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.
School of Rock (2003) Written by Mike White Directed by Richard Linklater
School of Rock is a film I’ve always found okay. I saw it in the theater during its theatrical run, amid Jack Black’s golden era in movies. He’s still around, but this was back when Tenacious D was being played on repeat in dorm rooms, and High Fidelity was oft-quoted. This marks a transition moment for the actor, going from raunchier fare (Orange County, Shallow Hal) to more family-friendly pictures. It’s a very smart career move, and the script seems tailor-made for Black’s specific persona.
Some Like It Hot (1959) Written by Billy Wilder & I. A. L. Diamond Directed by Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder, as previously established, authored or at least refined many of the comedic subgenres in mainstream American cinema. Some Like It Hot takes classic tropes from authors like Shakespeare with the protagonist in disguise as another gender who is in love with another character and modernized them. Some Like It Hot is set in the 1920s, but its story is a classical one seen through the 1960s’ eyes while reflecting back across literature. There are definitely some problematic issues when viewed through the context of our modern gender progressive era. Additionally, it is a genuinely entertaining and influential piece of film.
Frank (2014) Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When given an actor like Michael Fassbender, a man with a handsome leading actor face and square jaw, the last thing you would think to do is put him under a paper mache head for ¾ of your movie. In doing this though the filmmakers give Fassbender some freedoms he might not be afforded in more traditional roles in films that call on him to be a smoldering lover or a dashing hero. The character of Frank is a cipher, created by comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey used Frank as a way to express the strangeness and absurdity he might have felt too nervous about showcasing with his face revealed. The film Frank, very different from the real world Frank, is a mentally ill man who is unable to see himself as a valuable person and hides in this mask, which he sees as the ideal form of a face.
Mary Poppins Returns (2018) Written by David Magee, Rob Marshall, & John DeLuca Directed by Rob Marshall
It’s The Great Depression in England and Michael Banks is still reeling over the death of his beloved wife. Now he’s a single father with three children, getting support from his sister Jane and their long-suffering housekeeper Ellen. Lawyers from Fidelity Fiduciary arrive one morning to inform the family that due to lax payments on a loan the bank will be seizing the house at the stroke of midnight in five days. That’s when an old friend returns to the lives of the adult Banks children, Mary Poppins. The mysterious nanny from the sky helps the newest generation of Banks kids work through their still lingering grief over their mother and rediscover the magic and joy in life that has been lost during such trying times. Along the way, they are joined by Jack, a lamplighter and former apprentice of Bert the chimneysweep.