An American in Paris

A sad yet stunning movie musical unlike any other. The movie has its charms and its spectacular finale, but there is a bittersweet undercurrent that runs throughout the story of lovers meeting in the city of lights.

The film was released in 1951 and follows Jerry Mulligan played by Gene Kelly. Jerry is an ex-GI who fell in love with Paris and decided to stay after the war and study painting. He is a struggling artist when he meets a wealthy woman who wants to help his career advance among other things. He meets a charming young woman and falls in love with her. All this is really just a thin framework on which Gene Kelly can hang as many delightful musical numbers as possible.

That isn’t even an exaggeration. Arthur Freed, the famous musical impresario of MGM, wanted to make a movie out of George Gershwin’s symphony “An American Paris” which was a piece he wrote inspired by his time in Paris in the 20’s. Freed needed to buy the rights to the piece from the Gershwin family, and Ira Gershwin, George’s surviving brother, insisted on the condition that Freed had to use Gershwin music exclusively in the film. Which meant that Freed literally had a dozen songs that he needed to string together with a loose framework of a story.

This explains the films biggest drawback, the story is flimsy at best. There really is no plot. It’s just a collection of scenes or vignettes. There really is no through line or thematic tie. The characters don’t really have arcs or stories of their own.

But that is okay for the most part, because the movie is all about the music. And there are so many wonderful musical moments. George Levant, a world class pianist, has a virtuosic solo piano performance in the middle of the movie. Levant and Kelly have an incredible duet on the love song Tra-la-la. Kelly and a group of French children sing a charming rendition of I’ve Got Rhythm. Really every song on the soundtrack is a winner all culminating in the twenty minute ballet set to the symphony that inspired the whole thing.

This is the centerpiece of the film a truly stunning technicolor masterpiece. Gene Kelly and a team of production designers literally spent half a million dollars to create the most colorful and vibrant ballet ever filmed. It truly is a masterpiece and worth the price of admission by itself. Gene dances his way through an impressionistic Paris setting complete with teams of dancers wrapped in primary colors. He meets and pursues a woman. They move around and with one another in a stunning display of movement that conveys so much and captures everything. But what really captured my attention was the way the central couple dance with each other and the setting and the camera. The lighting dances with them to highlight certain moments. The colored lights create an emotional subtext underneath the dance. They move with and throughout the set. The camera follows them and interjects with them. It creates a push and pull with the audience and the performers that completely wraps us up in their story.

It was a revolutionary scene in its time. This was a type of filmmaking that movies hadn’t seen at the time. It was expressionistic. It was vividly colorful. It was elegant yet accessible. Gene Kelly brings his aggressive masculine style of dance to the ballet that anchors everything. Leslie Caron does things in this sequence as well as every dance in the movie that boggle the mind and seem to bend the limits of the human body. Every element worked together to create the grandest of spectacles. It is an amazing movie moment.

Yet for all its still and revolutionary technique, this film is not as well remembered as other Hollywood musicals. In Roger Ebert’s 1992 review of the film, he is almost disdainful of the film. He disparages it compared to Singin’ in the Rain. He gives it a positive review, but he seems to hate the movie or at least resent it.

In recent years it seems to have come under the fickle nature of many critical and commercial successes. People look back on what was popular and knock it down a peg or two for good measure. I think the film is brilliant and beautiful, but I do not think it’s as fun as most other musicals of its era.

Every element of this movie is tinged with melancholy and sadness. Not an overwhelming sadness, but an undercurrent that runs throughout the movie. Jerry’s relationship with his patron Milo, played by Nina Foch, for instance is a great example. She is infatuated with Jerry, but no matter what she does to win him over he will never love her, and the harder she tries, the more he pulls away. Lise the object of Jerry’s love, played by Leslie Caron, is engaged to an older man. He helped hide her during WWII while her parents were fighting in the resistance. That’s a tragic backstory to give that particular relationship, but it’s more sad when she begins seeing Jerry behind his back. She seems to respect and admire her fiancé, but the love isn’t there. Jerry is a failing painter who seems to be deeply cynical and angry at the world. His only joy seems to be loving Lise a woman who keeps him at a distance. When Jerry sings Love is Here to Stay to Lise on the banks of the Seine River, it’s slow and sad rather than swooning and romantic. In any other production it would be a grand moment, a sweeping declaration of love. In this film it’s a quiet and hopeless confession.

These story elements set the film apart from other musicals. It’s not a joyous wall to wall comedy like Singin’ in the Rain. Even another contemporary musical that has it’s own tinge of sadness, The Band Wagon, has a fun loving quality to it. This movie is completely unique in this way, and I kind of love it for it. This melancholy sadness reflects the time in which the film was made. It is a musical grappling with the consequences of the war and what the world looks like now. Gone are the simple mistaken identity plot lines of the best musical comedies. Here are love affairs and professional failures and existential ennui. It makes for fascinating viewing and an unforgettable film.

There’s one other element that I think a modern viewer with chafe against, and that is Jerry’s pursuit of Lise. He pursues her aggressively. She tells him no, and he continues pushing. She rejects him, and he shows up at her workplace. She blows him off and he pushes harder. Then all of a sudden she agrees to go out with him and a couple scenes later she is in love with him. In the year 2022 a man who doesn’t take no for an answer is not a romantic hero, he’s a creep. Kelly is very charming, and his aggressive pursuit of Lise shows a stark contrast with his pursuit by Milo, but it still rankles a little bit these days.

Overall, I love the movie. It made me feel complicated feelings. It left me with a sensation that has stuck to the walls of my head, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The story is not as strong as other movies. The musical numbers are incredible. The movie is a product of its time in so many ways. But I can’t help being drawn to it and thinking about putting it on again when I have a couple of hours to spend in this colorful and vibrant vision of Paris.

It is my cup of tea. A

Top Gun: Maverick

This movie blew me away. It’s one of the most riveting action movies I’ve seen in a long time. I walked out of the movie smiling and practically skipping I was so pumped up. It’s the first movie I’ve seen in a while that makes me want to go back and see it again in the theater.

This movie is a sequel to the mediocre 80’s movie, but it is so vastly superior to that movie in every way that it is laughable to compare the two. The new film picks up with Tom Cruise’s Maverick almost 40 years after the original film. He’s an old fashioned man faced with a changing world. He is called back to Top Gun flight school to train a new crop of hot shots for an extremely perilous mission.

Just that outline is better than everything in the original film. This movie has clear stakes. It has a theme and a real story to tell about its main character. On top of all that the action is amazing! They shot the film inside real fighters. They have real weight and force behind them. The geography is never in question. We always know exactly where our heroes are and where they’re going and where the danger is. It’s a back to basics style of action filmmaking. Establish the stakes. Create clear geography. Throw a bunch of increasingly dangerous obstacles at our heroes. It’s absolutely riveting. This movie had me on the edge of my seat. I was absolutely enthralled by these fighter scenes.

Aside from the action the film tells a deeply compelling story. Maverick is an old man now, although you’d never know it Cruise has hardly aged a day. Yet Maverick finds himself in roughly the same place he was in the 80’s. He’s a captain who is highly decorated, but refuses to advance. He is stuck in the past. He’s haunted by the death of his friend Goose depicted in the first film. When he returns to Top Gun he is confronted by Goose’s son called Rooster, played by Miles Teller. These two have a history that pushes them both to the breaking point. They challenge each other and learn from each other through the story.

Maverick has to come to terms with the passage of time, and in one incredibly poignant scene with Val Kilmer the movie rings real tears from me. It helps knowing that Val Kilmer had a two year battle with throat cancer that took his voice from him. Seeing him in this film carries a lot of emotional weight on its own, but allowing him and Cruise the time and space to act and allow the years to fill the silence between them is incredible to see. It is a powerful moment that elevates the movie and makes true the old idiom, “I laughed, I cried, I was thrilled by the movie.”

Now it’s not a perfect movie. A lot of the dialogue is clunky and cheesy, and there are a couple of story developments that left me groaning inwardly wondering how they were going to pull it off. Surprisingly they did pull it off. I was totally in on this movie. It wrapped me up and pulled me through any negatives and sent me out the door flying high and feeling excited. This was a great time at the movies.

I know Hollywood will take away the wrong lesson from this movie, and we’ll see a whole slew of sequels to 80’s movies. But what they should do is making rousing crowd pleasing movies that give us clear action, good characters, and compelling stories. It’s not Top Gun. It’s not the 80’s. It’s not nostalgia. What makes this movie work is the craft of the filmmaking, the quality of the story telling, and the enthusiasm of the cast and crew. We need more of that in todays movies.

Go check this one out. It was an awesome movie experience, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s is my cup of tea 1,000%. A

Top Gun

This 80’s action film is inexplicably considered a classic. Sadly aside from some charming performances and distinct visual style the movie has next to nothing to offer.

The movie follows a hot shot fighter pilot, Maverick played by Tom Cruise, and his best buddy, Goose played by Anthony Edwards who enter an elite pilot school called Top Gun. At the school they encounter a mildly hostile by the book pilot called Iceman, played by Val Kilmer, and an attractive love interest for Maverick played by Kelly McGillis. Maverick’s disregard for the rules earns him some stern looks from the old guard.

As I’m thinking about this movie a big problem becomes clear, there are no consequences. Maverick engages in a series of dangerous and crazy stunts in the air but he’s never really in trouble. He gets a stern talking to then he’s back in the air. Iceman doesn’t like him, but their animosity never feels more than skin deep. Goose never challenges Maverick or threatens to leave him even after Maverick puts his life in danger. The whole movie feels so inconsequential that it passes right through me without making an impact.

What works in this movie? The performances. Tom Cruise spends the entire movie with a charming smirk and a boundless enthusiasm. He is fun to watch here. Val Kilmer has this million megawatt smile that is engaging. Kelly McGillis does her best to turn a trophy for Maverick to win into a real woman. The movie works best when Cruise, McGillis, and Edwards are just hanging out singing old rock n roll hits and being their charming selves.

Whenever they enter their planes my attention drifted. I yelled at my screen several times, “what is happening?” The flying sequences are so poorly shot that I never have any clear idea what is happening or why it’s happening. I can tell something dangerous is going on because the soundtrack tells me so, but I could not tell you why they were in danger if you paid me a million dollars. The action is incomprehensible. The geography of the flights is never established, so we can’t tell where they’re going or how close they are to each other and their goals. It feels like they just took documentary footage of jets and inserted shots of Tom Cruise in between. It’s terrible.

The movie has a legendary soundtrack that is pretty cool. Everyone looks great especially in the well known beach volleyball sequence. But that’s kind of the problem. The movie stops occasionally to turn into a music video for Danger Zone and Take My Breath Away. These are sequences that contribute nothing to the story. They are just a sparkly distraction that looks good.

Maybe that’s why people liked this movie. It is fluffy and light. It is sparkly and distracting. It makes no impact on the viewer. It just looks pretty and doesn’t challenge anyone. If that’s what you’re looking for, then you can find worse distractions. Personally I found it to be a fast paced good looking nothing of a movie. It’s not terrible, but it’s undeserving of its place in pop culture history.

It’s not my cup of tea. C

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

What a stupid movie. Sam Raimi’s incredible directorial talent adds entertainment value to an otherwise devoid mess.

The MCU is reaching the stage where it’s too much. In order to follow this film you need a working knowledge of six movies and two entire seasons of television. That’s a lot of material to keep in mind when walking into a movie. You have to be a committee devotee to enjoy this or you need to look elsewhere for your blockbuster extravaganzas. Even if you are a major mcu fan, I’d recommend looking elsewhere.

The film begins with Doctor Strange, again played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is trying to protect a young girl called America Chavez from a red-ish blob of CGI. She is being hunted by a evil entity trying to steal her superpowers. What are her superpowers?She can travel through the Multiverse Atwill.

The movie has one of the most bloated and idiotic scripts of any modern blockbuster. The movies number one goal is to capitalize on the success of Spider-Man no way home by cramming the film with fan service. The problem is this fan service is not earned. It is cheap. It feels like a series of punch lines without set up. Imagine if you will a knock knock joke without the knock knock who’s there part.

This film has the shortest first act of any movie I’ve seen. The first act consists of about three minutes of scenes and dialogue. All of which set up the plot the McGoverns and the Easter eggs we should be looking out for as doesn’t do its characters themes or overall story anything more than lip service.

Because of this abbreviated first act the film feels rushed but not like it’s in a hurry to get anywhere important. it’s just a chase to get from plot point to the next, from one cameo to the next. The trouble is that because these cameos have no setup they ring hollow and have no impact when they land.

The best part of the film is Sam Raimi. He’s the off kilter auteur behind the evil dead and the original Spider-Man trilogy. He brings a zest and a much needed verve to the proceedings. The best scene is one in which he’s allowed to go full-Raimi. He inserts a little mini horror film into this big Marvel extravaganza. The scene involves Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen, being stalked by a supernatural entity in her kitchen. The scene has zooms and quick cuts and canted angles that add up to a fun and visually delightful sequence that has real power and filmmaking behind it.

The other wonderful thing Raimi brings us a good use of close up. So many of these Marvel movies linger on wides and medium shots and they never get in close and allow emotions to really register. I feel Wanda’s pain and America’s fear so much more intensely when their eyes are in major close ups that punctuate the action.

Is it a good movie? No. Is it an entertaining Marvel entry? Meh… kind of. Do you need to see it? No. There are better movies and better Marvel movies.

I hope they let Sam Raimi direct again. Give the man a decent script next time, and you’ll have a masterpiece.

It’s not my cup of tea. C-