Monday, 12 August 2013

A Busy Week.

This last week has been totally action-packed and fun-filled for me, so I haven't had a chance to write a blog about each of the events I've been to. I've hardly had time to sleep, never mind write. So I'm going to do a combi-post of the past few days instead of waiting until it all builds up on me again and I have to write a huge summary post of another year!

On Wednesday I finally made it to see Monsters University. Anyone who knows me knows how much I adored Monsters Inc. I still get that lovely, fuzzy, warm feeling inside whenever I think of it, in fact. I always hoped for a sequel, especially after the fantastic Toy Story sequels, but instead we got a prequel. Just in case you've been living under a rock, I should explain that the plot basically involves a young Mike Wazowski dreaming of attending Monsters University and studying to become a scarer. If you've seen the first film you will know that Mike obviously achieves his ultimate goal but this film tells the story of how he got there. Mike's BFF in Monsters Inc., James P. "Sully" Sullivan, is actually his enemy at university and the villain of the first film, Randall Boggs, is Mike's roommate and almost BFF. I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but if you've seen the trailer then you probably already know that Mike and Sully take part in a Hunger Games style tournament as part of an attempt to win back the favour of the university's terrifying authority figure, Dean Hardscrabble (voiced by Helen Mirren).

One of the things I love most about Disney Pixar is that their sequels are usually as superb as their predecessors, (with the exception of Cars which was a good film but not up to their usual standards and yet somehow still spawned a second installment), and Monsters University now proves that they can do terrific prequels too. I loved the introduction of the new characters that formed Mike and Sully's fraternity brothers and the complete change of setting from the first film allowed for a totally different vibe meaning there was no rehash of storylines. The Monster world is maybe not as charming in a university campus but it's huge fun and there are still several of those lump-in-the-throat moments that Disney Pixar specialize in. If you loved Monsters Inc. I don't think you can fail to enjoy Monsters University, and as if you need an added incentive to see it on the big screen then the animated short, The Blue Umbrella, that accompanies the film is a real treat too.

On Thursday I experienced one of the most surreal nights of my life courtesy of Hackney Picturehouse. The Amy Grimehouse team put on an evening celebrating the total kitschfest and alleged Faye Dunaway career-killer that is Mommie Dearest.
If you haven't seen Mommie Dearest then,  first of all, shame on you, but the film is based on the book of the same name by Christina Crawford, adopted daughter of the Hollywood star and notorious diva Joan Crawford. Christina alleges that Joan was an abusive parent and the book/ film chronicle her years of torment at the hands of the woman she was made to call "Mommie Dearest." I don't think many who have seen the film would argue with me when I say that it is a total trainwreck in every way. Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford is so hammy she may as well be in a roll with cheese, the supporting cast are as wooden as mahogany and the dialogue is stilted, cliche-ridden and unintentionally hilarious. In fact, the only person who comes out of the embarassment unscathed is the child actress playing the young Christina who gives the one credible performance in the whole mess.
Faye Dunaway credits the film with destroying her reputation as a serious actress and ruining her career. Although, I'd argue that it was her performance that achieved that for her rather than the film. (She "earned" a Razzie award for her troubles). But it's worth noting that whilst Mommie Dearest may not have been a critical hit, it has gone on to achieve a cult following as a so-bad-it's-good classic.
Billed as a "quote-scream-drink-wire-hanger-along," the Amy Grimehouse festivities included a Joan Crawford-alike competition, a performance by The Ethel Mermaids, a Christina Crawford pinata, a sing-along to the Erasure classic 'Respect' and of course, a screening of the film itself. There were also some inspired choices of tunes by the DJ - 'Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?,' 'Mama Said Knock You Out,' 'She's a Maniac,' you get the picture...

Bette Davis getting her Baby Jane on at Somerset House.
Friday saw my annual trip to Somerset House for the Summer Screen series. In a strange twist of fate after the previous night, the film I had booked to see was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring none other than the real Joan Crawford. I'm not even going to waste my time rehashing the plot of the film because really, if you haven't seen it then I don't think we can be friends, but suffice it to say that seeing a creepy old flick like Baby Jane in the beautiful grounds of Somerset House was an experience in atmospheric cinema. Bette Davis in full Jane Hudson make-up singing 'I've Written a Letter to Daddy' never fails to send a whole host of emotions coursing through me, but what makes the film so much more chilling for me is knowing just how real the hatred was between Bette and Joan off-screen. No matter how good their performances are, you just can't recreate that kind of palpable tension. For anyone who is interested in learning more about the deep-seated rivalry between the two women, I really recommend Shaun Considine's Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud, which is a fascinating read, but if you can't be bothered to read a whole book about the subject then I think this note from Bette to Joan on her birthday tells you all you need to know about their relationship.

Saturday brought a trip to the London Palladium for the West End's latest revival of A Chorus Line. Something I've noticed when talking about A Chorus Line in the past is that a lot of people know a lot of the songs but have no idea that they come from the show. I'm not sure why this is, but you can't argue with the fact that the soundtrack is a definite A+. 'At the Ballet' is one of my all-time favourite songs and 'What I Did for Love' always makes me a little misty-eyed, although it's probably the finale number 'One' that is the most well-known.
A Chorus Line is a two hour show with no interval that covers a day of auditions for a group of dancers who are trying to win a part in a Broadway chorus line. Over the course of events several dancers are cut from the process, one suffers a catastrophic injury and all reveal their background stories.

Time: 1975
Place: A Broadway Theatre
What makes A Chorus Line such a heartwarming and heartbreaking piece of theatre is learning the stories of each of the dancers. Amongst the hopefuls are Sheila, an aging dancer whose mother has tried to make her the star she herself couldn't be, Paul, a gay man who has only recently come to terms with his sexuality, and Cassie, who previously enjoyed some solo success but has resorted back to the chorus after her star burned out too quickly. A Chorus Line is a story about the unsung heroes of musical theatre. The chorus is an essential part of any production and yet they are never the stars. They largely remain faceless and nameless to the audiences who save their biggest cheers for the leads. But in A Chorus Line no one character is the star, the entire cast are. Every character is as important as the next and you can't help but root for them all, yet you know that only a handful will make the final cut.
The Palladium have put on an impressive production. The show doesn't feel dated at all despite it being set in the seventies and the cast are all excellent in their roles, although particular stand-outs for me were Scarlett Strallen as Cassie and Harry Francis as Mark.
The original off-Broadway cast of A Chorus Line were, in part, the inspirations behind the show. The group were videotaped several times talking about their lives and what had led them to where they were now and these stories were used as the basis for each of their eventual characters. This is partly the reason why Kelly Bishop, who originated the role of Sheila and won a Tony award for the part, is one of my favourite actresses. (Although it does help that she was also in Gilmore Girls and Bunheads and played Baby's mother in Dirty Dancing). So here is Kelly as Sheila performing my absolute favourite 'At the Ballet.' (Strangely a verse is missed out in this video but it's not Sheila's so... *shrugs*)

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