Friday, August 31, 2012

"Deep In My Heart" - A classical musical film review by Robert Steven Mack

Once Upon A Time, during the mythical era  known as classic Hollywood, it was discovered that one could take the life of a well-known song writer and transform it into a heavily-financed motion picture. Such films would be brimming with popular tunes and ballads, lavish costumes, revered stars and the most talented directors money could transport. Nothing short of a star-filled musical extravaganza which nearly every major studio would try to produce.

Many such pictures were created: Words and Music, based on the team of Rogers and Hart; Night and Day, with Cary Grant as Cole Porter; Danny Thomas played Gus Kahn in I'll See You In My Dreams; Three Little Words based on the team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby played by the incomparable Fred Astaire and Red Skelton, respectively, These have been perhaps only a few of the most remembered and revered movies of this era. Indeed, when strolling along the vast road the land of classic films, encounter with these films is probable.

Characteristically, these films come off as sweet, dramatic-not to mention lavish-musical productions and maybe contain a light dose of comedy, if lucky. I recently came across one of those masterpieces in Classic Musicals From the Dream Factory Volume 3. This MGM collection actually contains relatively unknown musical romps and adventures the common audience is unlikely to be familiar with. One of the films is the collection is Deep in my Heart. What would a collection of classic musicals be without such a film?

I must note that these "exaggerated" musical biographies have been decried as cliche in some circles. After seeing just how many in Hollywood were made (No small number either!) I must admit to their disregard for unquestionable facts. Of course, this has never bothered me and I would suggest to anyone who rejects everything but omnipresent reality to read a book. Films are bigger than life  (environmentalists and other documentary-makers in general know this all to well)

"Deep In My Heart" mystically tells of Sigmund Romanoff, the legendary composer of operettas and broadway musicals who composed such works as The Student Prince and Maytime. Jose Ferrer heads the film's cast as Romanoff, narrating part of the story. Best remembered for his 1950 Academy Award winning potrayal of Cyrano de Borgrac, the Puerto Rican actor played the role beautifully as the  stoic, idealistic composer who encounters one trial and romp after another.
Sigmund is a young man, he works in an uneventful little cafĂ©. The film slides along with comfortable ease. The first half of the movie was particularly focused on his early successess on Broadway, and humorously portraying the mis-adventures of a young man who wanted to compose only distinguished works and vies for creative control. Though he himself quits after plenty a show, being utterly disgusted with the vulgar, unsophisticated work he is forced to do by a demanding public and his boss, and despite his dislike for the productions, however, the fame and mouth-wateringly sizable checks alway convince him to do another.

One time he managed to convince his producers to put on an operetta he wrote, Maytime. It turned out to be a tremendous hit with companies playing it all over the US.

His wish for creative control plummeted toward limit and turned down the production of Jazza-Doo with Al Jolson to go on his own to produce his kind of show: dignified, sophisticated, probably even philosophically motivated. Nobody liked it. So the production bombs, leaving him in debt, his idealist values hurt, and marching into his producers office and nobly apologizing and offering his services for Jazza-Doo. The producers rapidly accept.

To work on their new masterpiece, they go skipping to the country-side, and vow never to cease slaving on it. So much for that! Sigmund meets love...and her stiff, snobbish mother who disapproves of Sigmond's unpolished work.

During one of the most memorable moments in the film-my personal favorite-he performs the show all himself while an over-joyed producer and an utterly shocked mother and daughter duo sit frozen watching. It's hilarious and truly one of the most delectable segments I've ever seen in a musical. Jose did a good job pulling it off.

His romance doesn't go as planned and so we drift forward a year where he is still a success, still vies for the same girl...who shows up and takes over his narrative part.

This pivotal moment is an interesting element showing great change and flexibility in Romanoff's own out-look on life. We see an eagerness to go on doing what he has been doing all his life. From hereon, the film takes on a heavy tone and samples the composer's mature, darker works.

The death of a friend, a rumor he is getting out of style, lead the film into deeper territory exploring the physiology of an aging artist, the depth and emotion in his music, and its influences. The film culminates as the aging Romanoff performs a concert at Carnegie Hall. This is reminiscent to the ending in The Benny Goodman Story.

I have concluded that he film was indeed nicely done, as only classic Hollywood could pull it off. In a fitting tribute, it will inspire in the viewer, respect for the man, and a deep, satisfying appreciation for the music!
A capital supporting cast worth mentioning includes Walter Pigeon, Paul Henried (Casablanca), Merle Traubel, and Jim Backus, among others. Out of 22 of the hit tunes and eleven Broadway shows they were borrowed from, MGM gathered some of its greatest stars to share the the tunes Romy penned. Guest stars include no less than Gene & Fred Kelly (his brother-he dances too), James Mitchell, Ann Miller, Vic Damone, Jane Powell, Cyd Charisse, Tony Martin, Rosemary Clooney (Ferrer's wife), and Howard Keel. Holy cow! What stars! Each had a number they could perform with flawless effort.

To rap up, Deep In My Heart is a sweet, funny, ultimately tender musical to be enjoyed by everybody, and I wish it could. It is a true delight!

Copyright 2012, 2014 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brave - A Pixar Film Review by Robert Steven Mack

Originally titled "The Bear and the Bow," this "Brave" was something unexpected for all of us in the family. "Brave" is Pixar's newest creation and is now in theaters. I remember reading up about the movie three or four years ago, along with another entry that Pixar was planning to produce - "Newt." "Brave", along with its cast, title, etcetera have fully emerged into the form of a powerful film that Pixar can be proud of. Of course, no one knew quite what the film would turn out to be. The story wasn't about some weird civilization unseen by man, nor did it have the wacky anti-heroes, heroes, villains, and heroines. Yet, we've seen this time and time again, brought to us and displayed in the most ingenious ways in the "Toy Story" films," Cars," and its action-packed sequel (different in tone than that of the comedy-drama of the original), "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," "A Bug's Life," and "Monsters Inc.". A few times Pixar has come up with something a little different - and perhaps cliche-shattering with the futuristic masterpiece "Wall-E" and the adventurous "Up." Similarly to those films, Pixar has created an odd-ball with "Brave." Somehow this one is even more ground-breaking than the latter two I mentioned. Not to get me wrong:  every film produced by Pixar so far, from their first wonderkind, 17 years ago, each and every film has been a treat for the imaginations of billions of fan! Each Pixar film has been unique, witty, creative, and well-rounded. This time, however, Pixar swallowed a huge mouthful (for not the first time either) but truly managed to create something brilliant. So, for the twelfth time in the past three decades, the world would wonder what the quirky and unpredictable master-minds of technology and pure imaginative story telling would concoct.

To begin with, "Brave" is darker and more grinding than the other Pixar movies. It evolves before our eyes on a slightly more mature level; this is clear from start to finish. The animation, a wonder of a rare beauty, displays the rugged Scottish hills and country-side of long ago, capturing the viewers with an essence of true submity. Scotland, a land of mystery that invites you to find your destiny, the 3D (though I was never a particular fan of the 3-dimensional world) breaks the barriers of imagination!

The audience is immediately introduced to a small but spirited red-headed girl (the name of which I will not give away for I do not intend to spoil it for you) who has been told of magical forces leading the seeker to his or her inevitable destiny. Fast-forward. Years later, she is a princess with a fun-loving but one-legged king for a father. One leg was chewed off when fighting a mystic bear.  Add three mischievous triplets for younger brothers and a mother who expects her to behave like a princess. A rift comes between her relationship with her mother when she is expected to marry one of the not-too-desirable princes from neighboring kingdoms. Of course, she takes things into her own hands, leaving her and her mother to fight - and, in the heat of the moment, do things that both would later regret. When out riding, she comes upon a witch's house whose inhabitant grants her help... leading to folly when her mother is turned into a bear, identical enough to the one that took dear old dad's leg!

...And so unfolds an adventure of triumph and adventure. Full of flawed-but-good-natured characters, mythical sidetracks, and enough wit to build up a well-rounded, "Brave" is a rousing motion picture that shimmers in Disney's fairy-tale tradition but aided with Pixar's innovative approach to film-making. Again, it is a fairy-tale with a more mature, darker tone, which is a breath to feel and is obvious to any viewer. Its beautiful, traditional Scottish music and brilliant score accompanying the ride underscores it as a story worth listening to. Curiously, "Brave" is not much of a romantic love story of any kind - quite baffling. Indeed, it felt as if the actors and actresses just changed their minds about that one. It is just a very nice, traditional and occasionally humorous story. Indeed, no "happy ever after" was needed!

As for me, I was so impeccably glad and relieved, "Brave" wasn't one of those pointlessly oppressed-female-rebel shenanigans about some bloody female oppressed by upbringing, who can do nothing but complain in endless cacophony and bash  to show how oppressed she is. Good grief! I've been seeing more and more of that idiotic nonsense that’s supposed to be eye-opening but actually does nothing but dampen the public’s mind, corrupt children into useless rebels (either that or needless goody-two-shoes) but does nothing to contribute to the growing history of cinema or civilization. In reality, it's just a nuisance. Fortunately, my worries with this film were in vain! True, our heroine is a spirited one who is inspired to find her true destiny - but there wasn't anything annoying or stupid in that. "Brave" somewhat resurrects the "Freaky Friday" mother-daughter relationship in a tiffy, putting them on the path to rediscovery and adventure. In sometimes darker, more hair-raising proportions, it will be particularly revealing to mothers and daughters who see the film together for years to come. Yet every character in the film is significant. The three boys with their endless mischief represent the boys of any age - as sneaky as they always will be. The father will represent the sturdy husband, strong, but libel to go off the rocker if his cool and collected queen doesn't step in and set things in order. All in all, this dimension of the story sets the example of how to come together and reach agreements in a civilized way.

As with all the Pixar films I've seen, I was indeed quite pleased with this one. Yet, I was surprised to see  - of all the Pixar films – this film has done worst at the box office. Also, the reaction had been mixed among critics. Both the poster and trailer suggested it would be a different film and that, of course, children under perhaps nine should likely not see it quite yet. It is also fair to assume that more girls will go see the film than boys given that the protagonist is female. Perhaps the historical mystic Scottish setting was too much for most kids 11 and up. Still, the critics’ reaction not being overwhelmingly positive is a different story and perhaps can also be explained. Pixar really dumped something novel on us viewers. Well, one can only hope "Brave" will have more luck at the Oscars. Regardless, "Brave" is a worthy edition to the Disney/Pixar family of comedies and adventures. This film is indeed quite brilliant - I would give it a 97/98 rating on a scale from 1-100!

Copyright 2012 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)