Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gary's (Old) Movie Reviews: How to Enjoy "West Side Story" and "The Commitments"

[The titles link to the trailers]

Skip the first 20 or 30 minutes.

Last month, as I watched both versions of Romeo and Juliet (see my review linked here), I also checked out this classic musical based on the classic Shakespeare play.
     What I liked about West Side Story was the story, as well as the music and dancing.  As ABBA asked in song many years ago, “Who can live without it?  I ask in all honesty.  What would life be?  Without a song or a dance, what are we?” 
     Like Moulin Rouge, once it got going, it was pretty darn good.  What I didn’t like about it was the first half hour, which has some pretty bad, and I would even say embarrassing, musical numbers.  Russ Tamblyn can’t sing, and he’s not the best dancer.  (But don't just take my word for it:  Check this link out.)  What they could do with that these days (as long as it’s not Baz Luhrmann doing the doing)!  Some of the music, especially between the star-crossed lovers Maria and Tony, is quite old fashioned and from a bygone era (see the link here), and I can’t say it's bad, just old fashioned.  Compare it, for instance, to something like Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy singing “Indian Love Call” from the movie Rose Marie from 1936 (“When I’m calling you-ooooooo-oooooooo!”)
     But things start to pick up at the school dance about a half hour in, which I described before as a “dancing delight”, and that’s followed immediately by the great number “America” featuring Rita Moreno (linked here), and there are several other great numbers and moments throughout the rest of the film – “Cool”, for instance, or Rita Moreno’s performance, or that ending where Maria learns to finally hate, just like all the rest of them do.  And unlike other musicals, because it’s based on Romeo and Juliet and deals with the theme of racial prejudice, it’s truly about something!  That’s why it won an Oscar.
            I just wish that first 20 or so minutes could have been better. 

Skip the movie, buy the soundtrack.

I watched this one this month for St. Patrick’s Day because it takes place in Ireland and has some great soul music.  However, I’m sure St. Patrick would have hated it! 
     I basically remembered everything I loved about this movie, and I also seemed to have remembered everything I didn’t like about this movie – and I’m afraid the bad outweighs the good.  On the plus side is definitely the music, since this is basically the tale of a group of working class Northern Dubliners who start an R&B band.  I have the soundtrack, and I really do love it!  Singer Andrew Strong is particularly memorable as a Joe Cocker variety soul singer (check out this link), but all the music is pretty darned good (check out these complete soundtrack links here and here).  But this same storyline is also the worst thing about this movie as well.  When the band isn’t singing, they’re always fighting with each other, and using some of the worst language on that side of the Atlantic.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times they used the “F” word in their strong Gaelic accents, along with a wide variety of other curse words, whether fighting with each other, or just having casual conversations.  In that movie poster above, those are not peace signs they’re doing; it’s the Irish equivalent of “flipping the bird”.  By the same token, when they’re not talking about music and Motown, they spend an awful lot of time talking about sex, or having sex, and all three girls in the band, known as the Commitmentettes, bed down with the old “bone” player who may or may not be lying through his teeth about the famous soul singers and bands he’s played with.  Then they fight with each other again, full of spite and jealousy, and using that same colorful language.  There was a bit of humor peppered in (thank you, Colm Meany!), and a few of the characters weren't quite as filthy as some of the others, but it still wasn't enough to offset the bad, immoral elements.

     I’d venture to say that other than the music, the rest of this movie was pretty much, as they might say, “fook’n shiite”!  Throughout most of this movie, I just kept wishing that they would simply “shut ta fook up en sing.”  Quite frankly, without the music, there’s nothing here to hold it together, as the rest of it is just a story about brain dead, working class, filthy mouthed Dubliners and their drug and alcohol fueled, low class lives.  Do yourself a favor:  Buy the soundtrack, skip the movie.  That’s the route I should have gone to begin with!

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