Thursday, November 14, 2019

Cult Flops - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Universal, 1978
Starring Peter Frampton, George Burns, Frankie Howerd, and the Bee Gees (Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb)
Directed by Michael Schultz
Music by John Lennon and George Harrison; Lyrics by Paul McCartney and George Harrison

And I thought Rocky Horror Picture Show was strange. This tale of a beloved band who use the power of love to save their small town is a supremely weird monument to the music of the Beatles and the pop culture of the late 70's. Everyone from Aerosmith to Earth, Wind, and Fire pops up here, with more than 100 stars joining in for the reprise of the title number. Everything before that...well, let's just head to Heartland, where its mayor Mr. Kite (Burns) is telling the story of Sgt. Pepper and his band, and find out just how off-the-wall a rock opera can get.

The Story: The original Sgt. Pepper dies during a performance in 1958 and leaves his legacy to his grandson Billy Shears (Frampton). Billy forms a new band with his three best friends (the Bee Gees), and they continue to play the magical instruments that keeps Heartland happy. Billy's half-brother Dougie (Paul Nicholas) is their manager, who is more interested in selling their music than in how their music makes the town feel. Billy only has eyes for his beloved girlfriend Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina).

B.D Hoffler (Donald Plesance), a record producer, brings them to Hollywood for a contract. They're easily plied with sex and drugs, to Strawberry's dismay. Meanwhile, Mean Mr. Mustard (Howerd) and his female robots steal the famous musical instruments, sending Heartland into a slump. When Billy, Strawberry, and the Lonely Hearts Club Band find out, they steal Mustard's van to find the missing instruments. After Dougie holds a rally to help Heartland (and intends to keep the money), Mustard kidnaps Strawberry and takes her to the Future Villain Band (Aerosmith). Can the members of the Lonely Hearts Club Band stop this menace and bring happiness back to Heartland?

The Song and Dance: Well, it's definitely original, I'll give it that. It plays more like a comic book from this era than a typical musical. Among the few people who seem to have any idea of how to handle the material are Steve Martin, who has a blast with his one number, and Aerosmith. The last-named oozes menace as the "Future Villain Band" and are frankly far more interesting to watch and hear than the so-called "good" and "clean" singers. There's some decent cinematography, sets, and costumes as well, especially in the picturesque Heartland.

Favorite Number: There are a few numbers that do manage to work. The bizarre comic version of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," the hiding place for the first musical instrument, shows off Martin's then-brand of insane comedy and foreshadows his somewhat similar "Dentist!" routine in Little Shop of Horrors eight years later. Shock jock Alice Cooper does a wild psychedelic "Because" as a cult leader who specializes in mind control. Earth, Wind, and Fire's "Got to Get You Into My Life" actually became a top 10 single, pretty much the only thing from this movie to go over well at the time. If nothing else, you can play "spot the random star" in that huge final rendition of the title song.

By far the best number here is "Come Together." As the so-called "Future Villain Band," Aerosmith are supposed to represent everything that's evil and decadent in the world. Steven Tyler, at the peak of his sexual and vocal prowess, and his band blow everyone away with their darkly sexual performance. They're so magnetic, it's more of a disappointment when Frampton and the Bee Gees show up and lay into them.

Trivia: It started as an off-Broadway concert, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on the Road.

What I Don't Like: Pretty much everything else. Not a single thing makes sense, from the weird song placements to the silly and piecemeal story. George Burns' narration is intrusive and unnecessary. Farina, Frampton, and the Bee Gees can sing just fine, but can't act worth a darn and come off as dull, lifeless, and bland. They're supposed to be the good guys, but they're amazingly boring compared to all the lunacy around them. Mean Mr. Mustard is an even duller villain, with absolutely no motivation and few interesting traits besides being mean. His number with Strawberry, "When I'm Sixty Four," comes off as more creepy than funny.

And then, there's the literal deux ex-machina ending. It feels like the writers couldn't figure out how wrap things up and wanted to finish on a positive note...and shoved a happy ending in at the last minute. The whole thing really goes on for way too long. The entire "find the instruments" middle portion could be deleted with no one the wiser - they could have found another place for the "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Because" numbers.

The Big Finale: They don't come much campier than this. Only come here if you really love camp, the cast, or the music and pop culture of the late 70's, or you're a huge fan of Aerosmith or Earth, Wind, and Fire.

Home Media: Despite - or maybe because - of it's "so bad it's oddly fascinating" status, it's easy to find on all major formats, often for under 10 dollars.

Amazon Prime

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Animation Celebration Extra - Uglydolls

STX Entertainment, 2019
Voices of Kelly Clarkson, Blake Shelton, Nick Jonas, and Janelle Monae
Directed by Kelly Asbury
Music and Lyrics by Clarkson, Shelton, and others

I had no idea this was even a thing until I saw it mentioned on an animation show on YouTube last December. Universal was originally going to do this one in 2011, but I suspect the success of another movie about ugly-cute dolls, Trolls, as well as the release of Toy Story 4 this year, encouraged STX to give the strangely adorable "ugly" monster stuffed animals a shot. How does their colorful world come off onscreen? Let's head to Uglyville and find out...

The Story: Moxy (Clarkson) is an Uglydoll with only one desire - to be loved by a child in the Big World. Despite Ox (Shelton), the mayor of Uglyville, telling her they can't be loved, she and several friends go through the portal between worlds to find someone to love them. The portal takes them to Perfection, a world of perfect dolls ruled by obnoxious Lou (Jonas). Lou insists that only dolls who meet his unreachable standards of beauty can be allowed to cross to the Big World and find the child for them. The Uglydolls, no matter how hard they attempt to shove themselves into a mold, do not fit those standards. Lou finally sends Moxy packing, until glasses-wearing doll Mandy reminds her that we're all different inside and out...and no matter what we look like, we all deserve a chance to be loved.

The Animation: Colorful and cute, much like the real Uglydolls. I love the details, especially on the stitched world of Uglyville and in the house where "the Gauntlet," the test that dolls go through to enter the Big World, is run. Maybe not quite as flowing and tactile as some higher-budget films, but not bad for what they had to work with.

The Song and Dance: This is the kind of movie that just puts a smile on your face. Moxy's utter determination to prove that she is as worthy of being chosen by a child as anyone else will leave you cheering at least a little bit in the end. It's cute and fun, with decent performances by Clarkson and especially by Jonas as the self-centered "prototype" Lou who thinks that just because he set the mold, the rest of the line has to follow him.

Favorite Number: Clarkson gets to show her stuff right away in two spirited opening numbers. "Today's the Day" shows how desperately Moxy wishes for a child to love her; "Couldn't Be Better" introduces the other Uglydolls and their wacky universe. Mandy tries to dress the Uglydolls as something like "perfect" in "All Dolled Up"...and then admits that she wishes she didn't have to adhere to such stringent standards of beauty. She cheers Moxy up with "Unbreakable," as they dance through mirrors to combine their worlds and come to realize that it doesn't matter what you look like, as long as you have a good heart.

What I Don't Like: Like ZOMBIES, this movie's heart is in the right place, but it kicks you in the head with the "everyone is different, and that's ok" moral. It's frantic, sugary, and way too preachy. This is an imitation Trolls, with some of the Toy Story and Monsters Inc films thrown in for good measure, and it doesn't pretend to be anything else. There's also the whole "based after a toy line and made to sell toys" thing to consider.

The Big Finale: Too sweet and cliched for older kids, but if you have younger guys who loved Trolls or musical stories, or you're a fan of any of the singers here, you'll want to take a trip to Uglyville and give this one a shot.

Home Media: Just released in July and pretty easily found everywhere and on every format.

Amazon Prime (Buy Only)

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Saluting Our Troops - Follow the Fleet

RKO, 1936
Starring Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Harriet Hillard, and Randolph Scott
Directed by Mark Sandrich
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin

This year's Veteran's Day review returns us to the glittering romantic comedy world of Astaire and Rogers. Scott's joining them again, this time for the tale of two gobs and their girls based the old play Shore Leave. How well does this nautical-themed backstage story hold up now? Let's head to a ship coming into port to find out...

The Story: Navy sailor Bake Baker (Astaire) is thrilled to be on shore leave with his buddy Bilge Smith (Scott). His former partner Sherry Martin (Rogers) wrote him and told him she was dancing in a fancy club. Turns out she's really a singer at a dime-a-dance hall. Her shy school teacher sister Connie (Hillard) is also seeking her. Bilge thinks she's cute but bland, until Kitty (Lucille Ball), one of the dance hall girls, finds her a gown and gets rid of her glasses. Now they're both attracted to each other. Connie claim she'll salvage her father's old sailing ship for him, even though it'll cost a bundle.

A few months later, Bilge is now being pursued by a glamorous widow (Astrid Allwyn) with a crush on him. Connie wants marriage, and he's afraid of commitment. Meanwhile, Bake attempted to set Sherry up with a job in a Broadway show, but a series of mistaken identities leaves her without a job and angry at him. He does a better with setting up a benefit show to earn the remaining money needed to raise the girls' ship...but he not only has to jump ship to do so, he needs to convince Bilge to help him do it.

The Song and Dance: The stars and the Irving Berlin score are the things here. Scott, while still a tad out of place, at least seems more comfortable as a seaman than he did as a football player in Roberta. Astaire and Rogers have a great time with their numbers, and Rogers even gets a rare solo dance routine. Lucille Ball has a short but fun role as the sarcastic dancer who gives Connie a dress, and later dealing with a sailor who tries to hit on her.

Favorite Number: Astaire and Rogers get three great duets here. "Let Yourself Go" at the Paradise Club begins with them competing with another couple, only to explode into a lot of kicks and prancing that's a lot of fun to watch. "I'm Putting All My Eggs In One Basket" is similar, only this time, they're challenging one another to keep up with their moves. Rogers gets her only solo in any of her movies with Astaire in an instrumental version of "Let Yourself Go" that shows she's no slouch in the dance department herself. Astaire challenges the entire fleet in his solo, "I'd Rather Lead a Band."

The big one is "Let's Face the Music and Dance." A mini-story within a story has Fred and Ginger as gamblers about to end it all before they find - and dance with - each other. It's by far the most dramatic number in any of the Astaire-Rogers films, and it comes off as a dark moment floating in a sea of fluffiness.

Trivia: Harriet Hillard became far better known when she married bandleader Ozzie Nelson and had two sons named Ricky and David with him. The four appeared on the radio and TV show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for over a decade.

What I Don't Like: The plot is even more ridiculous than Top Hat and lacks that movie's hilarious supporting cast. The entire side plot with Hillard and Scott is cliched and very dated. Scott may be happier in the Navy, but Astaire isn't. He never really worked very well in uniform. The down-to-Earth setting makes things feel a little grittier than usual. Fancy costumes are limited to the nightclub scenes and the finale, and there's none of the elaborate sets that mark many of their other films.

The Big Finale: Worth sitting through the silly plot if you love Astaire and Rogers or the musicals of the 1930's.

Home Media: Available for streaming and on DVD solo or packaged with other Astaire/Rogers films.

DVD - Silver Screen Icons: Astaire & Rogers Vol. 2
Amazon Prime

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tonight and Every Night

Columbia, 1945
Starring Rita Hayworth, Marc Platt, Lee Bowman, and Janet Blair
Directed by Victor Saville
Music by Jules Styne; Lyrics by Sammy Cahn

Here's a truly unique wartime musical I'd only read about in books before today. Hayworth was at the height of her popularity as a Hollywood pin-up queen when she appeared in this slightly dark tale about a dance troupe in a theater operating during the London Blitz. Let's head to the Music Box Theater in London to see just how this tragic backstage story looks nowadays...

The Story: Life Magazine comes to the Music Box to do a story on their troupe and how they never closed during the war. Flashback to a few years before. Theater owner May "Tolly" Tolliver (Florence Bates) is auditioning new performers. Tommy Lawson (Platt) is a wonderful dancer, but he makes up his own steps and doesn't know how to learn them. American dancers Judy Kaye (Blair) and Rosalind Bruce (Hayworth) show him some steps and make him a part of their act.

Rosalind meets a handsome Royal Air Force solider, pilot Paul Lundy (Bowman) when he's in the audience and they're all evacuated to the basement during a raid. He tries to ask her out, but she says 'no.' He tries again with her and Judy at a local restaurant, then tricking her into coming to his apartment. She's not happy about that one, but she feels better after he arranges for the troupe to play for the RAF. Tommy has a huge crush on Rosalind and is upset when Paul confesses his love for Ros. She thinks Paul has given up on her....but he's really on a special assignment. Rosalind thinks she wants to be with Paul, but when tragedy strikes, she learns who really means the most to her...and how important it is for the show to go on

The Song and Dance: This is one of the most unusual backstage musicals I've ever seen. While many musical films had a war backdrop during the 40's, few of them got into the reality of the situation like this one did. They aren't just talking about selling war bonds and entertaining the troops here (although they certainly do that). The bombs are falling right outside the door, right across the street towards the end. The details of life in wartime London, from all the performers moving to the studio to avoid bombs to Paul's apartment being flattened by a bomb just minutes before he and Ros are going to go to it, bring an immediacy and a slightly dark feel to this story.

Favorite Number: "You Excite Me" is the big one here. The exotic dance routine with Hayworth in a skimpy white costume with chorus boys around her is one of Hayworth's best solo dance performances on film. Hayworth joins former vaudevillian Professor Lamberti, an older man who has an act that involves a xylophone, a pretty dancer, and a lot of fun slapstick, for an instrumental version of "Anywhere." Blair gets a more traditional version of the lovely "Anywhere" and the stirring title song, with a newsreel spoof and chorus girls singing about how everyone will survive the war. Hayworth takes over the number in the finale.

Trivia: This was Marc Platt's first major film role.

Rita Hayworth was pregnant during the filming of this movie. They filmed her dance routines first, then did the rest of it with her behind muffs or feathers.

This was based after the real Windmill Theater, which also continued running during World War II. They, however, played mostly nude reviews, as detailed in the movie Mrs. Henderson Presents.

This was originally supposed to be a drama with Ida Lupino and Merle Oberon.

What I Don't Like: Despite the novel setting, the story is a standard love triangle. I would rather have heard more about her dealing with Judy and Tommy's crush than with the rather dull and obnoxious Paul. I have no idea why she fell for him so quickly. The tragic ending is abrupt and really of comes out of nowhere; anyone expecting a happier one will likely not enjoy this. And couldn't they have given Platt and Hayworth one duet together like the ones she had with Fred Astaire in her films with him?

The Big Finale: If  you're a fan of Hayworth or World War II, despite some problems, this is still an overlooked gem that deserves a lot more love.

Home Media: The solo DVD is out of print, but it can be found in at least two collections of Rita Hayworth movies and that Mill Creek 20 Musicals set.

DVD - Hollywood Legends - Rita Hayworth 4 Movie Collection
DVD - The Films of Rita Hayworth
DVD - Musicals 20 Movies Collection

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Election Day Special - Let Freedom Ring

MGM, 1939
Starring Nelson Eddy, Victor McLaughlin, Virginia Bruce, and Lionel Barrymore
Directed by Jack Conway
Music and lyrics by various

While we wait for the election returns to come in, here's an unusual western tale from 1939. Nelson Eddy got his first and only vehicle without a female partner at MGM in this Zorro-esque western. Does it come off as a stirring action-packed adventure, or should it be run out of town? Let's head to the hills with the lovely Maggie Adams (Virginia Bruce) as she contemplates the arrival of the railroad and find out...

The Story: Lawyer Steve Logan (Eddy) returns home from college to discover that railroad baron Jim Knox (Edward Arnold) has been buying up more land than he needs for his tracks and driving out local farmers. His father, Tom Logan (Barrymore), expects him to the the champion for the farmers, but he claims it would be impossible to fight the railroads. Steve is friendly with Knox and his immigrant workers, including head foreman Chris Mulligan (McLaughlin), singing sentimental Irish songs for them. In reality, he poses as the Wasp to kidnap the town's newspaper editor (Raymond Walden) and force him to print the truth about Knox and his workers. When the immigrants read the paper, they start to question Knox and his business practices.

Matters come to a head at the local Election Day celebration. Steve has to convince the workers that they have the right to vote as they choose, convince Mulligan that his boss is a crook, and keep them from destroying his family's farm. It'll take help from the estranged Maggie and his goofy friend "The Mackerel" (Charles Butterworth) to finally prove to the town that the true meaning of liberty is defending our rights...including our right to vote.

The Song and Dance: I'd only heard about this in books on Eddy and his frequent partner Jeanette MacDonald before a few years ago. It's too bad. If you love pulp-y, Lone Ranger-style westerns or are a fan of Eddy, this is quite a bit of fun. Eddy does all of the singing, and he does get to throw his lush tenor into a range of sentimental and popular songs, from "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" to "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair." There's a nice supporting cast, too, including Arnold as the affably evil railroad man and Barrymore as the strong-willed farmer who is determined to keep his family's land.

Favorite Number: Eddy performs "Love Serenade" at Arnold's request. It had apparently been Steve and Maggie's love song, but the look on her face when he performs it after she believes he's become a coward is pure disgust and disappointment. "Pat, Sez He" becomes a fun dance number at the bar when Steve is trying to convince McLaughlin that he's on the side of the railroad. "Where Else But Here," Steve's rousing number at the Election Day rally, is the only song written directly for the film. Maggie finally gets the crowd's attention - and reminds them that we're all Americans, no matter where we come from - with "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

What I Don't Like: Eddy's not much better with the heavier dramatics than he is in his movies with MacDonald, and his fight scenes with the much larger McLaughlin are far from believable. Bruce is stiff in a dull "love interest" role; her so-so singing ability eliminates any duets.

While the movie has good intentions, all the talk about the rights of Americans to do what they please and the references to educating "foreigners" can come off as a tad condescending and way too preachy. A lot of it probably stems from many people's concerns about the war going on in Europe and Asia at the time.

The Big Finale: If you love Eddy, patriotic stories, or old-fashioned pulp westerns, you'll want to give this unusual operetta gem your vote.

Home Media: Available via the Warner Archives and on several streaming companies.

Amazon Prime

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Animation Celebration Double Feature - An American Tail & An American Tail: Fivel Goes West

We switch gears and kick off the month with two interesting movies about the immigrant experience in America. Don Bluth's first movie, The Secret of Nimh, was a critical but not a commercial hit. He hit it out of the park with his second try. American Tail wound up being one of the biggest blockbusters of 1986, with critics and audiences. He had no involvement with Fivel Goes West, but it managed to hold its own against Beauty and the Beast in 1991 anyway. How does the story of Fivel Mouskawitz and how he finds, and then rescues, his family in New York and out west fare today? Let's start in the Ukraine, where Fivel and his family are celebrating Hanukkah, and find out...

An American Tail
Universal, 1986
Voices of Philip Glasser, Dom DeLouise, John Finnegan, and Madeline Kahn
Directed by Don Bluth
Music by James Horner and Barry Mann; Lyrics by Cynthia Weil

The Story: Curious five-year-old Fivel (Glasser) is traveling to America with his mother (Erica Yohn), father (Nehimiah Persoff), baby sister, and sister Tanya (Amy Green) after having been driven out of the Ukraine by murderous Cossacks and their equally damaging cats. Papa claims America is the land of opportunity, where the streets are paved with cheese and there are no cats to harm them.

Fivel is separated from his family when he's swept overboard during a storm. He first ends up on Ellis Island, where a friendly French pigeon named Henri (Christopher Plummer) sends him into New York to find Warren T. Rat (Finnegan). Rat, however, cares nothing about some immigrant kid and sells him to a sweatshop. He escapes with the help of a street boy named Tony (Pat Musick) and flees into the city. Tony falls hard for pretty Irish Bridget (Cathianne Blore), who is trying to rally the mice to fight the cats. She has more luck persuading perpetually drunk politician Honest John (Neil Ross) and crusading rich mouse Gussie Mausenheimer (Kahn) to help corral the cats and send them packing. 

Little Fivel is still searching for his family when he discovers Rat's big secret. Rat captures him, but he's once again rescued, this time by a sweet vegetarian cat named Tiger (DeLouise). The little mouse the one who finally brings the cats running...but now the mice have a secret weapon of their own. Even when there's "no cats in America," will Fivel ever find his family...and truly be able to call America home?

The Animation: Among the most gorgeous Don Bluth ever did. Every frame is lush and detailed, with glowing backdrops that show New York as it was becoming a haven for "the tired and poor" in the late 19th century. The animals are a bit more cuddly here than they would be in The Secret of Nimh or later in All Dogs Go to Heaven, harking back to Disney's rounder style of the 30's and 40's. There's some nifty special effects here, too, from the sparks that come off the trains to the truly terrifying Mouse of Minsk and ship that were done by rotoscoping models, rather than computer.

The Song and Dance: Possibly Don Bluth's most touching and sentimental film. Glasser is cute as the little mouse whose big curiosity continually lands him in danger, but the real stand-out is the supporting cast. Kahn and Ross play nicely off each other as the drunk politician who only cares about votes and the wealthy mouse who really wants to get rid of those darn felines. Musick is funny as Tony, especially when he encounters Bridget for the time and is absolutely smitten by her beauty and tenacity. Plummer as Henri the sculptor pigeon and DeLouise as gentle Tiger are so much fun, you really wish they were in more of the film.

Favorite Number: Papa Mouskawitz is joined by an Italian mouse who lost his mother to cats and an Irish mouse who lost his sweetheart as they explain why they're making the journey across the Atlantic in the rousing "There are No Cats In America." My favorite song from this score is Plummer's perky duet with Glasser inside the newly-built Statue of Liberty. He assures him that he should "Never Say Never" and keep searching for his family.

By far the most famous song from this film is the Oscar-nominated ballad "Somewhere Out There." Tanya and Fivel perform the number from two different locations, her at the Mousawitzs' new purse home, him in an old bassinet in a flooded house, wonder where each other are and wish they were together. It's so simple and lovely, it almost makes up for neither of the kids being able to really sing. (Linda Rondstat and James Ingram's version over the credits was one of the bigger song hits of 1986.)

Trivia: Steven Spielburg produced and had a hand in much of the film. Fivel was named for his grandfather. 

Henri the Pidgeon was originally supposed to be a scruffier hobo type, but was reworked to be a more polished character when Plummer was hired. 

Weill and Mann were given four weeks to write "Somewhere Out There." They didn't think it would be a hit, but Spielburg knew better. 

What I Don't Like: I have no idea what audience Bluth intended this for. While not quite as dark as All Dogs Go to Heaven, there's still a lot of violence, starting with the Cossack raid in the opening sequence. The Mouse of Minsk isn't just scary to the cats - it's truly terrifying for just about anyone, with its detailed craggy face and waving purple tail. There's also the several attempts on Fivel's life and his near-drowning. 

I wish they didn't drag out Fivel finding his family for so long! The movie should have ended after they rounded up the cats. They probably could have cut the entire short bit at the end with Fivel and the street gang with no one the wiser - it feels like filler. Fivel's search frankly takes a back-seat to the mice trying to get rid of the cats and all the unusual characters he meets on the way.

The Big Finale: The stunning animation and score and unusual story make this a must for adults with an interest in the history of immigration in the US, lovers of melodrama or Don Bluth, and kids with a taste for history who can handle the scarier stuff.

Home Media: Easy to find in all formats, occasionally packaged with its sequel (see below).

An American Tail: Fivel Goes West
Universal, 1991
Voices of Phillip Glasser, Dom DeLouise, James Stewart, and John Cleese
Directed by Phil Nibbelink and Simon Wells
Music by James Horner; Lyrics by Will Jennings

The Story: It's now 1890. Cats have returned to New York and are once again persecuting the mice, including the Mouskawitzs. After a raid, they end up in the sewer, where the elegant Cat R. Waul (Cleese) is selling land out west, claiming it's where every dream can be fulfilled and cats and mice will get along. Tanya (Cathy Cavadini) wants to become a singer; Fivel (Glasser) wants to meet his comics idol, Sheriff Wylie Burp (Stewart). Turns out, as Mama says, they've been snookered. The land Waul sold them is barren desert, made even drier after his spider goon (Jon Lovitz) cuts off the water supply. 

Fivel does get lost on the train trip after he discovers what Waul is really up to and is thrown out a window. He not only manages to find his family quicker, he also discovers that Burp is an over-the-hill law dog whom the cats barely notice. He claims he needs someone he can train as a deputy. Fivel nominates Tiger (DeLouise), who is out west in pursuit of his girlfriend Miss Kitty (Amy Irving). It's going to take a lot of work to make this tubby tabby into a top dog...and they don't have much time to do it before Waul and his boys reveal their plan to get rid of the mice for good!

The Animation: Not as lush as the first film, but it does have its virtues. Once we get out west, everything is detailed and bright, whether it's the home of the mouse Natives or animal residents of the town of Green River. The "Rawhide" sequence, with its animals popping up everywhere, is especially well-done.

The Song and Dance: I know most people prefer the original, partially because Bluth worked on it, but...ehh, I think this one is a lot more fun. The story is lighter, thanks to the side plot with Fivel and his family not being nearly as drawn-out. If you know anything about western cliches, you'll have a lot fun identifying them here, from the smooth villain to the saloon-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold to the city slicker-turned-gunslinger. I also like that Tanya and Tiger's roles are expanded; DeLouise gets some great gags early-on when he's being chased by every dog in New York, and later when Wylie Burp is trying to teach Tiger the ins and outs of being a law dog.

And honestly, just having James Stewart's final performance makes this a bit of Hollywood history. He has a good time spoofing his own image as the over-the-hill sheriff who thinks he may have found salvation in his unusual new partners. 

Favorite Number: "Way Out West" is the big "there are no cats" chorus routine here, as all the mice reveal what they hope to find in their new home. Appropriately for a budding singer, Tanya gets two songs, the lovely ballad "Dreams to Dream" that so impresses Cat R. Waul, and the big chorus number at the saloon with the cats, "The Girl I Left Behind." 

The one for the books is "Rawhide." I have no idea who at Amblin decided to sneak the Blues Brothers version of this classic TV theme in or why, but the song is so goofy as it accompanies Fivel bouncing along in the tumbleweeds, it seems oddly fitting.

Trivia: This would be James Stewart's last movie. 

While this has been Fivel's last appearance on the big screen to date, it's far from the last film in the franchise. There would be two direct-to-home-media movies that ignored this one and a short-lived Saturday morning TV show.

What I Don't Like: The first half (up to and including "Way Out West") is more-or-less a rehash of the first film. The Mouskawitzes are driven from their home by marauding cats, then leave for a new location where they believe there are no feline pests. Fivel gets lost and has to find them, and he's the one who figures out that the seemingly nice and cultured head cat is up to no good. It's not until the second half that things really diverge and get interesting. 

The animation, while far from horrible, isn't nearly as good as either the original film or Beauty and the Beast. Some folks may also miss Bluth's touch...and that dark side that made the original film such a hit in the first place.

The Big Finale: Fans of Stewart and westerns and families with younger kids who aren't up to the heavier original film will want to hop on a tumbleweed and ride on over to this one.

Home Media: Same deal - easy to find for cheap on all formats, including packaged with the original film.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Happy Halloween! - The Rocky Horror Picture Show

20th Century Fox, 1975
Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Boswick, and Meatloaf
Directed by Jim Sharman
Music by Richard Hartley and Richard O'Brian; Lyrics by Richard O'Brian

We celebrate the scariest of all holidays with the most "cult" of all cult flops. Mainstream audiences and most critics had no idea what to make of this when it debuted. It would finally gain an audience, not on cable or video, but in midnight showings across the country where fans in costume could get in for free. The showings continue in selected cinemas to this day...and so does this movie's rabid fandom. Is it worth the adulation, or should the curtain fall on this "science fiction double feature?" Let's head to a rainy wedding, as an innocent young couple is about to leave for a honeymoon that isn't going to go at all as they expect...

The Story: Janet (Sarandon) and Brad (Boswick) are the newlyweds whose car breaks down on a dark road somewhere in Texas. They walk to a spooky castle seeking a phone, only to find a party for an "Annual Transylvanian Convention" going on. The party guests are the strangest creatures this side of the Universal monster movies. Janet and Brad are shocked by their wild "Time Warp" dance and want out.

Before they can flee, they run headlong into the head of the group, Dr. Frank-n-Furter (Curry). The mad transvestite scientist claims to have discovered the secret to creating life. He's thoroughly in love with his creation, the beefy and hunky Rocky Horror (Peter Hinwood). Not everyone is crazy about their relationship. His brain was partially donated by Eddie (Meatloaf), a former delivery boy and biker. Frank has no intention of sharing his creation with anyone and gets rid of him.

Janet and Brad are having their own problems. Frank has tried seducing both of them, and Janet has fallen for Rocky. Frank doesn't have the time to be jealous when Eddie's uncle, noted UFO scientist Dr. Everett Scott (Johnathan Adams), comes looking for his nephew. An uncomfortable (and gross) dinner ends with everyone in Frank's clutches and dancing to his wild tune. But not everyone is a fan of the "sweet transvestite"...and before the end of the night, it's his very own servants who'll turn on him.

The Song and Dance: Yeah, I can see how this got such a cult following. Glittering costumes, amazing makeup, and some truly awesome song-and-dance sequences make this one heck of a party. Tim Curry gives one of his best performances as cinema's only alien mad scientist transvestite. This is a must if you're a fan of his; he oozes oily, wily seduction from every frame. Hinwood is oddly touching as Frank's gorgeous-but-brainless creation, and Meatloaf is almost a literal blast of energy in his brief role as the wild biker who wants a piece of the action.

Extra points for spooky location shooting in an actual castle in England. The real exteriors add quite a bit to the weird and cheesy atmosphere, as do the massive stage sets inside.

Favorite Number: Of course, the most famous song from this one is the dance routine "The Time Warp." Not only is it the catchiest and most infectious song in the movie, but the steps are fun and easy to learn...and they even include the steps right in Charles Gray's narration. Frank's entrance through the cage elevator, "Sweet Transvestite," is almost as famous, with Curry introducing himself with mincing menace. Meatball's rocking entrance through the wall in "Hot Patootie - Bless My Soul" turns his cameo appearance into the movie's highlight as he rides all over the set and flirts wildly with groupie Columbia (Nell Campbell).

My favorite song from this score may be most unique opening number in musical film history. The movie begins with a pair of women's disembodied scarlet lips performing "Science Fiction Double Feature" in a male voice. It perfectly underscores the androgyny theme with Frank...and name-drops cheesy sci-fi movies of the past that likely inspired this one, from The Day the Earth Stood Still to Flash Gordon to Forbidden Planet.

What I Don't Like: Yeah, as you may have noticed, this one is pretty damn strange. While it's not as gory or bloody as Sweeney Todd, there is at least one murder...and they eat the remains. Obviously, if you're looking for a more typically romantic fling, a stronger story, or aren't into horror or sci-fi, this isn't your show. It's also not for those looking for something lower-key - this is flashy, loud, and crazy.

The Big Finale: This is as cult as cult can get. It may have been a little too wild for me...but there's no denying its cultural impact. While it is fun to watch at home, if you want the full experience or are a huge fan of Curry or Meatloaf, you may be better off looking up one of those midnight showings.

Home Media: This film's rabid fan base has assured that it can be found in every format, usually for under 10 dollars.

Amazon Prime