Blu-Ray Review: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

Director: Roy Rowland
Screenplay: Dr. Seuss, Allan Scott
Starring: Tommy Rettig, Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Mary Healy
Country: USA
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1953
BBFC Certificate: U


I read a couple of bedtime stories to my kids every night and there’s nothing worse than a dull or insipid children’s book (particularly when you’re begged to read the same ones repeatedly), so I do my best to try and find books we can all enjoy. My go to author is Dr. Seuss (or, to use his real name, Theodor Seuss Geisel). His rhyming prose, complete with wacky made up words is a joy to read out loud and his illustrations are wonderfully unusual and imaginative. His work has had a troubled history on the big screen though. There are some classic animated adaptations (largely shorts), but very few live action ones. In fact only one was made before his death in 1991, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., released back in 1953 when he wasn’t yet a household name. There might only be one because the special effects weren’t advanced enough before the turn of the millennium to capture Seuss’ wild imagination, but it might be largely down to the fact that Dr. T. was a huge commercial failure. It didn’t get much critical love at the time either and Seuss called the film a “debaculous fiasco”, omitting any mention of it in his official biography. So you get the feeling he didn’t let anyone make any live action features after it was released.

Over the years though, Dr. T. has been embraced as a bit of a cult classic and has since been seen in higher regard. As such, our friends at Powerhouse Films have seen fit to re-release the film on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD through their Indicator label. Being a big Dr. Seuss fan, I couldn’t resist requesting a copy to see whether or not it deserved this second life after being so cruelly rejected on its initial release.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The Lure

One of my favourite films on the festival circuit last year, from Sundance to Toronto After Dark, was the debut feature from Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska. It is a thoroughly unorthodox adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, retold as a 1980s period musical, with a healthy dose of blood and drugs and sex.

A literal, fish-out of water tale, set it in a burlesque club in 1980s Warsaw. A family of musicians, whose main gig is to play back-up for the strippers at a night-club, discover two mermaids in the water while drinking and singing on the beach. They bring them aboard as part of their act, sort of like adopting two new children, and drop them right in to soft-core sex trade. What could possibly go wrong?

My review is here. Check out the trailer below.

Blu-Ray Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1986) Director’s Cut

Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Howard Ashman
Based on a film written by: Charles B. Griffith
Starring: Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Bill Murray, Levi Stubbs
Country: USA
Running Time: 94 min (theatrical cut) 103 min (director’s cut)
Year: 1986
BBFC Certificate: PG


I think I’ve mentioned this in a review before, but I’m not the biggest fan of musicals. I love music and love films, but putting them together too blatantly doesn’t always work for me. I think it’s mainly the stereotypical squeaky clean Rodgers and Hammerstein style that I don’t go for though as there are a couple of musicals I truly adore. Singin’ in the Rain is one of them and another is Little Shop of Horrors. The more often I watch it, the more I come to feel it’s my favourite musical. Yet it’s a film that’s largely only ever been available to watch in a form not originally intended by its director. Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors was written and first shot with a particularly downbeat ending in line with the original short story, non-musical Roger Corman film and off-Broadway stage version. However, the bleak finale didn’t go down well with test audiences and the producers forced Oz to re-edit and reshoot the ending to be much more sugary.

Now I’ve never had a problem with the happy ending I’d seen several times previously, even though I was aware of how it originally concluded. Nevertheless, I was always intrigued to see Oz’s intended version of the film and my wish has been granted by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment who have released Little Shop of Horrors in a Premium Collection version, complete with the director’s cut, which is what I chose to watch for this review.

Would you like to know more…?

Friday One Sheet: La La Land

There is certainly nothing wrong with simplicity. This minimal poster for upcoming Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling musical, La La Land, still offers plenty of information. The posh clothing indicates a swanky night out, the stage door sign indicated that this is likely the two performing. Not sure what the cool blue tint is indicative of, but the text helpfully offers that the film is from, Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash.

The musical premieres in Venice and Toronto in the coming weeks before getting a limited theatrical release in December.

Blu-Ray Review: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Kikumi Yamagishi
Based on a Film by: Kim Jee-woon
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda
Country: Japan
Running Time: 113 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: 18


There was a wave of fairly successful Asian films which reached the West in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. One of the directors that rose to prominence during this time was Takashi Miike. The title of his that caught the world’s attention, after churning out largely direct to video fare, was Audition. A slow drama that suddenly turns into gut churning horror in the final act, the film was a critical success and it helped boost the popularity of J-horror, which had reached Western shores with Ringu (a.k.a. The Ring). Miike didn’t sit back and rest on his laurels though. One of the most prolific recent directors I’ve ever come across, he continued (and continues) to churn out film after film. He’ll be 55 this year and he has 98 directing credits to his name from his debut in 1991 (that’s an average of around 4 films a year!) according to the IMDB.

2001 was a big year for the director. Eight of his films were released that year and four of them made it to the UK that I’m aware of and received a mixture of acclaim and notoriety. This really cemented his reputation as a fearless master of extreme cinema with the unbelievably violent Ichi the Killer, the seriously f*cked up Visitor Q, Yakuza drama The Agitator and the comedy horror musical The Happiness of the Katakuris.

The latter title is being re-released on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK by the ever dependable Arrow Video label. Although I was rather smitten by the wave of Asian cinema released in the early 2000’s when I was a student, I never got around to watching The Happiness of the Katakuris, so I was keen to see what the fuss was about.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: Bang Bang Baby

BangBangBaby

And now for something completely different, a very stylized 1960s do-wop musical with a purple mist-factor leaking toxic waste into the water, Peter Stormare as an overbearing dad, classic cars, and romantic musings on Government space-missle programmes. It’s playing TIFF, and this is an excerpt from the programme guide:

In the fictional Canadian town of Lonely Arms in 1963, sweet and prim high-schooler Stepphy devotedly cares for her alcoholic father, tends to his auto-service shop, and, like most girls her age, adores heartthrob singer Bobby Shore. Having long dreamt of getting out of Lonely Arms and making it in the music biz, Stepphy seems one step closer when she is accepted into the American Ingénue Singing Competition in Manhattan — until her father refuses to allow her to go. Miserable, her dreams dashed, and forced to fend off the advances of Fabian, the creepy proprietor of the local Purple Mist plant — which has recently sprung a mysterious and ominous leak — Stepphy seems stuck in her go-nowhere town for good… until none other than Bobby Shore himself rolls into Lonely Arms with a car that needs repair.

New Annie trailer lacks dance numbers. Maybe they did it on purpose?

AnnieStill

Musicals are not typically my thing but even my coal heart couldn’t say no to the adorableness of Quvenzhané Wallis in the upcoming Annie remake.

Wallis stars as the titular character, an orphan girl living with a mean foster mother, played here by Cameron Diaz, who finds herself at the center of a media circus when a business tycoon and mayoral candidate, Jamie Foxx as Benjamin Stacks, takes advantage of the media’s love with the little girl in order to advance his career.

I was vaguely curious about the project because of Rose Byrne’s involvement and the fact that it’s directed by Will Gluck, but beyond that, I had no interest in Annie pre-trailer but now that I’ve seen Wallis being all cute and big haired and charming and stuff, I can’t help but think that this might be really sweet. Still not sure it’s for me but boy, that Wallis sure is adorable.

Annie opens December 19th.

Review: Broken Circle Breakdown

“You’ll rue the day that you were born. For givin’ me the devil cause I wouldn’t hoe corn.”

This is the stuff of old country music, the purest of joy taken, perhaps from mistakes made, perhaps just fate teasing and cruelly taking away. I have not been this emotionally affected by a film since Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark, but where that film is angry, manipulative and often recklessly dishonest in its melodrama (which I also love) for the purpose of provocation, Felix Van Groeningen’s Broken Circle Breakdown is earnest, warm, and utterly human – but no less calculated. In terms of an emotional endurance test, this is as powerful as anything I have seen, and yet it is an earnest, completely accessible slice of pop cinema as well. This is something of a miracle.

Opening in the warm yellows of a small town Flemish bar (a familiar location if you have seen the director’s previous The Misfortunates) Didier and his band are having a great time on stage singing Bluegrass tunes in accented american English to the locals. Cut to a harsh white light of a hospital room, icy cinematography that I have come to associate with Northern European film. It is presumably at some point in the future, and Didier’s young daughter, Maybelle, is getting injections for her advancing bone cancer. Didier’s wife, and singing partner, Elise makes a quietly tense plea to keep a positive face in front of Maybelle. Tears are to be bottled up until they are not in the hospital. This is impossible for such an empathetic husband and father who has never really had a reason to hide his emotions. Cut back to an even earlier point, where Didier charmingly meets and picks up Elise at the tattoo parlor where she works. He offers an impassioned, playful monologue about Hank Williams Sr. and Bill Monroe. Cut to their daughter playing with chickens in the yard of the converted church that Didier and Elise have converted to a home. Back to Maybelle’s cancer going into remission while she loses her hair and still requires more injections. This is the way that Broken Circle Breakdown juxtaposes carefree joy with wrenching emotional pain.

Would you like to know more…?

Trailer: The Broken Circle Breakdown

BROKENCIRCLEBREAKDOWN

Quite simply put, this one of the best films you will probably see all year. Felix Van Groeningen’s vivid emotional drama of life, love and Bluegrass tunes with its mouthful of a title, The Broken Circle Breakdown (Kurt’s review here) brought me to the brink of dehydration from all the tears of pleasure and pain that I shed over it’s runtime. Flemish director set the bar pretty high with his last film, 2009’s The Misfortunates (Bob’s review here), a family drama about four men who cannot seem to get this shit together, until you realize that they are living life to its fullest. Here the amount of growth and intimacy and yes melodrama (but the good kind) is heightened that audiences kind of stagger out of the cinema emotionally drained. Edited in an elliptical fashion that only heightens the intensity of the feelings, and sprinkled liberally with great music (as seen in this trailer) I cannot wait until November 1st when it hits select cities (Including a full run at Toronto’s TIFF LIGHTBOX) in a limited theatrical release. And hey, lookie there, Tribeca Films marketing folks even quote me in the trailer (My review was also cross-posted over at Twitchfilm)

Elise (Veerle Baetens) and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) fall in love at first sight. She has her own tattoo shop and he plays the banjo in a bluegrass band. They bond over their shared enthusiasm for American music and culture, and dive headfirst into a sweeping romance that plays out on and off stage — but when an unexpected tragedy hits their new family, everything they know and love is tested. An intensely moving portrait of a relationship from beginning to end, propelled by a soundtrack of foot-stomping bluegrass, The Broken Circle Breakdown is a romantic melodrama of the highest order.

Flyway Pubcast #2 – Mark DiConzo and Joe Schermann!

 
Super excited to be sitting down with Mark DiConzo and Joe Schermann from writer/director Gary King’s newest picture, a musical dramedy, How to Write a Joe Schermann Song. Gary was not able to make the fest this year, but being a huge fan of Mark DiConzo since 2009’s New York Lately I was really jazzed about getting to hang out with these guys over the weekend. You can hear the clink of beer bottles before the interview begins – welcome to Flyway!

To listen, hit the play button on the player above or grab the raw .mp3:
http://rowthree.com/audio/Flyway2012/joe-schermann.mp3

Relevant Links:
Mark Twitter | Facebook
Joe Twitter | Facebook
Roulette the Musical: Official | Twitter | Facebook
Vote for the film to win a Gotham Award!
Flyway Film Festival

Blindspotting #2 – Yankee Doodle Dandy and Swing Time

YankeeDoodle6

.
Though I suspect that the decision to choose two films per “Blind Spot” post is going to nip me in the butt at some point, it’s proving to yield some nice parallels and contrasts between films so far. This time around I chose two black and white musicals – the James Cagney star vehicle Yankee Doodle Dandy” from 1942 and the Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers hoofing fest Swing Time” from 1936 – and they’ve provided a slew of comparison points. While each film has rafts of familiar popular songs and big name directors overshadowed by even bigger name stars, there are also contrasting points like their dancing styles (smooth flow vs. brute physical athleticism) and approaches to set design (lavish vs. minimal). Not to mention the unexpected and unappreciated occurrence of a “blackface” musical/dance number in each film. I have to say I did not see that coming.

SwingTime5
YankeeDoodle7

Another surprising commonality between the two films are the very poor opening set of scenes…Yankee Doodle Dandy” is a bio-musical-pic of famous songwriter and stage performer George M. Cohan and frames his life story within bookends of a meeting with the President of the United States (Franklin Delano Roosevelt). It’s an awkward beginning and is followed by additional awkwardness as Cohan recollects his early life. Though there’s a quickness to the film’s pace as it settles into displaying vignettes instead of providing straight narrative, it’s slow to get going as we have to make it through scenes of the annoyingly cocky little George. Fortunately Cagney shows up when Cohan hits his early adult years and the story settles into the meaty song and dance segments. Swing Time doesn’t exactly endear itself to the viewer early on either – in fact, its opening 20 minutes are painful. The comedy is strained and forced, the characters are this close to being unlikeable (and, except for Victor Moore’s slightly drunken sounding Pop, without a single interesting attribute) and the plot is set in motion about as effectively and efficiently as any task run by government committee. Things will get moving, but not without a lot of effort. Fortunately Ginger Rogers shows up just in time to lend her hefty charm and spirit.

Would you like to know more…?