hilariously terrible special effects — which is especially noticeable in 3-D — stilted dialogue, a wide array of bad accents and a batshit-crazy storyline that tries to combine history with sci-fi fantasy. It’s almost nutty enough to be enjoyable. Truly a movie that requires having a couple of drinks with friends beforehand.
This movie hurt my head. Bring Dramamine if you’re planning on seeing it — and unlike “Gods of Egypt,” do NOT meet up with friends for drinks beforehand. Its first-person perspective provides a cool premise that quickly grows wearisome, repetitive and nausea-inducing. But if you’re in the sweet spot of its target viewing audience — video game enthusiasts in their 20s and 30s, and more than likely male — then “Hardcore Henry” is for you. Now get off my lawn.
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”
If you liked “Frozen” but thought it wasn’t violent or angry enough, this is the movie for you. In keeping with the prevailing themes of this list, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is a ridiculous spectacle that wastes a pedigreed cast, including Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain and Liam Neeson. It’s kind of a prequel and kind of a sequel and a total mess. The costumes are gorgeous, though.
A movie based on a toy should be a lot more fun than this. “Max Steel” is surprisingly bland and borderline incomprehensible. It’s about a teenager named Max (the Orlando Bloom-esque Ben Winchell) who fuses with a flying robot named Steel (voiced by Josh Brener) to become a superhero known as … wait for it … MAX STEEL. I gave this movie a half-star simply for the presence of Maria Bello.
“Meet the Blacks”
This is essentially a spoof of “The Purge” in which a black family moves from a violent section of Chicago to a wealthy enclave in Beverly Hills and finds it’s even more dangerous for them there. But if that’s going to be your premise — whites killing blacks out of snobbery or intolerance — your humor better be pretty sharp and sophisticated. Instead, “Meet the Blacks” gives us fart jokes and tired pop-culture references.
This is the movie that inspired me to start my worst-of list. In May. I had to bring Nicolas with me to the screening because I couldn’t find a babysitter, and as we were walking out, he said: “That. Was the worst movie. You’ve ever taken me to.” And he may be right. This ended up being Garry Marshall’s last holiday-themed ensemble comedy and the last film he directed, period, before his death in July. I don’t mean to be disrespectful by speaking ill of the dead, but there isn’t a single authentic moment here. The wacky antics and mawkish sentimentality of A-listers colliding into each other has given way to complete incoherence this time around.
“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”
It may sound impossible, but there was indeed another entire big, fat, Greek wedding this year. And it was even bigger, fatter and Greeker than the first. I’m not sure who was asking for a sequel to the surprise smash hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” 14 years later (besides writer-star Nia Vardalos) but it’s here, and it strains desperately to be adorable.
“My Dead Boyfriend”
This is yet another one of those how-do-you-explain-it? movies, and that mainly has to do with casting. Everyone involved, including co-stars Heather Graham and John Corbett, is at least two decades too old to be playing East Village bohemians on the brink of the millennium. It’s distracting. The tone is always off, and the gimmicky use of animation doesn’t help. Nobody saw this so I feel sort of bad trashing it, but it was one of my more unpleasant movie-watching experiences of the year.
This was an early contender for the year’s worst movie. I’ve never played any incarnation of the “World of Warcraft” video game, and the film version doesn’t make me want to start. It’s an effects-filled fantasy extravaganza that’s unattractive, hard to follow and (worst of all) boring. And it brings me no joy to report this because I’ve been a fan of the director, Duncan Jones. Better things are in store for him, I’m certain — and for all of us.