Shakespeare Movie Night

There are moments when I wonder why there’s no (or none that I can see) Shakespeare fandom anywhere on the internet. I guess people get traumatized by it in high school and decide they never want to return to it ever again, which is sad.

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It’s got donkey folks! It’s a good fandom, you guys!

Shakespeare deserves a fandom.

 

And so I am here to take you calmly by the hand and encourage you that you need to organize a Shakespeare movie night with your friends. And before you say, “Nobody does that!” know that I’ve lived in two countries and I’ve totally had multiple Shakespeare movie nights with different groups of friends. So it’s totally a thing. And before you say, “But Shakespeare’s hard to understand!” know that it’s not really that hard. It’s different because a lot of the in-jokes (the Elizabethan memes, if you will) fly over our heads, but the dialogue isn’t actually that crazy. Characters over-explain everything, repeat themselves, say exactly what they’re feeling, and use strings of metaphors just in case the first metaphor wasn’t good enough.

There are also TONS of dick jokes.

And puns. SO. MANY. PUNS.

Yes, even in the serious plays.

Remember that Shakespeare’s primary audience were the illiterate rabble in the pit of the Globe theater. He threw in lofty stuff to make the occasional visiting noble (or the Queen) happy, but other than that, this was super accessible, crowd-pleasing stuff. So fear not!

I will even make things easier with a few recommendations for your movie night.

Let’s start a cultural trend, folks!

A good place to start is the comedies.

Much Ado About Nothing is marvelous. It’s completely hilarious and super easy to follow. Kenneth Branagh’s version is probably the gold standard.

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This is a publicity photo and not an ACTUAL shot from the film, but it sums up Beatrice and Benedick pretty well

It’s pretty, ridiculous (in a good way), and has a scene with a folding deck chair that is pretty giggle-inducing. ALSO! Michael Keaton as the clueless Dogberry.

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen… That is Batman.

If the Renaissance setting has you meh-ed out, there’s also Joss Whedon’s brilliant version that he literally slapped together at his house with his friends while filming The Avengers.

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In glorious black and white!

It’s clever, sexy, and filled with actors from literally everything Joss Whedon has ever done. Dogberry in this version is played by Nathan Fillion who’s just so earnest and clueless and adorable you just want to hug him and tell him he’s dumb, but it’s OK.

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*hugs Dogberry*

ALSO! This version makes Hero and Claudio genuinely interesting and able to compete with the AMAZING SASS EXPLOSION that is Beatrice and Benedick.

Another comedic must is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because who doesn’t love faeries, RELATIONSHIP DRAMA, and ineptly-used magic?

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Oh look! Another Batman!

There’s a few versions out there, but the 1999 version with Stanley Tucci, Christian Bale, Calista Flockhart, Michelle Pfeiffer, Kevin Kline, (*stops to take a breath*) Rupert Everett, Dominic West, Sophie Marceau, and Sam Rockwell is a DELIGHT. Ignore the critics that said it was fluffy and silly. It’s SUPPOSED to be fluffy and silly. That’s kind of the point…

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Literally everything is sparkly and magical and ridiculous and I swear you’ll enjoy it. It also helps if everyone is a bit tipsy and giggly, so be sure to serve booze with this movie.

Now, if fun and giggles aren’t your thing, maybe blood and guts are more to your liking?

I got you.

If you only want SOME blood and guts and also some comedy and a sprinkling of romance, might I recommend Henry V? This was Kenneth Branagh’s first Shakespeare outing and it’s a good one.

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The cast is incredible, the music is amazing, and the fight choreography is pretty intense. Also, few moments in any film ever will ever be as amazing as Derek Jacobi’s first scene as the Chorus who makes the prologue (my favorite thing Shakespeare has ever written) completely gripping and, dare I say it, sexy as hell.

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It’s my goal in life to wear a long coat as well as that

There’s also a pretty fabulous version in The Hollow Crown, a BBC television miniseries that adapts all of the Henry plays. Tom Hiddleston is Henry V and he does a good job of digging into the dark places in the character’s mind. It’s a bit less bombastic, but a lot more psychologically complex.

Another good one is Coriolanus, a Shakespeare tragedy that literally nobody has heard of up until Ralph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) directed and starred in this 2011 adaptation.

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Gerard Butler is a REALLY good Aufidius.

It earns its R rating with plenty of brutality, but the acting is also really fantastic and it’s so well done that the Shakespearean dialogue doesn’t feel out of place.

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But what about Hamlet!?!?!?

That’s The Big One, right? Well, you have LOTS of options with this one. Kenneth Branagh, of course, has the biggest version, a FULL TEXT adaptation that is bursting with grandiose production design and an incredible cast.

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You can guess who plays Hamlet, of course.

There’s also Franco Zeffirelli’s psychologically twisty version (which I actually like better, even though the critics all hate it). His Hamlet (played by Mel Gibson) is teetering on the edge of actually going crazy, has a REALLY creepy relationship with his mother Gertrude, and he delivers my favorite version of the TBONTB speech down in the catacombs surrounded by crypts. The medieval setting makes everything feel rougher and more claustrophobic. It trims a lot from the script (including, unfortunately a lot of Ophelia), but it doesn’t feel quite as self-important as Branagh’s version.

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There’s also, of course, the Laurence Olivier classic from 1948. It looks fabulous and Olivier gives an iconic performance, but it might not be a good intro to Shakespeare Skeptics. Best to show them this movie once you’ve hooked them with more modern productions.

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That costume looks like it weighs literally a million pounds…

If your taste is more colorful, I have some other recommendations, too!

I would like to introduce Julie Taymor.

If you haven’t heard of her, I’ll just say, The Lion King on Broadway, Across the Universe, Frida, and that Spiderman musical that kept injuring people.

But in terms of Shakespeare, she’s given us two entries!

Titus is a nightmarish (but cool) adaptation of Shakespeare’s first play, Titus Andronicus, a charming story about revenge, murder, and cannibalism! It’s pretty brutal and isn’t really set in any one time period, which is fun. It blends a bunch of different aesthetics which helps to keep the audience more on edge.

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Hannibal Lecter briefly moonlighted as a Shakespearean murderer

There’s also The Tempest, which is less brutal but no less bizarre. Ironically, this is Shakespeare’s last play (I wonder if Taymor planned it that way?). In this version, the wizard Prospero is become Prospera, an exiled witch with plans for revenge. Helen Mirren KILLS it in this role.

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Like, I’m not convinced that Helen Mirren isn’t actually magical

Critics didn’t like this version too much, but screw them. It’s crazy pretty and I love the cast. The character of Caliban has always been super problematic anyways, but this version does a decent job of at least humanizing the character (even though the play throws Caliban in with the clowns for most of the story).

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Allow me to teach you about postcolonial theory!

Julie Taymor is crazy, but we love her because she does make beautiful films.

Also, if you really want to freak out all your friends and make them NEVER WANT TO HAVE SEX EVER AGAIN, you should show them Prospero’s Books, an adaptation of The Tempest that has SO MUCH NUDITY it’s actually hilarious. I mean, in one scene, there is literally just HORDES of naked people wandering around. A college professor subjected our class to this movie (and she specifically chose the scene with the maximum amount of nudity) and I think it traumatized everyone. I’ve never seen so many breasts and penises in a movie that wasn’t intended to get people’s rocks off. So, be sure to get everyone drunk before you watch it.

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I chose this screenshot because the naked people are underwater.

At the risk of this post getting insanely long, I’ll conclude with (you thought I’d forgotten it, didn’t you?) Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet.

Stop groaning, it’s OK to admit you loved this movie. I know Franco Zeffirelli’s version is probably the “better” version because critics like it better…

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Yawn.

…but I don’t even care. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes are EVERYTHING.

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Don’t lie. You lay awake at night wishing these two could have ended up together.

The music is amazing, the sets are insane, the costumes are ridiculous, and YOU KNOW WHAT? I love everything about it. It’s funny. It’s tragic. It’s fun.

Other good ones are the 2004 version of The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino, the 1995 version of Richard III with Ian McKellan, the super brutal version of Macbeth from 1971 (which I think Roman Polanski directed??), the 1995 Othello with Laurence Fishburne, and, of course, She’s the Man starring Amanda Bynes and Channing Tatum. There’s not one word from the original script of Twelfth Night anywhere to be found in this movie, but dammit if I don’t love it obsessively.

Also, it’s not a Shakespeare adaptation, but Stage Beauty from 2004 features the BEST version of Othello and Desdemona’s climactic scene I’ve ever seen. It’s set in the 1700s when women still couldn’t be on stage, and features some fantastic acting. Shakespeare in Love is another good one, too, though I’ve heard from so many English professors that they loathe and despise that movie because reasons. But Stage Beauty is DEFINITELY worth seeing just for that last scene.

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Like, I don’t think I breathed once while watching this.

So start up a Shakespeare movie night, you guys! It’s important! I expect to see Tumblr filled with the burgeoning Shakespeare fandom very soon. Do it.

And to quote Oberon:

Trip away

Make no stay

Meet me all by break of day.

*disappears in a puff of glitter*

 

 

 

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Rhythm of the Pride Lands: The Story of The Lion King’s Music

Oh look, he’s writing about Disney again.

Quiet, you!

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This is how I imagine all of you look while awaiting my next post. That’s how it really is, right? Right? Guys?

The Lion King is a great film, one of Disney’s most legendary animated films. I saw it three times in theaters when it first came out, and I’m sure my family was glad that I was finally moving on from the Aladdin mania that was taking over my life (except I still have yet to get over my Aladdin mania…)

The animation is spectacular, and the characters are iconic, but one of the defining aspects of the film is the music. The unstoppable duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman did great things with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, but Ashman tragically passed away shortly after Beauty and the Beast premiered and Tim Rice, the lyricist who completed Ashman’s work on Aladdin with Menken, was looking for another collaborator.

Now, The Lion King almost wasn’t a musical. In fact, the production had its fair share of drama surrounding the subject, losing their first director, George Scribener, who felt the story wouldn’t work as a musical. His replacement, Rob Minkoff, disagreed, and so Tim Rice was given the green light yet again (although that’s just conjecture. I mean…it’s Tim Rice. I don’t think they’d ever want to lose him).

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I mean, it’s OBVIOUSLY a musical. Otherwise why would Simba be singing?

Enter Elton John, pop superstar and cultural legend. As Menken was unavailable, Elton John was Rice’s personal choice, and the two of them collaborated on the film’s songs.

Sir Tim Rice has had a massive career spanning film and the stage, including collaborations with Andrew Lloyd Webber (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar), the gentlemen of ABBA (Chess), and of course, Elton John (After The Lion King, the duo continued to work together, creating the Tony Award-winning Aida and the Dreamworks animated film The Road to El Dorado). He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1994.

Sir Elton John got HIS knighthood a bit later (in 1998), but it’s all good. His career is so legendary, it’s a bit massive to squeeze into this little post, but let’s just say, he’s been nominated for three Oscars (and won one), thirty four Grammys (and won five), and four Tonys (and won one). He’s released 34 albums and has sold over 300 million records worldwide. But those are just numbers. Elton John is just a really big deal and if you didn’t already know that, then you’ve obviously been living under a rock somewhere out in the Pride Lands somewhere.

Shame on you.

 

Now, while The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin had more of a big Broadway musical sound, John wanted songs with more of a pop flavor, hearkening back to films like The Jungle Book whose songs were more inspired by the rhythm and bounce of the 60’s than they were the traditional sounds of India.

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Pictured: the rhythm and bounce of the 90’s

Enter Lebo M, the South African composer and producer who gave The Lion King‘s songs the needed traditional flair to blend John’s and Rice’s catchy tunes with the score. If you don’t know who he is, I can assure you that you know his fantastic voice. Along with assembling and conducting the African choir which features on the film’s score, he sang the famous opening call to “Circle of Life” which, combined with that shot of the rising sun, is one Disney’s most iconic moments. His work was expanded for the stage version of The Lion King whose choir is given a much more prominent role.

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Name a more iconic duo than Lebo M’s voice and this sunrise. I’ll wait.

This guy’s story is pretty phenomenal. He went from living in the slums in Johannesburg during Apartheid to begging on the streets in Los Angeles following his exile (which would last 20 years), to making it in Hollywood. If you want to delve into his work more, check out Rhythm of the Pride Lands, an album full of music either inspired by The Lion King or written-but-cut during production. A few songs made it to the stage version and/or the direct-to-video sequel (which actually isn’t that bad), so there’s a great mix of familiar and new. And, of course, the vocals are fantastic.

The original version of “He Lives in You” (which was used in the beginning of The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride) is a great example of just how fantastic this guy’s voice is.

Alright, so now we have the songs. What about the score?

Enter Hans Zimmer and Mark Mancina.

Hans Zimmer, German composer and Hollywood legend, caught Disney’s eye after their execs heard his score for the South African-set drama The Power of One (which is where he first worked with Lebo M). Zimmer’s career is pretty huge, but I KNOW you’ve heard his work. He’s a favorite of Christopher Nolan, having scored the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. He’s also done the scores for Gladiator, Prince of Egypt, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes duology, Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, etc. etc. etc. There’s a lot more.

For The Lion King, he blended a big orchestral sound with his signature synthesized filigree, which makes the score not only huge and sweeping but sharp and powerful. It’s a legendary composition that won him an Oscar for Best Original Score as well as a Golden Globe and a pair of Grammys. After The Lion King, his already successful career exploded into the powerhouse it is today.

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This is an actual picture of all the amazing people who worked on this film. Elton John’s the bird. That bird right there. I think Hans Zimmer is also a bird.

Finally, we get to Mark Mancina, a prestigious composer in his own right. Mancina went on to score Tarzan, Brother Bear, and Moana for Disney, but he’s also done a number of Hollywood blockbusters. If you liked mid-90’s action flicks, you’ve heard his work. He composed for Speed, Bad Boys, Con Air, and Twister. Also, if you remember the bizarre musical anti-capitalist lecture that is The Jetsons Movie, he wrote the songs for that one. For The Lion King, he arranged the songs that Elton John, Tim Rice, and Lebo M wrote.

It’s funny how The Lion King was originally just going to be “the other project” while everyone was working on  Pocahontas (which the studio felt was going to be the Really Big Film). It was treated as a less important project, but once the musical team got together, they really elevated it into something special.

The story could have either lost its way for being too serious, or failed to adequately express the necessary gravitas, but the music really brings it all together. Elton John, Tim Rice, and Mark Mancina contributed the fun that brought the characters to life, Lebo M contributed the African soul that gave the film its depth, and Hans Zimmer gave the film an appropriate sweeping scope.

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This movie is very serious and sweeping and dramatic and has no goofy elements at all.

So now you need to watch this movie in surround sound so you can really appreciate just how fabulous it sounds, knowing what you do now about the people who gave it that sound!

Brb. Listening to Rhythm of the Pride Lands.

See you next week!

The Second Disney Renaissance is Upon Us

I guess it was upon us several years ago, but I was too skeptical to name it as such at the time. But time has confirmed that Disney has once again found its stride in the field of animated films (whereas Pixar has been kind of slipping here and there, which is unfortunate).

What is the Disney Renaissance you ask?

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Aaah! Not that! It came after that! After that!

After a grim period during the 70’s and 80’s when there were a few hits (The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective) but not a whole lot of audience enthusiasm, a changeover at the studio prompted a tonal shift (which was pioneered by Disney legend Howard Ashman) which led to a decade of Disney’s most consistently successful animated films from The Little Mermaid in 1989 to Tarzan in 1999). And it’s not just 90’s era nostalgia. 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award. In total, Disney’s animated features during this period pulled in eleven Oscars (most centered on the fantastic Broadway-style music that was the hallmark of many of these films).

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*dreamy nostalgic sigh*

After this, there was another period of underwhelming audience response. Films like Lilo and Stitch (2002) and Atlantis: the Lost Empire (2001) have gained a measure of respect from fans who felt that the initial audiences underrated them, but overall, the period following the Disney Renaissance was one of uneven quality and lukewarm audience reception, especially once the studio transitioned into the medium of computer generated animation like its pioneering subsidiary Pixar Animation Studios.

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Except for a few underrated gems like Treasure Planet, which is legitimately fantastic

However, recently, Walt Disney Animation Studios has begun focusing more attention on their animated features and there has been a marked upswing in the quality of these films. At first, I felt like it was just a number of lucky flukes, but it’s been consistently good for long enough now that I think it’s safe to say that we’re re-entering a high point in the studio’s history.

It began with The Princess and the Frog (2009), a return to traditional hand-drawn/computer generated hybrid animation (a hallmark of the Disney Renaissance) and brought back the musical format. It was moderately successful with viewers, though it failed to make much of a buzz at the Oscars, losing its Oscar nominations to Up, which isn’t much a surprise since the critics were ALL OVER Pixar that year.

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But like, it’s such a pretty movie!

But the follow ups continued to be successful. Tangled (2010) was a computer animated feature that FELT like a traditionally animated film. It didn’t feel like a Pixar film nor did it feel like a Dreamworks feature (which many of the Post-Renaissance computer-generated films tried to emulate). It felt like it belonged with the beloved Disney musicals of the 90’s.

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Seriously iconic

To show that traditional animation wasn’t completely gone, they followed that up with Winnie the Pooh, which was a loving throwback to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh from the 70’s. After that was Wreck-It Ralph (2012), a film that felt like an homage to Pixar’s formula “What if _____ had feelings?” Although, instead of toys, rats, bugs, and monsters, it looked at video games.

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The fact that Disney didn’t create a high-quality tie-in video game that smashed all the genres together into an expansive FPS racing puzzle game is a crying shame

That was followed up by Frozen in 2013, a movie whose insane advertising campaign forcibly shoved it into the annals of pop culture forever. Parents were literally beating each other up in stores to get Elsa dresses for their kids while “Let it Go” became the ubiquitous pop anthem for children everywhere. The movie won two Oscars and (even though Tangled is CLEARLY the superior film) brought Disney back into the critical spotlight.

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I don’t know if you’ve heard it before, but there’s this great song called “Let It Go’ in this one part of the movie.

After Frozen was Big Hero 6 (2014), which attempted to capitalize on the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe by adapting a rather obscure Marvel series from the late 90’s into a kid-friendly action-adventure comedy. Audiences fell in love with the adorable squishy robot, Baymax, and the film was dubbed a hit (though it was still being eclipsed by Frozen’s merchandising avalanche, so it didn’t make as big a splash among parents). After that, Disney decided to be a bit more daring.

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Also, if you think this one is “Just a lot of explosions” you’ll be dead wrong. It’s lots of explosions and FANTASTIC writing that explores how people cope with grief.

Zootopia (2016)  broke the mold because, unlike previous films which either remade a traditional story (“Rapunzel,” “The Snow Queen”) or followed a model established by another studio (Wreck-It Ralph), Zootopia was a completely original story which asked some pretty mature questions about race relations and media-based fear-mongering while presenting one of the most vibrantly designed Disney locales thus far.

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If you call this one “that one Furry movie” you’d…well, you’d be right, but ALSO, it’s a great original story with a crazy complex script that blurs the lines between hero and villain brilliantly

We have yet to see what the critical response to it will be come awards season, but it does have some competition, because…

Moana (2016) is a musical in the vein of Princess and the Frog, Tangled, and Frozen. The music by Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the hit musicals In the Heights and Hamilton), Opetaia Foa’i (lead singer of the Polynesian music group Te Vaka, which specializes in traditional Oceanic music), and Mark Mancina (legendary Hollywood composer who, along with composing the music for Tarzan and many others, arranged the version of “When You Wish Upon a Star” that currently plays over Disney’s theatrical logo) is getting some early Oscar buzz. Not only is the original story (based on a number of Polynesian myths and legends) a lot of fun, but the animation is completely spectacular. It’s not quite as deep as Zootopia, but its definitely of the quality of the films which have come before it.

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Presented without context because some have not seen it yet

I’m not sure how long this run of successes will keep up, but I’m glad that Disney Animation has found their mojo again. They tried their best to do so with Brother Bear (2003) a dreadfully derivative film which looked to be a patchwork of themes and stylistic choices from a number of more successful Disney films such as The Lion KingTarzan, and The Emperor’s New Groove, but it looks like, for the next few years at least, they’ll produce more hits than misses, which is nice.

And while this era will primarily be associated with Frozen and its heart-warming message of sisterly love, remember than Tiana, Rapunzel, and Moana deserve a whole bunch of love as well. Especially Tiana. She got this whole Second Renaissance started and the studio didn’t put as much money into merchandising at the time (because they knew audiences weren’t as loyal to the Disney brand at that point), so not everyone feels as close to her, but I adore the character. She deserves some love.

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Here’s another shot of Tiana as a wee one because look at the HOPE in her eyes! We’re heading into a new year and we sure need some hope right about now.

The best thing about this period is that the marathon options are varied. You can go full chronological and watch everything from The Princess and the Frog to Moana, or you can go Just Princess, or you can go Non-Musical, etc. It’s a great collection of films that are not only entertaining, but actually presenting stories with depth. History will tell how many of these films are considered beloved classics, but for right now, they’re all pretty fantastic and you should revisit those you missed the first time around.

And so I’ll leave you to watch these with your kids (or the kids of your friends) as the Winter Holidays send parents everywhere into a creeping madness as they obsessively count down the days until their youngsters can go back to school.

Or, if you’re like me, just watch them anyway, because screw society, Disney movies are amazing!

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Baymax agrees with me.

Tah tah for now!

 

My Five Favorite Christmas Films!

Merry Christmas Eve to those who celebrate it. I’m not the hugest fan of Christmas (mostly because my mild-mannered alter ego is a merchandiser for a clothing store and Christmas time is basically my personal hell), BUT there are some fantastic Christmas movies out there that I always enjoy marathoning on Christmas Day when I cannot ever get called into work to dig my beloved suits department out of the wreckage of eight thousand crazed shoppers. So I shall share them with you!

Because what is Christmas for if not sharing joy with others!?

In no particular order:

1. White Christmas

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Work it, ballet girl!

This is one of those old-timey fluff movies that is the film equivalent of wrapping oneself in a huge blanket and drinking spiked egg nog in front of a fire with friends and family.

There’s not much of a plot except: four talented showbiz nerds get together for a Christmas vacay to Vermont where they can enjoy a proper white Christmas (and save a failing inn in honor of a beloved army commander).

Bing  Crosby and Danny Kaye are marvelous, but it’s Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen who really steal the show. Their song “Sisters” is easily the catchiest non-Christmas tune in the film.

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Also, I really want a huge feathery fan

I heart this movie just because it’s a good mix of sentiment and sass. It’s colorful and adorable, but it’s not just substance-less schmaltz. It’s aged well, and it’s a good alternative to the more ubiquitous contemporary films everyone will encounter this year. It’s also a good Christmas-lite film to those who are a bit Santa-ed out. It’s set in winter and there are a few standby Christmas carols, but there’s also fun dance numbers that don’t mention Christmas once.

Brb, listening to “Sisters” for the millionth time.

2. The Santa Clause

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He looks a bit President Snow in this picture…

For those who aren’t Santa-ed out!

This one’s great because it’s got a great blend of irreverent humor as well as a big helping of ooey-gooey Christmas feels, so it’s great for cynical Christmas goers AND people who like stories about childish belief and wishes and crap like that.

The plot: When Scott Calvin accidentally becomes Santa, he finds he quite likes the job because it helps him bond with his son with whom he’s had a distant relationship with before. But when his son begins enthusiastically telling everyone about what happened, everyone assumes Scott has become delusional and dangerous and Santa becomes a wanted criminal!

Recently, there’s been some online discussion about the elves engaging in some sort of conspiracy to off Santa, but here’s my theory: if someone is unable to complete their present delivery (like they break an ankle or something) then they poof back home, un-Santa-ed, and whoever’s available has to carry on. So the old Santa didn’t die, he just got forced into magical retirement!

Or maybe he died. I dunno.

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Bernard seems like he’s got some ulterior motives… “Soon, I’ll be Santa! Hahahahaha!”

But anyways, I love this movie. I haven’t seen the sequels, but this one stands on its own really well. I love seeing how giddy for Christmas Calvin gets once he becomes Santa-ed.

3. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York City

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Everything about this picture is amazing

The first one’s OK, but this one is my all-time favorite, mostly because of Tim Curry, who chews the scenery with gleeful abandon. The scene where he’s running through the hotel’s halls screaming “There’s an insane guest with a gun!” sounds like implausible comedy, but, having worked in the hotel industry, it’s totally a thing that could happen.

The plot: Kevin McAllister gets lost in an airport (because his family are idiots) and ends up in New York (because the airport folks are idiots) and he has to make it on his own and keep out of the way of the burglars whom he thwarted in the first movie by setting up a whole bunch of traps in a family friend’s renovated home.

Surprisingly, this one has some legit feels. It’s the EXACT same plot as the first movie (with the pigeon lady standing in for the angry neighbor) but it’s still sweet when it needs to be. Plus, we just like seeing the Wet Bandits get hurt a lot in the final home invasion sequence.

Or at least I do. I dunno. I’m weird.

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heh hehehehehe heh

It’s a fun film, and John Williams’ score really elevates it beyond just a goofy kid’s comedy.

Also, hopefully the enormous credit card debt that Kevin accrues throughout the movie prevents his affluent parents from going on any more crazy vacations and teaches them to stop being rich dicks and actually treat their kids right. </Marxist rant>

4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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Prop guy (off camera): aaand, cue squirrel!

Apparently the National Lampoon’s series is pretty extensive, but I’ve only seen the Vacation movies. And, to be honest, this is the best of that set (yes, even the original Vacation. I know I know. Stone me now).

The Plot: Clark Griswold has high hopes for his big family Christmas get together, but of course, his hopes are a bit too high and it all comes crashing down around them to hilarious effect.

Its sense of humor is pretty broad, but there’s enough smarts to keep it from devolving into just two hours of fart jokes. I’m particularly fond of Todd and Margo, the snooty next door neighbors who get their holiday plans ruined via blinding lights, shooting ice, and a rabid squirrel.

Also, I love the absent-minded Aunt Bethany who’s sweet as pie, but checked out from reality enough that she wraps up her cat as a gift and recites the pledge of allegiance as the blessing at dinner.

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OR! Maybe her senility is all an act, and she just enjoys not having to get pulled into Clark’s shenanigans. Either way, I love her so much!

Not a lot of squishy Christmas sentiment, but I can say Clark’s hysterical rant at the end is quite the cathartic moment for anyone stressed out about the holidays.

5. The Muppet’s Christmas Carol

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The Marley’s song is literally my favorite in the whole film.

This one was released two years after Jim Henson’s death, and I think the more melancholic tone really makes it a fitting tribute to the genius who gave us the Muppets.

It’s delightful. And I think the reason why it works so well is that it plays the story so straight. Michael Caine is still my all time favorite Scrooge, and I think his decision to play the role as though he was performing in a prestigious BBC adaptation of the story and not in a Muppet musical was the right one. He does SUCH a fabulous job of making Scrooge equally terrifying and likable. And the fact that his costars are fun-loving Muppets really sets him that much farther apart from everyone. It’s literally like Scrooge is acting in a completely different movie from everyone else.

The comedy is more subdued, but it’s still up to the Muppets’ high standards. I’m quite fond of the music in this one, and the puppet effects are marvelous. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is literally one of the scariest things ever. It’s so freaking eerie and wonderful. It’s like a Dementor and a Nazgul had a baby and it was too monstrous even for them.

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It’s too scary, so here’s the Ghost of Christmas Present instead!

This film doesn’t get much holiday clout because it’s not as hysterically funny as other Muppet films, but this one is pretty essential for one’s holiday library regardless. It’s got a good helping of Christmas feels along with the classic Muppet shenanigans. If you haven’t seen it in a while, definitely give this one a re-watch.

“‘Tis the season to be jolly and joyous!”

I considered adding It’s a Wonderful Life to the list because that’s another good one, but it’s such an avalanche of feels that it always leaves me drained and needing hugs. So watch the others while you’re opening presents and then watch IaWL in the evening after everyone’s been drinking a bit and can handle it.

What’s your favorite Christmas film?

I hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

And if you see any ghosts, just remember: they’re there to teach you, not hurt you!

The Chameleon Composer – Michael Giacchino

I’m not sure why I didn’t hear of this sooner (probably because it was so last minute) but Michael Giacchino replaced Alexandre Desplat as composer for Rogue One fairly late in the film’s post-production.I was somewhat disappointed to hear this, as I was looking forward to Desplat (who’s scored hits such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) getting to try his hands on something as huge as Star Wars (since he’s definitely talented enough to give it some real depth).

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I can’t wait!

And that got me thinking about what that meant for Giacchino, who’s had his fair share of mega hits as well, including the Star Trek reboots (as movies, they’re meh, but the scores are fantastic), a number of Pixar hits such as The Incredibles and Inside Out, and Jurassic World (another John Williams dominated franchise that he handled very well). He’s a great composer, but for whatever reason, I don’t know much about him. So I decided to do some research.

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There he is!

Whenever I think of his scores, I can’t really ever pin down a tell that lets me know that it’s obviously done by him. This is a good thing in some regards, since you don’t want to fall into a predictable pattern. Danny Elfman, for example, is a wildly talented favorite of mine who, in recent years, has a tendency to just thematically repeat Edward Scissorhands instead of breaking new ground like he did with Big Fish.

Giacchino has no such pattern. For the most part, every score of his feels completely different. He’s so perpetually original that I experience many moments of “Oh, he did that, too??” when reading the credits of pretty much any movie. In the past few years, he’s gone from “that experimental composer for Lost” to the go-to guy for big budget franchises (Mission Impossible, Planet of the Apes, the MCU, Jurassic World, Star Trek, Pixar, etc.), and his name keeps popping up more and more.

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His score is my favorite part of this movie

I think one of the reasons why he hasn’t entered into my “Favorite Composers Pantheon” just yet is that, so often, he’s either recreating someone else’s style or confined to the stylistic tropes of an established series rather than striking out on his own the way he did with Lost.

His fantastic score for The Incredibles hearkens back to the Sean Connery James Bond era of spy films. Jurassic World is a nostalgia-fueled tribute to John Williams. The Star Trek reboot trilogy takes its cues from James Horner, Alexander Courage, and Cliff Eidelman’s Kirk-era film scores. His score for Doctor Strange is evocative and layered, but it doesn’t stray too far from the generic bombast of Alan Silvestri’s Captain America and Avengers scores. Even Cloverfield (2008), a film with no score because of its found-footage format, has a fantastic end credits composition called “Roar!” by Giacchino that lovingly hearkens back to the Godzilla scores of Akira Ifukube.

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He knows how important the music was to the original Jurassic Park, and he did a fabulous job of summoning up all the nostalgia associated with John Williams’ original score

He’s such a chameleon that it’s difficult to pin down just what makes him tick as a composer. An original film like Jupiter Ascending could have been a great vehicle for him to flex his musical muscles, but the movie was so dreadfully terrible that his score doesn’t stand out in any way, being weighted down by the awful story. That’s not his fault, of course, but it’s still a missed opportunity.

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This could have been so great! What went wrong!?!?

I’m looking forward to his score for Rogue One, but I’m worried it will, like Jurassic World, be a deftly done homage to John Williams rather than a chance to show audiences just how cool he can be when he’s creating his own sound rather than offering tribute to other composers. Now, I completely trust him to do right by John Williams, but I wish he’d be allowed to stray off the beaten path (though I suspect the studio brought him in precisely because Alexandre Desplat wanted to do just that and they wanted to play it safe.)

Giacchino needs a chance to be himself, to be weird and inventive. Unlike so many composers, he’s made a career out of constantly reinventing himself, trying on different masks and styles. I think this gives him the potential to be one of the greatest contemporary composers, if only he’d get more chances to play in a sandbox of his own creation rather than dancing to tunes the studios map out for him. His work on Inside Out is heart-wrenching and colorful, and his scores for Tomorrowland and John Carter (two great Disney films that were sadly not marketed well) are beautifully epic and inspiring.

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If you haven’t heard of this one, you should check it out. It’s waaaaay better than the box office returns led audiences to believe it was

I’d hate for him to be remembered as the dude who picked up where [insert name here] left off, but rather as the composer of a thousand genres who refused to fall into any sort of predictable box.

If studios are confident enough to hand him the reins of so many big franchise names, they should be confident enough to let him create and experiment and push boundaries of his own instead of merely completing drawings began by other composers (even though I wouldn’t trust anyone but him to finish out the Star Wars saga if, for some tragic unforeseen reason, John Williams is not able to score episode IX).

So, basically, I need to start collecting more of his scores and get to know him better. The fact that he does so many different kinds of scores is super impressive.

What’s your favorite Giacchino score? (Mine’s definitely The Incredibles).

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duh da DA da DAAAAAA!

The Case of the Underrated Holmes

Speak the name Sherlock Holmes nowadays and you’ll probably encounter Benedict Cumberbatch’s wildly popular take on the character as seen in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ BBC series Sherlock. There’s also CBS’ Elementary, which is actually pretty good and has its own quiet but loyal viewership.

But my favorite contemporary adaptation is actually Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film starring Robert Downey Jr. and its follow up in 2011, A Game of Shadows.

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“You mean some folks haven’t seen it yet?”

I know what you’re thinking: blasphemy! Steven Moffat has the most vocal followers, and if you mention for one moment that Doctor Who has become overrated or that Sherlock totally misses the point of the character, you’ll probably get tarred and feathered. I think I see a torch-bearing crowd approaching me right now.

In all honesty, the best incarnation of the character, who matched Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original detective, is probably Basil Rathbone’s sleek, classy interpretation of the character in the 30s and 40s. Holmes, in the original publications, was polite to a fault (though brusque when he was in the middle of a brainstorm) and enigmatically distant when the situation called for it.

I don’t think they incorporated Holmes’ cocaine addiction into Rathbone’s version of the character (it WAS the 30’s after all…) but in all honesty, in the 19th century, Holmes injecting cocaine was portrayed not as a self-harming act, but something he did to keep himself alert. The modern equivalent would be a coffee-addicted cop pounding two espressos before going on a stakeout.

In terms of modern portrayals, the four big ones are House (2004-2012), Sherlock Holmes/Game of Shadows (2009/2011), Sherlock (2010-) and Elementary (2012-). House probably gets an out since its a thematic  remake as opposed to a straight remake. Sherlock and Elementary are modern remakes of the story. And then Guy Ritchie’s duology (soon to be a trilogy if the rumors are to be believed) is the only one to actually retain the original setting.

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Now THAT’S more like it!

And in terms of the character, RDJ does a fantastic job. Holmes is not a sociopathic misanthropist who lords his superior intellect over others the way Benedict Cumberbatch’s character does, and RDJ captures that. He’s more of a manic genius whose mind turns to bizarre inventions and strange experiments when left without a case for too long. But around others, he’s polite and aware of his surroundings. I’m quite fond of a scene in SH where he first meets John’s fiance and she asks him to see what he can learn about her just by looking at her. He’s hesitant to do so because he doesn’t want to offend her (and John agrees) but she insists, and when he gives her a rather scathing deduction, it stems from a moment of petulant frustration that John is not going to be in his life as much as he was. He realizes this shortly after and makes a point to treat her with respect afterward. This Holmes is immature, but not cruel and distant.

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John looks all frowny and disapproving, but you can tell he cares

Plus, the relationship between John and Sherlock is much more nuanced and believable. While Moffat’s version is basically an extended, “But we’re not gay” joke that wears out its welcome fairly quickly, Ritchie’s version is more like a superhero duo who just can’t stop helping one another. John is logical and Sherlock is wacky and the two of them balance each other out really well. It’s less of the psychologically abusive dynamic that Moffat’s characters have, which makes John a more interesting character. I adore Martin Freeman, but I have no idea why his character stays with his Sherlock for as long as he does. Whereas Jude Law, whose doctor-instincts and somewhat-contained enthusiasm for adventures, makes perfect sense with RDJ’s Sherlock whose childlike recklessness both fulfills John’s desire to engage in some derring-do and gives him someone to keep healthy and whole now that he’s not serving in the military anymore. It’s a much healthier dynamic.

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Again, no matter how weirdly Sherlock is dressed, John still looks like he cares

Also, the stories allow themselves to have fun. Sherlock is brilliantly written, but it makes a point to let you know how brilliant it is at every turn. You can almost see the giant spectral hand clapping itself on the back as you figure out what has been going on (later seasons of Doctor Who have had the same problems). But with Guy Ritchie, you get the intricate villain plots and Sherlock’s brilliant deductions, but there’s room for good old-fashioned adventure along with it. The story isn’t quite so self-aware, which leaves room for the audience to lose themselves in it, which is ultimately more fun.

Also, and I know I’ll get killed for this one, I prefer Jared Harris’ Moriarty to Andrew Scott’s. The former feels MUCH more like Doyle’s original villain. The latter feels like he was created specifically as Tumblr fan-fiction bait (not that there’s anything wrong with fanfiction, of course, but when a character is so obviously created for that purpose, it fels like a crowd-pleasing gimmick). Now, granted, my FAVORITE version of the character is actually Daniel Davis’ two episode run on Star Trek TNG as a holgram Moriarty made sentient, but Jared Harris does a great job with the character. He’s believably brilliant and just likable enough to be compelling.

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He doesn’t look like someone you’d want to underestimate

Sherlock Holmes is a character we’re going to be reinventing for centuries, so there are many incarnations out there to suit everyone’s tastes, but this one happens to be my personal favorite. There’s no news on when the announced third film will come out (though it has an IMDb page) but I’m happy we may be getting a third one. Guy Ritchie is wonderful and he has a great eye for interesting visuals and snappy editing. I was a big fan of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. even though it didn’t make much of a bang at the box office, but I feel like more people should give his take on the world’s most famous detective a second look. It’s a lot of fun and the effects have aged pretty well. It’s stylish, a great mix of comedy and action, and there are lots of explosions (so naturally, I’m a big fan). Granted, the original stories weren’t so action-oriented, but were more atmospheric, but I’m OK with the more 19th-century-James-Bond angle since there’s still lots of sleuthing and maneuvering and such.

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…and also explosions!

Plus RDJ is wonderful and it’s nice reminding people that he can play pretty much anyone and hit it out of the ballpark.

So go give these two gems another chance. They’re marvelous!

The Krypton Files – Man of Steel (2013)

It took me a while to warm up to this one. It has its share of problems, but it’s not quite the humorless tragedy-fest I labeled it as the first time I saw it. It does take the Batman Begins template a bit too closely to heart and it makes some odd changes to the established mythology, but it’s a crazy pretty movie, thanks to Zach Snyder’s penchant for heroic visuals. I just wish the script had been as up to snuff.

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It’s so pretty!

The studio was in a kind of bind to create a new Superman film as 50% of the rights reverted back to the family of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and, unless they made a new film, Siegel’s family could sue the studio for lost revenue. Matthew Vaughn was considered, and (partnering with Mark Millar) pitched an idea for an epic Godfather-esque trilogy of Superman films outlining the character’s complete story. Guillermo del Toro, Robert Zemeckis, and Darren Aronofsky were also among those considered to direct, but none were willing or available. Ultimately, the job went to Zach Snyder of Watchmen fame. The script was given to David S. Goyer, writer of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, after Nolan suggested him to the studio.

Critical reaction was mixed upon release, but the film was such a financial success that the plan to make this the first in a cinematic universe of DC films went ahead.

In terms of its visual style, the film succeeds brilliantly. It looks fantastic, especially the reimagined Krypton which blends an apocalyptic landscape with the grandiose technology of the Kryptonians. It looks like a grand and ancient civilization that’s at the end of its life, keeping itself alive solely through technology. It’s advanced, but not polished.

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Oooo!

Its main problems lie with its script, which substitutes needless plot complications for meaningful character development. We get a good look at Clark’s psyche, but we don’t get much in the way of his and Lois’ interactions, rendering her character rather flat once we get past her wonderful introduction. She goes from adventuresome reporter to timid damsel pretty quickly once she meets Clark.

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“Oh, you mean we have to have chemistry?”

And I’m not a huge fan of the whole atmosphere thing. Clark gets his superpowers from the sun, which is younger and brighter than Krypton’s sun. Zod (and friends) should gain superpowers when exposed to the sun, but instead, they already have super strength (though that may be a result of their genetic engineering and armor) but don’t get the heightened senses until they breathe Earth’s atmosphere, which seems silly.

I’m also not a fan of how Clark’s dad dies. Jonathan basically commits suicide to make a point, which is probably the reason why this Superman is so messed up and conflicted.

The story element that caused the most controversy is Supes killing Zod, but I think that makes sense. He killed Zod in Superman II. It wasn’t until the Donner Cut that the ending was redone so that, after killing Zod, Supes reverses time and changes things so Zod stays trapped in the Phantom Zone. In Man of Steel, he’s clearly broken up by what he does, and it’s definitely the sort of thing that would lead to him trying to AVOID killing in the future.

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Does this look like the face of a murderer!?

But plot holes and silly script decisions aside, the movie IS enjoyable. It’s unfortunate that Lois is so bland, and I think the script is too meandering, but it looks fantastic, and it’s a decent intro to the cinematic universe that follows.

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Also, another Clark smile because…yeah…

Hopefully DC figures out what they’re doing. We’re three films into the DCEU, and there haven’t been any really rousing successes. But the next film does a pretty good job.

See you next week!