The Singing Detective (2003)

21 02 2012

Copyright 2003 Icon Productions

★ ★

I really wanted to enjoy this film.  I’m not even sure exactly where I heard about it, but the quasi-surreal premise mixed with Robert Downey Jr. in the lead, who is one of my favorite modern actors, seemed like it could be a brilliantly funny mix.  Though there are some laughs to be had at the bizarre nature of some of the scenes, on the whole, this was a terribly boring flick.

The original premise of the story was adapted for BBC TV as a television serial in 1986 to wide acclaim.  Following the British television reception, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood started eyeing the project, though it would be almost 20 years before the film was produced because of falling into what we in the business like to call “development hell.”  Anyway, the story follows three separate but interconnected timelines: First, there is the story line of author Dan Dark (Downey Jr.), a novelist, who is in the hospital for a severe case of psoriasis; second, a reimaging of his first novel, “The Singing Detective”, in his mind while in the hospital with himself now playing the lead role; and finally, flashbacks of his childhood which present a clear picture of some of his original inspiration for the pulp novel itself.  Tinged with surreality throughout, the film becomes a hodge podge of these three story lines mixed with the occasional visit to psychiatrist Dr. Gibbons office, who is played by producer Mel Gibson (almost unrecognizably).

There are scenes in this film that work, but as a whole, this is a very disjointed picture.  The cinematography, to me, looked cheap, more in line with a television movie and even the impressive cast can’t save the mutilation of the story itself.  I really wanted to enjoy this film, but just couldn’t; I kept giving it 10 more minutes throughout, but when I got to the hour and ten minute marker of this hour and forty minute film, I called it and started watching The Ribos Operation, a Tom Baker Doctor Who serial.  I just could’t take it any longer, was not interested and definitely not entertained.  It could have been a great mix with a little cleaning up around the edges, but in the end, it was just a sorry excuse at Hollywoodizing author Dennis Potter’s original material.

Cabaret (1972) Review

14 10 2011

Copyright 1972 Allied Artists Pictures, ABC Pictures

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

I have owned this movie on VHS for about 12 years, had it in my Netflix queue for about two, and had the DVD copy from Netflix sitting on my counter for over a month.  Because of how well-reviewed the film is, I have long known that someday I would watch it.  However, for some reason, I had in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be my cup of tea or that I wouldn’t find it as great as so many other people and critics.  Well, I was wrong; this a brilliant movie and I wish I would have seen it years ago.

Based off several different sources, the film takes place in Berlin in 1931.  Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is an aspiring film actress with an exuberant, though sometimes erratic, personality, currently working at the Kit-Cat Club, a risque cabaret.  English PhD. candidate and man of words, Brian Roberts, arrives in Berlin and becomes roommates with Bowles, occupying the room across from her.  To make rent, he teaches English lessons for three Marks an hour.  Over time, he and Bowles become friends and eventually lovers.  However, when Baron Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem) arrives on the scene, their relationship is truly tested.  Over the course of being showered with presents by the wealthy von Heune, Bowles and Roberts both find an attraction to him.  This attraction and the sexual escapades to follow lead to some difficult decisions for both their future together and for their individual aspirations in life.  As subtext, the film chronicles the early rise of the Nazi regime and some of the horrors seen in plain public view, that were overshadowed by the decadence and innocence of the time.  Wonderful musical numbers appear throughout, lead by Kit-Cat Club Master of Ceremonies (Joey Grey) as well.

How I judge a truly great musical is whether or not the story itself was a great story without the visual panache of the musical numbers.  This is one of those films; it’s an engrossing story, one where you truly care what happens to the characters, and the musical numbers are just icing on the cake.  Minnelli and Grey both won Oscars for their work on this film and, I think, deservedly so.  Oddly enough, Grey’s entire performance is in musical numbers, he has no scenes of actual dialog, but his physicality and comedic timing in the numbers is amazing to watch.  As for Minnelli, her performance as Bowles is not only a great acting performance, but her musical numbers accent her amazing voice and dexterity in dance as well.  I always scoffed at the fact that this film took Best Director away from Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather; however, after seeing the movie, I can see how it happened.  Director Bob Fosse, in addition to directing, choreographed all the musical numbers himself.  This is a huge undertaking, and when you see the complexity of the dance numbers and how seamlessly they interweave with the shot selection, it makes sense how he could win the award.  In addition to those three Oscars, Cabaret won five others, making it the biggest winner to date without taking home the Best Picture Oscar (that one did go to The Godfather).

My favorite musical of all-time is still Singin in the Rain, but after seeing this one, I will admit that it is probably up in the top five now.  It’s a great story with great performances and wonderful musical numbers.  What more can you ask for in a musical?

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