Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mrs. Doubtfire - 9 stars out of 10

Mrs. Doubtfire - 9 stars out of 10

“Mrs. Doubtfire” is a perfect blend of comedy and drama.  It also contains an incredibly creepy concept that our minds manage to accept because of the good intentions of the film’s main character.  Obviously, this film is all about the contrasting roles played by Robin Williams.  One is an irresponsible father in the middle of an ugly divorce.  The other is a 70-year-old British nanny with a spunky-yet-nurturing personality.  But the character of Mrs. Doubtfire also operates on two levels: the nanny who is taking care of the children and the man underneath the costume who must learn to take care of a house.  Though the film seems goofy on the surface, Williams deserved an Oscar nomination for this impressive multifaceted performance.  His antics are perfectly offset by Sally Field, who brings deep emotion to every role that she has ever played.  Pierce Brosnan’s character is well-written as he creates competition for Williams but never does anything that would prove him to be malicious or unlikable.  The dramatic moments are very dramatic, with yelling and crying that will tug at your heartstrings.  The comedic moments are hilarious, from the “Dude Looks Like a Lady” nannying montage to the entire sequence with the court liaison and the pie.  The key to the film is the balance between the two.  The comedy never interrupts the drama too suddenly and vice versa, so that our tears are always rewarded with laughs but in the perfect proportion.  Audiences responded well to the film, making it the second highest grossing film of 1993, only falling behind the cultural phenomenon of “Jurassic Park.”  Critical reception was mixed and I’m surprised by its Oscar win for Best Make-Up, considering that it was competing against two of the year’s most acclaimed films (“Schindler’s List” and “Philadelphia”).  Still, the test of time always speaks louder than the commentary of critics and “Mrs. Doubtfire” remains just as popular today as it was when it first came out.

[Pictured: Williams creates an endless number of layers to his characters]

Friday, June 24, 2016

Bulworth - 3 stars out of 10

Bulworth - 3 stars out of 10

“Bulworth” is a political comedy that lies somewhere between clever and absurdity (but closer to absurdity).  The concept is clever: a suicidal politician is beyond caring about the fa├žade required to gain campaign contributions and to win an election, so he becomes truthful in the most politically incorrect ways possible.  The cast list also indicates greatness with Warren Beatty and Halle Berry in the starring roles, as well as Oliver Platt, Don Cheadle, and Larry King in supporting roles.  However, there is a disconnect between the expectation and the execution.  From “Bonnie and Clyde” to “Dick Tracy,” I approach Beatty’s films with a high expectation.  His name frequently appears on the Oscar ballot from a directing and acting standpoint, but he doesn’t generally get there by dressing up in gangster clothes and rapping during a political debate.  I know that anything usually goes in a comedy but if I listed half of the things that happen in this movie, you would dismiss it immediately.  I believe that a combination of comedy and drama could have made this film believable while exploring the concept in a lighthearted way.  Instead, the story is over the top, we feel no empathy towards the characters, and the story feels like the same gag over and over again.  I absolutely disagree with its Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.  The script works against the story, sacrificing intellectual satire in favor of relentless profanity.  The rapping was a comical plot device and I understand that there are parts of the story that require strong language to make the content believable; however, the language was often unnecessary and I longed for a momentary break.  Whether it is an impassioned political interview or the background music in the club, this movie is a never ending stream of f-words.  Profanity with the sole intention of creating shock value never resonates well with me and, even though this film has some interesting moments, the profanity is the only thing that will stick with me.  Even though the critics liked it, I am not surprised that Beatty hasn’t directed a film since this one wrapped nearly 20 years ago.  Watching him rap about politics feels like watching his acting career and Bulworth’s political career both reaching a symbolic level of absurdity.  I suppose that many people “get” this film in a way that I don’t, but “Bulworth” seems like a waste of talent and a waste of time.

[Pictured: Need I say more?]

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Muse: Live at Rome Olympic Stadium - 10 stars out of 10

Muse: Live at Rome Olympic Stadium - 10 stars out of 10

Muse is one of the greatest rock/heavy metal bands of all time.  They are the most innovative group since Queen, using modern technology to create the unique sounds that make them instantly recognizable.  Like Queen, the band sets itself apart through high tenor lead vocals and shredding guitar solos, both provided by Matt Bellamy.  Another distinctive characteristic that sets these two groups share is their frequent inclusion of piano/synthesizer parts amidst the hard rock style.  The DVD, “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium,” captures the incredible display of the showmanship and jaw-dropping virtuosity of this group.  While all of the tight vocal harmonies cannot be reproduced as they are on the record (since Bellamy often layers several vocal tracks together), the harmonies still exist through the synthesizer part.  I greatly appreciate that they don’t cheat by sampling prerecorded vocal harmonies during this live performance (with the exception of the “Madness” ostinato).  We still get to hear the expected harmonies while the performance remains entirely organic.  This live performance will help you to understand which harmonies are typically provided by bassist Chris Wolstenholme and which ones are layers of Bellamy’s voice.  I was a little disappointed at the addition of f-words into a few of their songs just to get an audience response.  Of all the bands out there, they is the last one that would need to add in a few shock-value swear words to enhance their performance.  For me, the climax of the entire concert occurs during Guiding Light with all three band members delivering a high-energy performance from the center platform.  The simplicity of this particular piece allows for a strong connection between the band and the audience.  Other highlights include Bellamy sprinting up and down the runway while playing the epic Plug In Baby solo, the theatrics of Feeling Good, watching Wolstenholme play his touch-pad, pitch-bending bass on “Madness,” the band’s interactions with audience members on the floor while performing, and the flawlessness of the entire show.  Muse is an incredible studio group but you cannot truly appreciate their virtuosity until you have seen them perform in person or in this “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium” epic concert recording!



[Pictured: Matt Bellamy is the best guitarist of our generation]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sophie's Choice (1982) - 8 stars out of 10

Sophie's Choice (1982) - 8 stars out of 10

"Sophie's Choice" is a film that everybody should see at least once.  It has its slow moments (which magnify the 2 1/2-hour runtime) but discovering the choice that Sophie has to make is a cinematic rite of passage. Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning performance is nothing short of perfection.  The demanding role required her to perfect a Polish accent, speak in multiple languages, and interpret one character throughout several phases of life.  She visually transitions between a vibrant woman, an ill immigrant, and a prisoner with a shaved head in a concentration camp.  The accent is so impeccable that you constantly forget that this is an American actress, and she does it all while expressing an incredible depth of emotion.  For everything that this film lacks in pacing, it is redeemed through Streep's flawless performance that may very well be the greatest of all time.  Kevin Kline manages to keep up with her through his multifaceted character, making his highs very high and his lows devastatingly low.  The main disappointment of the film is Peter MacNicol.  I find his character to be an annoying third wheel that lacks emotion in highly emotional situations.  He doesn't undergo the transformation that he should and is easily overshadowed by Kline and Streep.  Even though the main character is a complete dud, the film creates several amazing moments such as the romantic piano sequence, Kline's two irrational outbursts, and obviously all of the concentration camp scenes.  I feel that these moments are some of the best ever produced and yet, I agree with the fact that the film was not nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  It is beautiful to watch but there is a lot of dead space.  The foul-mouthed female character that dates Stingo (whose I can’t even identify by name because she isn’t important enough to be mentioned in any synopsis) could have been completely written out and saved us 15 minutes.  There is enough occurring in the present and in the flashbacks that we do not need irrelevant deviations to lengthen the film.  “Sophie’s Choice” can be a tough film because of its slow pace but Streep’s performance and the secret that is revealed at the end make it worth pushing through.  You will never forget “the scene” for as long as you live.

[Pictured: Nothing can prepare you for this scene]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - 8 stars out of 10

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - 8 stars out of 10

“Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me” captures the crass, hard-working personality of Broadway actress Elaine Stritch.  The documentary is more of a broad reflection of Stritch’s career than a chapter-by-chapter biography.  It is also very honest as it explores everything from her glory days on the stage to her hospitalization from diabetes.  Whether you are a Broadway fan or not, you need to see this in order to appreciate one of theater’s most eccentric personalities.  The format of the documentary follows the elder Stritch as she prepares a one-woman stage show.  The candid footage is priceless as she interacts with celebrities (mostly from the show “30 Rock”), charms audiences, and reflects on her career.  This priceless footage also shows another side of things as her frustration in rehearsal leads to cursing and her honest words about her problems with alcohol.  When the performance finally arrives, it is pure magic to see her in her element and to see how the audience simply loves her.  Elaine Stritch passed away shortly after this documentary was released in 2014 but her legacy lives on through this truthful look at her life.

[Pictured: Elaine Stritch is a wily old lady that you'll just love to watch]