Her Smell (2018) Written & Directed by Alex Ross Perry
I don’t think I have felt this sort of whiplash on my feelings about a filmmaker in a long while. When Alex Ross Perry is writing about literary people (Listen Up Philip), he’s nailing it. After watching Her Smell, I am curious about how much research he did when writing this picture. It felt like a cliched musician biopic and was absolutely grating by the end. It does have high points, but overall, I was pleased when the movie was over because it was so unenjoyable to watch. This is one where my wife had a lot to say and articulated some of the things I disliked so intensely about the movie—more on that in a bit.
Annie (1982) Written Carol Sobieksi Directed by John Huston
The 1970s were a fruitful period for Huston, with several acclaimed films and an expansion of his aesthetics to fit a modern style. Huston also worked in front of the camera as the iconic villain Noah Cross in the neo-noir Chinatown. He voiced Gandalf in the Rankin-Bass animated production of The Hobbit. Huston even starred as the lead in Orson Welles’ final & delayed film, The Other Side of the Wind. On the bleaker side of life, Huston was diagnosed with emphysema in 1978, which would plague him for the rest of his life. He’d been a heavy smoker since he was a young man, so it was only a matter of time until it caught up with him. In the early 1980s, Huston was approached by producer Ray Stark to direct an adaptation of the Broadway musical Annie. Huston had never made a musical in his forty years directing, so he decided to give it a shot.
New York, New York (1977) Written by Mardik Martin & Earl Mac Rauch Music by John Kander & Fred Ebb Directed by Martin Scorsese
If you were like me, growing up, you just assumed the song “New York, New York” was just some old song from back in the 1930s/1940s. However, I discovered that it was initially written for Martin Scorsese’s musical film of the same title in 1977. It makes sense that I might be tricked into thinking it was an older piece of music as it was written by Broadway legends Kander & Ebb (Cabaret, Chicago). They have a pitch-perfect ear for the sound of Broadway and a specific period, so the song feels like it’s just been around forever. The problems came from having the wrong mix of elements, Scorsese trying to blend ingredients of harsh realism with something that clearly made out of love for the golden age of Hollywood musicals.
Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) Written by Julie Brown, Charlie Coffey, and Terrence E. McNally Directed by Terrence E. McNally
When I was a kid, this film, in its edited for television version, seemed to play often on one of the local channels, which pretty much bought and played anything they could find to fill airtime. My memories are incredibly spotty, and I remember images of the furry aliens and their transformation into resembling people. I haven’t revisited it since those years, now; as an adult, I figured it could be a part of this series, and I was interested to see what I would get from it now. With 1980s nostalgia being at its peak in the last few years, you would think a movie like this would get more attention, but it still remains a very obscure picture, or at least not brought up in discussion in the internet corners I frequent.
Popeye (1980) Written by Jules Feiffer, Songs by Harry Nilsson Directed by Robert Altman
The making of Popeye began with a bidding war for the film rights to the Broadway stage adaptation of Little Orphan Annie. When producer Robert Evans found out Paramount had lost the bid to Columbia Pictures, he held an executive meeting about what comic properties they owned that could replace Annie. One person chimed in “Popeye,” and so it was decided they would make a movie musical based on the spinach-eating sailor man. The original concept was to cast Dustin Hoffman as Popeye and Lily Tomlin as Olive Oyl, but that fell through. At one point, even Gilda Radner was considered for Olive. However, when things finally settled and production began, we ended up with a picture that Paramount wasn’t too happy with, but that has become a cult classic.
The Blues Brothers (1980) Written by Dan Akroyd & John Landis Directed by John Landis
Saturday Night Live has spawned many film spin-offs and become the launchpad for many comedic actors. It began with The Blues Brothers, the first movie to take characters created on the show and put them in a feature presentation. The Blues Brothers were established in 1978, and over the years, Akyroyd and collaborator Ron Gwynne developed a backstory about the duo growing up in an orphanage and learning blues from the janitor. With the success of Animal House, director John Landis and star John Belushi were in a perfect position to get The Blues Brothers movie made.
Rachel (Directed by Andrew DeYoung) I love the comedic duo of John Early & Kate Berlant. Their Vimeo exclusive series 555 is brilliant, and everyone should watch it. This short film, directed by Andrew DeYoung, who was also behind the show, dramatizes a real-life situation that occurred to Early and his friends at a small house party one night. I don’t want to give away the details, but the short is a beautiful blend of horror, comedy, and that nervous, anxious cringey feeling—one of my favorite shorts of all-time, so simple yet brilliant.
Animal Crackers (1930) Written by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind Directed by Victor Heerman
Who were the Marx Brothers? Zeppo. Chico. Harpo. Groucho. Gummo. They were the children of French/German Jewish immigrants born into a family of artists and performers. Each brother mastered multiple instruments, and Groucho and Zeppo became accomplished singers. They became a Vaudeville act thanks to their uncle and began traveling the circuit, making money, and laughs. As time went on each brother honed their stage persona, Groucho became the de facto leader with his sharp, caustic comedy. When World War I struck, the Marx mother learned that farmers were exempt from the draft, so she bought a chicken farm in Illinois, but the boys found agrarian life was not their style.
Yesterday, I reviewed the atrocity that is Cats, a film that falls apart because of a mix of a muddled story and, most importantly, an over-reliance on computer-generated effects. I thought sharing my favorite musicals could be some fun. These are definitely all not your classic Broadway productions but things that skew more towards my particular tastes.
Cats (2019) Written by Lee Hall & Tom Hooper, from material by T.S. Eliot and Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber Directed by Tom Hooper
I know what you are asking. “Why are you doing this to yourself?” When a film like Cats, which has been so memed and mocked, comes along, you have to watch it. I wanted to know if the roasting of Cats was warranted. Maybe the trailer wasn’t a great representation of the whole. Perhaps the critics are nitpicking it. Maybe this is a fantastic reimagining of the box office smash on Broadway. Maybe…oh, who I am kidding? This film is shockingly bad in almost every aspect that a movie could be. Let’s get into it.