Thursday, December 25, 2014

Dork Hero: Humphrey Bogart

Since I was 10 years old, Humphrey Bogart has been my number one idea of what cool is.  There have been many more men and women over the years who have helped to define cool for me, but the foundation is still Bogie.  Born on Christmas Day, 1899, he is an icon and a true Dork Hero. 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Eight Movie Musical Adaptations That Put A Song In My Heart

Hello fellow Dorks!

It was an intimidating task to be asked to guest blog for the fellows over here at In The Mouth of Dorkness.  As far as I’m concerned, they’re experts in just about every area of Dork-dom and I am continually overwhelmed by their expansive knowledge and encyclopedic memories of all things cinematic.  However, it was pretty easy for me to pin-point an area of film history where this blog is woefully lacking in its enthusiastic coverage of the movies - MUSICALS. 

Musicals, both those experienced live on Broadway and those captured on the big screen, are my favorite genre of film.  The way the boys wax poetic about gritty noir classics or cheesy blaxploitation films is the way I feel about watching my actors on screen burst into song and dance.  With the movie musical about to make a solid splash on film screens this week, with Disney’s release of Into The Woods - a big-budget, star-studded adaptation of a wonderfully melancholy and fairly dark musical by Stephen Sondheim (whose genius shall inspire another guest post for another day) - I thought I should turn my critical eye to musical adaptations.

For this list, I decided to take a look at the best film adaptations of Broadway musicals.  Just as Into the Woods first debuted on Broadway and wowed audiences for years before being picked up by Hollywood, each musical on this was first presented on the Great White Way before making its way onto the silver screen.  This will explain why my favorite musical - Singin’ In The Rain - isn’t on the list or why some cult favorites - like Little Shop of Horrors, which only made it off-Broadway before on the screen - have been excluded.  Also, a list of five seemed too short and a list of ten seemed excessive, so I have chosen eight great movie musical adaptations.

Are you ready?  Shall we kick it off with a 5-6-7-8?

8.  Damn Yankees - Damn Yankees represents a lot of what can go right with a musical adaptation - you can hold on to the stars that made the Broadway debut a Tony-award winning success (in this case, Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston as well as a number of supporting cast and dancers).  You have the film made just a couple years after the Broadway show smash, while there’s an eager audience ready to see the film on screen.  And most importantly, you put a man behind the camera who knows a little something about musical theatre - Stanley Donen (the director behind such immortal classics as Singin’ in the Rain, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, On The Town, etc etc etc every awesome musical ever.)  Having choreography - and a brief appearance by - Bob Fosse certainly doesn’t hurt either.  

7. The Music Man - Aside from Robert Preston’s career-defining performance as Professor Harold Hill, the con man with a heart of gold, The Music Man adaptation benefits from understanding how to scale a musical adaptation.  While the film certainly takes pleasure in exploring the opportunity presented by a cinematic medium (real locations, interesting camera shots, comedic editing), the film holds up so well over time because it doesn’t drastically try to alter the feel of the original Broadway shows.  The set - a town in small-town Iowa - is appropriately small-scaled, with the action unfolding naturally around a handful of locations.  It maintains the intimacy and charm of the original musical and is an example why bigger isn’t always better (I’m looking at you, adaptations of Nine and Hello, Dolly!)

And back to Preston for a moment - he had been a B-level movie actor for awhile but having defined the role on Broadway, he was a must-have for the film adaptation.  But producer Jack Warner wasn’t thrilled - he wanted Frank Sinatra or Cary Grant, who he begged, to take the role of Hill.  Luckily, Grant said that no one could play the role better than Preston - and he was right.  As always. Because he’s Cary Grant.

6. South Pacific - Poor Mary Martin.  There are so many roles that she originates and defines on Broadway but never has a chance to bring to Hollywood - and the role of Ensign Nellie Forbush in South Pacific is probably the worst of the snubs. Unfortunately for Martin, the casting of Mitzi Gaynor is pretty terrific - she may not sing as well as Martin but she brings an energy and spunk to the role that makes the film my second-favorite of any adapted Rogers & Hammerstein musical.  While there is an ill-advised used on color filters in the film, this is otherwise a subtle and lovely adaptation that has the good sense to retain all of the original songs from the show.  When you have such killer tunes as “Some Enchanted Evening,” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” and “Younger Than Springtime,” you don’t mess with perfection.

5. Fiddler on the Roof - Fiddler on the Roof was a bona fide Broadway smash - the first show to surpass 3,000 performances and held the record as the longest-running Broadway show for almost ten years.  Part of the show’s success was the powerhouse performance of Zero Mostel, an actor whose shadow would be hard to come out from under.  Luckily, Chaim Topol, who portrays the patriarch Tevye in the film, brings an unparalleled energy and passion to the role, which earned him an Oscar nomination.  Some people will claim the film is too long or too faithful an adaptation of the stage show, but in my opinion, the film benefits from capturing all of the changes, big and small, faced by this Jewish family living in Anatevka in 1905.

4.  On The Town - Breaking with many of the other films on this list, On The Town is so enjoyable partly because it deviates decidedly from the original Broadway version.  Co-directed by Stanley Donen (of course) and Gene Kelly (who has truly given us the Eighth Wonder Of The World), the film tosses out most of the operatic Broadway music in favor of new music that captures the peppy, vibrant tone of the film.  The dancers Donen and Kelly also have an incredible eye for capturing dance on film, which makes On The Town - shot on location in New York City - a dazzling, visual spectacle.

3.  Cabaret - Forget the criticisms you’ve heard - Liza Minelli is too talented to portray a washed-up, no talent singer like Sally Bowles, the film cuts out too many supporting characters from the stage show, that the love triangle isn’t necessary.  Go back and watch the film.  Seriously.  I’ll wait.  What Cabaret does is throw off all the cliches you think you know about musicals and their film adaptations and as Ebert brilliant describes it, “goes right to the bleak heart of the material and stayed there.”  There’s a good reason why Bob Fosse, whose choreography is brilliant and direction even sharper, won the Academy Award for Best Director.  And seriously, go back and watch Minelli and Joel Grey (the devious Cabaret Emcee) revel in their moral anarchy with their iconic performances of “Cabaret,” “Money” and “If You Could See Her Through My Eyes” and tell me this adaptation is damned close to perfect.

2.  The Sound of Music - Film casting is a funny thing.  The original Broadway version of this classic starred (of course) Mary Martin as Maria.  Julie Andrews, who had originated the role of Eliza Doolitle on Broadway in My Fair Lady had been passed over for the film role because she wasn’t well-known enough.  That didn’t prove to be a problem for Walt Disney, who cast her in Mary Poppins and made her an American film star.  Thus, Julie Andrews was the must-have choice for The Sound of Music.  Poor Mary Martin.

Martin’s loss is cinema’s gain - Andrews’ performance of a mischievous postulant-turned-governess-turned Nazi-fleeing wife is a tour-de-force of charm, energy, and beautiful music.  There’s a reason why almost 50 years later, people still sit down together as a family to watch this film.  The movie has everything you could want - laughter, music, romance, danger, Nazis - and it’s filmed beautifully on location in Salzburg, capturing the world of the story that the stage show could never quite pull off.  Plus, I dare you to watch that scene where Christopher Plummer sings “Edelweiss” with his children and not get a little misty-eyed.  

1. West Side Story - This should not be a surprise.  When you have a show that is this good - music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, choreography by Jerome Robbins, and a story that contains one of the sharpest adaptations of Romeo & Juliet, it would be hard to go wrong.  The film is both a loving and faithful adaptation of the brilliant stage show that also elevates the musical and expands the gritty world of rival street gangs in the 1950s to create an enduring cinematic classic.  This film holds the record for most Academy Award wins for a musical (10!) and it’s not hard to see why.  You have the beautiful Natalie Wood (who, yes, I know, doesn’t sing but still manages to convey heartbreaking innocence) and soulful Richard Beymer, falling in love amongst the fire escapes and back alleyways of New York City. You have Rita Moreno, full of fire and seduction, singing the praises of her adopted country in “America.” You have Russ Tamblyn, all kinetic movement and wiseacre energy bordering on rage, as the leader of the Jets, hungrily circling George Chakiris and his Puerto Rican sharks.  The performances are amazing.  The music is amazing.  The choreography is - SERIOUSLY - amazing.  There is no better adaptation of a musical ever in the history of film.

Of course, feel free to tell me I’m wrong!  What films did I miss?  Do you think it’s harsh that I haven’t included anything post-1970s?  Leave your thoughts in the comments or tweet me at @beccagrawl.  If you’re curious to hear what the boys think about movie musicals, send your questions to @ITMODCast and perhaps we can get them to talk musicals on the show!

- Rebecca

Friday, December 12, 2014

Matt’s Ten Favorite Action Movies (at this moment)

    While talking about Die Hard on the ITMODcast, Brad challenged me to come up with my top five action movie list.  I thought I’d expand that, and list ten of my favorite action movies.   I’d certainly say that Die Hard is awesome, and totally deserves a spot on the list.  But as I realized while watching it last week at the Alamo Drafthouse, I have very little experience with it; it’s not a film I’ve ‘lived’ with like some of these.  Of course, like any of these lists I make, the order (and even the inclusion) of films is subject to change depending on the day and my mood.

10.  The Matrix:  Its massive popularity and the disappointment with the sequels have probably combined to create a backlash against the movie.  But I still love it.  To say the very least, it was a game changer.  Though if that change was good or bad may still be up for debate.  I love the culmination of so many cyberpunk concepts into a kung-fu filled, effects laden action adventure.

9.  Desperado:  Here’s a movie that I had NO interest in ever seeing.  The trailers made it look like some pseudo-Brad Pitt romance with a bit of action thrown in.  No thank you.  But then a friend told me to put my preconceptions aside and give it a try.  The movie started up, Steve Buscemi starts telling his story of the ‘biggest Mexican’ he’d ever seen, and I was hooked.  Way over the top violence, lots of bent humor, and a sense of wild excitement.  It’s so danged much fun.

8.  Conan the Barbarian:  Not surprisingly, I have a couple Arnold movies on this list.  This is probably my favorite fantasy genre film, featuring some of my favorite scenes.  The final battle, in spite of only featuring a relative handful of horsemen, is one of the most epic things I’ve ever seen.  And the music.  Oh, the music.

7.  Fist of Legend:  No wire work, no crazy effects.  Just fists flying at mind blowing speed.  The movie that taught me Kung Fu flicks could be more than just bad dubbing and unintentional fun.  Jet Li was a revelation, the movie had surprising heart and soul, and the action is top notch.

6.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:  A sweeping, martial arts period piece with some of the of the most pulse-pounding kung-fu I’ve ever seen.  Gorgeously shot, marvelously staged, and lushly crafted.  It’s not only an amazing action movie, it’s an amazing movie.

5.  Aliens:  Alien is one of the all time great horror films.  Aliens is one of the all time great action films.  Gone is the haunted house stalking, replaced by hoards of bugs eating a colorful team of wisecracking Colonial Marines.  This is, to my thinking, the peak of James Cameron.  He never even came close again.  But what a peak.  For all his bloated, soulless, time-sucks that came later, this movie remains a masterwork; untarnished.

4.  Escape from New York:  In the 80s, there was one thing people were pretty darned sure about, and that’s that the world was going to go right down the tubes.  This look forward into the corrupt police state of America circa 1997 is darned cool.  Snake is the Clint Eastwood channeling hero who goes into the prison world of New York City, where he has to save the President from the clutches of The Duke.  Lots of great supporting roles and a cool atmosphere make this one a classic.

3.  Commando:  Yup.  My fourth favorite movie of all time.  Yeah.  That’s right.  Obviously, the script is the strength of the film, but Arnold pounds the living crap out of a bunch of people, then cuts and shoots apart the entire army of an evil dictator all by himself, and all for the love of his daughter.  Let off some steam, don’t disturb my friend, and if you’re lucky, I’ll kill you last.

2.  Raiders of the Lost Ark:  Thrilling heroics and retro-fueled adventure are the name of the game in this, one of my all time favorite films (# 10, in fact) and one of my great cinematic influences (# 1 on that list).  Fistfights, foot chases, and that awesome truck fight.  It’s all the cliffhanger excitement of classic film crammed into one beautiful package.  Cool characters, cool story, and beautifully shot.  One of the greats.

1.  The Road Warrior: I’m a fan of the whole series, to be honest.  Yeah, I even like Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.  Actually, I love it.  But The Road Warrior (aka Mad Max 2) is a straight-up amazing film.  It’s gut punchingly savage, dark, depressing, and exciting as all heck.  The iconic final chase is a thing of beauty (so much so that they felt the need to directly lift it in Beyond Thunderdome), but the movie features several cool action scenes, not to mention a beautifully presented apocalyptic world, populated by interesting characters.  Like the best movies, I felt like it took pace within a much larger world.  While we’re watching the story of Max, I have no doubt that over the next hill, equally dramatic lives are being lived and snuffed out.

-Matthew J. Constantine

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Comic Review: The Chimera Brigade Book One

    Regular readers will know that I love the pulps, and a lot of pulp inspired stuff.  Movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and Raiders of the Lost Ark; comics like The Rocketeer and Hellboy; and of course adaptations of the originals, like Doc Savage, The Shadow, and the like.  I also enjoy a good referential, alternate history story, like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  So, The Chimera Brigade is right up my alley.   Set in an alternate 1938, where Europe was profoundly changed by the arrival of what seem to be superheroes and villains after the Great War.  Across the Continent, forces are gathering, spies are spying, and trouble is brewing.

    Though the book in no way feels like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, that is the most obvious reference when comparing it to something else.  But instead of characters out of Victorian adventure novels, it features a different array of references (from Zamyatin’s We to Orwell’s Big Brother to Meyrink’s Golem), and a very different plot.  I like the setting a lot and am very curious where the plot is going to take the various characters that have been introduced.  The art isn’t amazing, but it’s not bad.  Though not as good, in my opinion, it often reminds me of Mignola’s work on Hellboy.

    Doing a quick bit of research, I found that this is the first of six volumes.  I’m glad that it’s a story that has been completed.  But not I’ve got to wait for it to get translated from the French and published Stateside, which sadly, might take a while.  Because it is only the first of six volumes, this serves primarily as an introduction to the world and to the players, with only hints at the overall story.  It has my attention; hopefully it can hold on to it for however long it takes to get the whole thing out.

The Chimera Brigade: Book One
Authors: Serge Lehman & Fabrice Colin
Artist: Gess
Publisher: Titan Comics
ISBN: 978-1-782-76099-3

-Matthew J. Constantine

Comic Review: Concrete Park

    I hadn’t heard about this comic before I saw it on the shelf and it piqued my interest.  An inexpensive hardcover about a bunch of street gangers and disenfranchised shipped off to a colony world?  I’m in.  The book is written by a husband and wife team, Tony Puryear and Erika Alexander (both are Hollywood veterans, Puryear a writer, Alexander an actress, which normally makes me wary of 'stunt casting' creative teams).  And I gather the original run appeared in the resurrected Dark Horse Presents.  This gives the book a somewhat choppy feel, covering some bases multiple times to keep anyone who hadn’t caught the previous installment up to date.

    Getting past some of the wonky issues caused by its original presentation, I do like the comic.  I enjoy the setting, which blends the gritty, ugly, crime filled streets of 80s L.A. with the harsh, near prison-like conditions of a colony world.  It’s very cyberpunk, which of course, I dig.  And there’s a lot of world building, including a lot of slang (with a helpful glossary in the back).

    The characters have potential to be interesting, but sadly, the volume is quite short.  And that leads me to my main complaint.  The combination of the Dark Horse Presents short story format and the very briefness of the volume make it all feel extremely introductory.  I wanted more time with the characters and the setting.  I wanted more time to find out what the overall story is going to be.  I gather there is a second arc coming out on its own (not in Dark Horse Presents).  So hopefully, that will have more story/character content.  And of course, I should mention the art.  I have to admit, I’m not in love with it.  It has an intensity that I like, but it feels very, very digital, and I guess I don’t respond to that as much.  But the art certainly isn’t awful, and it doesn’t take away from the story.  So, here’s hoping things will improve and grow with the comic.  I’m plenty curious enough to see what’s next.

Concrete Park Vol. 1: You Send Me
Authors: Tony Puryear & Erika Alexander
Artist: Tony Puryear
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-61655-530-6

-Matthew J. Constantine

Saturday, December 6, 2014


If you've enjoyed our posts over the years, please join Brad and I, and our co-Dork Darren for ITMODcast, our new podcast (click here or search ITMODcast on iTunes).  We discuss many of the same topics you've seen here, but we hope to grow and of course, to surprise and delight (I always hope to surprise and delight).


Stop what you're doing!

The following is a public service announcement...

See Manborg right now.  Stop reading this post and go rent/view/whatever the film.  If, like us at In the Mouth of Dorkness, you enjoy the wonderfully mad world of film, especially 'so bad they're good' films of the 80s, this is a wonderful callback.  It reminds me a bit of Hobo With a Shotgun, which also managed to update, and express its love for a time and style.  It's like Land of the Lost and Lexx got in a time-traveling blender and came out in a video rental shop in 1986.  If that sounds as amazing as it should, see the film!

-Matthew J. Constantine