Tokyo Tribe (2014)

2016 #149
Sion Sono | 112 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | Japan / Japanese | 18

Tokyo Tribe

Adapted from the manga Tokyo Tribe 2, the film version is a hip-hop musical, sung (or rapped) through by an expansive cast who make up the titular tribes — gangs who rule the streets of a divided near-future (or possibly alternate reality; or possibly it doesn’t matter that much) Tokyo. The world of the story is pretty barmy, and much of the plot follows suit — I’m not going to attempt to describe it, but suffice to say it involves kidnapped girls, rescue attempts, and brewing gang warfare.

Much of the film does feel like a cartoon brought to life, with the ultra-heightened scenario and larger-than-life scenery-chewing villains — as the big bad, Riki Takeuchi hams it up so ludicrously his performance circles back round into genius. It’d definitely be an adult cartoon, though, because director Sion Sono brings a kind of trash-art, exploitation vibe, with gratuitous helpings of nudity and violence. Indeed, that direction is indicated early on when a young female police officer ventures into gang territory and is grabbed by one of the villains who, in front of a baying crowd, rips open her shirt and begins to trace a knife around her naked breasts to explain the various gang factions. It’s kind of kinky, kind of nasty, kind of distasteful, kind of not (I mean, he is a bad guy) — if you wanted to summarise the feel of the whole film in one sequence, it’s actually not a bad start.

When too many tribes to keep track of go to war

I watched Tokyo Tribe out of pure curiosity (a rap musical isn’t exactly my usual kind of thing) but I ended up rather loving it, which is why it made my 2016 top 20. There I summarised that its mix of “battle rap, comic grotesques, ultra violence, gratuitous nudity, more barmy notions than you can shake a stick at, and probably the kitchen sink too, [made it] possibly the most batshit-crazy movie I’ve ever seen.” So those extremes don’t bother me per se (other than to the extent they should bother me), but there’s an undoubted not-for-everyone-ness to a lot of it. That, plus some rough edges, are all that hold me back from giving it 5 stars.

4 out of 5

Tokyo Tribe placed 19th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

2017 #31
Mel Brooks | 100 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & France / English | PG / PG-13

Robin Hood: Men in Tights

Master movie spoofer Mel Brooks’ penultimate work as director was this riff on the Robin Hood legend, in particular the version seen in Prince of Thieves.

Although generally regarded as one of Brooks’ lesser movies, its deeply silly style tickles, and also means you don’t have to have seen Prince of Thieves (or remember it) to get most of the jokes. Cary Elwes is on point as the dashing hero, while Roger Rees successfully spoofs the unspoofable with a version of Alan Rickman’s villain. Instead of Nottingham he’s the Sheriff of Rottingham, a pun that indicates the film’s humour level.

3 out of 5

Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future (1973)

aka Иван Васильевич меняет профессию / Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession

2016 #112
Leonid Gaidai | 92 mins | streaming (HD) | 4:3 | Soviet Union / Russian

Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future

I know: having seen the title of this film, you’re probably thinking some variation of, “so what’s that then?” Well, it’s only a better sci-fi film than Aliens, 2001, Metropolis, Blade Runner, or Solaris! It’s only a better comedy than Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Sherlock Jr., Some Like It Hot, It Happened One Night, or The Kid! Only a better adventure movie than North by Northwest, Lawrence of Arabia, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, or The Bridge on the River Kwai! Only the best musical ever made that isn’t The Lion King, and the 8th greatest film of one of cinema’s defining decades, the ’70s — that’s what!

Well, “that’s what” according to IMDb voters, anyway, who’ve placed it in the upper echelons of all those best-of lists. In fact, it’s a Russian sci-fi comedy, adapted from a play by Mikhail Bulgakov (most famous to Western audiences now for the TV series A Young Doctor’s Notebook starring Daniel “Harry Potter” Radcliffe and Jon “Mad Men” Hamm). Apparently it’s a huge popular classic in Russia, hence why it’s scored so well on an international movie website and shot up those lists; and, because of that, it’s a moderately (in)famous film on movie-list-checking website iCheckMovies (at least, it is in the parts of it I frequent), because it’s a film you have to see if you want to complete any of the aforementioned lists.

And so I have seen it — courtesy of Mosfilm’s YouTube channel, where it’s available for free, in HD, with English subtitles — just in case this review makes you want to watch it too. Which, you never know, it might, because it’s actually kinda fun. In the end.

Terrible meal

The plot concerns scientist Shurik (Alexsandr Demyanenko), who is trying to perfect a time machine in his apartment (as you do) but is getting grief from his busybody building supervisor Ivan Vasilievich (Yuri Yakovlev). Meanwhile, George (Leonid Kuavlev) is trying to rob a neighbouring apartment. To cut a lot of faffing short, the three of them end up transported to the past, where it turns out Ivan Vasilievich is the spitting image of Ivan the Terrible (also Yuri Yakovlev) and — to cut some more farce equally short — Ivan Vasilievich and George end up stuck in the past, pretending to be Mr Terrible and his chum, while Shurik and the real Mr Terrible are returned to the present day. More hijinks ensue!

So, you can see why its original title is the wittily understated statement Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession, and how its English title can just about get away with being such a blatant attempt to cash-in on a popular movie.

As for the film itself, it starts off not so hot, somewhat overacted and a little hard to get a grip on what’s happening — it’s also a sequel or sorts, so perhaps launches with the idea you’ve seen the previous adventures of Shurik and so know what kind of thing to expect. But as it continues… well, maybe it’s a kind of Stockholm syndrome, but I ended up rather enjoying it. It’s not genius, but it’s a fairly amusing farce once it gets going. Very of its time as an early-’70s mainstream-style silly comedy, but what’s wrong with being of your time? It also sounds like it’s fairly faithful to Bulgakov’s original play, which is a little surprising, but there you go.

Terrible face

Unsurprisingly, Ivan Vasilievich is not a better film than all those ones I listed at the start. If it got wider exposure and more IMDb votes, I’m sure it would drop down lickety-split. At the same time, I’m actually quite glad I watched it: after I eventually warmed to it, it was kinda fun.

3 out of 5

Team America: World Police (2004)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #89

Freedom Hangs by a Thread

Country: USA & Germany
Language: English, French, Klingon, Korean & Arabic
Runtime: 98 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R (cut)

Original Release: 15th October 2004 (USA)
UK Release: 14th January 2005
First Seen: cinema, 2005

Stars
Trey Parker (BASEketball, Despicable Me 3)
Matt Stone (BASEketball, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut)
Kristen Miller (Cherry Falls, Puff, Puff, Pass)
Masasa (Kingdom Come, Angels & Demons)
Daran Norris (Comic Book: The Movie, Veronica Mars)

Director
Trey Parker (Orgazmo, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut)

Screenwriters
Trey Parker (Cannibal! The Musical, The Book of Mormon)
Matt Stone (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, The Book of Mormon)
Pam Brady (South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Hot Rod)

The Story
Global paramilitary protectors Team America: World Police must battle both the machinations of terrorists and the criticism of Hollywood actors.

Our Heroes
Gary Johnston is just a Broadway actor, until he’s recruited into counter-terrorism force Team America: World Police to use his acting skills to save the world. The rest of the team include its boss, Spottswoode; Lisa, a psychologist; Sarah, who thinks she’s psychic; Joe, an all-American jock; and Chris, a martial artist with a hatred of actors — like Gary! There’s also their supercomputer, I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E., which stands for… um…

Our Villains
Kim Jong-il, the lonely leader of North Korea, and his threats to global security. His positions is strengthened by those liberal FAGs — that’d be the Film Actors Guild.

Best Supporting Character
Matt Damon!


Memorable Quote
“We’re dicks! We’re reckless, arrogant, stupid dicks. And the Film Actors Guild are pussies. And Kim Jong-il is an asshole. Pussies don’t like dicks, because pussies get fucked by dicks. But dicks also fuck assholes — assholes who just want to shit on everything. Pussies may think they can deal with assholes their way, but the only thing that can fuck an asshole is a dick, with some balls. The problem with dicks is that sometimes they fuck too much, or fuck when it isn’t appropriate — and it takes a pussy to show ’em that. But sometimes pussies get so full of shit that they become assholes themselves, because pussies are only an inch-and-a-half away from assholes. I don’t know much in this crazy, crazy world, but I do know that if you don’t let us fuck this asshole, we are going to have our dicks and our pussies all covered in shit.” — Gary

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Matt Damon.” — Matt Damon

Memorable Scene
Puppets having sex. Sex, by puppets. Sexing puppets. Puppet sex.

Best Song
The titular refrain (“America! Fuck yeah!”) is perhaps the most memorable, though it has strong competition from Kim Jong-il’s I’m So Ronery, but my favourite song has always been the in-jokey, film-fan-y Montage. I certainly laughed far louder than anyone else in the cinema, anyway.

Technical Wizardry
Puppets! Considering the Gerry Anderson shows they’re emulating took multiple iterations and years of work to really perfect, Team America does a remarkable job out of the gate — and isn’t adverse to some puppet-based humour either, naturally.

Making of
Originally the Matt Damon character had a proper speaking part, because he’s a pretty intelligent guy really and Parker and Stone knew that. But then the puppet came out looking a bit, shall we say, ‘special’. With no time to remake it, they decided to have the character live up to how he looked: only capable of saying his own name. So it’s less a grand piece of satire on the self-involvement of Hollywood lefties, more an in-joke.

Awards
1 Empire Award (Comedy)
1 MTV Movie Awards nomination (Action Sequence for “the desert terrorist assault”)

What the Critics Said
“it’s hard not to guffaw with glee at the gross libelling and on-screen dismemberment of an array of ‘aware’ Hollywood stars (albeit in puppet form) and in which George W Bush’s war on terror is rendered in risible sub-‘Supermarionation’ form. The whole thing plays like Thunderbirds Goes to Hell and will doubtless offend all those numskulls who complained about the BBC’s transmission of Jerry Springer: The Opera. For that alone, it gets my vote.” — Mark Kermode, New Statesman

Score: 77%

What the Public Say
“The idea of the puppets in the first place is very clever, because when you make everything a puppet, everything becomes funnier. I think that the puppets themselves work so well because the creators knew their strengths and weaknesses. The puppets they use are pretty detailed and can do a lot of different kinds of movements. The team use these functions of the puppets for simpler actions (moving limbs and heads and so on) and make it look realistic. But how do you make a fistfight between two puppets look realistic? You don’t, just make some very basic and crude movements and the joke basically tells itself.” — Felix, FelixMovieThoughts

Verdict

The guys behind South Park spoof Michael Bay-style action movies — and by extension right-wing America’s view of its place in the world — through the medium of Thunderbirds-style puppets, which just heightens the ridiculousness. It’s a neat mix of clever satire and baser laughs, bolstered by surprisingly listenable musical numbers. It’s not always clever, and it’s never big (they’re puppets!), but it is funny.

#90 will be… following yonder star.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016)

2016 #165
Kenny Ortega | 88 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp AgainWhen this TV movie kicks off with Ivy Levan sashaying her way around a cinema while she mimes to a pre-recorded and over-produced backing track of Science Fiction/Double Feature, full of licks and runs and finding four notes to hit where there used to be one, like a desperate X Factor wannabe who has no concept of the meaning of the lyrics she’s warbling but is ever so desperate to show she can saaang (that’s like singing but with added Cool), you get a pretty fair idea of the terrible experience about to be unleashed upon you by the not-so-catchily titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again. That’s to say it’s been modernised, Americanised, and sanitised.

If you know the original then you know the plot, and if you don’t know the original then you have no business watching this so-called tribute version, which premiered on Fox in the US last week and makes its way to the UK on Sky Cinema from today. “Tribute” is the latest word someone has co-opted to avoid saying “remake”, a marketing strategy that was presumably settled upon after they realised they’d produced a witless, regressive clone of material that, though over 40 years old, is still more subversive and boundary-pushing than this plastic Disneyfied tosh.

Sweet transgender womanThe interpretation of the songs is appalling. The recordings are all overworked, full of needless warbles and added “oohs”. They’ve been modernised in such a way that, when current popular fads for over-singing things (“licks” or “runs” or whatever else they call them) have passed — as they surely will — these new versions will sound even more dated than the already-40-year-old originals, which have a certain timelessness. The lyrics are sung with the same amount of attention to what they mean as you get from a computer’s text-to-speech function, including or echoing parts of the original without understanding why they’re there or what function they perform; or if it does know the function, it doesn’t know how to replicate it.

To say its performances are like a bad am-dram production would be an insult to am-drammers everywhere. Almost everyone is miscast. It was, perhaps, a nice touch to include Tim Curry, but his limited scenes are uncomfortable to watch because it’s painfully obvious that the poor man is still labouring under the aftereffects of his stroke. As Brad, Ryan McCartan overacts as if he thinks that’s the whole point. Reeve Carney makes Riff Raff a leering creep, and his needless affected British accent is awful. As Magenta, Christina Miian’s is worse. As Frank, Laverne Cox’s imitative mid-Atlantic twang is even worse again. Why did they do it?! Presumably because, as I said, it’s all a thoughtless copy of the original.

The casting of a transgender woman as a transvestite is its own kettle of worms — either she’s a woman doing radical things like fancying men and being jealous of another woman stealing her guy, or you’re saying she’s not actually a woman but still a man and… well, like I say, it’s a mess. A commenter on the A.V. Club’s review summed up the cumulative effect quite succinctly: “Fox was actually able to pull off a pretty conservative casting choice while appearing uber progressive… By casting Cox, who identifies as female, in the role of Frank-N-Furter the seduction scenes actually became far less risqué”.

Well, it's certainly been warpedEverything is blunted further by Kenny Ortega’s ineffective direction. The camerawork is flat and uninteresting, the shot choices unimaginative. Some of the choreography looks interesting — it’s certainly more elaborate than in the original film — but the camerawork seems to be actively trying to obscure it. The editor must have struggled, unable to generate any additional excitement due to a shortage of options. At times it looks as if it was filmed live, under which circumstances its weaknesses might be understandable, if not excusable… but it wasn’t.

Occasionally there are cutaways to a cinema audience — not a real one, but a gaggle of extras, sat in a theatre watching what we’re watching. These moments are pathetic and pointless. I get that it’s meant to be a nod to the interactive midnight showings that have made Rocky Horror the phenomenon it is, but they demonstrate none of the wit or verve that make those screenings so popular. Plus the original film is good entertainment even without such intrusions; this isn’t. You might think that makes the asides necessary to liven it up, but there are so few of them, and they’re so lacking in imagination, or any discernible content whatsoever, that they just feel like they’re dragging the experience out even further.

Believe it or not, it’s not all bad. There’s one new gag in the dinner scene that’s actually pretty funny. It’s delivered by Faye Marsay lookalike Annaleigh Ashford, who makes a good fist of Columbia. Rounding out the leads, Victoria Justice has all the necessary charms to make a pretty fair Janet. Victoria Justice's omnipresent cleavage. May also be omnipotent.I refer partly to her omnipresent cleavage, but also her acting. It’s not great by any means, but she’s suitably sweet and twee at the start, then manages to sell Janet’s near-instantaneous transformation from uptight goody-two-shoes to sex-mad strumpet using just a handful of expressions and line deliveries in the slight gap her character has between Over at the Frankenstein Place and Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me. The latter is one of the film’s rare highlights, for various reasons. One of those is actually Staz Nair as Rocky — undoubtedly the least challenging role in the piece, but at least he gets it right, and his musclebound chest counterbalances Justice’s for those of the other persuasion. The only downside are his tattoos: he was supposedly just grown in a tank, how does he have tattoos?!

More than the ’75 film, Let’s Do the Time Warp Again brings to mind the 2010 episode of Glee that essayed the same musical. If you suffered through The Rocky Horror Glee Show, as I did, you’ll know it was a travesty. Is this even worse? Well, that’s a bit like someone forcing you to eat a dog shit and a cat shit before asking you which tasted nicer. That’s a little unfair: the Glee version was meritless; this one has a couple of minor plus points — so maybe it’s like someone making you eat a very small shit while occasionally showing you a picture of a sexy half-naked person. But unless someone forces you to choose between only this and Glee, there’s no earthly reason to do this particular Time Warp again.

1 out of 5

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is available on Sky Cinema from today, screening on Premiere at 12:25pm and 8pm.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

Cover Girl (1944)

2016 #168
Charles Vidor | 103 mins | TV | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Cover GirlRun-of-the-mill musical starring Rita Hayworth as a Brooklyn showgirl who finds fame after accidentally landing a prestigious magazine cover because the editor was in love with her spitting-image grandmother.

Gene Kelly co-stars as the owner of the low-rent joint she used to star in, and provides two decent dance numbers: the first alongside Hayworth and Phil Silvers, the second alongside himself, double exposure allowing his shop-window reflection to leap into the street.

Otherwise the songs are forgettable, despite the fact it won an Oscar for its score, and the predictable story is allowed too much leeway by the running time.

3 out of 5

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #76

Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

Country: UK & USA
Language: English
Runtime: 100 minutes
BBFC: AA (1975) | 15 (1987) | 12 (1991)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th August 1975 (UK)
First Seen: TV, 31st December 1998

Stars
Tim Curry (Annie, Clue)
Susan Sarandon (The Front Page, Thelma & Louise)
Barry Bostwick (Weekend at Bernie’s II, Spy Hard)
Richard O’Brien (Flash Gordon, Dark City)
Meat Loaf (Roadie, Fight Club)
Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out, Diamonds Are Forever)

Director
Jim Sharman (The Night, the Prowler, Shock Treatment)

Screenwriters
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment, Digital Dreams)
Jim Sharman (Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens, Shock Treatment)

Based on
The Rocky Horror Show, a stage musical by Richard O’Brien.

Music & Lyrics
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment)

The Story
When straight-laced young couple Brad and Janet approach a spooky castle in need of shelter, they stumble into the strange world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s throwing a party to celebrate the ‘birth’ of his new creation: a tank-grown muscleman named Rocky. But it’s not only Rocky who’ll be getting an awakening…

Our Heroes
Good clean all-American kids Brad and Janet, newly engaged but forced to stop off at a creepy castle after their car breaks down in a storm. By the end of the night, they’ll certainly have learnt a new thing or two…

Our Villains
Dr. Frank-N-Furter — not much of a man by the light of day but by night he’s one hell of a lover. Just a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania, which would be fine if he didn’t get a bit murderous. Surrounded by a gaggle of home help and hangers-on, like hunchbacked handyman Riff Raff, mental maid Magenta, and vaudevillian groupie Columbia.

Best Supporting Character
Charles Gray is perfect as The Narrator, holed up in his wood-panelled study and telling the audience this fantastical story with admirable matter-of-factness.

Memorable Quote
“Let’s do the time warp again!” — everyone

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“I see you shiver with antici…

…pation.” — Dr. Frank-N-Furter

Memorable Scene
The title sequence: the opening number sung by a pair of very big, very red lips. Simple, but iconic.

Best Song
Rocky Horror is one of those musicals where almost every song is genius: the cleverly reference-filled, surprisingly melancholic, bookending refrain of Science Fiction/Double Feature; the wittily rhymed Dammit Janet; the mission statement that is Sweet Transvestite; the sweetly kinky Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me; the epic multi-part floor show climax… and more. That said, I always disliked the post-climax Super Heroes, and wasn’t alone: it was actually cut out of the original US release. But then I heard Richard O’Brien sing it with acoustic guitar on the DVD special features, and in that variation it’s a darkly beautiful song. But for all that, when talking about the best song in Rocky Horror you really can’t beat the utterly iconic Time Warp.

Making of
Many films have “Easter eggs” — little half-hidden treats for fans to discover — but not many have them literally. The exception, of course, is Rocky Horror. Apparently the crew had an Easter egg hunt (which, considering the movie was shot from October to December, doesn’t make much sense) but they weren’t all found, hence why some turned up in the final film. I won’t tell you where they are (I mean, five seconds on Google and you can find out), but there are supposedly three.

Next time…
Initially a flop, it was when someone got the idea to screen the movie for the midnight crowd that Rocky Horror caught on. The interactive, ritual-filled experience of these screenings is legendary, and they’ve continued ever since — to the point where some cinemas have it as part of their regular schedule, and the DVD & Blu-ray releases include alternate tracks featuring the audience participation. It also means that, officially speaking, Rocky Horror has the longest theatrical run in movie history. In 1981, Sharman and O’Brien produced a sort-of-sequel, Shock Treatment. A new adventure for Brad and Janet (both recast), it featured several Rocky Horror actors (O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray) in new roles. It didn’t go down very well, though apparently it has its fans — a cult following within a cult following, I guess. In 2010, once-popular high school musical TV series Glee aired a tribute episode, The Rocky Horror Glee Show. It is truly horrendous; a plasticky, sanitised, neutered version of something that should never be those things. So I don’t hold out much hope for the next thing the same network (Fox, of all places!) have planned for the property: after years (decades?) of rumours, they’re finally making good on the threat by remaking the film. Officially dubbed The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, the clips released so far look almost as bad as the Glee version. We’ll see. Finally, the original stage show has continued across numerous productions, and last year a 40th anniversary gala performance was simulcast to cinemas across Europe and later aired on TV. It’s now available on YouTube. I’ve not watched it, but I suspect it’s a better bet than that Fox version.

Awards
1 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Golden Scroll nomination (Horror Film (it lost to Young Frankenstein))

What the Critics Said
Rocky Horror is actually a very good film in its own right; made on a small budget, it’s a triumph of clever filmmaking by Sharman, who should have gone on to bigger things (and might have, had he not arrived at the end of an era). Yes, there are little technical glitches, but rarely has there been a more cleverly and creatively shot and edited film. Nearly every angle, every cut, every zoom shot, every optical transition is used to effectively maximize its respective scene. […] Remember the cult status, yes, but sometime try watching Rocky Horror just as a movie. It pays real dividends.” — Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

You What?
“Viewed on video simply as a movie, without the midnight sideshow, it’s cheerful and silly, and kind of sweet, and forgettable.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (Rocky Horror is many things, but “forgettable”? Hm.)

Score: 80%

What the Public Say
Rocky Horror is so distinctive, so unique, that it could’ve come off as bizarre, alien, and off-putting, but it didn’t. It has such self-aware charm, a catchy soundtrack that sticks in the head for days, and hilarious performers, that it overcomes its rather dull protagonists. Of course, Brad and Janet have their own charm as parodies of the square-jawed hero and his girl, but they will always be the least interesting characters on screen.” — That Other Critic

Verdict

Some people dismiss Rocky Horror as a film, thinking its only worth (if they acknowledge it has any) is as a live experience. I’ve never seen it ‘live’ (and don’t have an especially great desire to) but will happily fight its corner as a solo viewing experience. It’s camp and transgressive, but ‘safely’ so — that’s not a criticism, just an observation that it can work well as an eye-opener for the young or more conservative. But beyond that social impact, the outré style belies an underlying cleverness, with witty writing that features abundant references to sci-fi B-movie classics, precisely pitched performances, and, of course, the unforgettable toe-tapping tunes. Whether alone or in a packed auditorium throwing stuff and shouting back at the screen, it’s just fun. To watch it is to, indeed, give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

#77 will be… the greatest love story the world has ever known.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #63

Truth — Beauty — Freedom — Love

Country: USA & Australia
Language: English
Runtime: 128 minutes
BBFC: 12
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 16th May 2001 (L.A., USA)
UK Release: 7th September 2001
First Seen: DVD, 2002

Stars
Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut, The Hours)
Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Star Wars – Episode III: Revenge of the Sith)
John Leguizamo (Super Mario Bros., Land of the Dead)
Jim Broadbent (Iris, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
Richard Roxburgh (Mission: Impossible II, Van Helsing)

Director
Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Australia)

Screenwriters
Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom, The Great Gatsby)
Craig Pearce (Romeo + Juliet, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud)

Music by
Craig Armstrong (Love Actually, The Great Gatsby)

The Story
Paris, 1899: while pitching a show to the owner of the Moulin Rouge nightclub, writer Christian falls for the venue’s leading lady, Satine. Despite her mutual attraction, Satine has been promised to the Duke of Monroth in exchange for his investment in the cabaret. As preparations for the show continue, Christian and Satine’s love blossoms nonetheless. Will true love conquer commerce?

Our Heroes
Christian is just a poor, miserable poet living among Bohemians in turn-of-the-century Paris, until he meets and falls in love with Satine, the Moulin Rouge’s star act and courtesan.

Our Villain
Unfortunately for Christian, Satine has been promised to the Duke of Monroth, a nasty piece of work who will have his way or have Christian killed.

Best Supporting Character
The Moulin Rouge’s exuberant owner, Harold Zidler, is prepared to essentially sell Satine for investment in his establishment. Which makes him sound like a horrible so-and-so, but actually he cares for her deeply.

Memorable Quote
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” — Christian

Memorable Scene
Zidler convinces Satine that she must tell Christian she doesn’t love him, to save his life from the murderous intentions of the Duke. As she leaves the Moulin Rouge to break Christian’s heart, Zidler delivers an emotional rendition of Queen’s The Show Must Go On.

Best Song
The film is packed with interesting reinterpretations of modern pop hits. Personally, I love a reimagined cover version, so picking just one is bloody tough. There are a couple of mash-ups that work particularly well: the big number when Christian & friends first arrive at the eponymous establishment, which crashes Lady Marmalade against Smells Like Teen Spirit; and the Elephant Love Medley, which wittily re-appropriates lyrics from a gaggle of love songs (eight, to be precise) into one number. However, the best of all may be a reimagining of the Police’s Roxanne as a dramatic dance number, El Tango de Roxanne.

Technical Wizardry
One of the most controversial aspects of what is a love-it-or-hate-it film anyway is its editing style. Eschewing the familiar trappings of Hollywood musicals, Luhrmann has the entire film shot (by Donald M. McAlpine) and edited (by Jill Bilcock) as if it were a modern music video. In total, there are just shy of 3,600 shots in the film (according to this analysis), which gives it an Average Shot Length (ASL) of just 2 seconds. For comparison, the mean ASL for US films released the same year was around 5 seconds. Even now, over a decade later, the ASL for English-language films sits at about 2.5 seconds.

Making of
It’s now quite well known that musicals need to contain a brand-new song to be eligible for the Best Song Oscar. Obviously this is normally relevant to adaptations of stage musicals, but naturally it applies to Moulin Rouge, too. The film’s one new song is Come What May, but it was ruled ineligible for the Oscar because it was actually written for Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, even though it wasn’t used in that film. The music arm of the Academy really are a tricky bunch.

Previously on…
Moulin Rouge is the third part of Baz Luhrmann’s thematically-linked Red Curtain Trilogy, following Strictly Ballroom and Romeo + Juliet.

Awards
Nominated for the Palme d’Or
2 Oscars (Art Direction-Set Decoration, Costume Design)
6 Oscar nominations (Picture, Actress (Nicole Kidman), Cinematography, Editing, Makeup, Sound)
3 BAFTAs (Supporting Actor (Jim Broadbent), Music, Sound)
9 BAFTA nominations (Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Production Design, Costume Design, Editing, Visual Effects, Make Up/Hair)
5 Australian Film Institute (AFI) awards (Cinematography, Editing, Sound, Costume Design, Production Design)
5 AFI nominations (Film, Director, Actor (Ewan McGregor), Actress (Nicole Kidman), Supporting Actor (Richard Roxburgh))
3 World Soundtrack Awards (including Most Creative Use of Existing Material on a Soundtrack)
2 World Soundtrack Awards nominations (including Best Original Score of the Year Not Released on an Album)

What the Critics Said
“The time, the effort and the sweat are all up there on the screen in this opulent, no-holds-barred and multilayered movie. [It] is wrapped up in such an audacious mix of traditional and contemporary song — including David Bowie, Elton John, Madonna and Nirvana — and staged with a near-insane visual ambition, you will either fall in love with every camp flourish, or find yourself exhausted after 20 minutes. It’s a singular achievement either way.” — Andrew Collins, Radio Times

Score: 76%

What the Public Say
“one of the great movie spectacles of this generation, an undertaking of vast scope made all the more fascinating by how it transforms commonplace undercurrents into rich sensations […] There is a sense that these concepts are simplified for the sake of basic comprehension, but the picture doesn’t so much strip them of complexities as it penetrates to the core of their meaning. That creates a scenario where the story simply observes the indulgences that manifest in the rhythms, the music, the dance moves, the vocals, the dialogue, the facial expressions and the daydreams that inhabit the characters. It seeks no more profound a purpose. Some find the implication startlingly straightforward in an endeavor where the technical achievements are such a subversive triumph, but I applaud it; how frequently has any ambitious Hollywood production been willing to see past the varnish of a formula and deal directly with the ideals[?]” — David M. Keyes, Cinemaphile

Verdict

These days there are plenty of musicals appearing on the big screen, and they’re often contending for the top gongs come awards season. This wasn’t the case back in 2001 — Moulin Rouge, divisive as it is, changed all that (it was the first musical nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in a decade, and the previous one was a Disney animation). Baz Luhrmann’s injection of modern MTV style gave the genre a kick up the arse, which isn’t necessarily to the taste of classic musical fans but certainly brought the genre renewed mainstream attention. Mixing in his theatrical storytelling, melodramatic emotions, and vibrant and extravagant costumes and sets, Luhrmann created a heady film designed to give modern audiences a sense of how visiting the Moulin Rouge would’ve felt in 1899 (well, it’s certainly not the literal experience!) It’s clearly not a film that meets all tastes, but if you’re on its wavelength then it’s magnificent.

The first half of Baz Luhrmann’s Netflix series, The Get Down, was released on Friday, which is a neat coincidence.

#64 will be… a lot of fuss over very little.

Mary Poppins (1964)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #58

It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 139 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G (1972)

Original Release: 27th August 1964 (USA)
UK Release: 23rd December 1964
First Seen: by osmosis in childhood.

Stars
Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, Torn Curtain)
Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
David Tomlinson (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Karen Dotrice (The Gnome-Mobile, The Thirty-Nine Steps)

Director
Robert Stevenson (Jane Eyre, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Screenwriter
Bill Walsh (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Don DaGradi (Blackbeard’s Ghost, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Based on
the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.

Music and Lyrics
Richard M. Sherman (The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Robert B. Sherman (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

The Story
Not impressed by the nannies selected by their domineering father, Jane and Michael Banks write a letter describing their ideal applicant. Conversely, Mr Banks is not impressed with their requirements, and tears up the letter and throws it in the fire… from whence it reaches Mary Poppins, who floats down to bring fun and discipline to all of the Banks household.

Our Hero
The magical nanny who comes from the sky, Mary Poppins can be (whisper it) actually a little bit annoying at times. Julie Andrews, on the other hand, is practically perfect in every way.

Our Villains
Ultimately, bankers. Some things never change.

Best Supporting Character
Ostensibly this is the story of children Jane and Michael Banks and their need for a SuperNanny to help them with their oh-so-terrible father — and, as a child, that’s where your focus lies. Really (and I guess you need to grow up at least a bit to see this), it’s about how said SuperNanny saves their father, Mr Banks, helping to transform him from a miserable corporate drone into a joyful family man. David Tomlinson negotiates this arc fantastically.

Memorable Quote
“You know, you can say it backwards, which is ‘docious-ali-expi-istic-fragil-cali-rupus’… but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?” — Mary Poppins

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” — Mary Poppins

Memorable Scene
Chimneysweeps dancing on the rooftops! (Fun fact: I always thought Step In Time was called Stepping Time. I mean, the dance does contain a lot of, sort of, steps…)

Best Song as a Child
Iiiiiiit’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. (Sacrilege maybe, but the version from the 2004 stage musical is even better.)

Best Song as an Adult
When I was little, the whole part of the film around the bank, Feed the Birds, etc, was The Boring Bit between the fun and the return of the fun. Now, I still think most of Feed the Birds is a little insipid, but the instrumental reprise as Mr Banks walks slowly back to the bank, his world and everything he knows torn asunder, his humiliation imminent… It’s heartbreaking, and the music is most of the reason why.

Technical Wizardry
The sequence where Mary, the children, and Bert jump into one of the latter’s street paintings — all of it animated, with the exception of the leads — is a sterling extended example of combining live-action with cel animation.

Truly Special Effect
As a lad, I could never work out how exactly they’d managed to create Mary’s bottomless bag. I haven’t watched the film for a while and imagine it’s painfully obvious now… I also used to think the little bird that lands on her hand was a miraculous effect and didn’t understand why some people slagged it off, but then I watched that bit on YouTube a couple of years ago and finally saw what everyone else saw. Oh, the sadness of ageing…

Letting the Side Down
The fact that real cockneys don’t sound like Dick Van Dyke. No, I don’t mean it the other way round — the fact that the real-life denizens of East London sound nothing like Bert is the problem here, not Bert’s accent. That is how I think cockneys should sound, and it always will be.

Making of
See: Saving Mr. Banks. Knowing biopics it’s probably not 100% accurate, but it is a good film.

Next time…
Despite several attempts, a sequel never happened. The director and/or writers worked together on multiple films at Disney over the next few years — most famously, an early-’70s blatant attempt to recreate the Poppins magic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Mary Poppins herself returned in 2004 in a Cameron Mackintosh-produced West End musical, based on the film but re-incorporating more from the books. Talk of it being adapted into a film seem to have come to nowt. Instead, a (very) belated sequel with Emily Blunt in the title role is due in 2018.

Awards
5 Oscars (Actress (Julie Andrews), Song (Chim Chim Cher-ee), Substantially Original Score, Editing, Visual Effects)
8 Oscar nominations (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Color Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Costume Design, Sound, Scoring of Music Adaptation or Treatment)
1 BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Julie Andrews))

What the Critics Said
“Of course, it is sentimental. And, as Mary Poppins says, “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their feelings.” But being not practically perfect, I find it irresistible. Plenty of other adults will feel the same way. And, needless to say, so will the kids.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Score: 100%

What the Public Say
“It is the single glowing moment of sheer unmixed genius in the long stretch of lightweight successes and dreary failures that made up nearly three whole decades of Disney’s output in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s; a fantasy of the most delicate touch and charming disposition, sweet and precious while being neither sickening nor cloying.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

Verdict

I feel like Mary Poppins is the kind of movie that it would’ve been easy to overlook in putting together this list of favourites — a childhood favourite, that’s maybe so obvious you kind of forget about it as A Movie — which is one of the reasons I made sure to get it on here. Another is how well it works for both children and adults. As the former, the magical adventures and toe-tapping songs are pure joy, a wonder-filled experience that doesn’t date. As the latter, those elements are still entertaining, but the depth of some of the film’s messages (especially pertaining to the adults) really comes through. It’s a film for all ages, and one for the ages too.

#59 will be…

The Lion King (1994)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #52

The greatest adventure of all is
finding our place in the circle of life.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 88 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G

Original Release: 15th June 1994
UK Release: 7th October 1994
First Seen: VHS, c.1995

Stars
Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Election)
James Earl Jones (Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian)
Jeremy Irons (The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Die Hard with a Vengeance)
Rowan Atkinson (Bean, Johnny English)

Directors
Roger Allers (Open Season, The Prophet)
Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little, Mr. Peabody & Sherman)

Screenwriters
Irene Mecchi (Brave, Strange Magic)
Jonathan Roberts (James and the Giant Peach, Jack Frost)
Linda Woolverton (Beauty and the Beast, Alice Through the Looking Glass)

Story by
Deep breath… Burny Mattinson, Barry Johnson, Lorna Cook, Thom Enriquez, Andy Gaskill, Gary Trousdale, Jim Capobianco, Kevin Harkey, Jorgen Klubien, Chris Sanders, Tom Sito, Larry Leker, Joe Ranft, Rick Maki, Ed Gombert, Francis Glebas & Mark Kausler; with additional story by J.T. Allen, George Scribner, Miguel Tejada-Flores, Jenny Tripp, Bob Tzudiker, Chris Vogler, Kirk Wise & Noni White; and the story supervisor was Brenda Chapman.

Sort of based on
Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare.

Songs by
Elton John (The Muse, Gnomeo & Juliet)
Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Aladdin)

The Story
The savannahs of Africa are ruled by the lion Mufasa, a kindly king who is struggling to instil some sense of life’s importance in his reckless young son and heir, Simba. But Mufasa’s brother, Scar, lusts for power, and manipulates Mufasa and Simba to gain it…

Our Hero
Lion cub Simba is heir to his father’s throne as ruler of the Pride Lands, and a naughty, unruly prince who just can’t wait to be king. All that changes when he winds up outcast, and has to learn to grow up before returning to save his kingdom.

Our Villain
King Mufasa’s jealous brother, Scar, who also just can’t wait to be king. Obviously that’s not going to happen under the regular rules of succession, but Scar is a cunning and conniving sort. Well, he is the villain.

Best Supporting Characters
After running away, Simba falls in with meerkat Timon (voiced by Nathan Lane) and warthog Pumbaa (voiced by Ernie Sabella), who have a laid-back attitude to life, and raise the lion cub to have the same. So successful they had their own spin-off series and were the stars of a sequel, too.

Memorable Quote
Mufasa: “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.”
Simba: “But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”
Mufasa: “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.”

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Hakuna matata” — a wonderful phrase, it means no worries for the rest of your days.

Memorable Scene
The opening sequence, in which all the animals gather to celebrate the birth of Simba, scored to Circle of Life, is a majestic sequence — so impressive, in fact, that Disney used it, uncut and unadorned, as the film’s trailer.

Best Song
Big romantic number Can You Feel the Love Tonight won the Oscar, and there were nominations for epic opener Circle of Life and quotable comedy hit Hakuna Matata, and you shouldn’t overlook the fun and impressive choreography of I Just Can’t Wait to Be King, but for me the best number is Scar’s Be Prepared. I do love a good villain’s song.

Technical Wizardry
The Lion King continues Disney’s integration of CGI into their animated features, this time using it to create the pivotal wildebeest stampede. A new program had to be written for the sequence, which allowed hundreds of computer generated animals to run without colliding into each other. It took the CG department three years to animate the scene.

Making of
Voice actor Frank Welker (who has over 760 credits to his name on IMDb, including originating Fred in Scooby-Doo and voicing Megatron in the Transformers animated series) provided all of the film’s lion roars. No recordings of actual lions were used.

Next time…
As one of the biggest successes of the Disney Renaissance, The Lion King has naturally had more than its share of follow-ups. The headline has to be the stage musical adaptation of the film, which opened in 1997. It’s the third longest-running show in Broadway history, and is “the highest-earning entertainment property in history in any medium”. In 1998, direct-to-video sequel The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride was released. Apparently its plot is influenced by Romeo and Juliet. A second direct-to-DVD sequel, The Lion King 1½ (known as The Lion King 3 in some countries, including the UK), was released in 2004. It’s based on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, re-telling the first movie from Timon and Pumbaa’s perspective. I watched it years ago and really enjoyed it, an opinion supported by its strong 76% on Rotten Tomatoes. On television, spin-off series The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa ran for three seasons from 1995, and just last year TV ‘movie’ (it’s only 45 minutes) The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar heralded the start of a new series, The Lion Guard. It’s been renewed for a second season.

Awards
2 Oscars (Song (Can You Feel the Love Tonight), Score)
2 Oscar nominations (Song (both Circle of Life and Hakuna Matata))
2 BAFTA nominations (Music, Sound)
3 Annie Awards (Film, Voice Acting (Jeremy Irons), Individual Achievement for Story Contribution)
3 Annie nominations (Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence (x3))
2 Saturn nominations (Fantasy Film, Performance by a Younger Actor (Jonathan Taylor Thomas))

What the Critics Said
“Even the inescapable hype cannot diminish the fact that this is one great film. Consider that this movie delivers strong characters, a sophisticated story, good music, captivating visuals and loads of emotion — all within the confines of a G-rated cartoon. […] The most exhilarating part of The Lion King is that it’s not just great animation, but superior filmmaking. Outstanding character animation is a given at Disney, which handles the nuances of movement better than anyone. But the last few animated features show an increasing mastery of cinematography techniques. In The Lion King, the eye of the camera ranges from point of view to overhead to moving with the scene. The opening sequence where the plains animals trek to see the newborn cub and the wildebeest stampede scene are breathtaking.” — Bill Wedo, Philadelphia Daily News

Score: 92%

What the Public Say
“Timone and Pumba [sic] are two of the more interesting comic relief characters in Disney films. I’d argue that they’re one of the most wonderful depictions of a same-sex parenting couple that I have ever seen. I don’t want to get drawn into a debate over their sexuality, but the pair are partners in the truest sense of the word, sharing a life. They sleep together, for crying out loud. I don’t care about their sexuality or anything like that, because we’ll never get an answer on that and it’s immaterial. All that matters is that they complete one another, and it’s sweet. […] Even when Simba arrives, it’s very clear that the dynamic is different – Simba isn’t an equal partner in the relationship like Timone and Pumba. They’re a family, but Timone and Pumba are more of a couple.” — Darren Mooney, the m0vie blog

Verdict

My third Disney pick is consecutive to my previous two (Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast) in Disney’s history of animated classics, which goes to show how successful their ’90s Renaissance was. (Also, when my childhood was.) The Lion King succeeds by combining a selection of memorable, hummable songs with an epic tale of royal politicking — but, y’know, in a Disney way. Unafraid to include plot twists that place it alongside Bambi in the company’s canon, but with some well-performed comedy characters to lighten the mood, it manages to be one of Disney’s most entertaining but also most philosophical (in its way) films.

#53 has… my sword, and my bow, and my axe.