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Recent Movies: It Follows; Paddington; What We Do in the Shadows; Old Movies: The Sound of Music; Musical Theatre: Once

May 26, 2015

Recent Movies

It Follows

In a Detroit suburb, a college student is in the latest line of a deadly curse that is passed on by a sexual encounter.  She must either pass on the curse to another or be haunted by a zombie-like form-changing entity.

Within its own premise, this unusual horror film is consistent and good in its own right.  Compared to other horror films with a sex theme, it can be praised for its avoidance of over-the-top gore as well as sexual exploitation.

It may not necessarily advance the genre but it’s mildly entertaining.  And a subtle moment at the very end provides a tingling ambiguous conclusion.

RATING (out of four stars):   * * *

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Paddington

A talking bear from Peru ends up in London where he is adopted by an English family.  When this news breaks out, a nasty villain (Nicole Kidman) seeks to kidnap the bear for devious purposes.

The film has charm with an enjoyable storyline for “kids of all ages”.  It also begins with an interesting observation: that modern England is much less friendly and more hurried than the England of the past (post-WW2).

This theme stops short, unfortunately, while the movie falls into the expected chaotic slapstick.  There are times the story feels too contrived such as the transformation of the family patriarch.  Other films of this genre (from which it might be copying) have done better.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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What We Do in the Shadows

A fictional documentary exposes the day-to-day lives of four vampires sharing a home in Wellington, New Zealand.

The movie begins awkwardly in an amateurish way.  This was probably intentional but, at least for the first half-hour, it comes off as bad frat-boy material.

Once getting used to it, though, it at least has consistency and the humour begins to take effect especially as the vampires get mixed up with witches, werewolves, humans, and other entities.

Rather light but harmless.

RATING:   * * 1/2

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Great Old Movies Seen Again

The Sound of Music  (1965 – U.S.)

As Nazism is beginning to rise in Austria, a troublesome novice nun (Julie Andrews) is assigned to be the governess of the children of a Navy captain widower (Christopher Plummer) who defiantly opposes the Nazi movement.

It’s grand to see this magnificent musical on the large screen in its 50th anniversary edition.  There are those who have criticized the film for being too “schamltzy” but the magical moments far exceed the few that might seem amateurish.

Among the performances, Andrews is rightly renowned as a good-hearted and soulful individual who tends to rebel against rigid rules.  Plummer is sharp in his subtle wit.  Peggy Wood, as the mother abbess, is easily convincing as a spiritual leader with heart and wisdom.  And Eleanor Parker does a fine job as a snotty, spoiled one-percenter.

Likewise, the scenery of Salzburg and its nearby mountains and villages are breathtaking.  But it’s the musical numbers that give this movie its rightful status as a classic.  Among the highlights:  the opening scene of the title song and the overture – both accompanied by stunning background scenery;  the nuns singing beautiful Latin hymns followed by the more comical “Maria” which is also movingly repeated in a wedding scene;  the truly joyous “Do-Re-Mi” which can bring out the child in all of us.

Most moving of all is the show-stopping “Climb Every Mountain”.  It is magically sung by Margery MacKay who dubbed for Wood in a pivotal moment.  When the song is used again for the affirming conclusion (following that joyfully impish line “I have sinned, Reverend Mother”), the movie’s ending leaves one with a feeling of spirit and joy that is wonderfully rare.

RATING:   * * * 1/2

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT:   Songs by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein

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Musical Theatre

“Once” at the Ed Mirvish Theatre, Toronto

A Dublin musician is ready to give up on his music as he feels discouraged about his direction in life.  A Czech immigrant, with musical talents of her own, encourages him to keep going.  The production is based on the 2006 film of the same title.

The stage version maintains the beautiful melancholy of the film and even improves upon it.  The story (by Enda Walsh) and the songs (by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) have a way of conveying life’s bittersweet sadness without ever being depressing.

Like the two leads, the ten other actors are also musicians.  Players who are not in a given scene sit on the sides of the stage and provides musical accompaniment when required.  This simple concept works magically.  The set never changes while the orchestra is always onstage rather than in a pit.  It’s amazing how this relatively smaller production has at least as much impact as other Broadway musicals which are more expensive.

By the end, the cast receives its rightful standing ovation but not with the usual hoots and hollers.  This is because the show is so moving, it brings one into a deep and soulful place.  An overwhelming enthusiasm is still there but the state of serenity prevents the usual shouts of approval.

A truly powerful and memorable experience.

RATING:   * * * *

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Dennis Bowman

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