So I don’t know if you knew, but I love animated films. LOL. Obviously not all animated films but I love the medium and all it can offer the filmgoer. I love being swept away by the artistry and characters and it is even better when it is also a musical! So, I was primed to love the new animated musical Over the Moon, and fortunately it did not disappoint. What a beautiful hope-filled animated musical. I loved it and can’t wait to watch it again!
Over the Moon is the first feature film from famed animator Glen Keane who created such memorable characters like Ariel, Aladdin, and Beast. Here he is taking us to China with the help of China’s Pearl Studio (who did last year’s Abominable with DreamWorks, which I also really enjoyed). It is a retelling of the classic Chinese myth of the mysterious moon goddess Chang’e.
Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo of Hamiltonfame and our young heroine Fei Fei goes after her on a quest to find her Mother who has passed away. Voiced by Cathy Ang, Fei Fei sings about her desire to find answers for her grief:
The music is written by Steven Price, and while I could have used even more songs, what we get is enchanting. I loved Fei Fei as a character and ‘Rocket to the Moon’ is probably the best ‘I want’ song we’ve gotten from a studio since ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen.
I also really enjoyed the sense of family in Over the Moon. Fei Fei’s mother makes mooncakes, which are then sold at the market. When the family has meals together it feels warm and authentic, all sitting together talking. Eventually Fei Fei must learn to get along with a new energetic step-brother Chin (Robert G Chiu) and that is sweet and challenging. A lot of kids will be able to relate to these family dynamics as they felt real and authentic.
When Fei Fei gets to the moon things get a little convoluted, but I still found it charming. I really liked the characters and the heart. It’s the kind of film the entire family can watch together and enjoy. Plus, the animation is completely stunning. What a treat to watch! We even get some 2D animation in sequences!!
I still think Tomm Moore’s Wolfwalkers is the best animated film of the year but Over the Moon is a complete delight. If you are an animation fan and/or a musical fan you will love it!
What do you think of Over the Moon? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section
Adaptations of Broadway musicals are a tough nut to crack. Due to fears of box office losses typically the movies come many years after the initial hype of the shows. Then to make matters worse, film directors often seem to have a difficult time translating the energy of a musical show into a film. It’s a really strange phenomenon and it makes me wonder if the best is movie to Broadway (Mean Girls, Heathers, Beetlejuice, etc) rather than musical to movie.
The latest attempt is one of the longest running shows in the history of Broadway: the strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats. In the musical, ALW takes an epic poem by T.S. Eliot and adds songs. The problem is the poem is not very cinematic. It’s all introductions of various cats all leading to the jellicle ball. While there, the ‘jellicle choice’ is made. So literally we spend time getting to know cat A and then cat B until the cat Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) decides which cat deserves to ‘ascend to the heavens for a new life’.
Fortunately where the narrative in Cats isn’t the best, the singing and dancing is enjoyable. I actually got used to the unique visual style very quickly and found songs like ”Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ to be catchy. I also liked ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’. They even have trained ballet dancers Francesca Hayward as Victoria and Steven McRae as Skimbleshanks.
Of course. the highlight of Cats is ‘Memory’ sung by Jennifer Hudson. She is such a powerful singer, and I thought she knocked it out of the park.
I also appreciated with Cats seeing something different. Everything is to scale so the cats look like the size of a normal cat. I personally have never seen a movie like that so it was a neat experience at the theater.
The downsides to Cats is because it has so little narrative the pacing suffers. Especially the middle is slow, and I got sleepy watching it. It almost seems like it would be better as a short or a series of youtube sing-alongs rather than a movie. There is just not enough meat on the bones for a feature film.
I was also not a fan of Rebel Wilson as Jennyanydots or her song with mice and cockroaches (a step too far! I hate cockroaches!). James Corden as Bustopher Jones was also pretty annoying but I’m in general not a fan of his.
Sir Ian McKellen as Gus the Theatre Cat is probably the strangest of the group with his method acting song. Taylor Swift fans will probably be disappointed that her character Bombalurina takes a long time to show up and only has one song in the film and another in the closing credits.
I think people expecting something super bonkers will be a little disappointed in Cats. It’s unusual but not something like Pottersville where you are just completely baffled the entire time.
I wish the choice to make it a stop motion animated film had happened with Cats. That would have been amazing. Alas this version is fun enough for a musical theater junkie. The songs are well done and the dancing is impressive. All the actors are trying their hardest and the visual style is unique. It’s far from perfect but take your other Broadway fan friends and go watch something different with some catchy tunes. You’ll have a good time or at least my friend and I did!
Wild Rose tells the story of girl named Rose-Lynn Harlan played by Jessie Buckley. She is from Glasgow, Scotland but she dreams of going to Nashville and becoming a country music singer (not country/western as she corrects people). Unfortunately, she had 2 children before she was 18 and then got involved in some drug shenanigans which sent her to jail for a year. Meanwhile, her mother Marion, played by the incredible Julie Walters, is tired of holding down the fort for her daughter and worries her dreams are robbing her from living in the moment with her children.
Evidently Jessie Buckley is famous for being on an American Idol type show in Scotland, and I believe it, because she has an incredible voice. I hope the original songs get remembered come Oscar season because they certainly deserve to be. Sometimes her speaking voice is hard to understand with that thick Scottish accent but it’s all worth it when she sings.
The story in Wild Rose isn’t the most original but the characters are layered and interesting. At first I didn’t like Rose as she is very selfish, but her character’s journey worked on me, until I was rooting for her. They also don’t muddy her story with much of a romance, which I appreciated. It’s just a woman trying to decide between her children and her dreams and how much sacrifice is too much.
Julie Walters deserves all the awards for her performance as Rose’s mother. I felt for her even more than Rose (it is kind of like Lady Bird in that regard). She is a mixture of worry, fear, love, hope, kindness and frustration. It’s easy to make parental characters in these films one-note, judgemental types, but that’s not the case here. There’s such humanity in Walters’ performance anyone should be able to connect with her and her struggles.
Like I said, the only major weakness in Wild Rose is that sometimes the dialogue can be tough to understand. I will be grateful when I can watch it with subtitles at home and can pick up on a few scenes I might have missed! It also has some predictable moments but nothing that bothered me personally. It’s a real hidden gem of the year, which I hope you seek out.
Wild Rose earns its R rating for language and a little sexuality but it should be fine for mature teens.
If you love music and human stories check out Wild Rose!
Everyone who knows me knows I love a good musical/musician biopic. I was not a fan of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody because of the terrible script, but I love Walk the Line, DreamGirls, A Star is Born 2018, Sing Street, Blinded by the Light, Love and Mercyand many more. A good musician piece uses the music and tropes of the genre to draw the viewer in and make for a satisfying heroes journey. However, for every film that gets the balance right there’s tons that get it wrong. After being burned by Bohemian Rhapsody I approached the biopic about Elton John called Rocketman cautiously. Fortunately, I kind of loved it!
What I loved so much about Rocketman is how fresh and new it felt. Sure it hits the traditional beats but the fantasy elements helped everything feel alive and the use of the music was so creatively done! There would be a basic moment and then it would cut away to a musical fantasy sequence put to Elton John’s songs. This was so much better than a dry boring version of his rock n’ roll story.
The casting is also phenomenal. Taron Egerton is perfect as Elton John and his singing voice is so good (any of us who enjoyed Sing already knew that). I also loved Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin (the real hero of the movie!) and the 2 little boys who play young Elton (or Reggie I should say) do a great job. Richard Madden is very dreamy as John Reid (his role is a bit one-note but I didn’t really care because the movie is so over-the-top it fit to have a big bad hunky villain).
The concert scenes were great and heightened by the incredible costumes by Julian Day and the energy/singing of Taron Egerton’s takes on Elton John’s fantastic songs. It was like Across the Universe but way better.
Going into it I heard a lot of talk of it being a strong R rating and maybe I’ve been desensitized, but I have to disagree. Everything seemed totally conventional on that level to other biopics (alcoholism, drug use, a little profanity). Honestly unless a gay relationship/intimate scene depicted makes something R, which it shouldn’t, it seemed no more offensive than the PG-13 Bohemian Rhapsody.
Finally, I loved the message of Rocketman. Like many a biopic, it’s about overcoming demons and the power of a creative genius at work; however, I also responded to the theme of dealing with loneliness and never giving up hope for a happy life. I especially loved the relationship between Bernie and Elton both as a creative force together and a friendship that never had an argument. It’s a beautiful, hopeful thing and will make you want to call your friends and thank them for being there for you.
The only flaws I have with Rocketman are more nitpicks. Bryce Dallas Howard didn’t quite work for me as his Mom and there were a couple characters I could have seen more of or gotten to know better.
Mostly I loved the creative vision of Rocketman. It was new and vibrant and had me grinning from ear to ear the entire time (even the grim sections were done with so much visual flair that I thoroughly enjoyed them). Go see it! It’s terrific!
Before I start my review I wanted to give a shameless plug for my new patreon account! If you enjoy what I do hear on the blog please consider supporting me for as little as $2 a month. We have benefits set up and would be beyond grateful for the support. Thank you in advance https://www.patreon.com/hallmarkies
Now let’s get into reviewing the latest animated film UglyDolls. Looking like a mixture of Boss Babyand Trolls(both films I wasn’t in love with) I went into the screening of UglyDolls more than a little bit nervous. However, I should have noticed it is made by Kelly Asbury, a director I find to be very underrated. I particularly thought his Smurfs the Lost Villagegot way more hate than it deserved (still has some of the most beautiful CG animated backgrounds in recent memory).
Now I have seen the film and am delighted to say I enjoyed it. Of course it has its flaws but overall I liked UglyDolls. It tells the story of a world where dolls are made in a factory and chosen for a special kid to own. The dolls that don’t fit the correct specifications are rejected and sent to Uglyville, which is where we find our heroine: the plucky Moxy (Kelly Clarkson). She is dying to get out of Uglyville and find her special friend but nobody has ever left the town before and they don’t feel restless like Moxy.
Of course, this is a story arc we’ve seen many times before but Clarkson does a good job with the vocals and her character isn’t pushy like the lead troll in Trolls; Nor was she aggressive and angry like in The Angry Birds Movie. She’s pretty happy doing her own thing and if people follow that’s their choice.
Eventually Moxy ends up at the Institute of Perfection where normal dolls (not stuffed dolls like Moxy) are being trained to take on the gauntlet that proves they are ready for the human world. There is our wannabe Trump copycat leading the Institute named Lou. With his dictatorial attitude and fear of outsiders he can be a little grating but is a serviceable villain.
What makes Ugly Dolls work is the infectious songs (All original songs except one song in the middle that is randomly a cover). They have good singers performing and the staging was energetic and joyful. Animated musicals like Strange Magiccan be tough to pull off but this one worked for me.
I also thought the overall message of acceptance and tolerance was really sweet and Moxy as a character was likable and fun to spend time with. The animation had a tactile quality to it I enjoyed and overall it will entertain and enrich particularly small children.
There are moments with Lou where things get a little too mean for very small kids and the world-building is kind of strange. Humans are present but I was a little unclear how the gauntlet worked and how long these dolls had been there waiting to be delivered to a child. Also why didn’t the UglyDolls go to be with other stuffed dolls not have human-like dolls in the same factory area. It was a little confusing.
However, that is definitely over-thinking it. UglyDolls has a sweet message with some catchy tunes and appealing animation. If you go see it with your kids they will really enjoy it and you’ll have an ok time as well. It’s a sweet, fun little movie worth checking out
In 2014 Damien Chazelle directed the music-oriented thriller Whiplash to great acclaim. I liked that movie but not nearly as much as most people I know. His latest music-oriented romance La La Land I like much better, but I still don’t know if I love it as much as most. If there ever was a case of being a bit disappointed a film is only in my top 10 of the year than this is it. It’s lovely, nostalgic and a joy to watch but not the perfect movie I was hoping for.
La La Land starts out as an homage to old school Hollywood musicals like Singing in the Rain and American in Paris. In probably my favorite sequence, we are introduced to the world of LA through a musical sequence on the crowded LA freeway.
Then we meet our lead characters- struggling jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and struggling actress Mia (Emma Stone). They meet through a series of meet-cutes and it is their dreams of artistic greatness that unite them and help them to fall in love. That is the theme of the movie that there is something noble about those who dream and keep trying to succeed in LA.
However, I must warn you guys. If you are expecting a Broadway style musical you might be disappointed. La La Land clearly shows Damien Chazelle’s jazz background. In fact, I would call it more a jazz/dance showcase than a musical. In the middle there really aren’t any songs aside from a song played by Sebastian’s band and him playing jazz at a piano. Ryan Gosling rarely sings in the movie and when he does it is more a gravely quiet voice not a Broadway style singing voice. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It’s just what it is.
There’s more dancing than singing than I expected, and I particularly enjoyed a tap dancing sequence called A Lovely Night. This captured the nostalgia that Chazelle was going for.
The side characters including John Legend aren’t developed very well but it doesn’t really matter because Gosling and Stone have terrific chemistry. You bought them as these struggling artists and hoped they could find a way to both achieve their dreams. The cinematography by Linus Sandgren is lovely and I completely understand why everyone in LA is going so nuts for it- their city never looked better. It would be a funny comparison to look at this and Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups back to back. You couldn’t get two more different interpretations of the movie industry and LA!
However, the true star of La La Land is the score by Justin Hurwitz. It is without a doubt the best of the year. Especially if you love jazz music you will love this score! Most of the songs didn’t stand out to me the way the songs in Sing Street or Moana did but the score was beautiful. La La Land at its core is a movie about work, which is a subject close to my heart and something I often contemplate. The dreams of Sebastian and Mia are ostensibly about their jobs. They aren’t dreaming about families or possessions. In fact, such things are literally hindrances from achieving their dreams. They want to do something great- meaning they want to have their dream jobs in the movies and music.
The interesting question the film fails to ask (and fails in Whiplash also) is does this dream when granted equal a happy life? You will have to see how their dreaming impacts their love in the movie but in my experience happiness is more ephemeral than can be contained in ANY job. Perhaps the movie argues that art/music is where the real happiness comes from but that feels a little hollow to me compared to the happiness of family and faith. Also, the movie dove a little bit into the sacrifices of dreams couples must make in order to be together, but I could have used even more of that.
Anyway, that’s a bit of a tangent. La La Land is a beautiful movie about dreamers with a jazz showcase of songs and music. What’s not to like about that? It’s light, fluffy and very entertaining to watch. I did not connect with it as emotionally as Sing Street or Moana and none of the songs were as good as those movies songs but it still was a very enjoyable, engaging film.
I think a lot of people who don’t typically like musicals will like this film because the songs are fairly sparse and done in a jazzy way not a Broadway style. It’s something couples should see together- once on Netflix it will be the perfect cuddle movie.
I guess it might sound like I am being critical of it but I really did love the film. It was wistful, nostalgic and magical. However, I’m not sure how long it will stay with me and if it will be a favorite musical of mine the way I’m sure Sing Street and Moana will. But that’s just me. It’s still really good! You should all see it.
Every time I see a Barbra Streisand movie I think ‘this is the most Barbra movie ever made’ and then I see another and quickly recant my words. There is something about her brand of ego that is like no other. She’s the Shyamalan of actresses. Yentl is one of the most ridiculous entries in the Barbra canon. It’s not a good film but there is something about it’s version of nonsense that is entertaining.
Yentl is based on Isaac Baschevis Singer’s short story ‘Yentl the Yeshiva Boy’ and tells the story of a woman named Yentl who pretends to be a man to study at the Talmud school in Poland.
On the surface it could be a decent Mulan-type movie but oh does it get silly. It ends up being a yiddish telenovella, and I found that fun to watch.
To begin with any man who thinks Yentl is a man needs to see counseling. She looks ridiculous. Mandy Patinkin is charming as that man named Avigdor. He is Yentl’s school chum and he can’t figure out why he is so attracted to this man. Their dialogue together is so laughable. Never have you heard such philosophy talk with long stares and confused glances. You even see way more of Patinkin than you want in a bathing scene. Oh my!
And then he is engaged to a girl named Hadass played by Amy Irving who is a dutiful woman who Yentl oddly judges and envies. In an insane turn of events Yentl ends up married to Hadass. I can’t even begin to tell you how entertaining that dialogue was. Ha.
And let’s talk about the songs. The songs are terrible. ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me’ is passable but the rest are awful and Barbra is the only one who sings a line in the entire movie and not just sings but acts like she is in a cabaret, really mugging it up to the camera. And the songs are so obviously lip synced and often are her thoughts being sung while she stares longingly at Patinkin. It felt like a silent movie sometimes she was so over the top!
And the lyrics are awful. The rhymes were particularly embarrassing. I especially liked
“Who cares when the food’s so delicious
‘Not to mention these beautiful dishes”
“A matched set- from France yet
No wonder he loves her,
No wonder to me
With ribbons and laces
In all the right places,”
And these silly lyrics all while Barbra is acting like she is singing the Star Spangled Banner. Hilarious.
Yentle wants to be all things in the film. It is part drama, part coming of age, a musical, comedy, sex farce, romantic comedy and all Barbra. I thought the Mirror Has Two Faces was her most ridiculously entertaining movie but this may be even better (that movie has no songs). In Mirror she plays a woman who decides to marry a man with the agreement they won’t let sex get in the way. Ha! Only Barbra would think of these stories.
And the supposed empowering dialogue between Yentl and Avigdor is laughable. Barbra and Patinkin have decent chemistry and it is kind of fun to see them wonder about their gender identities but it is all so silly. From a modern audience you just want to say ‘make out already!’ because such a scene would fit in with the campy dialogue and dopey drama.
And the resolution is completely unbelievable. He’s angry and then looks into her eyes and see’s her true heart and all is right with the world. And he goes back to marry Hadass despite her having just been declaring her love for Yentl days before. It doesn’t matter because he’s learned the right way to treat his woman. (Plus, a day in soap opera Barbra time is like 3 years. We all know that). Ha!
It’s one of those movies that is tough to give a grade for because I can’t deny being entertained. It’s like watching a soap opera. It’s campy and in love with itself and it makes it kind of fun. There is absolutely no doubt that Barbra felt this was the most important movie ever made. I can’t believe that she won a Golden Globe for this nonsense and the film won for Best Comedy/Musical. The score won an Oscar and that included the lyrics! Must have been a rough year but then again who can resist the egomaniac that is Barbra.
Today I had the treat to see the musical classic My Fair Lady on the big screen! It is a specially remastered edition and even included the intermission. It’s amazing how with a great film 3 hours goes by without me even noticing it; whereas, I’ve sat for 1 hour films and been very antsy. I hadn’t seen My Fair Lady for a little while but I listen to the music quite often. Let’s just say it was even better than I remembered it.
My Fair Lady was of course based on the Lerner and Loewe Broadway musical, which in turn was based on the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion. It is basically a variation on Cinderella with the homely girl finding out she really is a princess (which British nobility and genteelness basically is). We’ve seen it in Princess Diaries, What a Girl Wants and many other films. While the plot may not be groundbreaking it is executed with such warmth, humor and charm it made me smile from beginning to end.
Rex Harrison was famous for playing Henry Higgins on Broadway and his live singing with the speech singing style is proof of that kind of nightly performance you get on Broadway. Some people may see Higgins as a bit of a pig but I think the movie knows he is a pig and for the most part Eliza is up to the challenge and certainly doesn’t back down to his bullish ways. While watching Higgins I kept thinking of Sherlock Holmes or Sheldon Cooper, these characters we see from time to time who are selfish but kind of in an innocent way. They see their world as making the most sense and everyone else should just come around to their genius.
I guess if you don’t know Henry Higgins is a professor of the science of speech. One day he meets a Cockney flower girl named Eliza Doolittle played by Audrey Hepburn. She overhears Higgins boast he could teach her to be a duchess at a ball, so the next day she makes a proposal to him to pay for lessons. This starts Higgins, Doolittle and their friend Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) on a 6 month struggle to change the way Eliza speaks.
Eventually Eliza is tested out at the Ascot Raceway where she can’t help but be a little competitive. The costumes by Cecil Beaton during this segment and the ball later on are some of the greatest in movie history. Cecil Beaton not only won Oscar for Costume Design but also for Art Direction which is also outstanding.
Notice Eliza is the only one with any color to her hat.
The hats alone are works of art.
George Cukor does a fine job directing the film with an ease and flow and an incredible attention to detail. Henry Stradling’s cinematography and the art direction make each scene a joy to watch whether it is a street in London, Ascot or the Ball. George Groves weaving sound mixing of Harrison’s live singing with the dubbed singing of Hepburn and others is also remarkable. My Fair Lady still holds the record I believe for 8 academy award wins.
Some people were upset at the time Julie Andrews wasn’t chosen to pay Eliza but with Hepburn winning an Oscar for playing a princess in Roman Holiday the choice made sense and I think she is lovely in the part (as I’m sure Andrews would have been but then we might not have gotten her in Mary Poppins!). Marni Nixon does the dub work for Hepburn and what a pro she is. To think she is the same singer for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and Natalie Wood in West Side Story it is pretty amazing.
The music is so divine. Wouldn’t it Be Loverly, The Rain in Spain, I Could Have Danced All Night, On the Street Where You Live, Show Me, I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face, are all completely lovely and I found myself singing to myself as I exited the theater. I think my favorite is I Could Have Danced All Night. It’s actually a very difficult song with a full octave range and some very high notes!
The only songs I could do without are sung by Stanley Holloway as Eliza’s dopey father, a character I could also do without. Holloway is a good singer and you can see his Broadway background but the character is such a lazy bum I don’t really find it that charming.
The ending isn’t my favorite. I would rather they went with the ending of the original play but I don’t hate it so much to ruin the film. I think with Higgins singing I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face moments before it feels more acceptable that he does love her and may treat her well.
For Sherlock Holmes fans we get to see a young Jeremy Brett as Freddy Hill. He isn’t a super developed character but there is a charm to Brett’s performance. I like him and Hepburn in Show Me.
One critic said of My Fair Lady “the film’s charm is undeniable”. I agree! That is probably apparent from the framed poster I have in my living room. 😉
It’s certainly one of my favorite old school musicals and one definitely worth checking out. Meanwhile I will keep singing the songs to myself! 🙂
The special release I saw is available for pre-order right now on Amazon with all kinds of special features. I know I have it on pre-order!
Overall Grade- A (not an A+ just because the Dad stuff isn’t my favorite)
I’m very excited to tell you about an exciting collaboration over on my youtube channel. My friend and fellow youtuber LondonCityTVGirl and I have done a collaboration on our five favorite musicals! It was so hard for me to narrow my list down to my top 5 and I don’t know if it really is my top 5 or just 5 that I like. I love her 5 choices also.
My Top 5 Musicals
Simantha’s Top 5 Musicals
If you have an account it would be awesome for you to like both of our videos and subscribe to our channels. You will enjoy both of our content I am sure of that.
What are your favorite musicals? There were so many I could have picked and I honestly debated it for about a month but I am happy with my list. I would love to hear from you. Thanks!