(2002) D: Rob Marshall. Starring Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah.
Bring back the movie musical! A well-done, solid film, it is made less-than-ordinary by Zeta-Jones’ electrifying turn as the seductive and scheming murderess Velma Kelly. I could’ve done without Richard Gere and Renee Zellweger though.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Richard Gere owes his career to John Travolta’s bad choices: This is the fourth film that John Travolta has turned down and which Richard Gere has accepted, following American Gigolo (1980), Days of Heaven (1978), and An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
(1991) D: Alan Parker. Starring Robert Arkins, Andrew Strong, Colm Meaney.
Long before The Full Monty, this working-class British ensemble film is both rollicking and rough….and thoroughly enjoyable.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Director Parker alternates between serious narrative dramas (Birdy, Mississippi Burning, Angela’s Ashes) and musical dramas (Fame, Pink Floyd the Wall and Evita).
(1968) D: William Wyler. Starring Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif.
Say what you want about Barbra, but the girl has comic instincts coming out of her elbows. Oh yeah, and she’s got a nice voice too.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Director Wyler was originally hesitant to direct a musical because he was deaf in one ear.
(1978) D: Randall Kleiser. Starring John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conaway.
Who can forget the hair, the soundtrack, the dialogue….and the laughable assumption that we would actually buy these 30-somethings as teenagers?! Still, this kind of innocent fun can go a long way.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The scene in Frenchy’s bedroom while Rizzo is singing the line about Elvis was actually filmed the same day that Elvis Presley died. Bonus fact: Olivia Newton-John’s sister was once married to Jeff Conaway.
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
(2001) D: John Cameron Mitchell. Starring John Cameron Mitchell.
Great soundtrack, amazing visuals, stunning performance by John Cameron Mitchell. This one stays with you—for all the right reasons.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: The date shown on Hedwig and Tommy’s arrest photo after the accident is 8-13-01, exactly 40 years after the Berlin wall was erected.
MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE
(1991) D: Alek Keshishian. Starring Madonna.
Say what you want, but Madonna is the consummate performer. This is the kind of manipulative entertainment we’ve come to expect and she delivers.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Music video director Keshishian was a last-minute replacement for David Fincher, who dropped out just before filming was to begin.
WEST SIDE STORY
(1961) D: Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise. Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn, Rita Moreno, George Chakiris.
Natalie Wood lip-synching her way through a musical would never stand up today, but it’s the ones who weren’t lip-synching, especially Rita Moreno and George Chakiris, who made this movie the classic that it is. Combine that with the timeless choreography of Jerome Robbins and even the musical-hater will come around. I could’ve done without Richard Beymer as Tony, though. Sigh.
BET YOU DIDN’T KNOW: Jerome Robbins’s propensity for filming and re-filming scenes as he strove for perfection led to the movie going over budget and behind schedule. Robbins was fired by Mirisch Pictures, the production company, when the shooting was about 60% finished, and director Robert Wise completed the filming alone (the original arrangement had been for Robbins to direct all of the song and dance sequences and Wise to direct everything else). To this day, it’s the only movie to share the Best Director Oscar between its two directors.