Monday, October 20, 2014

Movie Music Monday: Changing Der Glöckner von Notre Dame back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the U.S. stage

Film Flam Flummox

When it was announced earlier this year that stage version of Disney's underappreciated 1996 animated classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be making its much-belated, hotly anticipated U.S. premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse , speculation abounded as to whether it would more closely resemble director/librettist James Lapine's acclaimed hit German language adaptation Der Glöckner von Notre Dame, which ran in Berlin from 1999 to 2002; or the more family-friendly original film. Less than a week before its first preview performance set for Sunday, October 26, La Jolla Playhouse has provided some answers with a PDF file of the final official program posted on their official website, and it appears that what director Scott Schwartz, librettist Peter Parnell, and the returning musical team of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz are serving American premiere audiences is a third separate incarnation almost entirely different from its predecessors--a conclusion that can be gleaned from a mere glimpse at the song number listing. Below is that listing as it appears on the program (click for a larger view), and I'll go into some bullet points on the differences and what this definitely indicates and possibly suggests about this newest incarnation of Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz's tuneful take on Victor Hugo's classic novel. (Needless to say, spoilers abound for the Der Glöckner version and this new production, along with some pure speculation on the new version.)

  • Right off the bat, one can see that Parnell and director Schwartz have made one very significant alteration--one that Lapine reportedly wanted to make early in the development of his version but was ultimately convinced (forced?) to not go through with: removing reclusive cathedral bellringer Quasimodo's three comic relief gargoyle sidekicks. While Parnell has gone on record that gargoyles do remain in this production in some capacity, it's clear it is in a wildly diminished background one, for none are mentioned as taking part in any musical numbers either by character name or group. As such, their big number as featured in the film and Berlin incarnations, "A Guy Like You," is missing from the song list, and obviously the Berlin numbers in which they are featured that were retained for this production will have to have been reworked/rewritten.
  • The only song from the Disney film that won't be included is the aforementioned gargoyle showcase "A Guy Like You," for the late film number "The Court of Miracles," led by gypsy king Clopin, has been restored to its proper place, with its replacement in Germany, the instrumental dance number "Dance of the Gypsies," removed. A song that was originally cut from the film early in production and left out of Berlin, "In a Place of Miracles," a romantic number between Quasimodo's gypsy love Esmeralda and soldier Captain Phoebus, has been reinstated.
  • Speaking of film-cut songs that were reinstated, the incredible 11th hour number from Germany, "Someday," is indeed retained, as are these additions for the original German stage production: "Sanctuary," an expansion of Frollo's verses in "Out There"; "Rest and Relaxation," an introductory number for Phoebus; "Top of the World," a duet between Quasimodo and Esmeralda; the rousing act one closer "Esmeralda"; and Quasimodo's powerful late number "Made of Stone"...
  • ...which, in a change that makes me wonder, is now placed after "Someday" and before "Finale Ultimo." "Someday" seamlessly led into "Finale Ultimo" without an applause break in Berlin, making for relentless dramatic momentum to its powerful finish. Perhaps the removal of the gargoyles-as-characters (who were a major part of the song in Berlin) and whatever changes to the ending motivated the order swap.
  • Additions in Germany apparently jettisoned for the States: "Balancing Act," an early act 1 number that introduces the melody to the act 1 finale song "Esmeralda"; the choral-driven act 2 opener "City Under Siege", the act 2 Quasimodo/Phoebus duet "Out of Love"; and the aforementioned instrumental "Dance of the Gypsies."
  • All-new in La Jolla: "Rhythm of the Tambourine," which appears to be an extended introduction number for Esmeralda; "The Tavern Song," a number for Quasimodo's dastardly master Frollo and Esmeralda in the middle of act 1; and "Flight into Egypt," an act 2 number for Quasimodo and Esmeralda.
But most striking of all, which is reflected by the removal of the gargoyles, is the apparent "de-Disney-fying" of the entire piece, both in content and any materials related to this production. The company's familiar logo is nowhere to be found on the official poster (even the haunting, minimalist key art for that famously dark German production had it prominently featured), and the company's name only appears in the finest of print, as being part of a "special arrangement." But perhaps most telling of all is this official credit: "Based on the Victor Hugo novel with songs from the Disney film." Could it be that this Hunchback is a full-blown, twelve-hanky tearjerker on the level of a certain other Hugo-based stage musical, Les Misérables? I guess we'll all find out when the show runs from October 26 to December 14 at the La Jolla Playhouse . More information and ticket sales at the official website.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie Music Monday: Andre Benjamin & John Ridley on Jimi: All Is by My Side

Film Flam Flummox

More than a year after the film began its journey across the film festival circuit in Toronto in 2013, John Ridley's year-before-superstardom portrait of rock icon Jimi Hendrix, Jimi: All Is by My Side, finally arrives in cinemas. The writer/director and his star, André Benjamin, best known to many as André 3000 of Outkast, discussed a variety of topics on the production of this unconventional biopic of the music legend at a press conference in Beverly Hills on Sunday, September 21.

Jimi: All Is by My Side opens in limited release this Friday, September 26, from Xlrator Media, with expansion in cinemas nationwide over the weeks to come.

(Special thanks to KWPR)

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Friday, September 19, 2014

The Movie Report #786, September 19, 2014

The Movie Report

#786, September 19, 2014

  • The Guest ***
  • Hector and the Search for Happiness ** 1/2
  • Keep on Keepin' on ***
  • The Maze Runner *** cast interview video
  • This Is Where I Leave You ** 1/2
  • Tracks ***
  • Tusk ** 1/2 Kevin Smith interview
  • A Walk Among the Tombstones *** Liam Neeson & Scott Frank interview

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Press Junket Potluck: Kevin Smith talks Tusk

Film Flam Flummox

When Kevin Smith talks, one cannot help but just sit back and listen. After all, not for nothing has the famously loquacious writer/producer/director has made a name for himself as a popular draw in public speaking engagements (immortalized on an ever-growing series of DVD's), which then paved the way for a project that, in recent years, has superseded his efforts as a filmmaker: building SModCo, a network of consistently popular podcasts, a number of which he hosts himself. Ironically, it is through the popularity of his podcasts--specifically, one episode in particular--that Smith has returned to filmmaking after a three-year absence, with Tusk, a part-horror, part-comedy, all-WTF man-as-walrus, walrus-as-man movie idea he spontaneously thought of and then further developed live on the fly across the cyberspace airwaves. Appropriately enough, when Smith sat down for a roundtable interview at the film's press day on Monday, September 15, what ensued was not so much an interview but rather an in-depth podcast, where he engagingly and rather thoroughly discussed all the various minutiae behind the movie's unusual conception, development, and eventual production before a small audience. Since text transcription can never do justice to Smith's singular gifts as a raconteur, below is the audio of the session, which is an amusing entertainment unto itself.

Tusk opens in cinemas nationwide today, Friday, September 19, from A24.

Buy the Tusk movie poster here.
Buy the Tusk VOD here.
Save up to 60% on Movie Tickets & Concessions here.

(Special thanks to Kevin Smith, Ginsberg Libby, and A24)

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Press Junket Potluck: Liam Neeson & Scott Frank take A Walk Among the Tombstones

Film Flam Flummox

The poster for A Walk Among the Tombstones features Liam Neeson striking a familiar pose, standing tall, back turned, brandishing a gun. But writer-director Scott Frank's adaptation of Lawrence Block's novel of the same name finds the star playing a tough guy in an even tougher context: Matt Scudder, an ex-cop-turned-private eye whose personal demons are just as deadly the kidnappers and killers he pursues in New York City. In a pair of press conferences in Hollywood on August 22, Frank and Neeson discussed in depth how the film is a much darker, more dramatic, more deliberately paced departure from the more slam-bang entertainments with which the Academy Award-nominated actor has become closely associated in recent years--or, as Frank succinctly prefers to put it, how it's not Taken.

The Long Journey from Page to Screen

"In 1998, I had just [written] Out of Sight for Universal, and right after that movie had come out, I had read [A Walk Among the Tombstones]. I just loved this book, and I had been trying to kind of a really tough New York private eye story. It was a genre I hadn't done, and I was really interested in finding something. I'd been really inspired by William Hjortsberg's book Fallen Angel years earlier, which became [Alan Parker's film] Angel Heart, but they relocated, for some reason, that story to New Orleans. I thought what was so great about it was all of these strange things happening in New York City. I had been reading [Block's] books, and I came upon this book. Someone had just recommended [Block's] A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, and I read A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, which I quite liked a lot, and then I read [A Walk Among the Tombstones, and I thought, 'This is my New York private eye book. This is the one.' And so with Danny DeVito, who's one of the producers at Jersey Films, we brought the book to Universal and said, 'I'd like to this next.' And just as I was about to start writing this book, Minority Report happened, and Steven Spielberg said, 'Would you come help me do this?' And my life became that for a couple of years, and I finally adapted this around 2000, 2001. Then began a very long journey with various directors and actors coming in and out of it, and it was just tough to get made because adult dramas--even adult drama thrillers, which is what this is--weren't getting made. As one studio head said to me, 'This is answering a question no one is asking, and there's really nothing to recommend it beyond its own quality.' And I kind of didn't know what to say to that. [laughs] But it was true. People weren't going to see these movies. And then what happened was a couple of things. One, movies in the $20-35 million range became viable. You could do dramas if they cost that much, particularly if you had a movie star. But more importantly, Liam Neeson wanted to do this movie, and in the course of those ten years, Liam had become a huge international star. And that's what really put us over and why we were able to get it done. But we had to wait for Liam to become a huge star. [laughs]"
--Scott Frank

The Draw to that Box Office Draw

"It's just something noble and damaged about those sorts of American cinematic heroes. I just was always attracted to that type of cinema hero as an adolescent growing up in Ireland. Robert Mitchum springs to mind; later on, it was Steve McQueen, and to a certain extent, Charles Bronson. Those types of grizzled characters who had one foot on the side of law and order and the other foot in the bad guy's camp, treading a very delicate line. I thought this was very much one of those sorts of characters: not good in the relationship world, tortured, and, in Matt Scudder's case, is a recovering alcoholic. Those guys, they wake up in the morning and have to think of a reason to get up, and then once they're up, to not have a drink. It's like there's all these little heroic battles they have they fight with and against every day of their lives. I think Scott brought that out very beautifully in the film. So he's not larger than life; he's just one of us, really."
--Liam Neeson

"It was important to [Liam] to not to be the guy in the Taken movies. And you all have to say this movie is not Taken ; whatever you write, the first sentence has to be 'This is not Taken.' [laughs] I think what he liked was this guy who had this whole history; he liked this man who was not a superhero. We talked a lot about those films from the '70s, and it's shot like that; it's lit that way; it's cut that way. But the good guys weren't all good or all bad. They all lived in this kind of grey area, and think that was really interesting for him to do that."
--Scott Frank

Filling Out the Cast

"In terms of casting, you want that 'one and one is three' kind of quality with somebody. You want somebody who's going to make it better. I'm not the writer who says, 'You have to say it exactly as I wrote it!' because you don't get good work. And you want somebody who's really going to bring something interesting to it and really create a character with you, and you see that with certain actors. It's also fun to pull people in a different direction. I did that with Matthew Goode in The Lookout, and it was fun to do that with Dan Stevens in this movie--just pull him into a darker place. He's such a good actor that he was able to do that. He was really able to disappear. Many people don't know it's him when they see the movie. 'Which one was Dan Stevens?' They don't know. So it's very fun for me to find those actors that will kind of create something really great. And Astro [Brian Bradley]--that kid. We were looking at hundreds of different people; [casting director] Avy Kaufman looked at so many different people, and then I remember getting an e-mail: 'Have you seen [the music competition TV show] The X Factor?' And I went, 'No,' and she said, 'I'm going to send you a little YouTube.'"
--Scott Frank

That Slow Burn '70s Cinema Style...

"Everybody embraced from the get-go what the movie was; they were concerned as to how to sell it, obviously, the people who put up the money. But nobody ever said to me, 'We need to do more of this, we need to do more of that; we need to find an extra scene to drop in.' It was interesting; they really embraced it for what it was--even the pace of it; it is a very deliberate pace. I don't think it's boring. I think it's refreshing because I miss movies like this where you're not cutting all the time. This movie opens after that shootout, that bit of violence--there's a scene of Liam Neeson sitting in a booth in a diner in profile. He's sitting there, and guy walks up and puts his back to camera. His back is to camera for 43 seconds. And then he sits down in the booth, and they have a conversation for another 30 seconds, and then we cut. Today, there's always this instinct to just start chopping it up and pacing it up, and you don't get to know anybody. You don't feel anything. You don't ever lean in because they're doing the work for you. I love Alan Pakula. I love Klute. I love these movies where you're constantly doing this. [sits up in his chair] We don't do that anymore. We tell you where to go; we tell you where to look; we blow up shots so that you can see everything better. And so [the '70s style] was really important to us, even in the performances--Dan Stevens plays a very deliberate, slow, in a good way, kind of character. He's very smart; he's grieving; he's lost. I miss those movies. I just really miss them."
--Scott Frank

...But Not Without Some Action

"I do love doing action, and I have a great fight coordinator, and he's my stunt double too--Mark Vanselow. We've done 16 films now, so we work very closely with each other. I don't do my own stunts, but I do my own fighting. I love doing that stuff. That's always fun to do. In this film, it's important to kind of make it real. It's not that cinema fight stuff; we wanted to make it very dark and gruesome. Ugly, where you don't know where punches are coming from, the way it would be in real life."
--Liam Neeson

The Final Word

"I was in my fifties when this Taken film came out that I was sure was just a straight to video, good little European thriller, well made. And Fox Studios took it and did this amazing sell job, and showed the trailer at big sporting events and stuff. The film became a hit, and I started getting sent these action script--in my fifties. It was very flattering, and felt like a kid in a toy shop--why not do them, you know? But I didn't want to try and become like a 27-year-old, you know what I mean? I try in some of these fight scenes to fight as a 50-year-old. [whispers] Even though I'm 62. [laughs]"
--Liam Neeson

A Walk Among the Tombstones opens in cinemas nationwide today, Friday, September 19 from Universal Pictures.

Buy the A Walk Among the Tombstones movie poster here.
Buy the A Walk Among the Tombstones DVD here.
Buy the A Walk Among the Tombstones Blu-ray here.
Buy the A Walk Among the Tombstones soundtrack here.
Buy Lawrence Block's A Walk Among the Tombstones novel here.
Buy Lawrence Block's A Walk Among the Tombstones audiobook here.
Save up to 60% on Movie Tickets & Concessions here.

(Special thanks to Universal Pictures)

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Press Junket Potluck: Gladers of The Maze Runner

Film Flam Flummox

In an uncommon departure from the press junket/press conference procedural norm for major studio releases, 20th Century Fox took a more immediate and intimate approach for The Maze Runner, Wes Ball's highly anticipated feature film adaptation of the first novel of James Dashner's popular young adult science fiction series. Immediately following a private screening of the movie at the Little Theatre on the Fox studio lot on the morning of Friday, August 22, Dylan O'Brien (Thomas), Will Poulter (Gally), Kaya Scodelario (Teresa), Thomas Brodie Sangster (Newt), and Ki Hong Lee (Minho)--nearly all of principal young actors who play the principal "Gladers" (Aml Ameen, who plays leader Alby, was the lone absentee due to his filming duties on another project)--took part in a lively panel discussion that was inverse of their screen counterparts' central predicament of being trapped in a mysterious wilderness surrounded by a giant, constantly shifting maze. As one can see and hear in the video below, their natural and effortless rapport with each other is just as strongly apparent off screen as it is on.

The Maze Runner opens in cinemas nationwide this Friday, September 19, from 20th Century Fox.

Buy The Maze Runner movie poster here.
Buy The Maze Runner soundtrack here.
Buy James Dashner's The Maze Runner novel here.
Buy James Dashner's The Maze Runner audiobook here.
Buy James Dashner's The Maze Runner novel series here.
Save up to 60% on Movie Tickets & Concessions here.

(Special thanks to 20th Century Fox)

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Monday, September 15, 2014

F3TV: The drama begins at VH1's Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood launch event

Film Flam Flummox

VH1's special September 9 launch event for Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood, the third series in Mona Scott-Young's popular reality television franchise following the lives, loves, and ex-loves of various performers, producers, and personalities in the hip-hop and R&B music scene, may have taken place nearly a full week before the show's official premiere, but the cast didn't waste any time bringing the drama. In a rather intense Q&A session following a screening of the first episode, which marked the first time anyone in the cast had seen a completed installment, Ray J, Teairra Mari, Soulja Boy, Nia Riley, Omarion, Apryl Jones, Morgan Hardman, Hazel-E, Moniece Slaughter, (formerly Lil') Fizz, Young Berg, and Masika Kalysha (the latter two of whom do not appear in the first week) spoke candidly about their feelings about their show--and, quite often, each other, as one can see and hear in my video of the entire discussion below. (Note: any loud heckles/laughs/wisecracks were from audience members sitting nearby.)

The scene on the arrivals carpet at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood just beforehand was a far more mellow and celebratory scene, as one can see in my photos and video below.

Omarion and Apryl Jones

Ray J

Teairra Mari

Soulja Boy and Nia Riley

Masika Kalysha

Love & Hip Hop: Hollywood premieres tonight, Monday, September 15, on VH1.

(Special thanks to 135th Street Agency and Milan Carter)

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Friday, September 12, 2014