I’ve got a song in my heart. Or something.

On Friday night, I watched the movie adaptation of the musical Cats. A great deal of the Internet has already made fun of this psychedelic oddity of a film adaptation, but I actually kind of loved it.  I think it was a pretty decent stage adaptation, despite Taylor Swift adding a new song to it for some reason.  It definitely had some oddities, like some of the cats having sneakers or tap shoes or even fur coats, which is a weird thing for a cat to wear.   Here are a couple of choice Twitter post observations, before we move on:

Getting back to my original point- I was always going to love the Cats movie, because I’m an unapologetic musical theater geek. Always have been, and always will be. I’ve been listening to (and occasionally seeing) musicals for as long as I’ve been aware of them. I saw A Chorus Line at the end of its decade-busting run at the Schubert in New York City back in the 80s. I’ve seen Wicked enough times and in so many different cities that I’ve actually lost count. I’ve been a season subscriber to local theaters a few times now, and it’s a wonder that I didn’t major in musical theatre.

There are a LOT of stage musicals that have been made into movies. Don’t believe me? Go look up “movies of musicals” on Google. I’m not going to cover even a fraction of them here, just a few that have my attention right now. I’m also leaving out musical movies that were not originally stage shows at all, such as The Greatest Showman – that’s an entirely different post.

I’m sure that everyone who leaves a comment on this post will have some thoughts about musicals I’ve missed. Here are my thoughts on a few of them.

Little Shop Of Horrors
I love Little Shop. This has long been one of my all-time favorite musicals. So much so that I own three different variants of the soundtrack- the movie, the original broadway, and the recent revival. I even saw this in German while I was in Germany- hearing the same songs with lyrics auf Deutsch was fascinating.

The movie adaptation of Little Shop committed two sins, though. The first sin: It added a song to the movie that wasn’t in the stage show. This wasn’t too bad though, because the song was “Mean Green Mother,” which is hilarious and fun. The other sin, the more egregious mortal sin, is that the movie was unnecessarily given a happy ending when the stage show (and the original Jack Nicholson black and white movie, for that matter) don’t have happy endings. Still, this is a great movie adaptation. Plus, it has a bonus fun bit with Bill Murray that is entirely pointless, but still great fun.

West Side Story and Guys and Dolls
I can’t ignore the older musical movies – I love many of the “classic” movie musicals, and there are a great many: Kismet, Bells Are Ringing, My Fair Lady, and two of my long-time favorites, West Side Story and Guys and Dolls.

West Side Story is such a delight that I can’t even relate the sheer number of times that it’s filtered into other pop culture or been an integral part of a joke. Plus this musical is why all the gangstas in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video were such accomplished dancers.

As for Guys and Dolls, the movie is 65 years old but it still holds up, with Brando, Sinatra, and a fantastic supporting cast. Stubby Kaye sings one of my favorite songs from the entire musical:

A Chorus Line: The Movie
A Chorus Line is so very, very, very dated. The original stage show holds up much better because it gets occasionally updated. The movie version, on the other hand, is pure 1985 cheese with regard to instrumentation, arrangement, and dancing styles. Add to that the venial sin of adding a song that isn’t in the original stage show, and you have a movie that is absolutely terrible.   The added song is so ear-wormy that it quickly became my favorite song in the movie, despite my previous complaints about movie-musicals that add a song just for the movie. I’m fickle and complicated; sue me.

Phantom Of The Opera
I wanted to love this because the stage show is amazing.  The movie got the look spot on- the staging, the costumes, the orchestration- everything was perfect. Except for Gerard Butler. Why did they have to cast someone as the Phantom who makes me want to stick needles in my ears every time he opens his mouth? This musical movie adaptation would have been perfect if Butler had never opened his trap.

Rent
My only complaint about the movie adaptation of Rent is that the stage show has some grit to it, and the movie is so polished that it felt like an MTV video of the stage show. They get bonus points for pulling in many of the original Broadway cast actors for this one, and when they did bring in new talent, it was a good fit. Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms both did really excellent jobs with their songs, and I have no complaints.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
When I saw that they were making a movie of this, I was ecstatic. Then I saw they were casting Johnny Depp as Sweeney and I was distraught. I love Avenue Q. I adore Wicked. But Sweeney Todd may be my all-time favorite musical. Especially the original Len Cariou/Angela Lansbury version.  (Bonus geek trivia: Len Cariou, the original Sweeney, played Janeway’s father in one episode of Star Trek: Voyager. True story.) I love Sweeney Todd so much that I was horrified at what might happen with Depp in the lead. I wasn’t sure if he could sing, and it reeked of stunt casting.

I had nothing to fear though- I was in the audience opening weekend, and my row-mates actually caught me squeeing a number of times- Depp and Helena Bonham Carter both did an amazing job. And I found, to my delight, that this was the single best movie adaptation of a musical I had yet seen. It was faithful enough to the stage show that I didn’t feel like it was needlessly truncated, and the entirety of it was pitch-perfect in every way.  Pun only mildly intended.

It’s also the only time I’ve seen Sacha Baron Cohen in any role without getting irrationally snarky and irritated. Make of that what you will.

This one made me very, very happy.

Into The Woods
The wonderful job they did setting this one to film made me very happy, and it gave me optimism that they will eventually do a good film adaptation of Wicked, since both have a similarly fantastical world to set up. Into The Woods had an all-star cast, and I’ll even forgive them for letting Meryl Streep get away with talk-singing her way through most of her bits instead of really singing. Honestly, I still think they should have just gotten Bernadette Peters to reprise her stage role for the film. I know she was 65 when they made this movie, but she looks younger than me. She would have been perfect. Even with that newbie Meryl in the role of the Witch, the movie version of this show was incredibly well done.

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to mention a bit about the reverse- movies that have become stage shows, against all odds and better judgement. Especially since many of these were not musicals to begin with. Turning non-musical movies into musicals has been a big trend lately, with Mean Girls and Legally Blonde both becoming really popular as stage musicals.

I’m completely ignoring all the Disney broadway adaptations. They’re usually pretty good, and they find little ways to improve on the original cartoon versions, but I still feel like a Disney Broadway show based on a cartoon musical is a bit of a cheat.
I’m also disregarding Spamalot, because although it’s mostly Holy Grail, it goes way off track in bizarre ways. I’m just going to talk about four here:

Xanadu
This had great potential to be wonderful.  I love the original film it was based on. Regrettably, they really changed the tone and style of the music to make it a stage show, and they camped it up even more than the original movie. I wanted to love this, but I find myself only mildly digging it. Alas.

Heathers: The Musical
I absolutely love this one.   I appreciate how much of the original score was incorporated into the original music for this one. The original cast recording’s Barrett Wilbert Weed does a great job of sounding like Winona Ryder while still also making the role entirely her own. (She went on to grab a part in the Mean Girls musical after this.). Ultimately, Heathers: The Musical does the thing that every musical WANTS to do: it gets stuck in your head and has you humming the songs after you’ve left the theater.

Evil Dead: The Musical
Evil Dead: The Musical is really brilliant. I still haven’t ever managed to see a live show of it, but I very much want to. With song titles like “Do The Necronomicon,” “What the Fuck Was That,” “Boomstick,” and “Blew That Bitch Away,” how could you not love this?

Silence! (The Silence Of The Lambs Musical)
Yes. They really made a musical out of this. Last time I looked into it, Silence! was just a concept album really, but since then it’s been performed numerous times in different cities. It’s kind of amazing and kind of hilarious… The music is a lot of fun.

…and last, but not least…

The Last Starfighter
I wish I’d been able to fly to New York to see this when it was open. It’s only been done in short bursts, but that’s probably a good thing. I love the original movie- it’s a huge part of my childhood. This musical…. well, it disappoints in almost every conceivable way. I actually bought the soundtrack to the musical with high hopes, and they were shattered on the very first listen. They didn’t even try to work in Craig Safan’s amazing score.  This is honestly completely terrible, but I still really want to see it someday.

As you can imagine, I could have written pages and pages more about musicals in film or films that have become musicals, but I had to stop somewhere.

What are some of your favorite musicals, whether they be on stage or on the silver screen?

2/52

What I learned from the Labyrinth

Labyrinth-poster2Labyrinth, the musical fantasy epic from Jim Henson and Brian Froud, has long been one of my favorite movies.  I loved it the first time I saw it in 1986, and I love it now.  A few months ago, Fathom Events brought Labyrinth back to movie theaters for a few days.  While I was enjoying a new viewing on the big screen, I started thinking about the life lessons encoded in Henson’s Bowie-filled masterpiece.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic premise for the start of the movie-  Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is a teenage girl who clings to the fantasy life and toys of her childhood.  As the film opens, she is late to babysit her brother Toby, and she’s a whiny brat about it.  She complains about having to babysit to her Stepmother and father, “It’s not fair!”  Once they go out, she is frustrated by Toby’s constant crying, and she super dramatically wishes for the Goblin King to take the baby away from her.   Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) appears, and takes the baby as she requested.

labyrinth-jareth.gif
I need a portable fan for dramatic entrances.

When she says that she wants him back, he gives her thirteen hours to get through the Labyrinth to the castle beyond the Goblin City.    This is where the story really kicks in- and the lessons.

Pretty isn’t always good, and monstrous isn’t always bad.

When Sarah first meets Hoggle outside the Labyrinth, he’s cheerfully killing faeries with a pump-spray filled with of some sort of pesticide. She picks one up, thinking it’s a poor abused thing, and it promptly bites her.  Later, she first encounters Ludo suspended upside-down and being tormented by goblins with biting-sticks. Ludo looks and sounds like a ferocious beast at first, but it’s an illusion.  Once he’s right side up, his fierce expression turns out to be sweet and friendly.

labyrinth-ludo-2

The idea that pretty things can be dangerous and that helpful or good-natured things might be hiding behind ferocity is repeated throughout the Labyrinth, and that leads us to…

Take nothing for granted.

Early in the film, Sarah is following an outer track of the maze but she struggles to find an entrance to the Labyrinth.  When she slumps against the wall in frustration, she meets an adorable worm who invites her in for a cup of tea, and to meet the missus.

labyrinth-worm
How does he tie that tiny scarf?  He’s a worm, he’s got no hands!

Sarah is too preoccupied with getting through the maze to stop, and she says as much to the worm.  He tells her not to take anything for granted, and points her to a place that looks like solid wall.   She realizes after a moment that it’s an illusion, and that there are openings all over, and rushes off.

Don’t be in such a rush that you miss the important things.

The worm isn’t done with the lessons there, either.  At the end of their exchange, the worm tells her not to go in the first direction she chose.   She doesn’t question it, thanks him, and races off in the other direction.  Once she’s out of earshot, the worm says, “If she’d have kept on goin’ down that way she’d have gone straight to that castle.”

If she hadn’t been in such a rush, she would have gotten to the castle much faster. and the movie would have been considerably shorter.

Life isn’t always fair.

Throughout the movie, Jareth sends obstacles to keep Sarah from reaching the castle to reclaim her brother.  When he speeds up the clock and changes the conditions of her challenge, she impetuously complains that  it isn’t fair.  Jareth’s dry retort is one of my favorite lines in any movie: “You say that so often, I wonder what your basis for comparison is.”

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labyrinth-not-fair-2
Goblin King Sass!

It’s important to have perspective about the problems in your life-  fairness rarely enters into it.  Whining about how things haven’t been fair to you will accomplish nothing at all.

You can get used to any bullshit if you spend too much time around it.

When our intrepid heroes reach the Bog of Eternal Stench, they meet Sir Didymus, the stalwart defender of… a tiny rickety bridge across the bog.  While we never find out why Sir Didymus has pledged himself to defend this bridge, we do realize that he must have been in the Bog for quite some time.  Everyone else in the group is recoiling with disgust at the stench, but Sir Didymus doesn’t notice at all.  Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

labyrinth-sweet-and-fragrant

This is also true in real life- if you have a terrible job or a bad relationship or a friendship that is withering on the vine, it’s easy to get used to it.  Inertia is sometimes difficult to break through and we often let a less-than-ideal situation go on for far longer than we should because it’s what we’re used to.

Sometimes you just need a new quest to get out of the Bog.

Your stuff is just stuff.

During the requisite drugged-peach hallucinatory trip segment of the movie,  Sarah finds herself in a junkyard with no memory of what she was doing.  She encounters a Junk Lady with all of her possessions on her back.  There’s a moment where Sarah returns to what she thinks is her room, surrounded by all the things she loves – her old games and books and toys and stuffed animals.

labyrinth-junklady

The Junk Lady starts to hand her the things she loves, and begins stacking them up on her back-  after a moment, Sarah starts to have an improbable stack of her things resting above her shoulders, just like the Junk Lady.   She realizes after a few minutes that her things are all just junk- the belongings aren’t that important, and she quickly resumes her quest to reach Toby before the clock runs out.

This is a recurring theme in many of my favorite movies- the things you own often wind up owning you.  They can pull you down, and weigh heavily on you.  And at the end of the journey, it’s really all just junk-  the important thing is the people you meet along the way.

Love can be a subtle control.

In one of the most subtly nasty moments in the entire film, Jareth says a thing which summarizes the tricky control of many a psychologically abusive relationship.  Gaslighting, in a nutshell:   “I ask for so little. Just fear me, love me, do as I say and I will be your slave.”

In a way, this is the same lesson as most of the others-  you can get used to any situation, no matter how bad.  The things you love can control you.  Pretty things are often bad for you.

The way out is to remember your own strength, as Sarah did when she stopped playing  Jareth’s Goblin games at the end of the movie:  “You have no power over me.”

What lessons did you learn from Labyrinth?

Long Beach, Rarasaur, The Queen Mary, Milk, and Metro

On the third day of our Los Angeles visit, we took the Los Angeles Metro all the way out to Long Beach.  The whole ride took a little bit less than an hour, and once we got off the train, we went to a nearby Starbucks to have a little coffee and chatter with Rarasaur, a long-time bloggyfriend who we had never met in person before.  (Those of you who follow either Ra or me on social media have already seen some form of this photo.)

After a while at the Starbucks, Ra led us to Harvey Milk Promenade Park, just a few blocks away in downtown Long Beach.

I wanted to show both sides of the park in one shot, but I didn’t actually manage to take the right photo before  we left, so here’s a second view that includes the wall art.

The park includes a concrete “soap box,” on which you can stand and espouse your views. Or, in Amelie’s case, to express your displeasure about something.

There is a picture of me on the soap box, but I was Shatnering again, and nobody needs to see that twice.

After we went our separate ways from Ra, Amelie and I grabbed a Lyft across the bridge to the RMS Queen Mary.

The Queen Mary is permanently docked in Long Beach since 1967, and has been converted into a museum and tourist attraction.  There are a number of restaurants on board, as well as a hotel.  Nestled next to the Queen Mary is Scorpion, a Soviet submarine which has been a separate tourist attraction there since 1998.

The Queen Mary is a big, big ship.  We were on the deck, trying to find our way to a place to get some food.

There was a Princess Diana exhibit going on while we were there, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so here’s a life ring instead.

Inside the Queen Mary, we stumbled across a 25 foot eleven inch Lego model of the ship containing roughly 250,000 Legos.  There’s a sign off to one side that says, “Can you find the cat?”

I could not.

Before we left the ship, I snapped a photo of the Long Beach skyline as seen from the deck of the RMS Queen Mary.  It was a pretty nice day.

When we got back to Los Angeles, we walked through yet another Metro station with pretty nifty art.  This particular one contained all kinds of movie reference art, in themed sections.

It was not always clear to me how the sections were organized, but I liked this tile with Luke on a Tauntaun.

This section was all about classic sci-fi and horror, I think, but I’m not sure.

I don’t recognize all of the movies referenced in these tiles, only some of them.

I thought maybe this area was movie vampires, but the Joker isn’t a vampire, so again-  I have no idea what the theme was.

This area was clearly about robots, droids, tin men, and other automaton.

It kinda looks like Robby is dancing with a Dalek.  And why is R2-D2 always so far away form C3PO?  It’s almost like they don’t like one -another.

This section is clearly about space travelers, and now I really want to see a Spock/Ming The Merciless version of The Odd Couple.

Have you ever been to Long Beach?  Do you recognize any of the movie references in these Metro tiles?

Los Angeles 2: Electric Boogaloo

While my first Los Angeles post was about Saturday night, most of what I’m including in this post took place on Friday.  We had arrived on Thursday night, and after a bit of sleep, we were ready to go see Los Angeles like proper tourists.

This awesome little Starbucks had just opened next to the hotel, and after briefly caffeinating, we were ready to go see the city.  (We sat on that deck once or twice, later in the weekend.  It’s really very nice.)

We started out a little before lunch, and Amelie’s friend Wendy met us at the metro station closest to the hotel.  We had a short list of things we wanted to see, so we set out on foot.  Halfway to our first destination, I realized that we were in front of the Webhosting company I’ve been using since about 2003.   Hi, Dreamhost!

We also walked right past The Bradbury Building, a lovely old built in 1893.

If this looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s used often in television, movies, literature, and even comics.  The Bradbury is where Sebastian’s apartment was located in Blade Runner, and there’s a Blade Runner sign posted near the stairwell detailing the movie’s production at the Bradbury Building.

Later in the day, we went to City Hall to take advantage of the free observation deck on the 27th floor.  I wish we had known that the night before this, they were shining the Bat Signal on City Hall in memory of the recently departed Adam West.  I would have liked to have seen that. Our visit was mid-afternoon on Friday, so no Bat Signal.

Across the street from City Hall is a signpost showing all of the sister cities of Los Angeles.

Once we went inside the Main Street entrance to City Hall, we went through metal detectors and checked in with the security desk.  First we took an express elevator to the 22nd floor, followed by another elevator to go up to 26.  On our way up, we saw the Mayor’s office, which in no way tempted us to knock.

After the elevator to floor 26,there’s one flight of stairs up to the observation level.  Inside, there’s a lectern set up, which leads to mugging for the camera, of course.  The first two are Amelie and her friend Wendy, and the third is me doing my best Shatner.  I’m not sure why podiums make me go full-Shat, but there it is.

Once we were done playing with the lectern, we went out to the observation part of the observation deck.  While City Hall isn’t the tallest building in LA, the observation deck goes all the way around the building for 360 degree views of Los Angeles.  You can even see all the wonderful LA traffic!

City Hall is just a block or two away from the Los Angeles Times, which gave us a pretty great view of that building.

This is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry building with a pretty interesting face.

Union Station is the main train station for Los Angeles.  We walked through it when we first reached LA the night before, and it’s a very pretty station.  It’s also much larger than I realized-  the red roof here is all part of the station, along with the many tracks behind it.

Here’s part of the Los Angeles skyline, as seen from City Hall.

The Hollywood sign and Griffith Park observatory are both visible from City Hall, but it was kind of hazy so this was the best shot I got on Friday.

I took a few dozen photos from the observation deck, but mostly it just looks like rambling cityscape.  Here’s a nice picture of tall LA buildings from sidewalk level.

During our walk on Friday, we also walked right past  the Angel’s Flight funicular.  It was originally opened in 1901 about a block away, and was moved to its current location in the mid-1990s. It’s been closed since 2013, but is currently being restored with some safety enhancements and should re-open later this year.  I’m sad it wasn’t open- I love a good funicular.

This next picture was not taken on the same day- this was a different part of our visit, where we were at a Hollywood metro station which was closer to the Griffith Observatory.  There’s a Dash bus line which runs between this metro station and the Observatory on a regular schedule.   You can actually see the very top of the Dash bus in the bottom edge of this photo.  Not pictured:  A tiny Rocketeer taking off from the Observatory to fight a Nazi zeppelin.

You can always tell where you are in LA by the decorations in the Metro.   Not sure you’re in the station closest to the Griffith Observatory?  Just look for starfields in the station’s rafters.

The last picture in this post is not related to anything else in the photo- it’s just a Korean restaurant where we had dinner on Sunday night.  We all thought the name of the place was pretty entertaining.  The food was delicious, if a bit zippy for my tastes.  I had Kimchi pancakes, and tried Soju, a clear Korean liquor that was similar to vodka.  Tasty stuff.

Have you been to Los Angeles City Hall? 

My Favorite Scream

Have you ever heard of the Wilhelm Scream?  It’s been in over 200 movies, and it’s so recognizable that if you didn’t notice it before reading this post, I’m sure you’ll start to notice it everywhere.

It was introduced to modern cinema by all-around amazing sound guy Ben Burtt when he was designing the sound for Star Wars in 1977- he used it for a sequence where Luke shoots a Stormtrooper across a chasm while trying to escape the Death Star.  When the trooper falls, you hear the Wilhelm Scream.

Ben Burtt didn’t create the sound, though-  he just found it in the studio sound archives, on a reel labeled “Man being eaten by alligator.”  The scene described there is from the 1951 movie, Distant DrumsIn that movie, a cowboy in the Everglades was indeed eaten by an alligator, yelling out the scream as he is dragged underwater.

The scream was used again in the 1953 movie, The Charge at Feather River, and it’s heard by several different people as they die.  One of them is a guy named in movie dialogue as Private Wilhelm, and he makes the scream when he is shot in the left leg with an arrow.

When Ben Burtt found the sound on the “Man being eaten by alligator” reel, he also found the Private Wilhelm footage, and it was Ben Burtt who named it the Wilhelm Scream.  He went on to re-use the Wilhelm in all the remaining Star Wars movies as well as the Indiana Jones movies.  It wasn’t long before other sound designers started to use the Wilhelm in other movies, and now it’s all over the television and movie landscape, including Toy Story, Batman Returns, Aladdin, Howard The Duck, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit, Lethal Weapon 4, and many many more.

Everything up until this point is material that I knew as I began to write this post.  There’s one interesting fact that I didn’t know until I started researching to write this up:  It is now widely believed that the voice of the Wilhelm Scream is none other than Sheb Wooley, known to most for his novelty song, “The Purple People Eater.”  Ben Burtt found notes at Warner Brothers which indicated that Wooley was on a short list of people who recorded dialogue for Distant Drums, and he recorded material for several types of screams.

Here’s two short compilations of a bunch of Wilhelm Screams:

What’s the last movie you saw containing a Wilhelm Scream?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?