Thursday, January 15, 2015

Thursday Movie Picks: Musicals



It's Thursday and believe me I'm happy. I'm so happy I am actually singing as I type this post. I'm singing because the theme for this week's Thursday Movie Picks is Musicals. Before we go any further, a very special shout-out goes to our host Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves for selecting this topic. If you're not familiar with the weekly meme, turn your dial over to her site and check it out. Then pen your own hit by joining in. Then come back here, of course.

I feel like I'm really stretching the music references without doing them any justice, so I'll quit there. What I will do is get on with my picks for this week. As per usual, I'm trying to dig a bit before suggesting something. I've come up with two hidden gems that are more forgotten than truly obscure. Most of you youngsters just haven't discovered these, yet, even though they're based on iconic works and have a sizable following in certain segments of the population. The other, well, it's certainly hidden, but I'm not so sure I would call it a gem. Actually, I would, but you might not. In fact, if you watch it you might hate it. You might hate me for even bringing it up. However, I must confess my love for this rather strange musical. I'll tell you why when we get there.

Play that funky music, blog boy...

ahem...sorry...The picks, chronologically, as always:


Carmen Jones
(1954)
Way back in 1943, there was actually a stage play called Carmen Jones that was a inspired by the classic opera, Carmen, but featured an all-black cast with music by the one and only Oscar Hammerstein II. Somehow, despite the era it was made, it was a success on Broadway, playing for 500+ performances. Legendary director Otto Preminger was one of those who saw it. He didn't really like it, but thought he could make a good movie out of it. And so he did, by ignoring much of the stage play and going back to the play's inspiration, the original Carmen. He assembled a top notch cast of the era's top black talent, including Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, and Diahann Carroll. The one who really makes this musical sing is its star, Dorothy Dandridge in the role that not only earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, but also made her an icon.


The Wiz
(1978)
Yes, we're going down the same road for this pick. What do I mean? Well, chances are you've seen The Wizard of Oz. I, myself, have seen it more times than I can count. There may not be another movie more iconic than this. However, I also love this 1978 re-imagining of the same source material, L. Frank Baum's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Produced by legendary Motown founder Berry Gordy, or by Motown Productions more accurately, this one features an all-black cast and is directed by none other than the brilliant Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, etc.) The land of Oz was suitably funked up by the behind the scenes musical talent of Quincy Jones, Luther Vandross, and Ashford & Simpson, among others. For instance, "We're Off to See the Wizard" becomes "Ease on Down the Road" (see below). On the screen, we get Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow, in his big screen debut and still on his way up toward international icon status (pre- "Off the Wall"). There's Nipsey Russell as The Tin Man, Mabel King as The Wicked Witch of the West, Lena Horne as The Good Witch of the South, and Richard Pryor as the Wiz himself. In that all-important role of Dorothy, now a school teacher not a farm girl, we get none other than Diana Ross.




Repo! The Genetic Opera
(2008)
This one is not a black version of anything. In fact, I don't think there was a black person anywhere to be found. However, that has nothing to do with anything, so let's move on. It's about a dystopian future where organ transplants are big business and handled by private corporations. Since new organs can be pricey, they offer financing. Guess what happens if you fall behind on your payments? They send someone out to repo whatever it is you've financed: kidney, liver, heart, it doesn't matter. And by repossess I mean hunt you down and rip it out of your body. In fact, we follow one of their employees, played by Anthony Stewart Head, doing his business until, well, things change. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? If the premise sounds familiar it's because 2010's Repo Men, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker, ripped it off. What we have here is truly the most bizarre musical I've ever watched. Just think about this: gangster movie vet Paul Sorvino is our corporate big wig and yup, he gets to sing a solo. Doesn't that sound strange. The next biggest name in the cast is a certain, widely loathed heiress. Though her work here was nominated for a Razzie, I'm going to give her credit for completely owning a role in which she clearly makes fun of herself. And as I've written before, you haven't lived until you've seen Paris Hilton's face literally slide off her skull while she's on stage crooning a morbid tune. Oh yeah, it's pretty gory. If you've seen this, please stop looking at me that way. I know it's not "good." It's really fucking awful. In fact, it's so bad it's awesome!


26 comments:

  1. I haven't seen any of these, and I've got to admit The Wiz was the only one that intrigued me to look it up and add to my watch list. Okay, maybe Carmen Jones as well. Nice list, you definitely dug deeper than I did, as I took the easy route and went with favorites I've seen a few dozen times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you get to check them both out. I'm not the biggest fan of musicals, but both of these are among my faves from the genre. Thanks.

      Delete
  2. I haven't watched any of these as well, but adding Carmen and The Wiz to my watch list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great! I hope you enjoy them and would love to see your thoughts on them. Thanks.

      Delete
  3. Wow, I haven't seen any of these either. I remember when Repo came out, I thought it looked terrible, but now I always find people who dug it. Maybe I should give it a shot sometime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Repo is definitely not for everyone. Don't go into it looking for something good in the traditional sense. On top of being a musical it's a satire as well, so I enjoyed it.

      Delete
  4. LOL, Repo...also trust in you for a WTF mention here, and I love it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I try to get at least one in there that will throw you for a loop. Thanks.

      Delete
  5. LOL at Repo! - that movie is CRAZY. The Wiz is so love-hate for me, as in I both love and hate it in equal measure. Love the sizzle Dandridge and Belafonte bring to Carmen Jones. GREAT picks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Repo is certainly crazy. Interesting take on The Wiz. And yeah, Dandridge and Belafonte brought some heat. Hats off for having seen all three. Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Delete
  6. Repo: The Genetic Opera sounds seriously trippy! :-) By the way, I love your sense of humor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trippy is a great word to describe Repo. Thanks. I'm glad someone gets me.

      Delete
  7. I'd never heard of The Wiz but with those people behind the scenes I am more than curious. Neat piece :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's lots of fun. Same story you're familiar with, but from a much different angle.

      Delete
  8. Once again, Wendell, you've offered three titles I've never seen. Thanks. I am making quite a list on behalf of these Thursday post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks a bunch. Hope you enjoy them when you get to them.

      Delete
  9. The Wiz really annoyed me, it seems so stagnant and miscast. I haven't seen Repo! but Carmen Jones is one I enjoyed quite a bit. Harry Belafonte, attractive and capable though he was, is kind of flat in the male lead or it might just be that Dorothy Dandridge is so powerful and magnetic as Carmen that she blows him off the screen. Pearl Bailey came across strongly as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry you didn't enjoy The Wiz, I always have fun whenever I watch it. I completely understand your feelings about Belafonte in Carmen Jones. I think it has more to do with Dandridge than he himself. Thanks for reading, Joel!

      Delete
    2. I mostly agree about The Wiz (Ross is WAY too old for Dorothy, for one), and it's kind of dour/overly serious in spots where it shouldn't be... BUT, movies that are truly visionary are so few and far between, and this one is definitely that. I love that Lumet had the balls to go there, and the visuals are sometimes jaw-dropping. Plus, I never get tired of that score.

      Delete
    3. Diana Ross as Dorothy is a point of contention for lots of folk. Honestly, she is too old. It's a case of forcing a name actor into a role. Hence, Dorothy being a school teacher. Given that its a Motown production and she was undoubtedly their biggest female star and, by that time an Academy Award nominated actress, I give them a pass. As for the rest of it I let the phenomenal spectacle of it all wash over me and I really get into it.

      Delete
  10. I'm not really a fan of musicals, although I do sometimes like soundtracks from them. I've heard of the Wiz. The Wizard of Oz is probably my favorite musical to watch. Ease on Down the Road is pretty good I must say, hadn't heard it before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To be honest, I'm not a big fan of musicals, either. That said, the ones I enjoy, I like quite a bit. Glad you like Ease in Down the Road.

      Delete
  11. I haven't seen any of these but I love your enthusiasm!

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have watch Repo Men though not Repo! I didn't know they had the same premise despite that having the similar title.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lots of people didn't know that because they've never heard of Repo! or just didn't pay any attention to it. Besides, it's way further "out there" than Repo Men.

      Delete