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Craig's Movie Club
Film/Video Reviews

Musicals reviewed with a discerning eye

All That Jazz (1979)

With all the hubbub over the film adaptation of Bob Fosse's stage hit, Chicago, I chose to revisit one of Fosse's film exploits, the semi-autobiographical All That Jazz. Roy Scheider stars as Joe Gideon, a director and choreographer of stage and film who is overextending himself in his life and his work. He is on a daily dose of amphetamines, cigarettes, and alcohol; and can't seem to settle on one woman to go to bed with.

This problem has cost him one wife, Audrey (Leland Palmer)--around whom he has built his next stage project--and is threatening his relationship with current girlfriend Katie (Ann Reinking). Even his daughter Michelle (Erzsebet Foldi) often requests that he "stop screwing around." At the same time, the producer of his latest film, The Standup, is after him to deliver a final cut after seven months of editing.

These scenes are intercut with scenes of Gideon talking to Angelique (Jessica Lange), an angel/spirit who seems simultaneously caring and accusatory regarding Joe's life decisions. Lange is very beautiful and ethereal, wearing various white diaphanous gowns and just appearing altogether "angelic" (hence "Angelique," I suppose).

There are several obvious links to Fosse's life, the most obvious being Gideon's line of work (identical to Fosse), Gideon's ex-wife (ostensibly based on former Mrs. Fosse, Gwen Verdon), and the film Gideon is editing (Fosse directed Lenny, starring Dustin Hoffman and based on the life of controversial comedian Lenny Bruce), as well as Gideon's overactive lifestyle. This makes All That Jazz that much more compelling. It has been said that this is basically a fictionalization of Fosse's trials while rehearsing the stage version of Chicago.

Unfortunately, the musical numbers are too numerous and too long to hold this reviewer's attention. I like a good musical, but make things either short or interesting. The final "Bye Bye Life" number is about ten minutes too long. Overindulgence is the buzzword here and Fosse let things go much too far. Yes, Ben Vereen is good, but do something with the man other than having him be support for the star.

This makes All That Jazz less successful than it could have been. The rehearsal scenes for the new play and the girlfriend/daughter tribute were delightful, but from "Hospital Hallucination, Take One" on, there was not enough going on to rate the running time. I would watch All That Jazz again, but would likely fast-forward through the last third.

Cannibal! The Musical (1996)

This film's as fun as a baked potato. (It's all right, you'll get it when you see the movie.)

Cannibal! The Musical is an early film from Trey Parker and is not for everyone. Many people will be turned off my the subject matter, but fans of Parker's other work should dive in and enjoy.

From the amazingly gory opening scene to the comedy to the bad makeup to the musical numbers, this is an all-out cheesy funfest. Incredibly funny, intelligent, and musically sound, it's much better than you would expect from a first flick (Parker and friends made it during college). Lost for a time, it was luckily picked up by Troma Studios for distribution after South Park made it big.

The DVD has the funniest commentary I've heard yet, with Trey, Matt Stone, and other cast and crew members downing two bottles of Scotch whiskey while watching and remarking on the movie. The drunker they get, the more painful memories pop up and the funnier the responses are. In addition, it has all the expected Troma extras like the Troma Intelligence Test and a tour through Troma Studios.

A truly "shpadoinkle" film (and DVD)!

The Chieftains: An Irish Evening (1991)

Concert films are by their nature uneven. And if said concert is by someone of whom you've never heard, there is little room for experimentation.

Or so I thought when I found out I had won The Chieftains: An Irish Evening in a drawing. Fortunately, like so many times with low expectations, I was proven wrong. This was a phenomenal concert (I found out later that its accompanying album had won a Grammy).

The Chieftains are an Irish band made up of Paddy Moloney, Martin Fay, and several others throughout the years (here Derek Bell, Matt Malloy, Kevin Conneff, and Sean Keane). This concert, taped live at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, also features Nanci Griffith and Roger Daltrey on separate songs. The highlights are "The Mason's Apron" where flutist Matt Malloy goes wild during a solo; their adaptation of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" (although I felt sorry for Roger trying to rock out during the pipe solo); and the final ten-minute jam of a song I'm not even going to try to spell (it's something like "Rack Amid a Bean Bag").

Dancer Jean Butler (later of Riverdance) also comes on to wow the crowd with her abilities.

Chieftains fans have probably already heard this, but any fans of Irish music will find plenty to like here. I'll definitely be watching it again and I recommend it to anyone who loves music and has an open mind.

The DVD has no extras to speak of (apart from song selections and an album list), but is a wonderful recording of a moment in time.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Moulin Rouge! is an event!

Baz Luhrmann (director of William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, a film that, while I didn't like, I admired for its advancement of the form) has made a thoroughly modern musical set in 1899 (no easy feat) using pop songs as the primary medium. The much-talked-about singing talents of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are, at least on first viewing, passable enough for this film. Plus, they lend a natural feel to the characters, as if you or I were singing (with our less-than-trained voices) to a loved one.

But the story is not what's important in Moulin Rouge!, it is the spectacle. This could have easily been given the title of the production within--"Spectacular Spectacular"--because Luhrmann was obviously reaching for this level and he succeeds marvelously.

I listened to some of the songs on the soundtrack but found that they did not have the same effect I had experienced without the accompanying visuals. I would hazard a guess that a second viewing would not hold the same enthrall as the first, introductory, overwhelming, oh-my-god-ness of the first. Amazing!

  • ...more to come...

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