Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hot Crustacean Band

The Little Mermaid
Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker
Voice Talent: Jodi Benson, Pat Carroll, Samuel E. Wright, Buddy Hackett, Rene Auberjonois
Released: November 17, 1989

Oscar nominations:
Best Original Score (Won)
Best Song - "Under the Sea" (Won)
Best Song - "Kiss the Girl" (See above)

After watching Waking Sleeping Beauty, I decided to return to my childhood and watch some of my favorite animated Disney movies again. I'm starting with The Little Mermaid because it's one of the first movies I remember seeing in the theaters, and, of course, one of the first Disney movies I remember seeing.

I remember reading the Hans Christian Anderson version around the time I was in middle school and being horrified by it because it was definitely not the Disney version. It was a lot more twisted and sadistic. For instance, the sea witch cuts off the mermaid's tongue and the mermaid dies in the end. Yeah, if Disney had made it like that, I think a lot of children would have been scarred for life!

However, this is a much more happier story (duh, it is Disney, after all). We meet Ariel, a feisty sixteen-year-old mermaid who longs to be "part of that [human] world". She has a secret cave where she keeps all her treasurers from the human world, which she's found from shipwrecks. She has to keep it a secret because her father, King Triton, does not want their world interacting with the human world and forbids Ariel from going to the surface (although they kinda have to because mermaids are  half-human, thus they are mammals and need to BREATHE!) and tells Ariel, "You will do what I tell you as long as you're living under my ocean!" which I thought was a great line.

After Ariel's been misbehaving, Triton asks Sebastian (the crab and my favorite character) to look after her and make sure she doesn't get into any mischief. But, really, what can a little crustacean do? Nothing. Ariel goes to the surface where she notices a ship and immediately falls in love with Prince Eric and decides she wants to spend the rest of her life with him even though she's never spent any time with him and is only "in love" with him because she thinks he's hot, pretty much. There's a huge storm and Ariel ends up saving Eric and bringing him to the shore and sings to his unconscious body. He wakes up and wants to find the girl who saved him and marry her.

So Ariel asks Ursula the Sea Witch to give her legs and Ursula tells her she will as long as Ariel gives her her voice in return. Ariel has three days to get the Prince to fall in love with her, if she does she will remain human forever, if not, Ariel will become one of Ursula's little sea creatures and become a prisoner forever. So, like a total dolt, Ariel agrees and signs the contract.

I have to say, for someone who has never walked in her entire life, Ariel sure got used to having legs pretty fast! Sure she was a little skittish at first, but, by golly, she soon learned how to be steady and walk on her feet!

One of the funniest scenes of the movie is when Ariel is eating dinner with Eric and his father and sees a fork on the table and starts combing her hair with it. In an earlier scene in the movie Scuttles (the seagull) tells Ariel that it's used for human's hair. That scene always makes me laugh. I mean, she's combing her hair with a fork at the dinner table! Speaking of Ariel's hair, the animators were going to make her a blonde because there was an unwritten rule that all mermaids are blonde, but decided to make her have red hair because it would compliment nicely with her green tail and it looked better "under water". Plus she matches Sebastian!

This movie has a great soundtrack, as is evident by its Oscar wins for Best Song and Best Score. I mentioned this before in my Waking Sleeping Beauty review, but it bears repeating because it's so outrageous: Part of That World almost didn't make it into the movie! That's one of the most important songs in the movie! It's the song where Ariel wants to be human and asks burning (haha) questions such as, "What's a fire, and why does it, what's the word? Buuuuurn!"

And of course, everyone knows Under the Sea, the song that everyone connects to this movie. It has a great island/calypso beat and sounds like it should be playing nonstop at an island resort theme park or something. I also feel like I should be sipping on a pina colada when I listen to it. I love this song; it always makes me smile. My favorite line is "What do they got? A lot of sand! We've got a hot crustacean band!"

Kiss the Girl is also another great song - that Sebastian sure can sing! I like how the little sea animals are create the music in the background. The songs in this movie are very catchy and hold up well. Despite a few flaws, the whole movie holds up quite well itself. But then again, this film was a big part of my childhood, so it's hard not to like it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Front and Center

Center Stage
Director: Nicholas Hynter
Cast: Amanda Schull, Zoe Saldana, Susan May Pratt, Peter Gallager, Donna Murphy
Released: May 12, 2000

Center Stage isn't the greatest film and the acting is pretty awful, but yet I've seen it numerous times and own the DVD. This is a little perplexing because I'm not a dancer, have never danced in my life, and couldn't dance to save my life.  So why do I love this movie so much? Because it's the best dance movie ever made, that's why! I mean, the whole dance sequence at the end with the motorcycle and the two main leads dancing to Michael Jackson's The Way You Make Me Feel was just pure genius.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The movie starts with our main character, Jodie (Schull who presumably got the part because she's a dancer) getting into the American Ballet Academy and trying to vie for a spot in one of the prestigious companies and there are only a few spots open for that.

Her roommates are Eva (Saldana) and Maureen (Pratt). Eva has an Attitude with a capital A. She's black, so she's tough and from the hood, yo. While she's a good dancer, her dance instructors do not like her rebellious ways. Maureen is a huge bitch, but you can't blame her because while she's a good dancer (well, of course they're all good dancers or else they would never have gotten accepted to ABA!), her heart isn't in it. See, the only reason why she's dancing is because it's her mother's dream for her to dance. Maureen's mother is a bigger bitch than Maureen: when her daughter confided in her that she was throwing up her meals, her mother replies, "Well, it's good to watch your weight!" Hmmm...somehow I don't think that's very good parenting. Maureen's mother is not pleased when she finds out that her daughter is secretly seeing a boy and -GASP- going out and eating pizza.

Jodie falls for Cooper, who is a professional dancer and a total douche bag. After an intimate night together, she thinks they will be together forever, but when she discovers that Cooper is blowing her off and flirting with other girls, she is so heartbroken. Well, duh. The guy is a total douche (albiet a great dancer). However, she forgives him (and ends up with the only straight male dancer from her class) and ends up dancing for his Company because she prefers his style of dancing to the more traditional ways of the older teachers.

The acting is horrible, but the film has some great dance sequence: the one at the end and the one where Jodie enrolls in a dance class and they dance to Mandy Moore's Candy and the Red Hot Chilli Pepper's Higher Ground. I love the music in this movie so much that I even own the soundtrack.

Even though I'm not a dancer, the movie gives a pretty good indication that the life of a ballet dancer is not a fun one: long hours of rehearsal, watching what you eat, puking up what you eat, not being able to have a life. Geeze, no wonder Natalie Portman went so crazy in Black Swan!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Drawing Lines

Waking Sleeping Beauty
Director: Don Hahn
Released: March 26, 2010

This is a fascinating documentary about being an animator at Disney that spans from 1984 to 1994. It starts right around the time Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg joined the team as CEO and studio head of Disney. With the dismal box office of The Black Cauldron (which is a movie I think is VERY underrated) and their competition blowing them out of the water, they knew it was time to turn things around.

They hired more animators and Roy Disney promised an animated feature to be released every year. This started in 1988 with the release of Oliver and Company, which made more than its competition at the time, The Land Before Time. (I loved that movie! Remember the little triceratops named Cera? Haha!)

To help with The Little Mermaid, a film that had been denied to make before because Disney had recently released Splash (in 1984 - quick sidenote: there was a clip of a news anchor saying that Splash had made six million dollars at the box office its first weekend and that implied it was a hit. Wow. If a movie only made six million dollars in a weekend today, it would be a huge bomb!) Maybe it was lucky they waited a few years to make The Little Mermaid because they got the music team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman to write and compose the memorable songs from that movie. I learned that Katzenberg wanted to take out "Part of Your World" because it didn't get good reaction at a screening. That may not be the most popular song in the movie, but it's certainly an important one - it tells the audience what Ariel's hopes and dreams are, and plus I love that song!

So of course The Little Mermaid is a huge success and wins the Oscar for Best Song ("Under the Sea"). The next year, is not so with the release of their next animated film: The Rescuers Down Under. It barely gets any advertising and they move on with their next film, which is their most critically acclaimed and the first animated movie to be nominated for an Oscar: Beauty and the Beast. They showed an unfinished version (just pencil drawings, nothing had been colored in yet) at the New York film festival and received a standing ovation. They're on a roll and their next movie is Aladdin which was also a big hit.

The funniest part of the movie for me was when they were next working on The Lion King and Pocahontas (to be released in '94 and '95, respectively) and Katzenberg wanted them to concentrate more on Pocahontas because he thought would be the bigger hit because people would love the "Romeo and Juliet" type love story and didn't think African animals would translate to the screen as easily. Hmm, I'm beginning to think this guy should never bet on anything! Because we certainly know how that turned out! Let's see: Pocahontas: made 141 million domestically. Certainly not bad at all. But compare that to The Lion King which made about 300 million domestically.

I highly recommend this documentary.

Friday, January 14, 2011

And I said, What about...

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Director: Blake Edwards
Cast: Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Buddy Ebsen, Patricia Neal, Mickey Rooney
Released: October 5, 1961

Oscar nominations:
Best Actress - Audrey Hepburn (lost to Sophia Loren for Two Women)
Best Adapted Screenplay - George Axelrod (lost to Abby Mann for Judgement at Nuremberg)
Best Art Direction, Color (lost to West Side Story)
Best Original Song - Moon River (won)
Best Score - Henry Mancini (won)

When I think of Breakfast at Tiffany's, two words spring to my mind: iconic and overrated. Everyone knows the character of Holly Golightly and her fashionable wardrobe (most notably her little black dress, tiara, and her cigarette holder). Besides maybe Star Wars, I can't think of any other movie that's often mentioned in other movies and TV shows. Whether you've seen it or not, you are familiar with this film. Everyone has heard of Audrey Hepburn and Holly Golightly is her best known role. Hollywood has touted Natalie Portman/ Keira Knightley / Carey Mulligan and who knows who else as "the next Audrey Hepburn", but why do we need to have another Audrey? Isn't she one in a million? She has a certain charm she eludes as Holly that I don't think any actress working today could copy.

I enjoyed the film, but I didn't salivate over it  It's such a classic that I thought it was high time I see it already...nearly fifty years after its release! (Although I did have an excuse for the first thirty years as I wasn't born yet / would have been too young). Even though Audrey is very charming and fashionable, there were times when I wanted to yell, "Shut up, already!" She reminded me of somebody you've just met for the first time and they feel like they need to tell you their whole life story.

I've composed a list of my favorite things about the movie in no particular order:

That orange wool coat!
1. The fashion. How did this movie not even get nominated for a Best Costume Oscar?!?!?! It's preposterous! Every time Holly was shown wearing a new outfit, I kept thinking "Ooh, I want that!" That pink dress! That orange wool coat! That trench coat! Those hats! I was envious of her sleepwear; even her ear plugs and sleeping mask were fashionable. Hell, this movie even made me want to start up smoking so I could wave around a cigarette holder. (I jest).

2. Moon River. Beautiful song and if that indeed was Audrey singing, she has a beautiful voice. It deserved its Oscar.

3. Holly's cat, Cat. Cat bears a striking resemble to my cat, Milo, so guess I'm a little biased. They're both male, both tabbies, and both have similar coloring. Perhaps he's an ancestor of Milo!

4. Without the Truman Capote novel the film was based on, we would have never gotten the film and without the film we would have never gotten to hear one of the best one-hit wonders from the '90s that first graced our radios in 1995. That's right, I'm talking about the single by Deep Blue Something aptly called "Breakfast at Tiffany's". Best. Song. Ever. (Taken after the name of a film title).

Besides the movie being vastly overrated, really the only thing I didn't like about it was the cringe worthy performance of Mickey Rooney as Holly's Japanese landlord. Oh, and when Holly complained she was turning into a "fat pig". You're a freaking waif!

Breakfast at Tiffany's: overrated or a classic?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Hanging By a Thread

Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, John Lithgow, Janine Turner
Released: May 28, 1993

Oscar nominations:
Best Sound (lost to Jurassic Park)
Best Sound Effects Editing (lost to Jurassic Park)
Best Visual Effects (lost to Jurassic Park)
(Dang  those pesky dinosaurs!)

Would you believe that I've never seen Cliffhanger? Sure, I've seen parts of it on TV while flipping through the channels, so I know the basic plot of it, but I had never seen the entire thing in all it's R-rated glory until recently. The movie stars Stallone as Gabe, a fearless mountain climber who guides people up the mountains of Colorado. (If he's so good, why isn't he doing this on Everest?)

The opening begins with him on the top of a narrow peak where he's "just hanging around" with a couple of picks (my mountain climbing vocabulary is a little rusty) and he's just hanging upside down from a mountain 4,000 feet high in the air without any safety harness from what I can tell. Already I can sense something bad is going to happen. He's with Hal, another professional climber who also gives tours and Hal's girlfriend, Sarah, who has never been mountain climbing in her life. Uh-oh. Okay, why the hell would you bring someone who has never climbed a mountain to one of the most challenging mountain that you could possible climb? I want to know how she even got up there!

But she's having a grand old time and everyone is laughing and in good spirits. It's time to go home and the helicopter has landed at another peak about half a mile away (er, don't quote me on that, I'm really bad with measurements) where the pilot and Jess, Gabe's girlfriend, are waiting for them. They throw a wire to them and the climbers have to clip themselves to the wire and rappel across it and into the helicopter. Sounds easy enough. So Hal goes first and gets there safely. Then it's Sarah's turn. She's already scared enough, so you can imagine how much worse it got for her when she was halfway across the wire and her safety harness came undone and the only thing holding her up is a buckle that's gotten stuck. Uh-oh! What? Did her professional instructors forget to check her harness to make sure everything was secure? Isn't that the first rule in mountain climbing?

So Gabe goes out to try to save her, even though the wire isn't supposed to have all that weight on it and just as she's about to fall, she grabs her arm. I'm not sure how he plans to get her back to the other side, but it's a moot point anyway because his hand slips and she falls to her death.

Fast forward one year later. Still distraught over the death of Sarah and blaming himself, Gabe has not been back to those mountains. However, he must return, along with Hal, when they get a call that a group of people have become stranded and need help getting out. The group of people in question are the bad guys led by Lithgow. Their plane crashed in the mountain and they've lost a couple of suitcases with millions of dollars and now they need experienced mountain climbers who can find the suitcases for them.

Lithgow's Qualen has a British accent and I don't understand why they decided he needed to speak with an accent because his voice is so distinct already, so it sounds ridiculous everytime he talks. Nobody plays a bad guy better than John Lithgow. In fact, I mentioned in my review of Batman, that he was considered for the role of the Joker and I think he would have made a better one than Jack Nicholson. I still maintain that notion.

Why this movie wasn't nominted for a Best Original Screenplay, I'll never know! There were so many great quotable gems, most of them from Lithgow:

"You want to kill me? Well, take a ticket and get in line!"

"Let's see if your little angel really can fly!" (After he threatens to shove Gabe's girlfriend off the mountain).

"Kill a couple people and you're a murderer...kill a million and you're a conqueror!"

Lithgow: "You're a piece of work!"
Stallone: "And you're a piece of sh*t."

"It costs a fortune to heat this place!" (Gabe to Jess as he's burning the money to keep a fire going).

"He's the one 4,000 feet down wearing a helicopter." (Gabe referring to Qualen).

And I could go on and on. All of the bad guys end up getting their comeuppance, but probably the most notorious death was the guy Gabe impaled on a stalactite. (Stalagmite?) I just love how the bad guy was beating the crap out of Gabe and he was all tired and worn down, then miraculously got the strength to grab him, lift him over his head and impale him on the stalactite. Okaaaaay, movie.

Cliffhanger: probably one of the most unintentionally funny movies I've ever seen.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Golden Ticket

Last Action Hero
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Austin O'Brien, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl
Released: June 18, 1993

Last Action Hero is a movie from my childhood that I never watched because it was aimed at boys and I am of the female gender. But being that I don't discriminate, I decided to watch it. The film has a pretty cool premise, but didn't exactly execute it very well. I found that I was able to enjoy it because my expectations were pretty low anyway and it was actually better than I thought it would be. It's no Oscar-winning movie, but it is a fun way to spend a Wednesday evening (which was the day I happened to watch it on).

Austin O'Brien (he's one of those child stars who faded into obscurity) plays Danny, an eighth grader who would rather be at the cinema watching cool action movies than at school, and in fact, sometimes skips school just so he can watch cool action movies. His favorite is a franchise called Jack Slater which stars Arnold Schwarzenegger (and I had to go to IMDB to see how to spell that!) as the title character, a cop who does a lot of ass-kicking, gun-toting, and blowing s**t up. You know, the usual things any eight-grade boy would love. He sneaks out of his house to see the latest installment of the Jack Slater series and the projectionist gives him a magic ticket. Danny asks him what it does, but he has no idea because he's too scared to know. So just give it to the pre-teen boy. Yeah, that's a good idea.

Danny watches the movie and he's the only one in the theater (either because the movie sucks or because this was at midnight - they didn't quite specify) and through the power of the magic ticket he is transported into the movie. Cool! So of course Danny thinks this is the coolest thing ever and thinks he's just on the set of a movie, but he's not. He's actually stepped into the world of the movie he was watching and is shocked to discover that his favorite action hero thinks he really is Jack Slater and has never heard of anyone named Arnold Schwarzenegger before.

There are some funny and clever scenes where Danny tries to prove that this is just a movie (like pointing out that all the women are ridiculously attractive and that there's a cartoon cat - don't ask), but one of my favorites is when he takes Jack to a video store to show him he's actually Schwarzenegger, star of Terminator 2, but when he sees a poster for the movie it has Sylvester Stallone on it. I also liked it when he writes down a bad word and Jack says he's not going to say it and Danny says, "I knew it! You can't say it because this movie is rated PG-13." (And yes, Last Action Hero is rated PG-13). I did laugh when Danny pointed out all the obvious action movie cliches because they're all in this one.

Some scenes are funny in an amusing way, but don't make any sense whatsoever. For example, F. Murray Abraham plays Slater's ex-partner and Danny's all in awe and says, "He killed Mozart!" Of course Jack has no idea what he's talking about and Danny tells him, "Didn't you ever see Amadeus? It won eight Oscars!" Okay, how the hell would a middle schooler know that? Now I saw Amadeus in my seventh grade music class, so I'm guessing Danny probably saw it at school too since he doesn't seem to be the type of kid who would watch it on his own. So perhaps it's possible he would recognize the actor in that movie. However, I'm calling shenanigans on him knowing that it won eight Oscars!

This movie is littered with cameos. From the totally random (Tina Turner playing a reporter in the movie's movie) to the huh? (Sharon Stone playing her character from Basic Instinct and Robert Patrick playing his character in T2, I guess because movie characters hang out with each other...?) to the pretty clever (Arnold S. does double duty and plays himself as well as Jack Slater).

All the characters get transported back into the "real world" and the bad guy figures that if he kills this Arnold Schwarzenegger guy, he can get rid of Jack Slater forever, so he has plans to have him assassinated at the premier of the film and that's where you see Arnold as himself along with Maria Shriver and there are some pretty funny scenes with them bickering. And of course when he sees Jack he says, "Wow, you're the best celebrity impersonation I've ever seen." Haha, movie, haha.

So Last Action Hero is a fun movie and there are some clever little winks, but don't go in expecting a masterpiece or anything.

It does make you wonder, if you could step into any movie, which one would you want to be transported to? Although I love Jurassic Park and Titanic, I wouldn't want to go to those worlds. My sadistic side would want to enter the world of Twilgiht. I would wear a Lady Gaga-inspired meatdress so Edward could be attracted to my scent and "fall in love" with me (just to piss off Bella), then I would drive a stake through his heart (just to piss off Bella). But I wouldn't want to waste time with those characters - I would probably die of the sheer boredom and bad acting!  I think it would be fun to enter the world of Harry Potter or maybe Back to the Future to tell them, "Um, guys, there's no Hover Boards in the future." The possibilities are endless!