Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 6

Day 6 - A Song From a Musical

"I Still Believe" - Lea Solanga and Claire Moore, Miss Saigon (Original London Cast) (1989)

You all know how I feel about movie musicals, but what about straight up stage musicals? Well, it's not that different. I'm not what you call a fan. I have seen only one that I wasn't in or involved with behind the scenes. (A shitty summer stock production of Grease, for the curious). And by the way, I know how moronically ironic it is for me to have been a theatre major and not really give a shit about theatre.  

Once again, I must say that I am not anti-musical. I just...don't...sighAnyway. The song.

I have never seen Miss Saigon, mostly because there is no film version. It's basically Madame Butterfly set during the Vietnam War. An American soldier (Chris) and a Vietnamese "bar girl" (Kim) fall in love and later on the soldier returns to Vietnam with his wife (Ellen) and learns the bar girl had his bastard child.

Some time in the first act, Kim sings about how she still believes Chris will return to Vietnam to get her and her baby. Meanwhile, Ellen sings about how Chris has secrets that she wants to understand and that she believes they will one day work out their issues and have a better marriage. Personally, I don't think there are enough chick-on-chick duets. (Or maybe there are and I don't watch enough musicals). Anyway, this song is well-written and fun to sing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Secret of the Snow Queen (1986)

Original Title: Tayna snezhnoy korolevy
Year Released: 1986
Country of Origin: Soviet Union
Run Time: 2 hours, 16 minutes.

How I Watched It: Youtube. In Russian and I mean Тайна Снежной Королевы Russian. No English subs.

Adaptation Accuracy: I don't speak Russian but I can if you'd like. OW! No, not really. Boy, oh boy. This one was Russian. So Russian. Have I mentioned it's Russian? Okay, this version entitled The Secret of the Snow Queen is a musical (yikes!) TV adaptation, aired in two parts. So far in this little retrospective, it is the longest version and holy shit, does it feel that way. FOURTEEN MUSICAL NUMBERS!!! ALL SUB-PAR!

Once again...much like the Finnish SQ ('86), the plot summary will be my interpretation. However, this version is much more talky and so most is lost to me. Also, lots of musical numbers are sprinkled here and there. I'll do my best to avoid them.

Sigh...let's go from the beginning, shall we? Well, there's this Author (Oleg Efremov) who introduces us to the Snow Queen (Alisa Frejndlikh) who lives in a ZANY palace filled with ice skaters who dance around to disco music. Through a TV (?) she spies on Kay (Yan Puzyrevsky, who is too young for me to think is cute, BTW) and Gerda (Nina Gomiashvili). The children appear to live alone. While Kay is never mean to Gerda, he seems disconnected, almost as if he is too old to be hanging out with her. Then the Snow Queen sucks him through her TV.

Before Gerda sets out on her journey the Author gives her a match to melt the Snow Queen, if need be, I guess. Finally, after 38 minutes, Gerda leaves. She meets one of the Snow Queen's toadies who melts and then becomes a stone wall (?) where flowers flourish and tell her nonsensical stories.

Gerda eventually escapes and meets who I think is "Mrs. Autumn" (Vija Artmane) according to the IMDb credits. They talk for a long time. Gerda is given a shawl and she continues into a castle where she talks to the King (Vladislav Strzhelchik) for a LONG TIME.

Meanwhile, the Snow Queen is corrupting Kay and dancing around. Gerda heads to a cottage of Robbers (?) whom she dances with. After Gerda spots the antlers of a dead reindeer she yells at the Snow Queen who appears. They fight as they're flying through the air and Gerda loses the match. (Oh shit!)

When Gerda arrives at the snow palace she sees a Snow Stepford version of herself. Kay seems much more interested in Stepford Gerda. But the real life girl wins by literally yanking Kay out of his stupor. The Author shows up with the match and Gerda melts the palace and the Snow Queen.

Overall Likes: Kay is cute (...and I'm a pedophile); Older Kay and Gerda; Gerda's reactions while others are singing; Flowers; Stepford Gerda; The Snow Queen sure is in it a lot.

Overall Dislikes: Musical; Author there too much; Snow Toadie; SLOW!!!; The King; Bette Davis Snow Queen.

Final Thoughts: Well, at least it's not as bad as Heathcliff. I can't judge this one too harshly. After all, it could be really, really well written. I mean, should someone who doesn't speak English pass judgement on a Shakespeare play?

However, basically everything from the original is cut: there is no witch (unless it's Mrs. Autumn), no princess or prince, no crow, no robber girl. They did get the least they got the flowers. The songs are godawful. And there is So. Much. Talking. The golden rule of fiction is Show Don't Tell but this movie has never heard of it. And it looks really crappy. Like it was made in the 1960's...but even the 1966 version looks better than this heap.

There I go judging harshly. It's only because I set myself up for disappointment. I thought this was one of those "lost versions" and when I found it to be available, my hopes went through the roof. Let that be a lesson to me. And I still have no idea what the Snow Queen's secret is.

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 5

Day 5 - A Song Written For a TV Show

"If We Were a Movie" - Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana: Songs From and Inspired By the Hit TV Series (2006)

First and foremost: I do not watch Hannah Montana. I've seen approximately five minutes of an episode and promptly returned to something much more prolific like a rerun of Full House. (Hold for canned laughter)

I discovered this song via Youtube while searching for Hey Arnold! episodes. Someone oh-so-cleverly mashed this song with clips of Helga and Arnold. I didn't even finish watching the video before buying the song on iTunes. It was then I discovered the song was by Miley Cyrus.


Eventually, I got over it because it's a fucking great pop song. For anyone who's been in the Friend Zone and seen Some Kind of Wonderful too many times, this is your anthem. I mean, that's not me, but I know many of YOU have been there, so I'm looking out for YOU.

I've never seen the episode(s?) this song has been featured in, so I don't know if Miley/Hannah is an actual victim of the Friend Zone or not. All I have is this clip. And yes, that is Dolly Parton.

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 4

Day 4 - A Song Written For a Movie

"Scotty Doesn't Know" - Lustra, EuroTrip: Music From the Motion Picture (2004)

One of my biggest frustrations in life is when a song is put into a prestigious film simply so that prestigious film can garner one more Oscar nomination. What frustrates me even further is when that song has absolutely nothing to do with movie and appears only in the end credits. The song I am writing about today appears in its film more than once, is catchy as hell, and by God, deserved to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2004.

I first heard "Scotty Doesn't Know" in high school and thought it was funny, albeit disposable. I figured it was Blink 182 or New Found Glory or one of those other flash-in-the-pan pop punk bands from the early aughts. Then when I finally watched EuroTrip, I was pleased to see it again. What I didn't know is that the song was specifically written for the film, and not picked up by producers looking for cheap laughs.

In the film, main character Scotty (Scott Mechlowicz) is dumped by his long time girlfriend Fiona (Kristen Kreuk, the actress who plays that bitch Lana Lang on Smallville). At the following graduation party, he learns Fiona has been cheating on him with the lead singer of a band who goes on to play a song that graphically describes their affair. It seems Scotty was the only one who didn't know.

EuroTrip is certainly a movie no one gives two shits about, at least not anymore. It has basically no stars save for Michelle Trachtenberg who was in Harriet the Spy back in 1996. Oh, and Matt Damon's lip-syncing cameo as the band's* lead singer. But the song, the great pop-punk pro-cheating anthem of "Scotty Doesn't Know" will forever live on as one of the greatest original songs ever written.

And because Matt Damon is hot...

*IRL "Scotty Doesn't Know" was written and recorded by Lustra, a band known for nothing but writing and recording "Scotty Doesn't Know". The song also appears on their album Left For Dead.

Snow Queen (1986)

Original Title: Lumi-kuningatar
Year Released: 1986
Country of Origin: Finland
Run Time: 89 minutes.

How I Watched It: Youtube. Finnish version. No English subtitles.

Adaptation Accuracy: Forgive me, dear readers, for I do not speak Finnish. But, fuck, I wish I did so I could know exactly what was going on in this highly imaginative version of The Snow Queen. WARNING: Most of this summary is my interpretation, so I apologize if you are ever lucky enough to find this movie with English subtitles and I turn out to be completely wrong. Let's begin, shall we?

So it starts with some probably very helpful voiceover about a crystal which needs to be added to the Snow Queen's (Satu Silvo) crown when the sun and moon align at the right moment.

Then we cut to an idyllic scene of Kai (Sebastian Kaatrasalo) and Kerttu (Outi Vainionkulma) playing on a sandy beach. Kerttu discovers one of those wooden music boxes with a dancing ballerina. Inside, there are also these three glowing button things with the sun on them. Thinking nothing of it, the children take them and they are sewn onto Kai's winter coat. In the middle of the night, the Snow Queen summons Kai and takes him to her palace in the north, but when she spots the sun buttons, she throws them into the wild blue yonder.

Kerttu is depressed at the disappearance of her friend and goes looking for him. She arrives at the cottage of the Witch (Tuula Nyman) who was once a famous ballerina (I think). The Witch feeds Kerttu these heart-shaped candy things with rings inside them. Then she pushes Kerttu into becoming a ballerina, making her practice to the point of exhaustion. Having forgotten all about Kai and her mission, the roses on Kerttu's wallpaper come to life and warn her about the evil witch. Eventually Kerttu escapes and the roses (other trapped ballerinas) are freed.

Kerttu then meets a clown (Esko Hukkanen) who suggests she look for Kai at the palace, but it's only the newlywed Princess (Juulia Ukkonen) and Prince (Paava Westerberg). Kerttu has found two of the sun buttons, which for some reason, pisses off the Princess, but she still gives her a coach and horses.

Next, Kerttu is kidnapped by robbers. The Robber Girl (Marja Pykkö) takes a shine to her. Kerttu steals a reindeer. This is pretty much just like the story except there's this awful robber's song. This is like the third Snow Queen adaptation to have a robber song. WTF?

Meanwhile, Kai is training to be some kind of knight at the Snow Queen's palace. He tries on the crown, gets caught, and then has to fight this man in a thong with a polar bear head. Seriously. Here is a screencap:

As Kerttu nears the palace, the Snow Queen senses the buttons or something and bitch slaps her with a blizzard. The Lapland Woman (Elina Salo) rescues her and explains whats going on, who the Snow Queen is, why she's taken Kai, and the significance of the crown and the sun buttons.

In the end, Kerttu storms the palace just as the Snow Queen is putting on the crown. She throws two of the buttons, but the Snow Queen, again, bitch slaps her. Then Kai, having come to his senses, throws the last button. The Snow Queen is defeated. The children return home and bury the music box in the sand and live happily ever after.

Overall Likes: The Music; Production design; Outi Vainionkulma as Kerttu; The Snow Queen's wig, Fab-u-LOUS!; Probably a plot that makes sense; Equal time spent in each segment; Fleshed out characterization of the Witch, the Princess and Prince, the Robber Girl, and the Lapland Woman.

Overall Dislikes: No mirror; Homo-erotic guards; Robber song.

Final Thoughts: I love this version. Unfortunately, its greatness may be in my head. Maybe it's not tied up in a nice little package...but if I could gather a plot despite the foreign language, that's gotta mean something, right? I'm feeling optimistic so I'm going to give the movie the benefit of the doubt and assume everything happens for a reason.

No, not everything is exactly like the original story, but this interpretation keeps what's important. It takes the story seriously. Not Schindler's List seriously, but there isn't a lot of wacky antics. In fact, SQ ('86) is quite similar in tone to 1985's Return to Oz, which I am all for. It gets "dark and scary" sometimes.

All plot points aside, it definitely has the best music in any version. The cinematography is also beautiful and I was quite impressed with the acting all around. Too bad there isn't a Region 1 release. :-(

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 3

Day 3 - A Song From a Favorite Album

"Animal" - Ke$ha, Animal (2009)

Maybe I'm a little embarra$$ed that one of my all time favorite album$ is by the queen of drunk bitch anthem$. Or maybe I don't give a $hit. Ke$ha'$ debut record i$ full of tra$hy gem$ from the bigge$t hit of 2010, "TiK ToK" (don't $top, make it pop) on down to the fucktarded "Dino$aur" (hittin' on me WHAT!?) But my favorite? The overlooked title track and album clo$er. (That's my last $, I swear).

Judging by the title, you might expect "Animal" to be about what a wild and crazy freak Ke$ha is. Trust me, there are enough of those songs already. "Animal", at its heart, is a love song, a now or never song, a let's do it because this is our last chance song. 

Animal the Album is a bit schizophrenic; most of the songs relish in glitter, sweat, and daiquiri flavored vomit. Then you have songs like "Hungover" and "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" which show the "serious" side of partying. While both awesome, they are both downers, leaving us to believe when Ke$ha drops the tempo, the mood goes with it. Not the case with "Animal" which is slower and optimistic.

To me, "Animal" is the most sincere Ke$ha song. And personally, I think she thinks it's one of her greatest. After all, its also the album title. And a remixed version appears on her Cannibal EP, not a revamped "TiK ToK" or "Blah, Blah, Blah".

Friday, August 26, 2011

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 2

Day 2 - A Song From Your Favorite Artist

"Tryin' to Get That Feeling Again" - The Carpenters, Interpretations: A 25th Anniversary Celebration (1995)

I could have chosen to write about any of the dozen top ten hits the Carpenters released between 1970 and 1975. Or, I could have chosen to write about one of their innumerable album track gems. But I'm going to pull out my E Cock by writing about an unreleased song that remained on some dusty shelf for twenty years.

Since Karen Carpenter's death in 1983, several Carpenters compilation CD's have been released. 1995 brought forth Interpretations which, as far as the band's compilations go, is pretty standard. However, this one boasted an absolutely gorgeous song originally meant for their 1975 album, Horizon"Tryin' to Get That Feeling Again" was cut because, according to Richard, there were too many ballads on the record and the one recording they had was marred by the sound of Karen turning the music pages.

In 1976, Barry Manilow recorded a version that went to #10. The Carpenters recording was shelved indefinitely. But when one of the greatest voices of all time is forever silenced, little things like rustling paper fail to be a deal breaker. Richard reworked the song and finally put it out.

The song itself is one of the Carpenters' downer songs; the narrator wants to be in love again and mourns the disappearance of her feelings for her man. But it's not like "Superstar" is such a ray of sunshine. 1975 was the turning point year for the Carpenters. After Horizon, things went down a steady slope. Who knows if this could have been another top ten hit?

Revenge of the 30 Day Song Challenge - Day 1

Ah, we just can't get enough of the daily challenges, can we, Andrew? This one will work much like the original 30 Day Song Challenge, only this time, it's personal. 

Day 1 - A Song You Like RIGHT NOW

"Dead End Justice" - Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, The Runaways: Music From the Motion Picture (2010)

From the first time I heard The Runaways's signature song "Cherry Bomb", I liked it. Then when the biopic was coming out, I decided to listen up on their discography. Let's just say I wasn't too impressed. Sure, the instrumentals and vocals were impressive, but there was just a lack of catchy hooks. As ignorant as that makes me, I like catchy hooks, damn it.

"Dead End Justice" is featured in The Runaways (2010). It caught my ear after, oh maybe the fifth time I watched it. You only hear a part of it in the movie. But the full version, at 6:40, is an epic of song. "Joan" and "Cherie" are wild and crazy juvenile delinquents who get busted and then try to break out of a "cheap, run down teenage jail". I like this version more than the original simply because the production is better.

Anyway, "Dead End Justice", with it's 70's teen angst absurdity has caught a hold of me. And I can't stop listening to it!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faerie Tale Theatre: The Snow Queen (1985)

Year Released: 1985
Country of Origin: United States
Run Time: 50 minutes.
How I Watched It: Youtube.

Adaptation Accuracy: First a word about Faerie Tale Theatre: From 1982 to 1987, actress Shelley Duvall produced a television series of live action fairy tale adaptations starring the celebrities of the time. It wasn't until season four when they did their version of The Snow Queen. (However, it must be said that The Snow Queen amazingly beat Cinderella and The Little Mermaid in the battle of air dates!) FTT is awesome. All the episodes are on Hulu. Check it out.

But how does The Snow Queen stack up? Pretty fucking great. This version is different from all the others because the Snow Queen (Lee Remick) is actually a benevolent character who takes Kay (Lance Kerwin) to her palace to teach him a lesson or two. Several times she states it is her function to be cold and bring winter to the world; she is not evil, she is necessary. It is quite refreshing to have the Snow Queen be more than just eeevil for the sake of being eeevil.

Meanwhile Melissa Gilbert gives us the best Gerda so far. The actress was 21 at the time of filming and I'm not quite sure how old she is supposed to be. (Often FTT cast actors far older than their roles called for. At age 30, Mary Steenburgen played Little Red Riding Hood!) Despite the age confusion, Gilbert offers us a likable and intelligent Gerda that could be eleven or sixteen.

The Princess and Prince story line is cut in favor of more time with the Witch or, in this version, the Lady of Summer (Lauren Hutton). This is the first time the Snow Queen is revealed to have another season for a sister. The tough and "streetwise" Robber Girl (Linda Manz) offers a nice contrast to humble and sweet Gerda, even if she is a little too nice to our heroine.

We get a couple of scenes of Kay actually interacting with the Snow Queen. In this version, he likes living in the cold palace even though it's slowly killing him. Kay is given several tasks during his stay with the Snow Queen. The last is a rhyming puzzle which he and Gerda solve together. The Snow Queen lets them go without conflict, which makes sense since she's been nice all along.

And finally, we may have some kind of romance going on! Kay gives Gerda a locket in the beginning and kisses her on the cheek after the journey. With the main actors in their twenties, it's hard not to press for some lovin'!

Overall Likes: Accuracy; Melissa Gilbert as Gerda; The Snow Queen's benevolence; Lady of Summer story; Robber Girl's toughness; The ending; Cheek kiss!

Overall Dislikes: No Princess and Prince; Weird Goblin wrap up.

Final Thoughts: Out of all the versions I've reviewed so far, this one is the greatest character study and has the strongest acting. Still, it loses points for omitting the Princess and Prince. If only it could have been longer...

Greatest Tales, Inc.: The Snow Queen (1983)

Year Released: 1983
Country of Origin: Japan*
Run Time: 22 minutes.
How I Watched It: Youtube.

Adaptation Accuracy: It's 22 minutes long. How accurate can it be? Well, it tries pretty damn hard. This time the mirror is created by a demon, and a broken piece still manages to makes it into the eye aspiring flutist Kay. This time Gerda actually witnesses the Snow Queen taking her friend. The Witch is cut out entirely and three years pass before she makes it to the Robber Girl. Three years. I mean, fuck. Three years. That's some kind of record in these adaptations.

Kay is entombed in ice when she finds him. She plays his magic song and they escape. And how do they beat the Snow Queen? Prayer. Literally, they start praying and she starts vomiting pea soup and her head rotates 360 degrees. All right, not really, but that's how it ends, with the power of prayer.

Two awesome things about this adaptation: 1. Gerda's family thinks she's nuts even though she actually sees the Snow Queen take Kay. Usually, Gerda has no idea what's going on, she just leaves. 2. The Robber Girl! She tells Gerda to give up because men are nothin' but trouble. She knows. She had a boy break her heart. I don't think we've ever been given this amount of back story. Way to go, shortest version ever!

Overall Likes: Accuracy; Brevity; Nice Kay; Kay's music; Gerda's family; Doubt; THREE YEARS; Robber Girl's neuroses.

Overall Dislikes: Too much time spent before the journey; No witch; Prayers.

Final Thoughts: Honestly, I'm surprised there aren't more half-hour/Saturday morning cartoon/direct-to-video versions of The Snow Queen. I mean, Christ, how many are there of Cinderella? Public domain! Whatever. For 22 minutes, I can't really complain. This version is better than not. Since it's so short, I recommend checking it out on Youtube. Plus, there are some great old commercials advertising Return of the Jedi merch. Yub nub!

*All right, maybe it's not Japanese, but I couldn't find any information about this series. It's not even on IMDb.

The Snow Queen (1976)

Year Released: 1976
Country of Origin: England
Run Time: 55 minutes.

How I Watched It: Youtube.

Adaptation Accuracy: Eighty some years since the invention of film and we finally have the first English language version of The Snow Queen. 1976's version was an hour long special on the BBC. It boasts real life actors in 2D animated backgrounds, kind of like an uglier version of Blue's Clues. But 
you have to hand it to the BBC, this is the most accurate and complete version of the story so far.

Finally, we are introduced to the devil made evil mirror whose broken pieces have been integrated into all sorts of things including windows, spectacles and a lamp post which breaks into Kay's (Joshua Le Touzal) eye, instantly turning him bad. Once again, for no reason at all, the Snow Queen (Mercedes Burleigh) takes him and Gerda (Linda Slater) sets out to find him.

The pacing of this one is really good. It seems every ten minutes we are in a new segment. Each one is treated with equal importance. The thin moments are given some padding, and likewise, some of the fat is cut. Most impressive is the inclusion of the talking flowers in the Witch's garden. (A truly tedious moment in the story, Gerda talks to six flowers who each have a nonsensical story that has nothing to do with Kay). In this version, we are treated to two of these. It still comes off as pointless, but fans of the original narrative appreciate the gesture.

However, the characterization of Kay is a little troublesome. The first time we meet him, he has been pierced with the mirror. We never see the nice little scamp he is and therefore, we don't have much sympathy for him. We also flash over to Kay's progress six times as he works on the Eternity puzzle. But the Snow Queen isn't there. Sigh. And the finale? She catches Gerda in her palace and causes an earthquake. Both the Witch (David Battley. Yeah, a dude) and the Finn Wife use their magic to protect the children and then they find themselves back at home as if nothing happened. And Kay's still kind of a dick.

Overall Likes: Accuracy; Character development; The flowers; Flashbacks of the Princess's marriage ritual; The Finn Wife.

Overall Dislikes: Linda Slater; Lack of Snow Queen; No scenes of "Good Kay"; Anti-climax; WTF? ending.

Final Thoughts: The half animation/half live action is jarring and very crappy looking, but if you can get past that, you've got a pretty damn good version of The Snow Queen on your hands. Linda Slater as Gerda really sucks though; The worst kind of child acting with every. Damn. Sentence. Sounding. The. Same. The supporting cast is exceptional, though.

The Snow Queen (1966)

Original Title: Snezhnaya koroleva 
Year Released: 1966
Country of Origin: Soviet Union
Run Time: 85 minutes.

How I Watched It: Youtube. Russian version with English subtitles.

Adaptation Accuracy: While Russia's previous adaptation was faithful, but boring, their second attempt goes off the rails in by making it EnTeRtAiNiNg!!!! It gets a little bit convoluted, so bear with me. Once again, we start off with yet another narrator, this time the Storyteller (Valeri Nikitenko) decides he wants to be a part of the story. Kay (Slawa Zjupo) and Gerda (Elena Proklova) are his 
students, who are raised by Gerda's grandmother (Yevgeniya Melnikova) but ARE NOT RELATED.

In comes the King's Commercial Counselor (Nikolai Boyarsky), an eeevil man in cahoots with a certain cold-hearted being. He wants to buy Grandmother's roses simply because they are rare. When she refuses, the Counselor swears revenge. In pops the Snow Queen (Natalya Klimova) who wants to take Kay...for some reason that is never quite explained. Kay refuses but grants the Snow Queen a kiss (on the lips!) instead. Batta-bing, batta-boom, Kay's heart is turned to ice and he follows the Snow Queen to her wintery realm.

This time, Gerda's journey is much changed. She never does meet the witch, so her first stop is at the palace of Princess Elsa (Irina Gubanova) and Prince Klaus (Georgi Korolchuk). They agree to help her, but the King (Evgeni Leonov) tries to trick Gerda and then enslave her to his Counselor. Luckily, the Storyteller saves the day (told you he wanted to be a part of the story) and Gerda continues on.

However, the Counselor refuses to give up now and convinces a robber to kidnap Gerda. (Why does he want her anyway? Ewww...) But the Robber Girl (Era Ziganshina) takes a shining to Gerda and the robber turns out to be the Storyteller in disguise! Oh boy! Eventually Gerda is set free, rescues Kay and has one last confrontation with the Snow Queen. This time, Kay and Gerda make it out of the palace first and then just continue to walk through the Snow Queen's storm at great difficulty...yeah.

Overall Likes: Ambition; Kay and Gerda's ages; The chemistry of the Princess and Prince; The Storyteller's tricks; The Robber Chief and the Robber Girl.

Overall Dislikes: No mirror; That goblin and inkpot; No witch; Those freakin' crows; The bumbling king; Weird animated moments; Magic skis?; The Counselor...seriously, WTF? and he just disappears; Anti-climax. 

Final Thoughts: Unlike say, Harry Potter, where there's almost too information for a film adaptation, The Snow Queen is quite sparse in places. In fact, it could only benefit from some detail being added. The filmmakers behind TSQ ('66) definitely realized this, but at a price. The Counselor becomes the main villain. He has way more screen time than the Snow Queen herself, but also lacks a certain motivation. Yes, Kay and Gerda are rude to him and their grandmother won't give him roses, but Jesus, 
this is a lot of trouble for revenge.

Also, while the Storyteller is a likable character, he is in the film a bit too much. The story should be about Gerda and her quest. The Storyteller horns in on her victory, making her seem like a little damsel, a Little Red Riding Hood to his brave and noble Woodcutter, if you get my meaning.

Plus, I just can't forgive the cutting of the witch. There's so much they could have done with that story line, but instead beefed up the Princess and Prince segment to fit in their convoluted Counselor shenanigans.

Still, it's a valiant effort and the film's heart is in the right place. I imagine this version wanted to distinguish itself from the 1957 animated film, which is apparently some kind of classic in Russia. I mean, just imagine how easily a live action Beauty and the Beast would fare against 1991's masterpiece.

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 30

Day 30 - Another Favorite That's Not Your Favorite Favorite

Since I started with a teen movie, I'll end with a teen movie. By my personal definition,  I have five of these on Jordyn's Canonical List of Favorite Movies. Sadly, the one I will be writing about today is sort of on the chopping block. Meaning, the last time I watched it, I was a bit underwhelmed. Perhaps this post will help me sort through those issues.

The Girl Next Door (2004)

I was seventeen when I first saw this movie. My best friend Ashley's little brother (fifteen at the time) rented it. Being a fan of raunchy teen sex comedies, I was completely game. Plus, that prom king I was in love with said I would really like it. (Note: This is the only film recommendation he ever gave me, so I jumped at the chance!)

Matthew Kidman (Emile Hirsch) is a straight A over-achiever with political aspirations, but not a nerd. His high school career has been pretty boring, with his nights alternating between studying and hanging out with his nerdy friends Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano). However, Matthew's world is turned upside down when the smokin' hot Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door. The two begins a friendship-bordering-on-relationship. However, things become complicated when Matthew discovers that Danielle was once a porn star.

I can tell you the exact reason why I liked this movie back in high school and college: Matthew was one of those really nice, well-meaning guys who was torn between his sexual desire and his morals. I respected that, but I knew how absolutely fictional it was. Any normal guy would jump at the chance to screw a porn star, right? I too was lost in the romance of Matthew's struggle. And it is a beautiful pay off. It's not until the end that they consummate their love in one of my favorite cinematic sex scenes ever!

So what's my problem now? Straight up jealousy. If nice guys like Matthew are going after porn stars, what chance do nice girls like me have? None. It makes me bitter. There, I said it. In the film's defense, they did a good job of showing Danielle as a normal, likable girl and not just some sex-crazed whore. Although they never touch on why exactly she became a porn star in the first place. (Knowing the stories of many actual porn stars, I doubt it's pleasant). 

What we have here is a male adolescent fantasy. The best of both worlds; the freak in the sheets and the lady in streets. Just like Taylor Swift's music videos and John Hughes's movies give teenage girls an unrealistic view of love, The Girl Next Door gives an unrealistic portrayal of teen sex for boys. But just because Some Kind of Wonderful is equally improbable, does that mean I'm going to take it off my list? Hell no. I should just shut the fuck up. The Girl Next Door has much more to offer than its naivety; great editing for one. It's also much more complex than you would originally conceive it to be. Promise me, it's no American Pie.

Plus, Emile Hirsch is hot.

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 29

Day 29 - The Last Movie You Watched

Continuing my theme of movies about The Fame, I recently watched this number after months and months of seeing the poster everyday at my old video store. Plus, I liked the Oscar nominated original song. It was on Starz so I finally bit the bullet.

Country Strong (2010)

Six time Grammy winner and country music superstar Kelly Canter (Gwyneth Paltrow) is in rehab after a disastrous concert in Dallas where her drunken, five month pregnant ass fell of the stage. While in recovery, she has been having an affair with Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund), an orderly and aspiring country artist. Kelly's husband and manager James (Tim McGraw) decides it's time for her to go out on the road again, even when she is clearly not ready to do so. Opening for Kelly is another aspiring country singer, Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), a sort of perky Taylor Swift/Carrie Underwood princess. Love quadrangles, pills, booze, dead baby jokes....ah, The Fame.

Unlike rock or pop, country music isn't known for having their stars go bAt ShIt CraZY. (Or maybe I'm just ignorant because Behind the Music stayed away from country). Well sure, there have been a fair share of alcoholics and wife beaters, but not a lot of public for B level star Mindy McCready (late 90's, "Guys Do It All the Time"). What I didn't know was that Kelly Canter was inspired by BRITNEY SPEARS. Had I known that, I probably would have sprinted to the theater.

Also Tobey Maguire was one of the producers. WTF? I didn't even know he liked country. Some fan I am.

Most of these films start with the artist's struggle to attain fame, then show how they deal with it, lose it, and finally end with them rising from the ashes in a glorious comeback performance. Country Strong starts at the bottom and doesn't improve much. Unlike Britney Spears, who is doing pretty good these days, Kelly Canter [SPOILERS] commits suicide in the last reel. And why? "Because fame and love can't live in the same place." Direct quote. Do you hear that famous people? You're fucked. Might as well end it now.

So maybe it's not the best message, but you have to give Country Strong props for going against the grain. More times than not these films end with the artist on top of the world and everything is hunky dory. But how accurate is that? Fame fucks people up, sometimes irrevocably. I could sit here and type dozens of examples, but you already know them. Kudos, Country Strong, for showing that fame is a hideous bitch goddess.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Snow Queen (1957)

Original Title: Snezhnaya koroleva
Year Released: 1957
Country of Origin: Soviet Union
Run Time: 55 minutes.

How I Watched It: Youtube. Russian version with English subtitles.

Adaptation Accuracy
After the opening credits, we meet a character not in the original story named Ol' Dreamy (Vladimir Gribkov), a composite of the Sandman and Jiminy Cricket (seriously, the opening scenes from Pinocchio and this flick are eerily similar). It turns out Ol' Dreamy is pals with Hans Christian Andersen, and the Snow Queen is actually the product of our new friend and not HCA. And since we are good little children, he is going to tell it to us. (That intro lasts five minutes, BTW).

Cut from this adaptation is the Devil/Troll/Evil Being. The magic mirror actually belongs to the Snow Queen (Mariya Babanova). After hearing Kay (Anna Komalova) say he does not fear her, the Snow Queen purposefully breaks the mirror herself to send a piece into Kay's eye. From then on, the story is very faithful adaptation that follows Gerda's (Yanina Zheymo) journey, meeting every character along the way. Only once do we flash to the Snow Queen's palace to see how Kay is getting along. (In the original, we don't even get this).

Then comes the end. Kay is tinkering with ice pieces, but he is given no specific duty to put together the word "eternity". Gerda melts his heart and all is well, except the Snow Queen returns! One of my biggest beefs with the HCA version is the lack of final confrontation between Gerda and the Snow Queen. In this one, there is a confrontation, but it consists of Gerda saying "He's mine, bitch!" and the Snow Queen fading away...yeah.

Overall Likes: Accuracy; Brevity; Snow Queen's motive; That dead bird; The fat prince; The princess's romanticism; The robber girl's eye make up; Bae; The Snow Queen's character design.

Overall Dislikes: Weird rotoscope-y character animation; Not enough of the witch; That robber song; Lack of confrontation at the end; slapstick.

Final Thoughts: This film was dubbed in English and re-released in the United States in 1959. It had an extended live action opening featuring Art Linkletter and more songs. One can only imagine the disappointment of watching this after one had seen Disney's Sleeping Beauty, released the same year. Then again in 1998, TSQ ('57) was re-dubbed with Kathleen Turner and Kirsten Dunst. That version also fell into obscurity.

It's old. It's Russian. It's a bit treacly. But hey, it was the first attempt of a film adaptation. There are bound to be a few missteps. I'm actually quite impressed by how much of the original story is actually there. Han Christian Andersen's story is far from perfect. At times it is outright nonsensical and seemingly pointless. In these adaptations, I'm looking for some deeper meaning or a motivation. Why does the Snow Queen take Kay? Luckily, this version answered that question. Others, not so much.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 28

Day 28 - A Movie With a Celebrity Crush

Iwas ten years old and at Sierra McCoy's birthday party. Sierra, a flirtatious girly girl, had recently begun dating my object of affection, Chris Knox. Needless to say, I was not thrilled to be there. After a routine meal at Pizza Hut, we huddled into a crowded van and headed to the movie theater. On the way, I sang "Wishin' and Hopin'" (from My Best Friend's Wedding) to myself as I formulated devious plans to split up Sierra and Chris. Due to someone's poor planning, the only semi child appropriate movie at the theater was...
Pleasantville (1998)

None of the other girls really gave a shit what movie we saw. They were still hyped up on sugar and grease. I, on the other hand, in my pubescent despondency, needed cinema solace. And a movie I vaguely understood to have something to do with the 50's was pretty much perfect.

David Wagner (Tobey Maguire), a single and lonely nerd, routinely escapes his dismal 90's existence by watching the 1950's sitcom Pleasantville. His twin sister Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) is the exact opposite; an airhead slut who embraces her decade. One night while fighting over the remote control, David and Jennifer are sucked into the black and white TV world and and find themselves as Bud and Mary Sue Parker, the children of George Parker (William H. Macy) and his wife, Betty (Joan Allen). While David tries to blend in, well versed in the rules of the sitcom, Jennifer is reckless and brings some much needed color to the pristine and pleasant town.

Back in 1998, when I sat in that darkened theater, alienated from my friends, I found a kindred spirit in David Wagner. He was awkward and endearing and obsessed with the 50's, just as I had been just a few years prior. It was very comforting to find a male who felt the same way I did, who was chivalrous and romantic and could spout off trivia without shame. Plus, he's drop dead sexy.

This is the movie that introduced me to Tobey Maguire, my favorite actor and biggest celebrity crush. It pleases me very much that I got in on close to the ground floor. Tobey had previously done some TV work, starred in the indie Joyride (no, not the one with Paul Walker), and had a supporting role in The Ice Storm. But Pleasantville, the first of his nerdy-and-thoughtful-young-man roles, pushed him into the public eye and my hormonal ten year old heart.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 27

Day 27 – A Movie You Can Quote Extensively

"How is he?"
"Well, he's sort of...wondering why you haven't told your parents that the wedding's off."
"I don't know. I'm still hoping for a miracle I suppose! I mean, how he could think my father and I would do such a thing!"
"I only minored in psyche, you understand, but...maybe Michael couldn't commit to this marriage so he created a delusion; produced an unconscious psychosomatic manifestation of...of, um...I'm better with food. Okay. You're Michael. You're in a fancy French restaurant. You order...crème brûlée for dessert. It's beautiful. It's sweet. It's irritatingly perfect. Suddenly, Michael realizes he doesn't want crème brûlée. He wants something else."
"What does he want?"
"Jell-O? Why does he want Jell-O?"
"Because he's comfortable with Jell-O! Jell-O makes him...comfortable. I realize compared to crème brûlée it's...Jell-O. But maybe that's what he needs."
"I could be Jell-O--"
"No. Crème brûlée can never be Jell-O! You can never be Jell-O!"
"I have to be Jell-O!"
"You're never gonna be Jell-O..."

My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

Yet another movie I probably shouldn't have watched in my childhood, but watch it I did. Far too many times. That exchange from above? Yeah, I did that for my seventh grade interpretive speech, playing both parts.

It's the story of Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), a two-faced, big-haired food critic who loses her shit when she learns her long time best friend Michael O'Neal (Dermot Mulroney), who was in love with her for nine goddamn years, is now engaged to the bright eyed and dreamy Miss Kimberly Wallace (Cameron Diaz). Julianne is ushered in as Kim's maid of honor and does horrible, not terribly imaginative things to stop the wedding before it's too late.

What makes My Best Friend's Wedding so damn quotable isn't so much one liners. There's a lot of monologuing or, at least, longer exchanges that involve two or more people. You don't just quote a line from this movie, you quote a scene. But for the sake of brevity, here are some favorite short ones:
  • "She has known him for what? Five seconds? Plus she's got millions of dollars. Plus she's apparently perfect, so don't go feeling all...all sorry for Miss Pre-Teen Illinois." 
  • "Oh my God, it's the bride and the woman she'll never live up to." 
  • "We'd be the vengeful sluts." "You can just call us eager." 
  • "He's got you on a pedestal and me in his arms." 
  • "No, no, no, no! I'm a busy girl! I've got exactly four days to break up a wedding, steal the bride's fella...and I haven't one clue how to do it." 
  • "This is my whole life's happiness. I have to be ruthless." 
  • "What I mean when I say annoyingly perfect, is that there's nothing annoying about her perfection. It's vulnerable and endearing and that is annoying shit." 
I could go on, but I'll spare you. Just know this: I know this movie far more intimately than mere quoting. I know the choreography to the opening scene. Here's a picture of me and my poor cousins performing at a family gathering:

That's me in the middle with the really shitty wig. When I love a movie, I don't fuck around.

30 Day Movie Challenge - Day 26

Day 26 – A Movie You Love That Many Do Not

Just like that "good movie" we hate, we all have that "bad movie" we love. But with most "bad movies" you will find a small cult following of people who love Freddy Got Fingered just as much as you do. You lucky son of a bitch. I have yet to find a cult for my favorite bad movie.

Archie Return to Riverdale (1990)

If you are my friend, you have watched this movie. If you aren't my friend yet, you will watch this movie. This is the price of my friendship: an hour and forty minutes of your time watching this craptacular made-for-TV movie based on the ever popular Archie Comics.

It's fifteen years since the gang graduated from high school. In the days that follow his reunion, Archie Andrews (Christopher Rich) plans on leaving quaint little Riverdale to be a big shot lawyer in The City. Archie's best pal Jughead Jones (Sam Whipple) is a divorced and neurotic psychiatrist. Sweet girl next door Betty Cooper (Lauren Holly) is a grade school teacher with a tool boyfriend and sexy Veronica Lodge (Karen Kopins), four times divorced, plans on finally bagging Archie. And that sneaky Reggie Mantle (Gary Kroeger) is in cahoots with Mr. Lodge to shut down Pop Tate's Choklit Shoppe! The gang must band together one last time to save their beloved hang out from a hostile takeover!

If you don't like Archie Comics, there is nothing in this movie for you. Nothing but some cheap laughs over the lingering 80's-ness of the whole thing and the horrid comedy tropes of the decade. It's not really a movie for kids, but more of a nostalgia fest for thirty-somethings who read Archie when it was more relevant. The Archie universe is such a clean and wholesome place, but this movie brings in some much needed maturity. There's sex (or sensuality), cussing, divorce...that's about it. No one is on drugs or gay or anything else that's in this awesome fan video:

Still, I love Archie and I love this movie. Sometimes there's just no accounting for taste.

Note: Archie Return to Riverdale (known as Archie To Riverdale and Back Again during its original NBC airing) has not seen a U.S. DVD release. A VHS version became available in the mid-90's and is can be purchased on the Archie Comics website. However, there is a French dubbed version in Region 1. Go figure.