Embracing the Melodrama Part II #102: Chicago (dir by Rob Marshall)


ChicagopostercastIt’s strange to refer to a best picture winner as being underrated but that’s exactly the perfect description for the 2002 film Chicago.

When Chicago was named the best picture of 2002, it was the first musical to take the top prize since The Sound of Music won in 1965.  Until the box office success and Oscar triumph of Chicago, it was assumed by many that a musical had to be animated in order to be successful.  After Chicago won, the conventional wisdom was changed.  Dreamgirls, Nine, Rock of Ages, Hairspray, Jersey Boys,  Into the Woods, Les Miserables, none of these films would have been produced if not for the success of Chicago.  It’s also due to Chicago that television networks are willing to take chances on shows like Glee and Smash.  And while I think a very valid argument could be made that we would all be better off without Glee, Smash, and Rock of Ages, you still can not deny that Chicago both challenged and changed the conventional wisdom.

And yet, despite its success and its continuing influence, Chicago is one of those best picture winners that often seems to get dismissed online.  Some of that’s because, by winning best picture, Chicago defeated not only The Two Towers (which is arguably the best installment in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) but also Roman Polanski’s searing masterpiece, The Pianist.  Critics often point out that The Pianist won for best adapted screenplay, best actor, and best director but Chicago somehow managed to win best picture.  They suggest that the Academy was either worried about the implications of giving best picture to a film directed by Roman Polanski or else they were blinded by Chicago‘s razzle dazzle.  They argue that Chicago was merely an adaptation of an iconic stage production, whereas The Pianist and The Two Towers were both the result of visionary directors.

Well, to be honest, I think those critics do have a point.  The Pianist is one of the most emotionally devastating films that I have ever seen.  The Two Towers is the perfect mix of spectacle and emotion.  And yet, with all that in mind, I still love Chicago.

And it’s not just because of scenes like this:

Or this:

Or even this scene of Richard Gere tap dancing:

If you’ve been reading this site for a while then you know my bias.  You know that I grew up dancing.  You know that I love to dance.  And you know that I automatically love any film that features a dance number.  And, since you know my bias, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, of course Lisa likes this….”  And you’re right.

But you know what?  Even if nobody danced a step in this film, I would still enjoy it.  (Though it would be odd to see a musical with absolutely no dancing.)  Chicago is not just about spectacle.  Instead, it tells a very interesting story, one that is probably even more relevant today than when the film was first released.

Set in 1924, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger).  Married to the decent but boring Amos (John C. Reilly), Roxie wants to be a star.  She has an affair with slrazy Fred Casely (Dominic West), believing that he has showbiz connections.  When Fred finally admits to her that he lied in order to sleep with her, Roxie reacts by murdering him.  Because Roxie is pretty and blonde and claims to have been corrupted by the big, bad, decadent city, she becomes a celebrity even while she sits in jail and awaits trial.

Also in the jail is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a nightclub singer who killed her husband and sister.  Roxie idolizes Velma but, after Velma snubs her, a rivalry forms between the two.  Roxie hires Velma’s lawyer, the slick Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).  During the trial, Roxie becomes even more popular, Velma grows jealous, and the only innocent women on death row — a Hungarian who can’t speak English — is ignored and executed because she doesn’t make for a good news story.

Chicago is a cynical and acerbic look at both the mad pursuit of celebrity and the pitfalls of the American justice system.  In its way, it’s the film that predicted the Kardashians.  (If Roxie had been born several decades later, it’s not difficult to imagine that she’d build her career off of a sex tape as opposed to murder.)  Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both sociopathic marvels in their respective roles.  Even Richard Gere, who, in other films, can come across as being oddly empty, is perfectly cast and surprisingly witty in the role of Billy.

Director Rob Marshall does a great job of making this stage adaptation feel truly cinematic.  At no point does Chicago feel stagey.  Perhaps Marshall’s smartest decision was to tell the entire film through Roxie’s eyes.  Every musical lives and dies based on whether it can convince the audience that it would perfectly natural for everyone onscreen to suddenly break out into song.  Chicago is convincing because, of course, Roxie would view her life as being a musical.

And did I mention that the film features a lot of great dancing?

Because it so seriously does….

So, yes, it can be argued that Chicago beat out some worthier films for the title of best picture of the year.  But, regardless, it’s still a good and memorable film.

And here are the NAACP Image Award Nominations!


Dear White People

And continuing our awards wrap-up, here are the 2014 NAACP Image Award nominations!

(h/t to awardswatch)

MOTION PICTURE
Outstanding Motion Picture
• “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture
• Chadwick Boseman – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• David Oyelowo – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Denzel Washington – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)
• Idris Elba – “No Good Deed” (Screen Gems)
• Nate Parker – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)

Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
• Gugu Mbatha-Raw – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Quvenzhané Wallis – “Annie” (Columbia Pictures)
• Taraji P. Henson – “No Good Deed” (Screen Gems)
• Tessa Thompson – “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• Viola Davis – “The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture
• André Holland – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Cedric the Entertainer – “Top Five” (Paramount Pictures)
• Common – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Danny Glover – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• Wendell Pierce – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture
• Carmen Ejogo – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Jill Scott – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• Octavia Spencer – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)
• Oprah Winfrey – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Viola Davis – “Get On Up” (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Independent Motion Picture
• “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• “Dear White People” (Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions)
• “Half of a Yellow Sun” (monterey media inc.)
• “JIMI: All Is By My Side” (XLrator Media)
• “Life of a King” (Animus Films/Serena Films)

Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture
• Chris Rock – “Top Five” (Paramount Pictures)
• Justin Simien – “Dear White People” (Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate)
• Margaret Nagle – “The Good Lie” (Alcon Entertainment)
• Misan Sagay – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Richard Wenk – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture
• Amma Asante – “Belle” (Fox Searchlight Pictures/ DJ Films)
• Antoine Fuqua – “The Equalizer” (Columbia Pictures)
• Ava DuVernay – “Selma” (Paramount Pictures)
• Gina Prince-Bythewood – “Beyond The Lights” (Relativity Media)
• John Ridley – “JIMI: All Is By My Side” (XLrator Media)

TELEVISION
Outstanding Comedy Series
• “Black-ish” (ABC)
• “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• “Key & Peele” (Comedy Central)
• “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)

Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series
• Andre Braugher – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX)
• Anthony Anderson – “‘Black-ish” (ABC)
• Don Cheadle – “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• Keegan-Michael Key – “Key & Peele” (Comedy Central)
• Kevin Hart – “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)

Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series
• Mindy Kaling – “The Mindy Project” (FOX)
• Niecy Nash – “The Soul Man” (TV Land)
• Tracee Ellis Ross – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Uzo Aduba – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Wendy Raquel Robinson – “The Game” (BET)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
• Boris Kodjoe – “Real Husbands of Hollywood” (BET)
• Glynn Turman – “House of Lies” (Showtime)
• Laurence Fishburne – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Marcus Scribner – “Black-ish” (ABC)
• Terry Crews – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (FOX)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
• Adrienne C. Moore – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Laverne Cox – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Lorraine Toussaint – “Orange is the New Black” (Netflix)
• Sofia Vergara – “Modern Family” (ABC)
• Yara Shahidi – “black-ish” (ABC)

Outstanding Drama Series
• “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
• “House of Cards” (Netflix)
• “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series
• LL Cool J – “NCIS: LA” (CBS)
• Omar Epps – “Resurrection” (ABC)
• Omari Hardwick – “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• Shemar Moore – “Criminal Minds” (CBS)
• Taye Diggs – “Murder in the First” (TNT)

Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series
• Gabrielle Union – “Being Mary Jane” (BET)
• Kerry Washington – “Scandal” (ABC)
• Nicole Beharie – “Sleepy Hollow” (FOX)
• Octavia Spencer – “Red Band Society” (FOX)
• Viola Davis – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
• Alfred Enoch – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• Courtney B. Vance – “Masters of Sex” (Showtime)
• Guillermo Diaz – “Scandal” (ABC)
• Jeffrey Wright – “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO)
• Joe Morton – “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
• Aja Naomi King – “How to Get Away with Murder” (ABC)
• Alfre Woodard – “State of Affairs” (NBC)
• Chandra Wilson – “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
• Jada Pinkett Smith – “Gotham” (FOX)
• Khandi Alexander – “Scandal” (ABC)

Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series
• Aisha Muharrar – “Parks and Recreation” – Ann & Chris (NBC)
• Brigette Munoz-Liebowitz – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – Road Trip (FOX)
• Mindy Kaling – “The Mindy Project” – Danny and Mindy (FOX)
• Regina Hicks – “Instant Mom” – A Kids’s Choice (Nickelodeon and Nick@Nite)
• Sara Hess – “Orange is the New Black” – It Was the Change (Netflix)

Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series
• Erika Green Swafford – “How to Get Away with Murder” – Let’s Get To Scooping
(ABC)
• Mara Brock Akil – “Being Mary Jane” – Uber Love (BET)
• Warren Leight, Julie Martin – “Law & Order: SVU” – American Disgrace (NBC)
• Zahir McGhee – “Scandal” – Mama Said Knock You Out (ABC)
• Zoanne Clack – “Grey’s Anatomy” – You Be Illin’ (ABC)

Outstanding Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)
• “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX)
• “Drumline: A New Beat” (VH1)
• “The Gabby Douglas Story” (Lifetime Networks)
• “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)

Outstanding Actor in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• Blair Underwood – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Charles S. Dutton – “Comeback Dad” (UP Entertainment)
• Larenz Tate – “Gun Hill” (BET)
• Mekhi Phifer – “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)
• Ving Rhames – “A Day Late and a Dollar Short” (Lifetime Networks)

Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special
• Angela Bassett – “American Horror Story: Freak Show” (FX)
• Cicely Tyson – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Keke Palmer – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)
• Regina King – “The Gabby Douglas Story” (Lifetime Networks)
• Vanessa Williams – “The Trip to Bountiful” (Lifetime Networks)

Key & Peele

What Lisa Watched Last Night #101: The Trials of Cate McCall (dir by Karen Moncrieff)


Last Saturday, I watched the Lifetime premiere of The Trials of Cate McCall.  (Okay, so technically I did not watch this last night.  Instead, I watched it on Saturday night.  However, if not for the fact that I came down with literally the world’s worst cold, I would have written this review on Sunday.  Cut a girl some slack, okay?)

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it was on Lifetime, of course!

What Was It About?

What isn’t it about?  Seriously, Cate McCall (Kate Beckinsale) has got a lot going on in her life.

Cate is a defense attorney.  She used to be a prosecutor but then she convicted the wrong man and she dealt with her guilt by becoming an alcoholic.  However, after being a few months sober and working under the watchful eye of her AA sponsor (Nick Nolte, of course), Cate is ready to take on the case of a Lacey Stubbs.  Cate is convinced that Lacey was wrongly convicted of murder and she is determined to get Lacey out of a prison.  Presiding over the case is Justice Sumpter (James Cromwell), who Cate had an affair with while she was a law student.

And, on top of all this, Cate is trying to get custody of her daughter and the innocent man she sent to prison wants to talk to her…

What Worked?

In the title role, Kate Beckinsale gave a great performance.  Due to the film’s somewhat disjointed editing, Kate had to basically carry the entire movie on her shoulders and she proved herself to be more than up to the task.

According to the imdb, Taye Diggs played the character of Austin Moseby.  However, at least in the version that was broadcast on Lifetime, there was no character named Austin Moseby and Taye Diggs was nowhere to be found.  I have to admit that I’ve had a lot of fun speculating about who Austin Moseby might have been and why Taye Diggs was apparently edited out of the film.  (Okay, technically, that’s not something that worked for the movie but it has worked towards keeping me amused.)

What Did Not Work?

Despite the snarky commentary that I posted on twitter while watching this film, I was really rooting for The Trials of Cate McCall.  Kate Beckinsale is one of my favorite actresses, I loved courtroom dramas, and I feel that I have something of a responsibility to support films that feature complex and multi-faceted female protagonists.  In other words, I so wanted The Trials of Cate McCall to be a good film.

Sadly, however, this film was never as good as I wanted it to be.  Whether it was the result of postproduction meddling or just inept filmmaking, The Trials of Cate McCall ultimately ended up feeling like a random collection of scenes that never quite added up to being a compelling narrative.  The film had potential but it just did not work.

Add to that, regardless of whether they were justified or not, Cate McCall’s actions towards the end of the film really should have gotten her disbarred.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

Who couldn’t relate to Cate’s struggles to balance about six hundred different things at one time?

Lessons Learned

Just because Taye Diggs is listed as being in a movie doesn’t mean that he’s actually in the movie…

A Quickie Review: Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (dir. by Kevin Munroe)


Yesterday, I called into work because my asthma was acting up and, in order to pass the time, I watched Dylan Dog: Dead of NightTo be honest, I probably should have just risked having another asthma attack and spent 108 minutes at work, answering the phone.  It would have been a more productive use of my day.

Dylan Dog is based (quite loosely) on the same Italian comic book that inspired one of the best Italian horror films of all time, Dellamorte Dellamore.  Brandon Routh gives a charisma-free performance as Dylan Dog, a New Orleans-based private investigator who is hired by a mysterious woman (Anita Briem) to investigate the circumstances of her father’s death.  It turns out her father was killed by a werewolf and fortunately, Dylan is apparently an expert on New Orleans’ supernatural underground, including the decadent vampires that are led by Taye Diggs (who, seriously, deserves better than this movie.)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night plays less like a movie and more like a greatest hits collection of other, better movies (and tv shows).  We get werewolves and vampires going to war, we get an athletic blonde woman doing karate moves on a bunch of vampires, and we get a lot of casual decadence being committed by vampires who speak with Southern accents that just drip molasses.  Now, I love True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the shows that gave me the strength to survive a lot of hard times, and I’ve even got a girlcrush on Kate Beckinsale as a result of Underworld.  But I’ve also got all of those wonderful shows on DVD.  I can see them whenever I want.  I didn’t spend $5.00 to rent Dylan Dog OnDemand just so I could see Dylan become the millionth film hero to walk in slow motion while firing two guns at the same time.

By all accounts, the film’s version of Dylan Dog has very little in common with the comic book version of Dylan Dog.  It’s hard for me to say for sure because, while I’ve read and heard a lot about the Dylan Dog comic, I’ve never actually read it.  Even if I could get my hands on a copy, it wouldn’t be much help since I’m not exactly fluent in Italian.  This is what I assume to be true, strictly based on my own research:

1) The comic book Dylan Dog is a melancholy character who, despite dealing with the supernatural on a regular basis, also suffers from several irrational phobias of his own.  The movie’s Dylan Dog is a blank-faced mannequin who utters useless quips and appears, in the tradition of American movie heroes, to have no fear. 

2) The comic book Dylan Dog has an assistant who is a Groucho Marx imitator.  The American Dylan Dog has an assistant who is a zombie.  That assistant is well-played by Sam Huntington and he actually does have a few good moments but it’s still impossible to watch him and not wish he was a Groucho Marx imitator.  (In the film’s defence, it appears that the Marx estate took legal action to prevent Groucho’s likeness from being used in the film.) 

3) The comic book Dylan Dog lives in London.  The movie Dylan Dog lives in New Orleans for absolutely no reason other than these movies always seem to be based in New Orleans.  Seriously, New Orleans is one of the most overrated cities in America.

4) Finally, the comic book Dylan Dog is one of the most popular cult heroes in Europe.  The movie Dylan Dog is the subject of one of the biggest cinematic flops of 2011.

It’s really hard to know what to say about a film like Dylan Dog other than the fact that it’s really, really bad.  In fact, I’m tempted to call it the worst of 2011 so far but, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided that title still belongs to The Conspirator.  Unlike The Conspirator, Dylan Dog isn’t a pompous film, it’s just a very, very lazy one. 

I think the best thin to say in regards to Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is that it might inspire viewers to seek out and watch Dellamorte Dellamore.  Now, that’s a film.

Oh dear…Dylan Dog: Dead of Night trailer


I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comic book reader and there’s really only been four comics that I’ve ever actively made it a point to track down and/or read.  One was Strangers in Paradise, which I was introduced to by my first college roommate, who told me that she was my Katchoo.    Secondly, there was an old comic book series from the 70s called Tomb of Dracula that Jeff loves.  The entire series has been collected in four trade paperbacks and, last Christmas, I ordered all four of them.  Of course, since I ordered them all in August (patience and impulse-control not being my strong suit), I had a lot of time to read through them before wrapping them up and giving them away.  (And, to my surprise, I enjoyed them in all of their platform shoed glory.)  Third, there’s The Walking Dead which Arleigh introduced me to.  And finally, there’s Dylan Dog.

I haven’t read a lot of Dylan Dog, largely because it’s an Italian comic and English translations aren’t easy to come across.  (And apparently, when an American company did try to reprint the series in English, they ended up getting sued by the estate of Groucho Marx.)  So, I can’t claim to be an expert on Dylan Dog because almost all of my information about this series comes second-hand.  Honestly, if you asked me to tell you about Dylan Dog, I could probably give you the Wikipedia equivalent of an answer (i.e., that Dylan Dog is a private investigator in London who deals with super natural cases.)

Why does Dylan Dog fascinate me?  Well, some of it is because of what I’ve heard about it from sources that I trust.  I hate that answer because it sounds so flakey and simple-minded but luckily, that’s not the only reason.  There’s also the fact that Dylan Dog’s investigative partner is a guy named Groucho who looks (and apparently acts) just like Groucho Marx.  The other is that Dylan Dog was created by the same author — Tiziano Scalvi — who is responsible for inspiring one of the greatest movies ever made, Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore.  In fact, Dellamorte Dellamore started off as an attempt to make a Dylan Dog film and the film’s main character had appeared — in a supporting role — in Dylan Dog.  From what I’ve heard, Dellamorte Dellamore — with its use of the paranormal as a metaphor for alienation and other deeper philosophical concerns — captured the sensibility of Dylan Dog

Finally, one of my favorite authors — Umberto Ecco — is on record as saying, “I can read the Bible, Homer, or Dylan Dog for several days without being bored.”

So, that’s why I raised an eyebrow when I came across the trailer for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night while looking up grindhouse movie trailers on youtube.

And then I watched the trailer and that eyebrow quickly went down.

Number one, no Groucho.  That already indicates that this is a compromised film.  Number two, I may not be able to “read” Dylan Dog but I can look at it well enough to know that Dylan Dog is not a firing-two-guns-at-once type of hero.  Number three — New Orleans?  Bleh.  I’m officially bored with movies that try to be “colorful” by filming in New Orleans.  Number four, Taye Diggs?  I’m sorry but any series that could inspire Dellamorte Dellamore deserves better than New Orleans and Taye Diggs.

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on April 29th, 2011.

Bleh.