Sunday, 8 January 2017

GUEST POST: Top Ten Musicals

This latest guest post comes from my friend and work colleague, Kris Steed. Kris has an infectious passion for film and is aspiring to turn that passion into a writing career. He will be setting up his own blog soon, so if you like what you read then I will put a link to it in a later post. In this post, he counts down his top ten favourite movie musicals - just in time for the UK release of La La Land. So read on and enjoy.

The days of the MGM musicals are sadly long behind us. With the increasing realism of cinema becoming more and more apparent, many moviegoers refuse to suspend reality whenever an actor suddenly breaks into song. Will there ever be a film to change that view? Or will the musical genre continue to divide audiences for years to come?

Well fortunately it seems that director Damien Chazelle's new film La La Land appears to be the perfect antidote to steer us into the new year, arriving in cinemas in the UK on the 13th January.

So to get us in the toe-tapping mood, here are my top 10 picks of the best musicals to grace the silver screen...

10. Guys and Dolls

Uneven, problematic and cartoonish. Those are the easiest criticisms for Guys and Dolls. But who gives a damn? The musical sequences are gorgeous and lively, depicting an old fashioned world where men were men and women were strung along for the ride. With catchy tunes and eye popping dance numbers, this movie has MGM classic written all over it and will continue to be loved for years to come.

9. Meet Me in St. Louis

Starring Judy Garland, this slice of 1900's USA is a delightful Sunday afternoon affair that boasts classic songs such as "The Trolley Song" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Based on the memoirs of a real life family, Meet Me in St Louis depicts the ups and downs of living in America during the turn of the century. And with Garland at the peak of her career, there are endless amounts of musical treats to be enjoyed in this technicolour gem.

8. Moulin Rouge!

Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, The Great Gatsby) has never been a creature of subtlety and Moulin Rouge is no exception. An explosive visual feast which may be exhausting and overwhelming for some; but for all you hopeless romantics out there, prepare to fall completely in love with this Bohemian landmark in cinema. With theatrical twists on famous well-known pop songs, bold colours and broad intimidating characters, a night at the Moulin Rouge! will provide you with the exhilarating excess you've been missing from your lives.

7. The Sound of Music

Being forced to watch this as a young boy with your sister was extremely painful. However, it didn't take me too long to realise how much of a masterpiece The Sound of Music really is. This musical adaptation of the Von Trapp family oozes with ambition in both its musicality and cinematography. From the sweeping shots of the Austrian mountains, to the technicolour intimacy of the Gazebo, this movie entertains from start to finish. As one of the greatest pick-me-ups you could ever slide into your DVD player, The Sound of Music will refuse to ever leave the minds of those lucky enough to visit it.

6. My Fair Lady

Although this musical has some bad memories for me (more specifically me singing "Get Me to The Church" at a music recital with a cockney accent even Dick Van Dyke would cringe at) I still cannot deny the excellence of this film. A stunning big budget production which garnered a total of 8 Oscars, My Fair Lady is essential viewing for any musical theatre nut. Boasting an excellent cast featuring the legendary Audrey Hepburn, every frame of this film is slick, graceful and rich in Edwardian culture. That's without mentioning the intelligent song writing that does more than entertain, but also succeeds in enriching each character we see on screen. A classic 1960's masterpiece which I'd urge anyone to see, just don't ever try to mimic one of its song at a music recital.

5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

The darkly comic gorefest that is Sweeney Todd is renowned for being one of Tim Burton's high points as a Director. With excellent pacing, set design and character study, we delve deep into the underground world of one of Victorian London's greatest legends. I remember being surprised by the intricacy of Johnny Depp's performance and how his dark eyes were lifeless portals, devoid of any happiness or joy. All that remained was the intent to exact revenge against the corrupt Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who exiled him to Australia and stole the love of his life. With intense musical sequences and spine-tingling twists and turns, Sweeney Todd is a convincing revenge story that will appeal to more than just the average musical lover.

4. West Side Story

What would appear to be the standard run of the mill musical, West Side Story is instead an explosive and raw reimagining of the Romeo and Juliet story, where two star crossed lovers from opposing communities fall in love in the dangerous backdrop of New York City. Full of passion, high energy and terrific musical numbers, West Side Story is unique in both the scope of its production and the grueling dances that the actors are forced to perform on location. But on another level there is plenty of creative subtlety to be enjoyed. The bold colour scheme of scolding reds drench each scene, foreshadowing the tragedy that these two young lovers will inevitably face. If you're not big into musicals then this will certainly challenge you in terms of its theatrical pacing. But if you're up for the ride then West Side Story will leave you in sheer awe.

3. Cabaret

Everyone has heard of it, but not everyone has seen it. Should you be concerned? My answer is YES. Cabaret is a chilling, bawdy and sometimes disturbing look at a 1930's Berlin cabaret club during a time where Nazism began to take its hold on the nation. This is by no means an ordinary musical, Cabaret is a much darker beast where director Bob Fosse knows his source material and focuses on it with pin-point precision. But don't get me wrong, there is still a heap of fun to be had with glamourous and bombastic musical numbers with larger-than-life characters. The 70's wasn't the greatest decade for the film-musical genre, but this one is enough to make up for it.

2. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg  
The most underrated classic on this list is the uncompromising French Musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. A story of two lovers who are forced to separate due to war. Surely this is one of the most romantic films ever made. Watching this, I was reminded that what I was experiencing was more of an opera than a musical. Every line in the movie is sung, evoking a parallel reality in which everyone communicates their thoughts and feelings through song. It's a truly magical experience. And this is all without mentioning the beautiful cinematography which transports you into a world of florescent colour and undying love. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg has truly stood the test of time and continues to excite new generations of not just musical lovers, but cinema lovers also.

1. Singin' in the Rain

Usually it's extremely difficult to find a film which defines a genre, but Singin' in the Rain not only wins that title, but carries it to almost unreachable heights. Set in the stylish setting of 1920's LA, Singin' in the Rain is the story of how a famous actor and a production company make a reluctant transition to sound. The story works really well and is a solid foundation for the film, but what really elevates this film into its legendary status is its abundance of charm. This film is steered into victory by its charismatic trio (Kelly, Reynolds and O'Connor) who spend the 103 minute runtime tap dancing their way into your hearts. Singin' in the Rain is a perfect example of how musicals and cinema can co-exist in perfect harmony to transport us to a place where the world dissolves away and dreams become reality.

So there you go, the top ten musicals according to Kris Steed. I definitely need to catch up on some of these! Feel free to leave some feedback down in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 3 January 2017


What a way to start 2017!

Silence is the latest film from master filmmaker Martin Scorsese. It follows two Jesuit priests as they travel to Japan in the 1600’s to locate their mentor and propagate Catholicism in a time when Christianity is outlawed.

This film is an epic, a sprawling epic of cinematic proportions. It’s based on a novel that I have yet to read, but you could tell that this kind of a story came from a book. The way it’s structured, the way it follows its characters on insightful and intriguing tangents feels novelistic. It’s a long film but there was never one point that I felt like it was lingering, the story that was being told needed to be told in its entirety, every detail examined to allow the experience to take hold of you. It was never slow, it was fairly well paced and never meandered around in setting.

This film is a passion project for Martin Scorsese, a project that has taken decades to get off the ground. That must be quite a burden on the actors when cast in their roles, the three main ones being Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, thankfully three of the best actors working right now. People will mention their accents, which do waver at times, Neeson not really going for one at all, but it was never something that bothered me. Their accents were just a small part of their overall performances, performances that truly were some of the best I’ve seen on screen in a long while. The burden of this film falls mainly on to the shoulders of Andrew Garfield who is the main protagonist. He gives it his all, his performance is very internal, it’s written on his face and as an audience you are constantly trying to get a read on him, what is he thinking, is his faith at breaking point? We are getting to that time of year again so I’m just going to say it; give this man an Oscar. Apart from the big three, the rest of cast is mainly made up of Japanese actors, something which is very refreshing to see in a western made film. The actor who stood out to me was Tadanobu Asano who played an interpreter, a character who you are constantly trying to figure out.

Faith based films are not always going to play well with large audiences and I imagine a large proportion are going to be turned off by the subject matter of this one however, I urge you to check this one out. I am not a religious person but faith has always been a topic of discussion that has interested me. Depending on your faith this film will provoke different responses, there will be times when people will get annoyed at certain characters’ ignorance, but if you can respect the way they think then you will be immersed in their world of thinking and understand it even if you don’t believe it yourself.

Although the story may be from a novel, Scorsese still makes the most out of the medium of film. He uses the camera like a pen and allows it to tell the story in a very visual way, moving it around and creating a reaction that feels very old-school, unfortunately you don’t get so many films like this anymore. There are times when it felt a little rough around the edges but it made me love the filmmaking even more, it felt gritty and worked for but astonishingly beautiful at the same time, unaccompanied by a score but instead diegetic sound there are times when you notice the filmmaking but never in a way that takes you out of the film, I was constantly immersed throughout.

This film is pure cinema and although it won’t be for everyone (a few people left in my screening), I really hope that everyone will give it a go. In a world of repetitive and predictable blockbusters, it’s nice to go into an original story, one that I didn’t know anything about and one that I was able to come out of and feel richer for seeing it. In terms of Scorsese’s work, this is up there as one of his best films, we are very lucky to be graced yet again with a Scorsese masterpiece. I am giving Silence a rating of 5/5.

Have you seen Scorsese's latest yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!