Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (8.0).

I remember seeing the ads for this film and feeling interest when I was a teenager, but I never acted on that interest at the time.  It wasn't until 2005 or thereabouts when I finally saw it... and found out what I'd been missing.  The concept is Tim Burton (Pee-Wee's Big AdventureBeetlejuice, 1989 Batman).  The music is Danny Elfman (Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, 1989 Batman... and, oh yeah, Men In Black, 2002 Spider-Man, and pretty much any film soundtrack since 1990 with an element of fun or whimsy).  The film itself is a stop-motion musical about the citizens of Halloween Town, responsible for the human holiday, who discover Christmas and are so excited that they decide to take it over.  If you haven't seen it, you should check out the opening song, "This Is Halloween"; if you don't like it, you're probably not going to like the rest of the movie.  (I'm also going to question your taste, because... seriously, it's Danny Elfman.)  Score: 4 stars out of 4.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Wiz (1978)

Links: TVTropes, Wikipedia, IMDB (4.7).

The scenes filmed at the Emerald City were elaborate, utilizing six hundred fifty dancers, three hundred eighty-five crew members and twelve hundred costumes. [...] The Wiz proved to be a commercial flop, as the $24 million production only earned $13.6 million at the box office.
— Wikipedia

This musical re-imagining of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is today remembered as the flop that killed Motown Records' forays into film (and indeed, blaxploitation as a genre).  Despite that, I have fond childhood memories of this film, and a recent rewatch confirmed my memory: while it has many glaring flaws, it has the whiff of greatness as well.  The worst problem is that it drags: many of the musical numbers are twice as long and half as interesting as they ought to be, especially the ones near the beginning and end.  The second-worst is the casting: Diana Ross got a lot of flak for her Dorthy (now a shy mid-20s schoolteacher), but I thought Dorothy's problem was less Ross and more the director, while Richard Pryor's Wiz was awful and Nipsey Russell's singing voice for Tin Man was wholly inappropriate for everything but "Slide Some Oil To Me".  And the problems don't stop there; there's the occasionally awful cinematography, for example, or the unforgettably goofy subway sequence.  Yet it's never the problems I remember; it's "Ease On Down the Road", the aforementioned "Slide Some Oil To Me", the infamously lavish Emerald City sequence, the 24 glorious minutes from Dorothy leaving the Emerald City to her triumphant return — giving us both Mabel King's fabulous villain song "Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News" and the liberated Winkies' "Everybody Rejoice (Brand New Day)" — and finally Ross's sappy but appreciated "Home (Finale)".  Overall, the film's great moments easily outshine the problems.  Score: 3 stars out of 4.