Friday, May 9, 2014

Must-See MUSICAL Biopics (With Performances by the Real Deals) - Did the Actors Do Their Subjects Justice? and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Noah," DVDs "Afternoon Delight," "Barefoot" and "Gimme Shelter," recommend a great true crime book about a crime that stunned the nation, am poetic about a musical theatre classic "Little Shop of Horrors" and review a new Seattle restaurant - Red Cow].

But first

Last week I gave you a list of must-see biopics.

To keep that first list under control, I deliberately left out those biopics that featured the stories of musicians, so to make my biopic list complete...

 
Here are some MUSICAL biopics
that are must-sees. 


Musical biopics are all about the performances, which is why so many of the stars in these biopics won Academy Awards.

But I have included some performances by the actual subjects of these biopics. 

How did our actors do?



Amadeus (1984)



The life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - from an "insane" point of view.

This film won eight Academy Awards but the guy who actually played Amadeus, Tom Hulce, didn't win.  Tom Hulce, who?

Why it's a must-see:  Won 1984 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Actor (F. Murray Abraham), Best Adapted Screenplaly, Best Sound, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes and Best Make-up. 



Behind the Candelabra (2013)
 


Explores Liberace's career and his relationship with his much younger lover, Scott Thorson (based on Thorson's book of the same name).


Why it's a must-see:  Remarkable performances by Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson.

Here is the real deal.  How did Michael Douglas do?  You be the judge:









Buddy Holly Story (1978)



The life and career of this early rocker and his early, tragic death.

If you can get over what a nutter Gary Busey is these days, his performance DID win an Academy Award.  Who knew a head injury from a motorcycle accident could change someone into a person who speaks in acronyms and slogans!

Why it's a must-see: Busey channels Holly.

Did he?








Coal Miner's Daughter (1980)



Loretta Lynn's life story.

Why it's a must-see:  Sissy Spacek did all of her own singing in this and won an Academy Award for Best Actress.  This is one of the "granddaddy's" of musical biopics.

Here's the real deal.  How did Sissy do?












The Doors (1991)




The story of the legendary band.

This is on as many worst lists as it is best lists, but for all of its histrionics and over the top stuff, it's engrossing.  Director Oliver Stone, for all of his excesses, never puts out anything boring.

Why it's a must-see: Oliver Stone films are always a must-see, even when they miss the mark.

How did Val Kilmer do?  Here's the real deal:








The Five Pennies (1959)



The story of 1920's Dixieland jazz cornetist Red Nichols.

I have included this one for my Dad.  I have such fond memories of going to the movies with him, and I specifically remember seeing this one.  I would have been 11.

I could have included "The Benny Goodman Story," The Glenn Miller Story," "The Gene Krupa Story," or any film highlighting the lives of the Big Band and jazz greats from the 30's and 40's,  but I chose this one because my Dad also played the cornet and loved Dixieland jazz music and this movie is filled with the music I grew up with.

Why it's a must-see: It's a great example of 1950's Hollywood, Dixieland, and it's a great tear-jerker.

This is for you, Dad, the real deal:










Hard Days Night (1964)




Why it's a must-see:  Duh.  It's the Beatles. (click on the link to see why)

No one can do the Beatles.




La Vie En Rose (2007)



The life story of French singer Edith Piaf.

And what a life it was.  Supposedly born on the streets of Paris in 1915, she was a street performer at an early age. She was discovered and became an acclaimed nightclub singer, singing about her hard life. "La Vie En Rose," was her signature song.  But it was her personal life that was not successful.  She was involved with gangsters, boxers, Yves Montand; there were car crashes, airplane crashes and she died at 47.

Why it's a must-see:  Edith Piaf's life makes for a riveting film and Marion Cotillard's Academy Award winning performance captures Piaf's "Little Sparrow" persona.

For you youngsters out there (and I'm one of them!), the real Edith Piaf:








Lady Sings the Blues (1972)



Billie Holiday was another tragic singer.

Her jazz singing was a masterpiece of phrasing and Sinatra has cited her as an influence.  However, her personal life was rife with drug addiction, alcoholism and legal issues and she died at the age of 44.

Why it's a must-see:  Diana Ross's performance which shocked the naysayers who didn't think she could do it. 

Did she do it?

Here is the real Billie Holiday:







 


Ray (2004)



The amazing life of Ray Charles.

Despite being blind from the age of 7, he was a pioneer of "soul" - rhythm and blues, gospel and blues, all fused together.  Frank Sinatra called him "the only true genius in show business." 

Why it's a must-see:  It's an inspiring life played wonderfully by Jamie Foxx.

The real Ray Charles:











Selena (1997)


Nobody listening to mainstream music had heard of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez until her murder in 1995 by an assistant who had been fired for embezzlement.

Selena was born in Texas and was "The Queen of Tejano Music."  At the time of her death, she was on the cusp of crossing into the mainstream, which, ironically did happen after her death.

Why it's a must-see:  Jennifer Lopez played Selena and this was the turning point in her career and also the moment I became a huge fan of J-lo.  She also had the first famous big butt, way before Kim Kardashian. Check it out!

Jennifer did not do her own singing, which I found strange, but then she wasn't the star then she is now, thanks to this film.









Sweet Dreams (1975)


The country singers seem to have the most difficult lives and tragic deaths.  Patsy Cline was no exception.

Part of the early Nashville Sound, Patsy Cline was also able to cross over into pop music.  She was arguably one of the most successful female vocalists of the 20th centuryPatsy Cline came before Loretta Lynn, but they were professional rivals. This film was produced by the same guy who produced "Coal Miner's Daughter," so there is a soap opera element to both.  Sissy Spacek sang her own songs; Jessica Langue lip-synched.  Watch them in tandem and see what you think.

Why it's a must-see: Lange's Oscar-nominated performance.

For you youngsters out there, here's the real Patsy who Jessica was lip-synching to:











Walk the Line (2005)



Johnny Cash's early life and rise to fame.

Why it's a must-see: Joaquin Phoenix does not readily come to mind when you think Johnny Cash nor does Reese Witherspoon when you think of June Carte,r but both won Oscars for their performances.




What's Love Got To Do With It? (1993)




Based on her book "I, Tina:  What's Love Got to do With It?" Tina Turner tells her story of stardom coupled with abuse at the hands of her husband, Ike, and how she was finally able to break free.

Why it's a must-see: Angela Bassett had been pretty much toiling in television and supporting roles until this role came along to make her a household name and give her an Oscar nomination.

Did she channel Tina?  Here's the real thing:









***In Theatres Now***
 
 
 
Man has been naughty so God plans to destroy mankind.  Or most of them, anyway. Noah is called upon by God to save the innocent (meaning the animals) from the coming deluge so Noah builds an ark.
 
I know.  Don't ask.
 
But I actually have a soft spot for biblical movies
 
Here is another genre my Dad liked, so he and I attended many of the biblical films which seemed to abound in the 50's and early 60's:  "The Ten Commandments (who can forget Yul Brynner's famous line, "Moses, Moses, Moses")," "Samson and Delilah" and "David and Bathsheba," to name a few.  Some of those biblical tales were a bit racy for my young self, I must say. (I wonder what my Mom was doing when I was going to all of these movies with my Dad).
 
This telling of the classic Bible story is a sort of Mad Max version.  It's a dystopian world and nobody gets to wear cute clothes.
 
I think I need to dust off my bible a bit, though, because this film had some things in it I didn't remember from Sunday school.
 
I didn't remember that:
 
1. Noah spoke with an Australian accent.
2. The bad guy spoke with a Cockney accent.
3. And Noah's wife (Jennifer Connelly) had to affect a slight British accent to keep up, I guess.
4. Fallen angels were stone monsters who could help build the ark
5. A bad guy stowed away on the ark
6. A lot of family drama took place, which I guess should be expected when you are trying to survive the end of the world and start a whole new civilization.  That would cause a certain amount of stress, I guess.
 
And here are some things I have never quite understood.
If the world started with Adam and Eve and they had three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth (didn't really know about Seth), and Cain kills Abel, and Cain and Seth start two different sides of the family, how was that possible? Where did the women come from?
 
Also, how did the animals know where to find the ark?
 
And along those lines, if Noah saved just two of each animal, to "go forth and multiply," wouldn't that involve an awful lot of inbreeding?  I am not even going to think about how the humans handled that issue.
 
Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky ("Black Swan"), Russell Crowe (Noah) is joined by Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, Jennifer Connelly as Noah's wife, Ray Winstone as the guy from the bad side of the family (Cain's) and Emma Watson as some girl they found along the way to round out the family and allow there to be some going forth and multiplying.  Nick Nolte was the voice of one of the stone monsters.  Unfortunately the women aren't given much to do.
 
All in all, this film was better than expected, except for one thing. 
 
Please, Russell, do NOT sing.  I have barely healed from your singing in Les Miserables.
 
When I came out of the movie theatre, it was starting to rain so I got a funny feeling and raced home to beat the possible deluge.  It was that good.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...If you like your bible stories with a touch of Mad Max and Lord of the Rings, you will probably like this.
 
 
 

***DVDS***
You Might Have Missed
And Some You Should Be Glad You Did
(I see the bad ones so you don't have to)
 
 
 
 
 
 

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a bored stay-at-home Mom with a lackluster sex life.  Then she meets McKenna (Juno Temple), a young stripper and invites her to stay with her and her husband.  You can kind of guess what's going to happen.

Kathryn Hahn has toiled in TV ("Parks and Recreation") and was a stand-out in "We're the Millers," which didn't do much for Jennifer Aniston's career.  With five films coming out in the next year or so and filming two more as I write, Hahn is ready for the big break out.  And if you read my blog, you know that I love Juno Temple and can't believe she hasn't hit the big time yet.  She is a Brit who has starred in more films playing an American than I can count.  But she is a delight and can do anything.

My main complaint about this film is the ending.  It was too pat.  The way this film was headed, the ending should have been devastating, not an "afternoon delight."

Rosy the Reviewer says...Another one of those little indies I like so much.  Get to know Hahn and Temple.  You will be seeing more of them.



Barefoot (2014)



The ne're do well son of a wealthy family (Scott Speedman) takes a young psychiatric patient (Evan Rachel Wood), who's been raised in isolation her entire life, to his brother's wedding as his nurse girlfriend.  Bad idea.

This is your typical "fish out of water" story, young girl who has never driven tries to drive a car, doesn't know what love is, yada yada yada.  It's a sort of "Being There," but without the "profundities" or really good filmmaking.

The barefoot part is because our heroine is always barefoot.  Duh.

Treat Williams is the father of our so-called hero and one can only be reminded of the career he once had (remember "Prince of the City?") and his leading man good looks.  He is still good looking, but leading man roles eluded him.  However, he appears to be working regularly but in decidedly supporting roles.  What happened Treat?

Rosy the Reviewer says...Tried to be a quirky rom-com, but in the end you just don't care about these people.




Gimme Shelter (2013)


 Agnes, AKA "Apple," a pregnant teen (Vanessa Hudgens) from an abusive home wants to keep her child and finds help from a caring stranger.

Don't confuse this film with the Rolling Stones concert film of the same name.

About 30 minutes into this film, I realized I was watching a blatant pro-life movie. It's funny, too, because I have seen countless films about girls and women not wanting to give up their babies, but this movie just screamed MESSAGE.

Sometimes I watch movies that I don't know that much about.  Sometimes that's a good thing; sometimes not. This being a pro-life movie is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it so obviously has a religious message that the drama, acting and everything else takes a back seat to THE MESSAGE.  I'm not a fan of those kinds of movies.

Based on the true story of Kathy DiFiore, who started shelters for pregnant teens who wanted to keep their babies, this film is earnest and definitely putting out the conservative message.  But that doesn't mean that Hudgens doesn't do a good job of shedding her "High School Musical" image, which she does, though her character is hard to like. But someone who has been dragged through the foster system probably would be pretty bitter.

Rosario Dawson also does a good job as the crazy, drug-addicted mother.  I didn't even recognize her. Must have been the yellow teeth.  How she and Brendan Fraser got together to produce "Apple" is explained late in the film and is one of the more touching moments.

Ann Dowd plays DiFiore, and she is a wonderful actress who can do anything.  She is one of those "faces," but you should know her name.

Ironically, the best parts of this film are when Apple is in the shelter, but that's almost an hour in, and even the presence of James Earl Jones cannot compel me to recommend this film. 

I hate to say it, but this is more Lifetime Movie than feature film.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...Pro-lifers will rejoice.  People who like their films with less heavy handedness will not.



***Book of the Week***
 


Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders and the Crime that Changed America by Kevin Cook (2014)
 

The murder of Kitty Genovese in a quiet part of Queens, New York, in 1964 shook the nation, because she was killed supposedly while 38 of her neighbors watched and no one called the police.

Or was that really what happened?

Cook attempts to clear the misconceptions surrounding this horrendous murder and whether or not her neighbors really did just watch her die and do nothing.

He sets the stage with Kitty's life and the murderers life until they collide in that horrendous night.  Something I didn't know. Kitty was a lesbian and was living that lifestyle...well, as much as any woman could in those days.  It was actually against the law in New York to even cross dress.

The murder of Kitty Genovese took place in 1964 and scared the crap out of me. It shook the sense of safety one has when one is young.
My mother and I went to visit my sister who was living in New York City at the time and to see the World's Fair so this was all fresh and scary.
It also scared the crap out of the whole nation.

But Cook contends that the New York Times article that called out the "38" neighbors who "didn't want to get involved," that scared a nation and was the catalyst for neighborhood watch groups and an emergency phone service was an exaggeration and that those neighbors either didn't really see what was happening or did try to help

In my mind, it doesn't matter whether it was 38 people or 3, no one came out to help her and that is the scary, scary part.

Grisly details and something to think about, but comforting to know, after all of these years, that Kitty Genovese didn't die alone.

But the question is this:  Does Cook make his point?  You decide.
 

Rosy the Reviewer says...If you are a true crime fan, this is one of the most sensational and devastating crimes of the 20th century and, arguably, where the phrase "I didn't want to get involved" came from.
 
 
 

***Musical Comedy of the Week***
 
Seymour works in a flower shop on Skid Row and loves his co-worker Audrey.  He doesn't have many prospects until he discovers a strange plant.  The plant brings curious visitors and business to the shop and everything is looking up until we discover the plant needs blood to survive -- and it demands it!
This musical version of Roger Corman's cult film class of the same name has music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, who wowed us with his brilliant lyrics in "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" and sadly died of AIDS at the age of 40.

Hilarious script and great catchy songs ("Suddenly Seymour," "Somewhere That's Green" and "The Dentist Song").





It is currently playing in Seattle at the ACT Theatre.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this is a perennial favorite of theatre companies nationwide so if it comes to a theatre near you, don't miss it!
 
 


***Restaurant of the Week***
 
 

Red Cow

Red Cow joins other restaurants in the Ethan Stowell empire in a renovated space in the Seattle Madrona neighborhood where the French restaurant Cremant used to be.

As the name implies, it's all about meat and you can get your steaks in a variety of cuts and a variety of cost points.  The French fries are very French, just the way I like them.

It's a small industrial space and can be quite noisy but it's also a charming space with a cozy bar.  The wait staff is friendly and attentive without being overly so.

The restaurant hasn't been open long but it's already popular.  Many people were being turned away while we dined so make reservations.
 
Rosy the Reviewer says...the steak frites rule the day here.
 
 
 
 
That's it for this week.
 
See you Tuesday for


"A Little Meditation on a Little Meditation by an Unlikely Meditator"





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