musicals

All the 2017 Oscar-nominated songs in one place

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All the 2017 Oscar-nominated songs in one place

Maybe you’re trying to watch all the Oscar-nominated movies, maybe you’re not. But if there’s one category you can check off the list, it’s the Original Songs. The Best Picture movies would take over 20 hours to watch, but this one takes 20 minutes. See below for links to every song nominated for an Oscar this year, plus a few opinions of course.

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Comic Issues #94 Holiday Plague

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Comic Issues #94 Holiday Plague

Tis the season for holiday films.

Resident host Anthony Silva is sitting this episode out do to the plague. Luckily we are joined by special guest Jonathan Pimentel. Tonight, our new heroes and heroine discuss the latest holiday films from The Hobbit to Les Miserables. This crew is “gonna wreck it!””

We also talk about those special Geek things we do when we get the plague.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog LIVE: Accepted into the Awesome League of Awesome

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog LIVE:  Accepted into the Awesome League of Awesome

Joss Whedon created the online sensation Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog in 2008, proving independent television online is feasible while simultaneously thumbing his nose at the establishment. In defiance of limited resources and frustrating studio politics, Whedon proved you can produce good product cheaply, distribute it for free, and still make money – Dr. Horrible was a huge hit.  It was a new paradigm and one that inspired rabid fan response.

Cut to 2010.  Director Andy Lowe of Chinese Pirate Productions fretted, “Why doesn’t someone do a live Dr. Horrible show?”  Finally someone asked, “Andy, why don’t YOU just do it?” He licensed the title from the surprisingly laid-back and gracious Time Science Blood Club (managers of Mutant Enemy properties), found musical director Brian Hammond via the San Diego theatre scene, and the rest is more than crazy random happenstance.

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Live! in San Diego

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Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Live! in San Diego

The San Diego PG team recently had the most awesome experience of being invited to watch the rehearsal of the upcoming Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Live! The practice hall was tight quarters, the air flow minimal and the performance was epic. We have some video interviews, rehearsal video/photos coming as soon as we finish editing them, so hang tight! Here are some promo shots (Photos by Christina Rogers) to hold you over until then:

Now go visit Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog Live! on Facebook and show this crew some love by getting tickets now before they sell out!

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Grease Sing-Along

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If you haven’t seen Grease, somehow, but intend to break yourself in with this sing-along, be prepared to wonder what all the fuss is about. Grease is a girlhood rite of passage, a high school theatre staple, and a cheesy classic, but it is quite terrible. The film version of course being better known than the stage version, 1978’s Grease has even infected stage productions to add the movie-only songs (You’re The One That I Want, most egregiously). It’s amusing to watch the leader of the rival gang The Scorpions (nonexistent in the play) sport scars for acne his character should instead be aflame with afresh. It’s campy fun to see Frankie Avalon make mid-twenties actress Didi Conn swoon and to worry about 34 year-old (!) Stockard Channing get knocked up by her 28 year-old boyfriend. (And people complain about Glee’s 21 year old stars!)

These are known quantities, though I confess it had been so long since I had seen it (the DVD, a gift, remains shrink wrapped) I had forgotten much. It all comes swirling back, though. It’s certainly still got that good ol’ Rydell High spirit, fun costumes, and that terrible message. And fun, energetic dancing which was definitely out of vogue in 1970’s movies.

As for the Singalong part, well, it’s new and special all right. Has it been a while since you had to recall “rama lama lama, kadingety ding de dong, shoo bop shoo wadda wadda yippity boom de boom?” The lyrics are up there, in distracting yet fun and kicky animations. (Personal favorite: editorial commentary on Channing’s Rizzo’s virtue: TRASHY!) The Sound of Music Sing-along, which resembled nothing so much as a lush big-screen karaoke with discreet white block lettering, focused on the movie as the draw. Grease Sing-along pulls out the stops with hearts floating up and out of “devoted,” words getting kicked by dancers, and unnecessary extra bits like flying calendar pages and moons and huge fonts. Anyway, it’s fun, but it kind of feels like it’s trying too hard. It’s less a gift to the fans than an attempt to engage new, very young ones. You know how some movies do a cutesy little scrapbook or yearbook thing for the end credits, chockablock with really blatant and obvious jokes? That’s this. Inexplicably, the opening Barry Gibb theme song “Grease is the Word” has no screen lyrics.

Again, Grease is a romantic musical comedy from a simpler time, depicting an even simpler time. Blazing through the divorce-frenzied disco era came a sweet, slightly raunchy musical set during the innocent 1950’s, where girls are still girls and boys are still boys, where Frenchy shouldn’t pursue her feminazi dream of becoming a beautician, where Sandy has to change who she is in order to keep the man who’s not brave enough to admit to his friends that he did love you as you were, where your dates discard you like the Kleenex from your bra when you get home from semi-consensual drive-in petting. Grease sparked the 50’s retro craze that contributed to the new wave/mod look and reminded 1970s’ and 1980’s teens that they weren’t the first teenages: the Boomers were. It was our primer for romantic angst and negative peer pressure, and it’s still a rockin’ fun time, even if a slightly tarnished one.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 7/8/10 (originally 1978)

Time in minutes 110

Director Randal Kleiser

Studio Paramount/Insurge

Nine

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I didn’t really know what to expect, walking into Nine. Well, I kind of knew what to expect from director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and I knew Nine was sexy and kind of based on someone’s mental state, so I probably expected a little Chicago magic again. For those confused by my review of 9, here I am speaking of the live-action musical and not the animated post-apocalyptic thing. Maybe the lead character’s state of mind is a little post-apolcalyptic, but I digress. Nine is set in Italy in 1965, that groovy frontier between girl group femininity and crazed hippie abandon.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director and walking id. Day-Lewis plays Guido with a cultured Italian accent, a good singing voice, and plenty of angst. He has made himself quite a career playing tortured men, and his customary level of actorly dedication therefore requires him to pretty much have a full-on nervous breakdown on screen. While this is not often the stuff of musical comedy, Nine isn’t either. Guido is difficult to like, which seems more like a failing of the original musical than of this production of it. Nine is not as good a show as Chicago and the filmgoing experience reflects it, but it definitely wrings all the best out of it that it can — and in gorgeous coastal Italy smothered in beautiful women.

Guido’s muses alternatively fuel him, torment him, love him, inspire him, arouse him, and nurture him, and in his mind, all exist only as fully as their usefulness to him extends. The women who surround Day-Lewis all turn in great performances, with some that took me by surprise. Who thought Kate Hudson could rock her Laugh-In genes on the only original song of the film? She doesn’t dance much (neither does anyone except Fergie) but she sells it. Marion Cotillard we already know can act and sing and she’s breathtaking here. Penelope Cruz, whom I usually really dislike, was awesome — though I hope her father never sees this film. Gentlemen, wear loose pants. Nicole Kidman doesn’t surprise us with what she does so much as remind us that she can still play a sexpot screen siren at 42 like nobody’s business. Fergie/Stacy Ferguson gets the big jaw-dropper number as far as I am concerned and tears up the screen even with a zillion backup girls in a long-ago but salient part of Guido’s psyche. Hers is the song you will be humming as you leave the theatre. And of course Judi Dench. As always, Dame Judi takes a little screen time and runs with it — her number is wonderful.

Marshall has always been marvelous at painting with bodies and light, and this film benefits from that touch immensely because of the abstraction of most of the songs. He uses static lighting like a stage production and as a result gets tons of gorgeous depth on screen. I would like to see this film in full Avatar 3-D to float in the spaces of light and dark and layers of people Marshall builds. Costumer Atwood proves she’s a force to be reckoned with but even her mastery cannot give Nicole Kidman boobs. Nine is about religion and morality and love and intimacy and inspiration and objectification and intimacy and superficiality and it’s a solidly-made film. It may not make you a fan of the show, but it should make you a fan of Rob Marshall.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 118

Director Rob Marshall

Studio Weinstein Company

The Princess and The Frog

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Oh Disney! You invented feature-length animation, revolutionized the children’s film industry, and infected little girls the world over with princess worship. Then Pixar swooped in and taught you how to make stories fancy looking (you skipped the class where they reminded you to also have stories in CG movies), and then you got distracted with Renderman (Chicken Little, Meet The Robinsons) and lost your way. Until now.

Walt Disney Animation Studios is back on form with The Princess and The Frog. I loved it! Wonderful classic story, flawless hand-drawn animation, fun and appropriately arranged music, it’s all there. To every parent of a young girl who has sworn fealty to the galaxy of Disney princesses, this movie turns that nonsense on its head and features the first African-American animated heroine.

That heroine, Tiana, is a hard-working girl in Depression-Era New Orleans with one lifelong dream — to open a restaurant with her daddy. Life intervenes and she grows up single-mindedly focused on that dream. Dreamgirls’ Anika Noni Rose speaks and sings Tiana with grace and power. She is as refreshing as bookworm Belle, as forward thinking as cross-dressing Mulan, and she needs a prince to come save her like a frog needs a banjo.

Enter Prince Naveen (Brazilian Bruno Campos), channeling Antonio Banderas and Gene Kelly as a layabout prince of Maldonia (not Caledonia?) and Dr. Facilier the Shadow Man (Keith David, perfectly cast), and you’ve got a stew going. From the age-old kiss a frog to get a prince story to parables about being careful what one wishes for, The Princess and the Frog knocks over all those romantic fairy tale conventions, yet turns it all into a new classic. It’s all according to Disney formula, but feels different somehow. It pains me to say it, but Randy Newman’s music is great. Nearly everyone gets a song and they may be Cajun or jazzy or showtunesy, but they are all toe-tappin’.

Can you imagine being in New Orleans during the jazz age? There’s a romance about the city and the bayou and the voodoo and the obeah that takes on its own character. Tiana and Naveen come from different worlds and don’t care a fig for the other’s world, and are forced into an exciting adventure in a strange world neither of them have known. The Shadow Man is scary and his shadow minions are extremely cool and scary; I would hesitate to bring a small child to see it. The side characters Louis and Ray, respectively Dreamgirls’ Michael-Leon Wooley and versatile and prolific voice actor Jim Cummings, are hilarious and lovable. The La Bouff father/daughter voiced by John Goodman and Jennifer Cody are affectionate and amusing parodies of the wealthy whites of the era.

As hand-drawn animated features have been more and more scarce, we have become inured to the depth and realism of computer animation. My readers know I love me some Pixar, but hand-drawn, like claymation, has a warmth and charm that cannot be replicated in bytes. Disney has always set the gold standard for hand-drawn, and this film continues their reign. Each sequence is more lovely than the last, from deco dreams to fireflies dancing to voodoo menace. Here and there directors Ron Clements and John Musker insert small, unobtrusive winks to some classic princesses without distracting from Tiana’s triumph as a romantic lead and female role model. This movie is love and food and music and I highly recommend it.

MPAA G

Release date 11/25/09

Time in minutes 95

Director Ron Clements, John Musker

Studio Walt Disney Animation Studios

Comments Off on Hamlet 2

Hamlet 2

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After Romeo + Juliet (not the Zeffirelli, the DiCaprio one), it seemed as though tough urban moroseness would be a sly way to reinvent the Bard’s classics, or at least not the musical way. I sincerely did not want to see this one, because, I mean, come on, Ethan Hawke? I do believe the real Hamlet would behave much as Hawke does in his private life (minus Uma) – hang out at Lovejoy’s with punk front-men and write superficially deep novels. To his credit, Hawke is the youngest Hamlet on film and therefore (on paper) the most age appropriate to take on the vaunted role of angry youth. But, I mean, come on, Ethan Hawke?

The language is the same, though clearly in its 112 minute brevity has cut some stuff. “Alas poor Yorick” and gravedigger fans, go rent Branagh’s 1996 version (the one with Robin Williams). I have to give this interpretation some credit – I better understood all the relationships and internal goings-on than in any other viewing, filmic or stage (sorry, M.D.). I’ve never been a huge fan of this play, but at least this time I could really follow it. And not a Branagh in sight! The Americans handled the tongue twisting poetry with aplomb, and, in the best cases, made it sound natural. Hold on to your Guatemalan Angst Caps, kids – Bill Murray is a brilliant Polonius. Did I see that coming? Heavens no. He managed to give Ophelia’s dad a while new twist, and I totally got it.

The film is plagued by overly natural camera work – actors blocking each other, etc., and some genuinely kick ass locations. It’s not so sly and artsy as Romeo + Juliet, but it somehow works better with a literal sword fight at the end. Oh, did I give anything away? Liev Schreiber as Laertes gave the role something I’d never noticed before: presence. However, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are truly dead. Steve Zahn is hysterically out of place as Rosie and Guidie is Uma Thurman’s heroin-chic brother. Sigh. Imagine Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr. from Happy, Texas as he quoth: “He does confess he feels himself distracted/But from what cause he will by no means speak.” (It certainly is handy having the screenplay lying around the house.)

So, you’re asking, how did they do the play within the play, The Mouse-trap? This was very funny, worth seeing on its own – perhaps if the whole movie had been made like this, it would have been more mind-blowing. A small, accidental “quote” of the Sixth Sense pervades Hawke’s Hamlet – everything emotionally significant (I presume specifically for Hamlet but it didn’t seem to really be all that precise) is red. Considering the rest of the movie is a chilly Coltrane blue/black, it’s got to be on purpose.

When doing a classic, one must never reveal its tragic flaw – and the tragic flaw of Hamlet is what a big deal everyone makes about Hamlet being upset, when he damn well should be! Unfortunately, in this update, it just seems even more ludicrous that anyone would think the boy certifiable just because he’s depressed – never mind Ophelia drown herself because he’s too bummed to give her a lot of quality time.

Music by Carter Burwell: I noticed the music, but it’s the unfortunate “sucking up to the Academy” Burwell and not the glorious Coen Brothers scoremeister. For another example of this unseemly trend, see Exhibit A: Danny Elfman’s generic-yet-nominated score for Good Will Hunting.

So, why watch it on HBO? The Cliff’s Notes often help you appreciate the full work when you watch it again, so let this film be your Cliff’s Notes to the Branagh film. My companions and I were not in total agreement, but I found the presentation of the famous soliloquies mostly interestingly done – and a great deal of social commentary lurks (perhaps unwittingly) in the staging of “To be or not to be.” One word: “Action.” Cracks me up. Frankly, Bill Murray deserves your viewership, despite his wee role. But Miramax should not be fiscally encouraged to do more work along these lines by you watching it anywhere but in the comfort of your own home. Double feature it with Strange Brew and see if anything looks familiar. Do NOT watch it to avoid watching the full version!

Funny side detail: Hamlet and Ophelia have a Danish beer in one scene. If more of the movie had been like that, I would have really appreciated it.

MPAA Rating R-language inc. sexual references, brief nudity & drug content
Release date 8/27/08
Time in minutes 92
Director Andrew Fleming
Studio Focus Features

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Mamma Mia!

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I feel an utter loss of clinical objectivity as I sit down to write this review. I can say that I had a ball and a half, the likes of which I don’t think I’ve seen this year. Like a similar adored hoot, Hairspray, Mamma Mia is a stage musical adapted to the big screen and stuffed with appealing stars. Where Mamma Mia lacks Hairspray’s deeper satirical touches about intolerance, it gains in sheer fantasy pleasure. Sure, the characters make huge decisions on a dime, mainly to move the plot (yes, there is one), but the joy of Mamma Mia is in all its relationships. And songs. Oh yes, the songs.

Love between girlfriends, new couples, old lovers, mothers & daughters, and the love of a special place on earth entwine like the eye-popping bougainvillea gracing the set. The bride (Amanda Seyfried, surprising me yet again) is adorable. The mother (Meryl Streep, a bottomless pit of delightful surprises) is relatable and cool. The fiancé (Dominic Cooper) is scrumptious. The best friends (Christine Baranski and Julie Walters) — a hoot. The old lovers (Skellan Skarsgard, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth) — dreamy. The Greek chorus is maybe unfairly too anonymous but they are darling.

If you didn’t know, the songs are all ABBA songs, reorchestrated and jiggered a bit to fit the story. Giving Abba Gold a fresh listen, it’s evident their songs were written with a story in mind for each of them, unlike the techno dance hits (uhn-tss-uhn-tss) of more recent years. The songs are, more often than you remember, in a minor key, driving a certain tension, even darkness or danger, below the soaring vocals or peppy tempos. It’s a gleefully appropriate score for a musical about so many kinds of feelings. A happy side effect of the familiar songs, besides being able to sing along loudly in harmony (I please the 5th), is the sense of joining in the moment. Three gal pals burst into song much more often in real life than anti-musical curmudgeons care to admit — but we do it to songs we already know. Roping the audience into this delicious conspiracy feels like a personal invitation into their glee. Using pop songs to carry a musical isn’t only as recent as Across the Universe or Moulin Rouge — lots of Golden Age musicals were scored with serendipitous standards.

Movie musicals also benefits from extra built-in chemistry among the cast due to all the extra rehearsal. A regular film might shoot a love scene on the first day the actors have met! That can’t compete with three intense weeks in sweatpants in a warehouse jumping around like loons together. The staging and choreography is funny and accessible and o-able — more like your friends dancing for pleasure than intense pros West Side Storying it up the lane in tandem. This lends to the “we’re all just winging it” feel which gives the movie a close intimacy (as do the heart-stopping close-ups).

The story is simple: a single mom’s daughter, wondering which of her mom’s old flames is her dad, invites all three candidates to her wedding. Obviously chaos ensues. The stakes are high (paternity!) and the feelings run higher (A daughter! A family! A secret! An old love!) and the whole hard core emotional event is distilled into a rapturous froth from which I have not yet emerged. While the character’s actions are impulsive (even by musical theatre standards), most of them feel like real people whom you might know and adore. Streep’s Donna is so full of life and love and vim that you just want to jump into the movie to lend a hand.

The whole film is moving and fun and scenic and ecstatic, and we cried too. You may already know if this is not your thing, but I hope you take a chance take a take a chance chance on Mamma Mia even if you think you won’t like it. The rest of you who are already in line: bring a diaper — the combined powers of Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Dominic Sky, and Phillip Michael will ruin your delicates.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/18/08
Time in minutes 108
Director Phyllida Lloyd
Studio Universal Pictures