Friday, March 16, 2018

Movie Review: "Jesus Christ Superstar" (1973)

Director: Norman Jewison
Year: 1973
Rating: G
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

A rock opera re-telling of the final days of Jesus Christ. 

What better way to tell the story of Jesus Christ than through a surreal rock opera that is sung by hippies? "Jesus Christ Superstar" is directed by Norman Jewison, who helmed films like "In the Heat of the Night," "Fiddler on the Roof," and "Moonstruck." Jewison also helped write the screenplay along with Melvyn Bragg. It is, of course, a film adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber stage musical of the same name. The film mainly focuses on the relationship between Jesus Christ (Ted Neely) and Judas Iscariot (Carl Anderson) as Judas becomes increasingly more disillusioned with the way Jesus is handling himself and his followers. Judas is worried Jesus being viewed as a deity rather than a simple man with a message will bring trouble and death to him and his associates. The whole story is told to a blaring 70's rock soundtrack as every word in the entire production is sung.

We aren't religious people, but we can still appreciate a story like "Jesus Christ Superstar." It is shot in Israel but has a very surreal nature to it. Seeing modern objects like buses, tanks, and machine guns pop up in the story of Jesus is pretty wild. These images are obviously not meant to be taken literally. They are included as metaphors for man's propensity towards war and violence, things that are in a direct clash to the messages Jesus taught as a representative of peace and love. The play was released as America was becoming wary of the war in Vietnam, so it makes sense.

We really enjoyed this movie. Oddly enough, our favorite character is not Jesus, but Judas. Carl Anderson has an incredible voice and does a fantastic job portraying this conflicted character. That being said, Ted Neely is still very good in his own right as the titular character. We do like most of the music in this film, even though it is performed like an actual opera with constant singing rather than a traditional musical that switches between normal dialogue and the occasional song. Still, it never becomes tedious or monotonous in our opinion. There is enough variation in the music to differentiate the singing numbers and the tone that is trying to be portrayed. Many moments in "Jesus Christ Superstar" stand out to us as being memorable, but only one shines brightly above the rest. We are of course referring to Herod's musical number. It is so humorous and tonally different from the rest of the material that it makes it stand out in our minds. Josh Mostel does a splendid job in this small but extremely interesting part.

In the end, we think "Jesus Christ Superstar" is a good watch, even for those who aren't religious. We honestly had a great time watching it. It makes such stuffy material feel fresh, new, and a little more easily digestible when seen through a modern lens.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
RT Rating: 56%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Movie Review: "Red Sparrow" (2018)

Image Source
Movie"Red Sparrow"
Director: Francis Lawrence
Year: 2018
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

A ballerina is forced by her uncle to join a spy program where agents are taught to use their sexuality as a tool for gaining information. She is then assigned to an American CIA agent and is tasked with finding the location of a mole inside the Russian government who is working for the Americans. Her actual intentions remain unclear.

Sexuality and spy thrillers seemingly go hand in hand. James Bond used his sexual prowess to gain information from women. Now, it is Dominika Egorova's turn to use her sexuality to obtain knowledge from men. We'd gander this film is far more disturbing and graphically violent than anything 007 has endured. "Red Sparrow" is directed by Francis Lawrence, who is known for directing "Constantine," "I Am Legend," and "The Hunger Games" trilogy. It is written by Justin Haythe, who has written the screenplays for "Revolutionary Road" and "A Cure for Wellness." It is adapted from a novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as the aforementioned Dominika Egorova, a ballerina who, after a career-ending injury, is persuaded by her uncle (Matthias Schoenaerts) to do a special mission and then join a spy program so her mother (Joely Richardson) can continue to receive the medical care she desperately needs. This program, whose cadets are known as Sparrows, are taught to use their sexuality and physicality to manipulate their targets. Dominika is eventually assigned to an American CIA agent named Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton). Her task is to uncover his informant, a person working in the Russian government but is feeding information to the Americans. It is not clear where Dominika's loyalties lie and the waters become more muddied with every move she makes.

We can see how "Red Sparrow" will be a big problem for a lot of people, especially during the training program sequences. These scenes have many moments of sexual degradation and extreme violence, including an attempted rape, which has an uncomfortable outcome, to say the least. This portion will immediately turn many viewers off of the film and the story entirely. As for the rest of narrative, it can be an interesting, slow-burning spy thriller with a lot of twists and turns. During its (extremely long) runtime, we were never entirely sure what angle Dominika was playing. We were left continually wondering who she was working for and what her end game really was. She endures a lot of torture to get there, all of which is graphically violent. Even though we compared Dominika's use of her sexuality to what James Bond does, this is not a Bond-style spy movie. It is not a big action film numerous long chases and fight scenes (though there are one or two smaller ones). It is a story of mental manipulation and deception. The biggest problem we have with "Red Sparrow" can be summed up very quickly with just two words: bad accents. There is a bevy of terrible Russian accents from just about everyone involved. Also, it is much longer than it needs to be. There are a plethora of scenes that could either be truncated or omitted entirely to make the narrative flow better.

In the end, "Red Sparrow" is a decent film. We probably won't be compelled to watch it again. It's not fantastic not super memorable, but it's a solid dramatic spy thriller.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.7/10
RT Rating: 48%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Movie Review: "Cannibal! The Musical" (1993)

Director: Trey Parker
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

The story of Alfred Packard, his five companions, and their dire trip across the Rocky Mountains.

Before "The Book of Mormon," before "Team America: World Police," before "South Park," and even before "Orgazmo," there was "Cannibal! The Musical." Loosely inspired by a true story, "Cannibal! The Musical" is written and directed by Trey Parker. Parker and his partner, Matt Stone, would go on to create all of the aforementioned successful films, plays, and TV shows. Parker also stars in this movie as Alfred Packard, a man on trial for murder and cannibalism. Packard and a group of Utahn prospectors who are trying to reach Breckenridge, Colorado get trapped in the Rocky Mountains during a snowstorm and are forced to resort to cannibalism to stay alive. Wouldn't you? Oh yeah, did we mention this is a musical AND a comedy?

A story about a murder trial and cannibalism doesn't exactly sound like it would be funny. However, if you understand Parker's off-beat, satirical sense of humor, you'll understand why it's humorous. Parker has always embraced music in his storytelling as a source of comedy, and he uses it to great effect here. He parodies many classic musicals, most notably "Oklahoma!." Parker clearly took inspiration from the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and as such, turns it into "Shpadoinkle," a song that observes how "shpadoinkle" everything is, from the blue sky to the green leaves to how the sun is as warm as a baked potato. What does shpadoinkle mean? Who really knows?! The definition seems to change throughout the course of the film. Sometimes it is used to express joy and happiness, and other times it is used as a euphemism for a curse word.The other tunes are just as entertaining and goofy, and they work well in the context of the movie. Apart from the music, there is a lot of blood and violence. Both are extremely over the top, so much so that they are meant to be cartoonish and are played for laughs.

Is "Cannibal! The Musical" stupid? Absolutely, and it embraces this stupidity 100%. While it definitely won't be for everyone, for fans of Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and their work on any of their other projects mentioned earlier, this is a must-see. Besides, it is good to see how these guys got their start. It's the kind of project that can give hope to up and coming filmmakers who are presently making crappy micro-budget projects with their friends. They will see that it took years of work for Matt and Trey to become who they are today. They may not have hit it out of the park on their first try, but this was a hell of a start.

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
RT Rating: 56%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Movie Review: "Phantom of the Paradise" (1974)

Director: Brian De Palma
Year: 1974
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 32 minutes

An evil record producer steals the music of the talented composer he tried to eliminate so he can use it open his new club 'The Paradise.' Thought to be dead, the composer returns as a phantom who will get vengeance at any cost.

Rock operas were all the rage in the 1970's. We've seen numerous films in this genre released from that decade, and "Phantom of the Paradise" is one of them all. It is written and directed by Brian De Palma, who would go on to direct films like "Carrie," "Scarface," and "The Untouchables," though his writing credits aren't nearly as impressive. The film centers around a music composer named Winslow (William Finley), who is creating his rock cantata version of "Faust." An evil record producer named Swan (Paul Williams) steals the cantata, frames Winslow, and seemingly has him killed. Swan wants the music to open his new club called The Paradise, but he wants the credit all for himself. When Swan tries to open the club, a phantom shows up to make sure it doesn't happen unless things are done his way.

This is a very bizarre movie in that it is a comedic horror retelling of "The Phantom of the Opera" with elements mixed in from "Faust." It's an odd idea, but it sort of works? As far as this being fully considered a rock opera or a musical, it's a bit borderline since the majority of the musical offerings are isolated to on-stage performances. Since the movie and the music are based on "Faust," they mostly still drive the narrative. As for the music, it's fine at the moment, but none of it is all that memorable outside of the film. As we write this review, it's difficult for us to conjure up even one tune or lyric from any songs in the movie. The story itself is bizarre and has its funny moments, though these instances are only humorous due to the absolutely absurd nature of the story. Much of the acting, especially the performance of William Finley, is waaaaaay over the top (though intentionally so). His showy performance will make you laugh and will have you enjoying yourself while watching this quirky film. The sets are interesting and very of the era, reminiscent of a psychedelic disco. It is wild to look at, and we have to wonder what the filmmakers were ingesting, smoking, shooting, and/or drinking when they made this trippy movie.

As weird as "Phantom of the Paradise" is, we are still able to see a clear narrative and feel like you should do yourself the honor of watching such an entertaining, eccentric movie at least once in your life.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 91%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Movie Review: "The Party" (2018)

Director: Sally Potter
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 11 minutes

A group of people gathers at their friend Janet's house to celebrate her election win. Drama ensues.

Another movie about terrible, self-absorbed people yelling at each other...oh joy! "The Party" is written and directed by Sally Potter. It is about a group of friends who come together to celebrate their host's recent political victory. Apparently, everyone in attendance has taken this invitation as a sign that they should air all of their personal grievances. What should be private drama rapidly becomes public knowledge at the party in a grandiose display. It stars Kristin Scott Thomas as the soon-to-be Minister of Health and host of the party, Janet, and Timothy Spall as her husband Bill. Also in the film are Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, and Cillian Murphy.

This is an extremely short movie and clocks in at a mere 71 minutes long. The best thing we can say about "The Party" is at least the misery of sitting through it doesn't last that long. This is a movie about a bunch of unlikable characters who come together and spew quasi-intellectual, self-important, pretentious vitriol out of their mouths for the entirety of the film for the sake Everything in this story feels impossibly melodramatic without serving any purpose or containing any message. It is clearly intended to be a dark comedy/satire, so maybe it doesn't need a purpose. Still, it's a movie about terrible people who attend the worst party in the world. Luckily, the actors do give excellent performances and offer a little nuance to an otherwise cynical, pessimistic story.

The problems with "The Party" fall squarely on the shoulders of Sally Potter. Her script, her directing, and her dialogue make it feel completely unnatural. This is a film that will appeal to a very small niche of critics and moviegoers who will fawn over it because it stars their favorite actors, has no actual story (which means it's not from the typical Hollywood machine) and is shot in black and white (which means it's ~*artistic~*). Look, we don't need massive amounts of action, fart jokes, and alien invasions in every damn movie. We just don't want to watch something that makes us sink into our seats because of how irritated we are with the bleak, argumentative, sardonic film we have before us. This is the kind of film that's not good for mass consumption. There's a reason they keep movies like this away from mainstream audiences. Despite the great acting here, "The Party" is just way too unnatural, pompous, and unrealistic. It reminds us of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," but somehow a lot more jaded and combative.

My Rating: 4/10
BigJ's Rating: 2/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~84%
Do we recommend this movie: No.

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Movie Review: "Oklahoma!" (1955)

Director: Fred Zinnemann
Year: 1955
Rating: NR
Running Time: 2 hours, 25 minutes

A few cowboys try to woo a some local Oklahoma ladies, all of whom have other prospects.

Running cattle and farming land is hard work. If you watch the cowboys and farmers in "Oklahoma!," you might think their lives revolve around romancing women with an occasional song and choreographed dance number thrown in for good measure. "Oklahoma!" is directed by Fred Zinnemann, who directed other films like "High Noon," "From Here to Eternity," and "A Man for All Seasons." It is written by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig and is based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical of the same name. It stars Gordon MacRae as cowboy Curly McLain, who has his eye on a farm girl named Laurey Williams (Shirley Jones). Laurey likes Curly as well, but she doesn't let on and plays hard to get. Laurey's farmhand Jud Fry (Rod Steiger) also has feelings for her, and this creates a bit of conflict because Jud is a person willing to act out violently in such cases. This is not the only love triangle in the story. Another cowboy named Will Parker (Gene Nelson) wants to marry another local farm girl named Ado Annie Carnes (Gloria Grahame) even though she doesn't have very strong monogamous tendencies. Ado Annie is courting a peddler named Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert) who clearly wants a fling and not a commitment...unless his hand was to be forced into such a thing.

Old school musicals are so grandiose in their presentation. This is not a complaint, we totally dig it. Musicals are very focused on keeping a stage play type of spectacle, but with more detailed sets and a less intimate scope. There is a certain part of the movie-going public that will write musicals off entirely because they feel 'too unrealistic.' Well, they're not always supposed to be realistic. If anything they are meant to be a little more surreal. We will say there is one massively surreal dance number here brought on by Laurey's fever dream while she's high on smelling salts. We honestly could have done without this scene because it drags on for far too long. That being said, the rest of the movie is mostly pretty fun and is relatively engaging despite its old-fashioned sentiments and subject matter.

Of course, the most important part of a musical is the music. "Oklahoma!" has some really great songs. With numbers like "Oh What a Beautiful Morning," "The Surrey with a Fringe on Top," "Kansas City," and the titular "Oklahoma," this picture is full of great music that will stay stuck in your head for days and will keep your toes tapping. Apart from the tunes, "Oklahoma!" has a solid cast and features a lot of excellent voices. The notable exception is Gloria Grahame, who can't exactly hold a tune but finds a way to make it work. The people behind the scenes had to Frankenstein her songs together from tons of recordings, but it doesn't matter because the end result is still decent.

"Oklahoma!" is a good time and provided us with an entertaining viewing experience despite being a little dated.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 96%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Movie Review: "Rent" (2005)

Director: Chris Columbus
Year: 2005
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

The lives of a group of friends living a bohemian lifestyle in New York City while they deal with life, love, drug addiction, and AIDS.

For a good stretch of time in Hollywood, it seemed that musicals fell out of favor. The exception to this rule was kids movies and animated films. In the first decade of the 2000's, we saw a resurgence in the genre. "Rent" is part of that resurgence. It is directed by Chris Columbus, who is known for directing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," "Home Alone," and "Mrs. Doubtfire." It is written by Stephen Chbosky and is, of course, based on the stage musical of the same by Jonathan Larson. The cast is mostly comprised of the original actors who performed in the play's initial Broadway run. This includes Anthony Rapp as Mark, Adam Pascal as Roger, Idina Menzel as Maureen, Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins, Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel, and Taye Diggs as Benny. The only two actors who were not in the original Broadway cast are Rosario Dawson as Mimi, and Tracie Thoms, who plays Joanne. The film follows this group of friends who live together in a loft in New York City during Christmastime in 1989-early 1990. Each of them struggles day to day. Some of them are addicted to drugs, others are battling AIDS, and they are always trying to find money to pay their rent without compromising their ideals.

"Rent" is really a slice-of-life film that focuses on the youth counterculture of the late 1980's. It is about a group of idealistic artists who rarely know where their next meal is going to come from. Their biggest worry is selling out and endangering their principles. Oh, and they really, really like to sing a lot. You can tell Jonathan Larson viewed himself in much of the same manner, spending his 20's as a gay artist living in a loft in New York City with many other roommates. This stage musical was very timely as the AIDS epidemic was reaching its peak in the United States around the time of its release. Of course, the film was released over a decade later so it may have lost some of its timely poignancy. It is still about being accepting of different lifestyles, a thing we are still working on as a country overall. As for the movie itself, being a slice-of-life story, it doesn't really have a straightforward narrative. It is more of a collection of happenings and shows the daily lives of this small group of people and tells of the things they experience as part of the bohemian revolution. There isn't really much gained in transferring this material from a stage to film other than gaining access to a larger audience and allowing for more sets, props, and a bigger budget. The acting is good and all of the actors have incredible singing voices. Since they most of the cast are stage performers, it comes with the territory. Being the only film actors, Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson still add a lot to this movie and surprisingly have great singing voices as well. Finally, "Rent" is jam-packed with tons of tremendous music. The songs are catchy, and it is almost a guarantee that you'll walk away with many of them stuck in your head. We enjoy most of them, including "Seasons of Love," "One Song Glory," "What Your Own," "No Day But Today," and Lolo's favorite, "La Vie Bohème."

We've seen "Rent" dozens of times now and we still really enjoy it each time we watch it. It's a vibrant, passionate musical that everyone should see at least once.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 46%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Please be sure to check out Lolo Loves Films all over the internet!