My Fair Lady (1964) starring Audrey Hepburn & Rex Harrison

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Flower seller Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) dreams of a better life.

[1] From first frame to last, the film is slick, graceful, gorgeous to behold, with costumes and sets richly evoking the Edwardian era…

[2] The acting from Rex Harrison deserves high praise, it is effortless and believable. The same can be said for Audrey Hepburn… 

…despite his success, the experience of tutoring Eliza has humbled him. The end of the film where they show respect and care for each other was a masterstroke as no romance was needed.

[3] What Higgins is, in reality, is a misanthrope. A misanthrope basically dislikes and distrusts everyone! Watch the film and you’ll notice that Higgins treats everyone with the same disregard…

[4] The songs are extraordinary in their ability to enrich our knowledge of the characters… Eliza’s father, who calls himself one of “the undeserving poor” is one of Shaw’s best comedy creations… 

[5] It’s a momentous film but it has its subtle points: watch the way in which Eliza’s eyes are centered on Higgins when she enters at the ball, and the way in which the two of them stare at each other for a few seconds at the top of the stairs a few moments later.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews 

This is a musical that I’ve seen MANY times (usually w/ my family as a kid); I esp. like the songs and costumes. This is one of my mom’s fave films; she’s a big Audrey Hepburn fan. The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw was inspired by a Greek myth by Ovid. Pygmalion was a sculptor from Cyprus who carved a woman out of ivory. This statue was so beautiful and realistic, he fell in love with it. When Aphrodite’s festival day came, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of the goddess of love, and wished for a bride who would look like his statue. When he returned home, Pygmalion kissed the statue, and found that its lips felt warm. He kissed it again, and found that it was transformed into a real woman. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s wish. He married the woman (named Galatea) w/ Aphrodite’s blessing. 

You see this creature with her curbstone English? The English that will keep her in the gutter till the end of her days? Well, sir, in six months, I could pass her off as a duchess at an Embassy Ball. I could even get her a job as a lady’s maid or a shop assistant, which requires better English. -Professor Henry Higgins declares to Colonel Pickering 

Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) is no marble Galatea lacking agency; she is a single working-class woman in early 1900s London who has a job (selling flowers), rents her own room, and lives a morally upright life (she insists: “I’m a good girl, I am!”) She dreams of having comfort and love, as we hear in the song Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?  Some lyrics below:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Someone’s head restin’ on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?

Even in this early scene, it is Eliza’s will that drives the plot; Higgins might have tinkered forever with his phonetic alphabet and his recording devices if Eliza hadn’t insisted on action… It is her ambition, not Henry’s, that sets the plot in motion…

Eliza’s escape from the “lower classes,” engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act… It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of “My Fair Lady” is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It was actually about something. 

-Roger Ebert

After meeting Professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), Eliza wants lessons to get rid of her (Cockney) accent. She wants a better job working in a florist’s shop. Eliza even offers to pay, BUT the elderly/kind Col. Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) insists on providing the funds (even getting her new clothes). Higgins only thinks of Eliza as a challenging project, NOT an individual w/ feelings and dreams.

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Eliza enters high society by attending a horse race with Higgins.

Over 6 months, Eliza works w/ Higgins (and Pickering, serving as a cheerleader) to improve her pronunciation, vocabulary, and manners. At the races, she looks gorgeous in her fitted white and black gown, and catches the eye of Freddy Eynsford-Hill (Jeremy Brett). Eliza makes polite small talk w/ some society people, BUT then launches into a funny/inappropriate story from her old life. We see that though Eliza can pronounce the words, she hasn’t yet learned which words to choose to speak in high society. However, the young/handsome Freddy gets a huge crush on Eliza, as we hear in On the Street Where You Live:

Does enchantment pour
Out of every door?
No, it’s just on the street where you live
And oh, the towering feeling
Just to know somehow you are near
The overpowering feeling
That any second you may suddenly appear

Higgins (who Eliza gets to know by living in his house) doesn’t praise the hard work Eliza has done or see how naturally pretty she was (underneath the soot and rags). On the other hand, Freddy (a mere acquaintance) is VERY happy to bring her flowers and get a glimpse of her face. It makes more sense that Eliza would end up w/ Freddy, NOT Higgins. 

At the ball, Eliza is stunning (hair, jewels, gown, her dancing, etc.)- even fooling Zoltan Karpathy, the blackmailing language expert (and former student of Higgins). However, she is dismayed/saddened when Higgins gets ALL the credit (You Did It). Eliza becomes sophisticated, transcending the parameters of the professor’s test of social engineering. She resents this, so she throws slippers at Higgins. Eliza sees that he has his own social and emotional limitations. 

Higgins seems unaware of the place of women; in his mind, Eliza’s worries are over. Eliza asks him what she is to do with herself, now that she has become a lady. He says that she could marry.  Eliza’s answer shows that lower-class women MAY have a stronger sense of morality than most “ladies.” She never before thought of selling herself into marriage.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else. -Eliza explains to Higgins 

Eliza goes off to Mrs. Higgins’ house for advice. Sure, we know Freddy wants to marry her, but she’s NOT sure that’s the right step. (Notice how she tosses, then later retrieves, the ring that Higgins gave her?) The relationship between Mrs. Higgins (Gladys Cooper) and her son is humorous b/c the mother’s attitude toward her son is eccentric; she expresses herself w/ as much honesty as her son. Mrs. Higgins is filled with tolerance, intelligence, and imagination. Like Higgins’ housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, she was VERY concerned over the fate of Eliza from early on in the story.

Eliza’s hard work resulted in her developing an intense devotion and loyalty towards Higgins (and also Pickering). Maybe she’s NOT feeling a romantic kind love, BUT a strong desire to please? When the film ends, the audience is left to ponder what will happen to the characters later.  Now, for my younger sister, it was a foregone conclusion that Higgins and Eliza would marry. I was NOT 100% sure though; it’s an ambiguous ending. 

When Eliza emancipates herself – when Galatea comes to life – she must not relapse. She must retain her pride and triumph to the end. When Higgins takes your arm on ‘consort battleship’ you must instantly throw him off with implacable pride; and this is the note until the final ‘Buy them yourself.’ He will go out on the balcony to watch your departure; come back triumphantly into the room; exclaim ‘Galatea!’ (meaning that the statue has come to life at last); and – curtain. Thus he gets the last word; and you get it too. -George Bernard Shaw in a 1920 letter to actress playing Eliza (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) 

Shaw asserted that such a wedding is absolutely impossible. He subtitled his play a “romance” b/c the technical meaning of “romance” refers to anything that was highly improbable (EX: the transformation of a flower girl into a duchess in six months). A romance can also suggest a “happy ending,” and Shaw is not interested in that. He wouldn’t allow his creation, Eliza, to marry such a misfit as Higgins simply to satisfy the whims of the sentimentalists of the world, even though these people outnumber the realists. But we know Broadway, then later Hollywood, had other ideas! 

 

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La La Land (2016) starring Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the film.

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Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) dance in Griffith Park.

[1] What has been thrown, hurled and heaved at this film is Oscar-seeking acting, Oscar-seeking direction and Oscar-seeking technical twiddling. And hey ho and guess what? It got Oscars.

[2] No legit Broadway-style singing technique. I cannot imagine what real Broadway singers and dancers must be thinking about this travesty.

[3] The big red flag with the story is that the music simply is not very good. There is not one memorable song or dance in the entire film! 

[4] The biggest fault with the movie is the complete lack of supporting actors to flesh out the story. The two main characters are just not strong enough to carry the movie for more than two hours without help. 

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

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Director Damien Chazelle (just 32 years old) and Gosling on the set of Sebastian’s apartment.

I find L.A. kind of romantic, actually. As a movie junkie, it’s a city that was built by the movies. There’s something really weird and surreal about it that I find energizing. -Damien Chazelle, director

Ugh, what to say re: this movie… My mom wanted to watch it (it’s on Fios On Demand) when we were hanging out at my parents’ house last SAT. We got through it… somehow. My dad and I saw it together (pausing here and there), then my mom saw it the next day; none of us liked it (as I’d guessed). “What kind of movie is this!?” Mom commented, confused and disappointed. She wanted to see what the fuss was about this Oscar-winning film, like many of you out there (who didn’t see it in theaters). A FEW of my friends saw it on the big screen; their opinions went from “I hated it” or “It wasn’t that great.” 

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Mia (Stone) talks with one of her roommates in her colorful bedroom.

People love what other people are passionate about. -Mia explains to Sebastian

Um, you CAN be passionate re: something, BUT that doesn’t mean other people will be invested in it- sorry, that’s reality! Speaking of passion, WHERE is the chemistry between Stone and Gosling? Also, where is the interesting dialogue (which is something that makes or breaks a movie for me)? The script could’ve been written by an idealistic, sensitive, above-average 16 y.o. kid! 

How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist? You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future. -Keith comments to Sebastian

If Sebastian is SO crazy re: jazz music, then WHY don’t we hear any of it (such as the greats mentioned or something new)? I mean, I’m crazy re: Shakespeare, and those who know me will definitely get an earful! LOL… I think John Legend (who also acts here) worked on ONLY one song. What a waste! 

 

La La Land (2016) Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)
Sebastian (Gosling) and Mia (Stone) walk over a bridge.

You could just write your own rules. You know, write something that’s as interesting as you are. -Sebastian says to Mia 

Mia is more interesting than Sebastian; she’s also more likable. She suffers through a variety of demoralizing auditions (like a LOT of aspiring actors), has a nice boyfriend (what was wrong w/ him, anyway?), and is on the verge of quitting L.A. I DO like the fact that she writes her OWN story (trying to be a BIT positive here). Why don’t we get to see some of her play? Well, if you have 2 hrs to waste, check it out for yourself. If you’re a fan of classic musicals, smart/snappy dialogue, and effective acting- don’t bother. 

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

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A poster for the film.

This is a FUN (which we REALLY need these days) Technicolor musical full of dancing, singing (duh), and witty humor!  The tale centers on a trio: Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly)- popular star of MANY silent films, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Conner)- Don’s comical accompanist/best pal, and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds)- a unknown talent that Don meets by chance.  He brags about his work, BUT she is NOT impressed, calling herself a serious actress who works on the stage (NOT film).

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Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) performs at a party, along with other dancers.

At a big studio party one night, Don is amused to discover Kathy popping out of a false cake and performing w/ a troupe of dancers. Don’s co-star/wannabe fiancee, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), is VERY jealous when she sees him chatting w/ Kathy. Don has NO romantic interest in Lina, who is a self-centered bimbo, BUT the magazines have linked them together (w/ help from their studio).

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A director talks to Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) while Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) watches.

The studio head insists that Don and Lina make a talkie next; silent films are on the out (audiences are crazy for sound). The MAIN problem: Lina, though familiar to moviegoers, has a terrible voice (screechy w/ an unrefined New York accent)! Hmmm… HOW will this get solved? 

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Cosmo (Donald O’Conner), Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), and Don (Gene Kelly) perform “Good Morning”- an impromptu song.

Don and Cosmo realize (after spending some time w/ Kathy) that she has MANY talents, incl. her lovely voice.  SHE can do the talking for Lina in the new film; after that, she will get HER own work.  What could go wrong?

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Cyd Charisse (famed dancer/choreographer) with Don (Gene Kelly) during a number.

There is some VERY interesting trivia re: this film.  In 2007, the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked this as the #5 Greatest Movie of All Time. Reynolds (only 19 y.o. when filming began) was NOT a trained dancer; Fred Astaire saw her crying on the set (after Kelly insulted her), and decided to help her prepare.  After the “Good Morning” number, Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room b/c she had burst some blood vessels in her feet- OUCH!  Are you a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?  Cyd Charisse is the maternal aunt of Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor); you’ll see the obvious resemblance.

Movies & Plays To Check Out (JAN 2017)

MOVIES:

Hidden Figures

This movie centers on three brilliant African-American women (referred to as “human computers”) working at NASA in the 1960s. The three leads are Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae (who is also a singer). They are joined by Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory), Kristen Dunst, and Mahershala Ali (House of Cards; Luke Cage). Before Col. John Glenn (up-and-coming actor Glen Powell) went into space, Henson’s character (Katharine Johnson) had to “check the math” behind the mission. I learned that Johnson is still alive in small-town Virginia- wow!  Check out the trailer below.

 

Lion

Critics have raved re: Dev Patel in this film, as well as the boy who plays Indian adoptee to Australia (Saroo Brierley) as a child.  In case you’re NOT a big fan yet of the British-Indian actor, know that Patel is transformed for this role (hair, body, and accent).  I’ll be seeing it next weekend.

See the trailer below; the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, and David Wenham.

 

Singin’ in the Rain (in select theaters: SUN, 1/15 & WED, 1/18)

TCM and Fathom Events is co-presenting this musical at select theaters for two days ONLY. This movie premiered 65 years ago (1952) and stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds (who recently passed away at age 84), and Donald O’Conner. I heard about it on TCM, then checked online for details (see link below).

http://fathomevents.com/event/singin-in-the-rain/more-info/details

One of the most famed/respected dancers/choreographers of her time, Cyd Charisse, has a supporting role. Checking IMDB, I found that Rita Moreno is part of the ensemble (VERY cool). I’ve never seen this film before, but it’s available on YouTube for ONLY $2.99! 

 

The Salesman (AFI Silver Theatre: SUN, 1/22 at 5:15PM)

This film is part of the 21st Annual Iranian American Film Festival which was previously held at the Freer Gallery (now undergoing renovations).  It is directed by Asghar Farhadi (A Separation), who is NOT afraid to realistically tackle subjects which are still taboo in his native Iran. While A Separation was about impending divorce, this film deals w/ the assault of a young wife and her husband’s subsequent emotional turmoil and drive for revenge. I got my ticket already.

Follow the link below for tickets and see the trailer.

https://silver.afi.com/Browsing/Movies/Details/m-0100001136

 

PLAYS:

As You Like It: Folger Shakespeare Theatre (Pay-What-You-Will: TUES, 1/24 at 7:30PM)

This adaptation of The Bard’s comedy will run from JAN 24th – MAR 5th starring actors from Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. I’m interested in this b/c I’ve only seen one movie re: this play. I haven’t read the play (it’s rarely taught/studied in schools/universities). 

See the link below for more info.

http://www.folger.edu/events/as-you-like-it

Caroline, or Change: Round House Theatre (UPDATED: Pay-What-You-Can on THURS, 1/26 at 7:30PM & WED, 2/1 at 7:30PM)

This is a musical written (book and lyrics) by the renowned Tony Kushner; it contains aspects from his own life as a boy growing up in the South. The play centers on Caroline, an African-America maid for the Gellmans, a Jewish family in 1960s Louisiana. It combines different types of music: spirituals (gospel), blues, Motown, classical, and Jewish klezmer and folk. 

More details at the link below.

http://www.roundhousetheatre.org/performances/caroline-or-change

Into the Woods (NOW PLAYING)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

The Witch (Meryl Streep) wishes to reverse a curse to restore her beauty.
The Witch (Meryl Streep) wishes to reverse a curse to restore her beauty.

Anything can happen in the woods…

I saw this movie musical last weekend with my parents; they are both big fans of Meryl Streep.  We didn’t know what to expect, since we hadn’t seen the play or read up on many details.  I just thought it was a reimagining of several fairy tales with songs.  It was directed by Rob Marshall (who has an unexpected hit with Chicago).

The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child.
The Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) wish for a child.

We were pleasantly surprised to see that Emily Blunt was a key role- she plays The Baker’s Wife.  The Baker is played by a likeable Everyman type, James Corden, who is from the theater world.  These actors had good chemistry together and made a quite believable couple.  They were the center of the story. 

The Wolf is played by Johnny Depp.
The Wolf is played by Johnny Depp.

Stay a child while you can be a child.

The Wolf (Johnny Depp in a small role) has a song about the deliciousness of Little Red Riding Hood and Granny; this bordered on controversy because of the lyrics.  The song was changed from the original version (which was heard by playgoers).

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Cinderella’s stepmother is played by Christine Baranski (center).

Fans of The Good Wife will get a kick out of seeing Broadway vet Christine Baranski and Tammy Blanchard (who had a recurring roles on the courtroom drama series).  I got a kick out of their outlandish hairstyles and clothes.  And the trying on the shoe part- well. you’ll see! 

Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is indecisive about The Prince.
Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) is indecisive about The Prince.
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Cinderella’s prince is played by Chris Pine (right).

Careful the path they take, wishes come true, not free.

Anna Kendrick seemed to be miscast as Cinderella; she even admitted that she thought she’d be cast as Red.  The two princes have a hilarious duet along a waterfall (Agony)!  Chris Pine, who actually looks good with a bit of a beard (unlike many men), said he did a Captain Kirk (William Shatner) impression at one point in the number.  (I’m sure the Trekkies out there will notice it.)  Pine did a good job with the material, I was surprised to see! 

Aside from Streep, Blunt, and Corden, young Daniel Huttlestone does a good job.  You may remember him from the latest Les Miserables film, where he also sang.  Tracey Ullman provided some bits of comedy as Jack’s irritable/critical mother.   

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Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) with his cow and mother (Tracey Ullman).

One reviewer (IMDB) commented: “I think that the later half of the movie, after the ‘happily ever after’ scene, was not given the same attention as the first half of the movie.  It felt like someone stepped in at the last moment and said: Hey, movies shouldn’t be allowed to have a happy fairy tale ending anymore. Let’s add some grim to it.”  In response, a theatergoer said: “The stage show has a two act structure that works a lot better. The first act is the fairy tale happy ever after. The second, which takes place roughly a year later, is what happens when you get your wish but are still unsatisfied and want for more. The second act is really a metaphor for greed and looking a gift horse in the mouth.”  If you want more analysis of the film, check out this podcast ep!