ALWAYS KEEPING AN EYE ON HOLLYWOOD!!!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: "THE KING'S ADAPTATION" THE FILMS OF STEPHEN KING

Often times you will hear people say after they see a film that ‘the book was better’. One primary form of adaptation that I would like to take a look at this week is the use of the novel as premise for the content of a feature film.

Think of it as a house of bricks in a sense. You take the novel and all the bricks, then break it apart only to put it all back together again on screen. However, as is often the case not only do all the bricks have to be replaced to properly resemble the contents and theme of the novel, but so many more bricks (details) must be added to fill-in all the gaps that the novel does not address. This is not to say that the novel does not contain details (as novels are highly descriptive), but in order for the film to properly bring the book ‘to life’ specific imagery and cinematic elements must be utilized to the fullest effect.

The question remains however, should there be a real distinction between the novel and the film as they are completely different works of art? Thus, some directors remain unconcerned with the original source material (the novel in this case) while others consider accuracy as the primary target of the film.

Therefore, this week Cinema: Counterpoint will be examining the films of Stephen King who has had so many of his novels adapted into successful films – and some that have basically flopped.

Perhaps part of the problem is that so many of his films are so unsettled in terms of genre. The main questions remains: Do his films (adaptations) make you want to read the book or vice-versa? Thus, let’s take a look at a few of the highlights of Stephen King on screen over the past 30+ years.

CARRIE (1976): De Palma’s first real “success” film may actually might be a bit of a disappointment in my mind. Having re-visited it now on the average of once every ten (10) years, as a horror flick it simply does not work from start to finish. (C-)

THE SHINING (1980): Terrific casting, amazing sets and a storyline and narrative that simply outstanding in the suspense and terror genre. The addition of Kubrick to the film was also a major plus. (A-)

CUJO (1982): Frightening? In some ways. Disturbing? Yes. Still, the film is much too long and the suspense is limited. (D)

THE DEAD ZONE (1983): Perfect casting of Christopher Walken for the role – who can ever tell if he is in or out of a comatose state. Cronenberg directs this film, which may be one of best adaptations of the novel onto the screen. (B+)

CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984): This film belongs in somewhere in the back of the Dollar Tree in a basket with Monday Nitro Wrestling. (F)

FIRESTARTER (1984): Barrymore was a lousy actress then and even worse now. George C. Scott and Heather Locklear are the only bonuses when it comes to casting and only one of those is really nice to look at. The premise is fairly simple, but the score (Tangerine Dream) and the adaptation onto the big-screen were actually half-decent. (C+) 

CAT’S EYE (1985): Barrymore again unfortunately, but the overall casting is acceptable. Still, the three (3) stories really do not meet or connect with one another. The segment with James Woods is truly the best part of the film. (C-)
Pet Sematary
PET SEMATARY (1989): At this point, some of the adaptations are getting a bit, well “corny”. Ghosts and zombie cats dominated this film that is frankly, well – boring. Cannot recommend based on the story line as well as the poor adaption. D-  
  
MISERY (1990): What an impact this film and adaptation had on movie-going audiences at the turn of the decade. How fresh to see James Caan return for this and Kathy Bates is amazing in the role. Rob Reiner directs and what a plus that was in order to create the proper set design, mood, lighting and all the factors that create a film that was much like the novel – with tension and suspense. (B+)

NEEDFUL THINGS (1993): Nice to see Ed Harris makes an appearance in this one as well as the outstanding performance by Max Von Sydow. As a journey into the “supernatural” per se, the film was a bit of a disappointment. The adaptation is really not top-notch and the quality of the film really is limited to the performance of the cast – and nothing else. (C)

Enjoy the original 1993 trailer for NEEDFUL THINGS
 THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994): Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman bless us with their presence in one of the best films of the decade. The adaptation is excellent and the combination of narrative as well as mood and suspense are perfectly balanced. As a period piece it also works on a high level with a formidable emotional impact on the audience. It is the ultimate testament to human spirit – and a film that many will remember for a long, long time to come. (A)
THINNER (1996): Poor cast, poor premise and a film that gets way too much play even on cable late at night. To add, the performances are at a B-movie level. Pass. (C-)

THE GREEN MILE (1999): Not a Tom Hanks fan and never really have been, but his role works wonderfully in this period piece. The hues of the film are also amazing almost serving as a predecessor to what we saw in Pan’s Labyrinth in certain scenes – using colors and light to weave the real and fantasy world’s together until they are indistinguishable. David Morse and Michael Jeter are outstanding in their roles and this is to take nothing away from the rest of the cast. It’s not ‘Shawshank’, but the adaptation is first-rate and the film almost gets better with time. (A-)

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (2001): A solid period piece with vibrant, yet honest and poignant performances. Scott Hicks directs and although it may not fall into the ‘horror’ realm, there is a great deal of suspense in the undertones of the film. Simply put, ‘Atlantis’ is nostalgic and magical in some sense. Perhaps the book was better though as is often the case. The film was not popular with audiences and I am not sure exactly why. Was it too slow? This will always riddle me… (B+)

DREAMCATCHER (2003): Morgan Freeman proves here that he is not always a key to success. Too little is revealed too early in the film, and too much is revealed too late – thus our interest is never held. The cast is also questionable. It almost seemed like an episode of the X-files gone terrible wrong. Losing brain cells is also a natural result of re-visiting this film from time to time. Cannot recommend ~ (D+)

THE MIST (2007): The day following a bad storm, small town folks are under attack by monsters and creatures from who knows where. The film is basically unfocused, a bit dull and (no pun intended) – lost in the fog. There are some thrilling and suspenseful moments in the picture, but from start to finish it simply did not hold my interest. Still, the story and the book are good, so I would recommend visiting that channel for entertainment. (C+)

IT (2011): Interested in seeing how this film’s re-make will look at the movie house late this year. Let's hope the adaptation is no worse than what we saw in 'Pet Sematary' or 'Dreamcatcher'...

JER: This will come across more as an editorial since my partner- in- crime, JOHNNY CHAZZ, had been missing in action since his last known whereabouts was probably in some seedy karaoke bar in the wrong side of Sin City… drinking his umpteenth Mia- Tai and selecting to sing his next Steely Dan tune.

With that said, a minor voice conversation held on the telephone the other day with Mr. Chazz got me thinking about our proposed topic this week, which was going to focus on the screen adaptations of the works by the master of horror novelist, Mr. Stephen King! As you can tell from the comments above, Mr Chazz is alive and well and taking the A- Train to rehab central! LOL!

For me, the films of Stephen King peppered the 80’s in my most impressionable time of my hopeful projected film career. Figuratively speaking, most of the films made were of high quality with imaginative directors helming a ‘at- times’ controversial version based either heavily or loosely on a highly recognized novel.

(Informational assistance taken from stephenking.com) Born Stephen Edwin King in Portland, Maine in 1947, his schooling would bring him to the University of Maine and earn a B. A. in English which opened the possibilities of becoming a teacher. Unable to immediately find work to support his newly married life with his newlywed wife, Tabitha, King began selling short stories to any publication that would by them. As stories developed, so did his love for macabre and the eerie… especially in the written form. Things would make a drastic shift for King in 1973 when a novel written under the title Jerusalem’s Lot would forever be changed and recognized as Salem’s Lot. Shortly thereafter, an endless spring of stories would flow out of the twisted mind of the man who would later be known as “The Master of Horror.”

As the writer wrote, Hollywood read…and saw dollar signs! This would began a very healthy and lucrative career for both Mr. Stephen King and for Hollywood… the following are just a few highlights of the more memorable and iconic films and characters created by “The Master!”

CARRIE (1976): Director Brian DePalma would be the first person to dive into the world of King adaptations. CARRIE was only a best selling book, it would become a top grossing film in the box office. With the strong acting introduction of a then unknown Sissy Spacek, she would bring the very reclusive and highly destructive Carrie White to very horrifying life! A strong supporting cast of young newbies including Amy Irving, Nancy Allen and John Travolta also proved to be a hit with critics and fans alike. As with any adaptation, there were the novelist fans who claimed to not stick to the original storyline as was brought forth in their favorite book. This would a lesson needing to be quickly accepted by the hardcore writer’s fans and by Mr. King himself..
Enjoy the combination of Pino Donaggio's haunting soundtrack as it accompanies this great sequence from CARRIE
  
THE SHINING (1980): Unless you have been living under a rock, you may automatically imagine a deranged Jack Nicholson sticking his face through an axed door sarcastically and tauntingly mouthing the words, “Here’s Johnny!” to a frightened Shelly Duvall! Director Stanley Kubrick would take great liberties with the original novel’s interpretation of King’s haunting story of a family hired to care for a five- star hotel during its snowed- out winter months. The creation of Jack Torrance alone read chillingly on paper and brought to an all- time creep level high by Nicholson’s bipolar portrayal of a man psychotically pushed over the edge of sanity. Due to the restraint in budget and the under developed technology of special effects at the time, the story was adapted by Kubrick to focus on the madness that faced the Torrance family rather than the physical haunting that occurred throughout the novel. Don’t get me wrong…some highlights throughout the film are based off said haunting! How can you forget the twin sisters standing in the hallway or the lady in Room 237?

CUJO (1983)
1983 proved to be a triple- header for King enthusiasts! The releases of CUJO, CHRISTINE and THE DEAD ZONE proved that Hollywood is only just beginning to tap the resources available and provide entertainment that the fans were craving for! CUJO would star Dee Wallace Stone (Elliott’s mom in E.T.: THE EXTRA- TERRESTRIAL) as a mother struggling to survive within a Pinto as a rabid Saint Bernard terrorizes both her and her five year old son, Tad. Directed by Lewis Teague (CAT’S EYE) CUJO would similarly play on the emotions of the audience by the portrayal of a mother’s protection over her asthmatic child while fighting off the elements of heat, exhaustion, lack of food and water and a Saint Bernard big enough to band and ding the vulnerable vehicle used for shelter. Famed horror director John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN) would ‘change gears’ from his normal human- causing- carnage to a 1957 Plymouth Fury that has more under the hood than a cherry engine! Taunting and suspenseful, Carpenter has always had a great eye for cinematography and the capturing of dark images and low lighting to execute peril. Carpenter would also provide a pulse- driven synthesizer- heavy foreboding soundtrack!

Christopher Walken in THE DEAD ZONE
Finally, director David Cronenberg (THE FLY) would interpret King’s THE DEAD ZONE. Starring Christopher Walken as school teacher Johnny Smith, it would seem as if he has everything lined- up in his life with a rewarding career, a girlfriend and a bright future ahead of him. A freak car accident would have Johnny awakening into a different world after being in a coma for five years. His job, girlfriend and damaged use of his legs have crippled Johnny emotionally…however, something else has changed. A gift of foreseeing into the future of people he touches becomes a mental window into the unknown…but is it a gift or is it a curse? THE DEAD ZONE is yet another brilliantly executed film that is very true to its original novel roots. Helmed with a strong supporting cast (Tom Skerritt, Hebert Lom and Martin Sheen) this film would come highly recommended!

CHILDREN OF THE CORN and FIRESTARTER (starring an 8 year old Drew Barrymore) both films would fare well in the box office but were considered loosely based on its more entertaining and fruitful origins. Both films were released theatrically in 1984.

1985 would see the short story of CAT’S EYE and the ‘novella’ Cycle of the Werewolf comes to life as SILVER BULLET. CAT’S EYE was written with FIRESTARTER’s Dew Barrymore in mind as a marginally frightening “old wife’s tale” of felines’ abilities to take an infant’s breath away causing immediate death. SILVER BULLET starred the well- casted duo of Gary Busey and the late Corey Haim as a well- developed relationship between a reckless Uncle and his paralyzed nephew. Did I mention the sudden werewolf attacks in this sleepy little town?

Based on King’s short story entitled Trucks, it was probably considered inevitable for Stephen King to try his hand in directing one of his own stories… that one- time opportunity was MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE. Released in 1986, the movie’s storyline focused on the events that occurred after a comet passes very closely by the Earth’s atmosphere, causing machines to come to life for 3 days. A play on honkey- tonk rednecks and every other southern derogatory categorization befalls this poor and bloody clunker. King would never direct again.
Enjoy this 1986 classic trailer starring writer/ director Stephen King!


The novella known as The Body would be greatly directed by Rob Reiner (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) and would change the name of the story and become better known as 1986’s STAND BY ME. Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, the rich storyline would introduce us to four friends; Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman) and Vern (Jerry O’Connell). The friends hear of the death of a boy their own age whose body had not been recovered. Together, the boys go on a quest to find the missing body and learn something about themselves and the friendship amongst them.

The sci- fi adventure novel (written under the pen name of Richard Bachman) of THE RUNNING MAN would prove to be a great fit for action star Arnold Schwarzenegger! Directed by TV star Paul Michael Glaser (“Starskey and Hutch”), Schwarzenegger would play the ‘wrongfully accused’ police officer Ben Richards of a crime he didn’t commit. In the near future, television would play off of more gruesome and action- filled reality shows including one entitled “The Running Man.” Hosted by Damon Killian (“Family Feud” TV host Richard Dawson) the show would present an opportunity for convicts to “run” for their potential freedom and life while being chased down and hunted by “over the top” WWF- looking opponents!

1989 would draw an end to a very successful decade with another book- turned- film. Directed by famed 80’s music video director Mary Lambert, the dark and sinister PET SEMATARY would crawl its way out of the grave to great box office receipts. Weaving an urban legend tale of an old Indian burial ground, people would say that anything… or anyone, buried in its cursed soil would have them raised from the dead! The only catch is… they don’t really come back as their old selves again!

Moving into the 1990’s wouldn’t prove to be as memorable for Stephen King stories as the prior decade would. The likes of the short- storied GRAVEYARD SHIFT and made- for television mini- series “IT” would kick things off in 1990. Oh, there was one other little film that opened the same year… STAND BY ME’s director Ron Reiner would helm another King novel into film… as the very memorable and pulse- pounding thriller, MISERY.

MISERY would star James Caan and Kathy Bates (who won an Academy Award for this film). Caan played famed novelist Paul Sheldon, a writer of a series of romance novels better known as the “Misery” series, named after its heroine, Misery Chastain. Sheldon decides to follow tradition of renting an isolated cabin in a snowy terrain, free of distractions and pen the last of his “Misery” books before deciding to try his hand in another genre. He is caught in the white, blinding blanket of snow, causing his vehicle to overturn after hitting a bank. His rescuer would come in the form of a husky former nurse named Annie (Bates). Lucky that Annie happened to had witnessed the accident and save Sheldon from the accident and risk disappearing under the heavy falling snow and lucky for Sheldon that Annie is an avid fan of the novel series he had just completed. Bed ridden with multiple broken bones and abrasions, including broken legs, Sheldon is conformed to Annie’s babbling of incoherent conversations and rants! Things take a quick dive into the worst when Annie reads the manuscript to his new novel…in which he kills off Misery! In Annie’s shock, she demands a re- write to bring Misery back, to which Sheldon refuses…this is where the trouble starts. Without a nearby telephone or any sign of neighbors in this isolated farmhouse, Sheldon is left to his own devices when he begins to fear for his life as Annie’s tantrums become more and more violent and directed towards him! This film offers a great character study that allows two great actors to really do what they do best!
Actor Gary Senise and Jer circa 1994- 95
I will hop- skip a couple of titles to get to, what was considered for its time, a major television event in 1994. A four- part mini- series directed by Mick Garris and adapted as a teleplay by King himself… I am talking about THE STAND. After an accidental chemical spill lets loose a deadly virus, the nation’s population is reduced to a handful of survivors that must do what it takes to survive… while also dealing with having dreams of two figures: one is of an older woman with mysterious powers and another is of a scary man. THE STAND boasted a large cast that included my 'friend' Gary Sinise, Molly Ringwald, Ruby Dee, Rob Lowe, Ray Waltson and Stephen King!

Probably the more notable and highly respected works of King’s novels to films were held by the responsibility of one renowned director: Frank Darabont. His films: THE GREEN MILE, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and THE MIST.

1994 would debut the first of the King trilogy with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the film would be bestowed a total of seven Academy Awards. Set in the 1940’s, the story revolves around two prisoners who befriend each other and create a special bond over the years of imprisonment… just be careful about what posters you hang where in your cell. The film would be a stellar success for everyone involved as it was considered a box office hit and a highly respected piece of film making.

Released in 1999, THE GREEN MILE was a milestone collaboration of fine actors (Tom Hanks, Michael Clarke Duncan, David Morse, James Cromwell, Harry Dean Stanton and Sam Rockwell) and excellent screenplay adaptation done by Darabont himself and complimented with fine cinematography. The story takes place in a Death Row facility in the 1930’s in which one of the convicts is discovered to have healing powers, causing a major moral dilemma.

Finally rounding off the list would be 2007’s THE MIST, as in the previous two films, Darabont would adapt King’s novel into a screenplay personally. This time telling the tale of a rather freakish lightning storm that unleashes a very mysterious fog bank that envelops a sleepy town community. Is it panic or is there really something lingering within the mist?

Another notation that is highly recognized by fans of King's works is the fact that a large majority of his stories occur in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine! The town almost serves as a nucleus for the paranormal, the bizarre and the abnormal. King has enjoyed the use of the town's reputation so much, that director Rob Reiner co- founded and named his production company: CASTLE ROCK ENTERTAINMENT after King's creation.

COMMENTS, INQUIRIES and RECOMMENDATIONS are always welcomed by you! Please let us know how you are enjoying our site and what improvements or topics we can touch upon! Tune in next week when it is JER's turn to bring forth another interesting topic for discussion...until then, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

JER'S TURN- FILM RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK: FADE TO BLACK (1980)

JER: With so many topics to address on a week- to- week basis, we have maneuvered away from the topic of “Film Recommendation of the Week” for quite some time. The origins to the “Film Recommendation” was to either talk about a film that needs to either be seen for the first time or re-visited, if it has been far too long since last viewed.

I can say that both JOHNNY CHAZZ and I have talked about many well and respected films and we have recommended less- known films that we suggest be added to your ‘must see’ list.

This week, I focus my attention on the film that defined my ‘obsession’ since I was 12 years old. It is the 1980 cult favorite, FADE TO BLACK. (Hey Jay-Z... thanks for ripping off this title)
Written and Directed by Vernon Zimmerman (writer of the 1976 exploitation movie BOBBY JO AND THE OUTLAW starring “Wonder Woman” Lynda Carter) the story tells the tale of reclusive and slightly- off Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher: BREAKING AWAY) who lives in Venice, CA with his Aunt Stella. Eric is a majorly obsessed twenty- something who loves the movies, particularly the classic 40’s and 50’s. Because of its original release in 1980, the film is dated specifically for its time, speaking for an entire generation who relied on VHS video tapes and having to program or record films without the use of DVRs or other smart- memory devices. Binford’s bedroom reveals columns upon stacks of VHS tapes labeled with every classic title imaginable. His walls are layered with wonderful vintage posters, movie stills and his counters are stacked with countless movie memorabilia and movie masks. Lying on his stomach, reviewing the TV Guide for the wish list of upcoming films to watch or record, he lulls himself to sleep in a movie- riddled coma, passing the wee hours of the early morning before dawn.

Based on the rude awakening by his Aunt Stella, it is clear that Binford is mousy and declines confrontation when provoked. There is also a clear point made in which she blames Eric for her immobility. In Stella’s prime, she had dreams and aspirations in becoming a stage dancer. Those dreams were shattered when becoming confined to an electric wheelchair after an accident she had running home to care for a then four years old sick Eric. In an attempt to escape the ever- smothering advice and opinions of Aunt Stella, Eric prepares to leave for work as she sarcastically begs Eric to “live in the real world with the rest of us”… his under- the- breathe reply is “no thanks!”

Binford is off to escape the realities of his strict Auntie by walking to his job within a film distribution warehouse complete with film cans, trailers and movie one- sheet posters. Poor Eric just doesn’t seem to catch a break as he is confronted with bullies within his workplace. Richie (played by an unknown Mickey Rourke) is a muscle- bound jerk who must have pushed his way through a few geeks in his own high school days. He finds it slightly amusing to pick on frail and lonely Binford as he man- handles him throughout the day and jokingly tests his knowledge of film for his cheap pleasures. If that wasn’t enough, there is the crabby Mr. Berger, the warehouse’s manager, who pops heart medication pills and screams at Binford with the constant reminder that he is a screw- up!

As the film develops, Eric finds complete solace within his films, a world where he can look up to mentoring cinema stars like James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. It is here that Binford walks tall as he embodies the personalities of his heroes, to the degree of impersonating voices and facial expressions and mimicking smart and tautly one- liners as only a man’s man could. The lines of reality and cinema fantasy eventually blur, however, as Eric creeps too far into the celluloid world by taking on the name of Cody Jarrett, the character that James Cagney portrays in WHITE HEAT. Eric also changes his street’s name to 99 River Street, taken from the 1953 film of the same name.

More bullies or dominating figures enter into Binford’s life throughout the film, only to keep provoking the inner madness that would soon embody him very quickly. The only ray of light in his eyes is his running into of a Marilyn Monroe lookalike named Marilyn O’Connor (Linda Kerridge). Marilyn is a native Australian who moved to Hollywood with dreams of making it big. After a chance meeting at a local coffee shop, it is in his fantasy world that she sings “Happy Birthday” with the same sexy and seductive warbling as did the real Monroe to JFK on his birthday. He will soon find out that she cannot save the inner demons that will spring forth the many characters he has watched and relished in within the dark to do his murderous biddings.

Taking on an array of different characters like Hop- Along Cassidy, Dracula, The Mummy and a James Cagney mobster; Eric is loaded with an arsenal of make- up and costumes from his private collection to dress up and kill people as did his favorite characters in their perspective films.
Enjoy the original 1980 trailer!

What became an impressionable film for me at such a young age was the fact that the story evolved around an avid film fan. Mind you, he is a deranged film fan, but I admired his knowledge of film and trivia, his room and all of its displays and the uncanny impersonations he could do to emulate his role models. I will never forget watching this film on HBO for the very first time and as the film drew to an end, my mother looking at me and sternly saying, “You see, if you are not careful, you’re going to become crazy like him... all obsessed about movies!” The point would be a sharper deliver, since my mother said it in Spanish. I sat there and said to myself, “I really hope so!” (Insert evil laugh here.)

Executive produced by Irwin Yablans (HALLOWEEN), FADE TO BLACK was shot on a shoe- string budget. It was never intended for wide release and it wasn’t meant to be shot in crisp high- definition clarity. Director of Cinematography Alex Phillips Jr (BORN IN EAST L.A.) keeps a very classic dark look throughout the film, most of which takes place in darkness; Eric’s room watching films with the lights off, night time strolls through West Hollywood and the Chinese Theater and other indoor settings. Hues are dark and somewhat pale. Binford’s facial skin tones and dark circles under his eyes show signs of an unhealthy lifestyle as a smoker and a junk food consumer. Marilyn is beautiful and often shot with a glossy smear to highlight a certain radiance that the early film starlets shined through with.

The film takes you through many familiar sights in and around Hollywood; Ships Restaurant in West Hollywood, the Westwood and Bruin theaters, the Walk of Fame in Hollywood and the final stand- off that occurs at the Chinese Theater! It is a dark and slightly depressing film, as Eric is considered an anti- hero, the boy who never got a break out of life and a possible victim of society.

I truly cannot see any real film fan not seeing this movie at least once. It conjures so many memories of a Hollywood long gone and offers excitement and tension throughout its run.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: How nice to return to the “Film Recommendation” portion of our blog, yet again after diving into so many other realms over the past couple of months. So, let’s discuss your film here – “Fade to Black” (1980).
Now, there is no doubt that I can clearly see why this film appeals to you, Jer. Here’s a film where our main character is in love with movies and slowly begins to act out each of the scenes from these films. As you mentioned Jer, our character (Eric) does find complete solace within his films and that begins the weave of reality and fantasy making this film so unique. The parallel between you Jer, and this character are also quite intriguing.

What’s the genre here though? On the surface perhaps one would consider this a horror film, or perhaps even a suspense-thriller. Still, upon having re-visited this movie a couple months back, I almost see it as a drama, and even in some ways a romantic film from different point of view. When all is said and done however, I must proclaim this film as falling under the genre of ‘horror’ considering the rampage and the killing spree that our main character ventures on.

The strength of this film is, at times, almost what I would consider a weakness in “Fade to Black”. Not every scene needs to drive the plot – and often times our best directors do this intentionally to create a sort of parallel world or a break in a sense in the film offering the audience a chance to reflect for a moment. The sub-plot between Jerry and Ann (case worker and cop) is one that does not seem to really have a proper place in the film however – thus, not only does it fail to drive the plot, but it almost works as a distraction and the mood changes to almost a comedic one. In my own opinion, this damages the film and lowers the rating a notch.

There are plusses however to “Fade to Black” and these must be addressed to give the film its due. The film is very dark, and I can see why it works on so many levels for you Jer and for fans of this so-called cult classic. Eric’s obsession (almost a sickness really – no, it is a sickness) with this grim world that becomes a reality for him, keeps us on the edge of our seats. This is precisely what suspense / horror flicks should and must do. Additionally, Mickey Rourke’s performance is, albeit somewhat brief at times – Oscar worthy in my opinion. Finally, the classic black and white film clips really give the film a classic look as well as paying homage to yesterday’s Hollywood.

The premise of this film is what makes it so memorable, and will always guarantee itself a spot or two on any decent video store’s shelf. There are hints of Wes Craven surrounding this film – especially in the genre, the hues and the bare mood of the film. What concerns me still about the film and what probably keeps it from being in my top-100 of all time is the fact that the film tends to stray away to sub-plots that fail to drive the plot. This is precisely what prevents the film from really becoming suspenseful. Does “Fade to Black” really build to a climax at the end as we have seen in so many other classic horror films such as “The Exorcist”, or “Halloween”, “Rear Window”, “Dial 'M' for Murder”, “The Wicker Man” (1973), or even more contemporary films such as the “Saw” series or even what we experienced in the first “Paranormal Activity”? It is the climactic ending that gives these films their power while lurking in the minds of viewers for a lifetime.

Can I recommend this film to our audience here on Cinema: Counterpoint? Sure, why not. The plot is so unique and the mood, the lighting, the sets and the costumes really work. The performances are marginal as a whole, but brilliant in pieces. Still, that’s the issue here – Zimmerman puts together a film that crumbles into too many pieces as it moves along, and it pays a heavy price with an ending that really fails to give us the satisfaction that we hunger for. You mention that “Fade to Black” delivers a sense of tension ‘throughout its run’ Jer, but I am not sure I can go along with that 100%. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the recommendation this week, Jer, as it is a classic that audiences must visit at least once. Then the task becomes to formulate their own opinions.

** Chazz’s Rating: 6.5/10

JER: Let me offer a slight rebuttal and agreement on some of your points, JC. The character of Jerry Moriarty was played by comedian- turned- actor Tim Thomerson (IRON EAGLE) and I think that the first 2/3 of his appearances were added to give a little tension relief from the intensity of Eric’s unstable mind. I agree with you that some of this was unnecessary or that it just doesn’t work in the sense of timing, but most films of this era fell victim to its time and would play on some silliness because script writing took a dramatic (or comedic) turn somewhere in the very late 70’s. It just never recovered from there…

Zimmerman, I would believe, wrote and directed this film to purposely pay homage to films he grew up watching. The gangster/ mob movies with Cagney, Bogart and Edward G Robinson and the Hammer and Universal monster films like DRACULA, THE MUMMY and THE CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON! All of these mentioned become a part of Eric’s physique since this had become his daily diet intake. The total basis of truly enjoying this film is for one thing and one thing only: seeing the steady and eventual turning of Eric Binford’s life when more pushing and shoving occurs in his life. The constant reminder of being a loser or a loner… an outcast, if you would. He is never hip or the kind of guy who will get the high school cheerleader at the end of the film and dance off into the sunset.  Binford is designed to touch the geek in us all. Society has ‘type- casted’ certain stereotypes in our culture. More recently, it is determined that only nerds, freaks and fanatics attend ComicCon in San Diego, CA for their annual rituals of geekdom or only sci-fi losers flocked to STAR TREK conventions since the 1970’s. I categorize myself in that list since I attended many such conventions in my days. Most may take this love a little too far… but the admiration and dedication to detail: costumes, trivia knowledge or allegiance to a show or film series, is one that cannot go unnoticed.

As for the climax… now, I believe that the ending has been fitting for this story and really cannot see it finishing any different. It builds itself up with a steady pace, keeping a pulse to what it calls for and finally concludes with good timing. What else do you need?

The film is dated and may not appeal to most of the post CGI- generation today. Their world is filled with quick and hasty plots, in- your- face action sequences and paint- by- numbers backdrops and sets. This is a slow broth that needs time to cook. This is a home cooked meal and not a quick drive- thru grab bag. It takes its time introducing you to the characters and their roles in this story. What is their significance to the story and what pivotal role do they play in Eric’s life? It is not made up of graphic language or violence. It is narrative in certain points and slightly poetic in recapturing the pop culture aspect of the dialog. JC best described it as a mixture of being a thriller/ drama with a hint of horror: this recipe is served as pure fun!
Enjoy this great music video/ photo tribute using Marsha Hunt's haunting closing theme "Heroes" (thanks cpz91 for a great tribute!)

One of the major points in the creation of CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT has been and will always be to offer two individual takes on the same subject. We can always agree or disagree…it is like getting a medical second opinion! If you can get past the fact that this film was made and distributed in 1980 and that it carries a time capsule of technology, gadgets and mentality… then you will enjoy this film for what it is: good performances by lesser- known actors, a unique and intriguing story line and a fanatical tribute to Hollywood and its stars! If you are looking for another WATCHMEN or SUCKER PUNCH, then you are definitely barking up the wrong tree here.

For an avid film fan, there are so many things to look for… tributes to Hitchcock, a midnight showing of George Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the many recognizable posters that adorn Eric’s bedroom, the “useless trivia” as Aunt Stella would say and an admiration of transformations Binford puts himself through. The moment of his admiration of a Dracula make- up job he is doing in front of a mirror, the tommy- gun he holds as a mobster, the linen wrappings as the Mummy and the William Boyd face mask he owns when he plays Hop- Along Cassidy and the detailed gown and suit worn in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL sequence! All can be looked upon with an eerie appreciation.

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Jer - There is no doubt in my mind either that Zimmerman intended for this film to pay homage to the films of his era. As the primary basis for the film, if we are to focus on Eric's life, then it becomes a character study. However, if this is not a character study, then it strictly falls in the realm of the suspense / horror genre. Which is it? I am not exactly sure myself, but perhaps that is the intrigue of "Fade to Black". Whatever it is, well - it does work on some bizarre, yet tangible level that so many movie and film fans can identify with.

An excellent selection this week - and a fantastic topic to discuss here on Cinema: Counterpoint. I look forward to hearing the feedback from our readers.

Don't take our word for it...enjoy the original "Sneak Previews" take on FADE TO BLACK with Siskel and Ebert dated November 1980!


 JER: As do I… look, I can tell you that FADE TO BLACK will be a hard find and maybe not available at your local video store. After some research, I can tell you that it is available on Nextflix and for purchase through E-Bay and Amazon. It is not available for rent on Youtube, though. Beg, steal or borrow a copy from a fellow film fan or friend with an extensive film catalog… I think you will thoroughly enjoy this creepy thriller!

Have you seen FADE TO BLACK before or never? What is your take? Interested or a film you would pass on? Let us know your thoughts and comments and let our community hear your feelings on it. We always welcome your comments… tune in next week as JC takes the remote control and changes it to his channel of choice…so, as always, we will SEE YOU NEXT WEDNESDAY!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

JOHNNY CHAZZ' TURN: GOTTA DANCE: TOP 10 BEST DANCE FILMS!

This week’s film topic is one that I have been thinking of writing for a few weeks now, but was waiting for the right time. It’s funny how just last week Cinema: Counterpoint was on the subject of re-makes and all of a sudden there is an announcement that there would be a re-make of the 80’s classic “Dirty Dancing”. At that point I figured that the time was right to go ahead with this week’s topic: What really are the best “Dance” films of all time? * Please note: The key idea here is "dancing" - a musical by itself is another topic, and thus perhaps another week.

Therefore, here are my top-10 selections on the subject from #10 to #1 spanning eight decades. (Note: “Footloose”, “Chicago” and “Hairspray” were also considered, but failed to reach my top-10 list.)
HAIRSPRAY: John Waters' tribute to big hair and intro to the hip and groovy 1960's!

#10. DIRTY DANCING (1987): Although it may rank in the top-3 in most people’s book, I never felt that the actual dancing in the film was really that strong. Additionally, I was never a real fan of Swayze films – but Jennifer Grey was certainly fun to watch during those years. Fun film, and emotional in parts, but the substance is lacking as is the case with so many films during this decade.
Memorable moments to the tune of "Hungry Eyes" by Eric Carmen

#9. ALL THAT JAZZ (1979): Roy Schneider and Jessica Lange star in this film that everyone should re-visit. Considering that this film really marked the end of a fantastic decade in film-making combined with the great sets and choreography, the film is not only dramatic, but the dance sequences represent a true work of art that stands the test of time. A must see!
The casting sequence showcasing George Benson's "On Broadway"



#8. STOMP THE YARD (2007): Based on street dancing, the film maintains a certain charm and character throughout with amazing dance arrangements. I do admit that the film is fairly predictable and the story is nothing new, but the showcase of stomping, break-dancing, hip-hop / street dance moves keep the audience intrigued throughout.
#7. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): As much as I enjoy disco and funk music (disco especially in the film), I have always felt that this is a film that receives too much credit. Perhaps it is simply the soundtrack that really makes the film as the dance sequences are fairly limited and the story is marginal at best. However, Saturday Night Fever must rate in the top-10 on any list due to the amazing performance on the floor by Travolta as Tony Manero and supporting cast along with the sets and costume design. I always loved the contrast between the working-class environment during the daytime hours and dressing and dancing to the nines once the sun sets. In a sense this makes it the perfect pop-culture film for its time. The strut during the opening credits also remains iconic in film today.
Showcasing the disco king performing to "You Should Be Dancing"

#6. BLACK SWAN (2010): This may come as a shock to some of our readers, but not only did I feel as though this was the top film of 2010, but certainly a contender for one of the best dance films of all time. What amazes me still is the very thought that this is not just a ballet film, but also one that represents a true “thriller”. The film was highly successful overseas and especially in Japan. The performance by Natalie Portman and supporting cast are not only genuine, but riveting as well. The film is dark, exciting, has shadowy undertones and keeps us guessing throughout while perfectly calculated dance sequences fill the screen. Tchaikovsky’s score is nothing short of ideal for this film and maintains the haunting and chilling feel the story needs. A must see!
A great music video capturing the intense world of ballet through the eyes of Nina (Natalie Portman)

#5. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954): I can recall the first time I saw this film….February of 1989. I would say that I have seen it close to 20 times since and that might be an understatement. Now you and I have talked highly about this film in the past Jer, so I highly expect it to make your top-10 list this week.......The film features seven tremendous songs that perfectly match the title. How the film is off the top 100 list for AFI is beyond me, but it certainly makes my top-ten for dance films. Set in the mid-1800’s. The film really is a happy one recalling a simpler time when love was in the air (a small forecast to #2 on our list) and kindness was king. Jane Powell as Millie is just tremendous and she really shines during the barn-dance scene when the brothers cut-in. What is also key here from a cinematic standpoint is how the film utilizes ‘Cinemascope’ to full advantage. Audiences are treated to acrobatic and thrilling dance routines that fill the screen with action. ‘Lonesome Polecat’ remains one of my favorite numbers from the film, but all of them are memorable along with the film in particular.
Enjoy this clip in which the 7 Brothers try to court the 7 Brides at the "Barn Dance!"

#4. SHALL WE DANCE? (1996): Forget the re-make with Gere and Lopez as it pales in comparison with the original. Upon initial viewing on DVD about eight years ago, I was sold at the opening scene. Koji Yakusho plays a miserable Japanese businessman who continually takes the train to and from his workplace. Each night on his return home he sees a faint light in a window above with the silhouette of a ballroom dancer. This becomes his mantra and eventually his inspiration. Secretly, Yakusho begins to take dance lessons and falls in love with both the woman as well as the art of dance. The wonderful parallel in the film is that we have two individuals who have lost their passion: A man who has lost his passion for living, and a woman who has lost her passion for dance / dance competition. Although the actual dancing in the film is somewhat limited, the film teases us until the final scene where our main character is completely liberated from his rigid life. The blends of culture, drama, movie-making and reality are really what make this work in the most genuine and heartfelt fashion.
The original trailer for the 1996 Japanese film

#3. THE BAND WAGON (1953): Released just one year before ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ with Gene Kelly, this film is rarely discussed yet remains perhaps on the Fred Astaire’s greatest. Astaire can well be considered one of the most incomparable entertainers of the past 80+ years in film. An instant success at RKO studios in Hollywood, he danced with shoes that simply came to life on screen. Eventually, he would revive the golden years at MGM during his later films. Frankly speaking, I have never seen anyone in this film genre even come remotely close to this kind of talent. Nonetheless, choosing just a couple of his films is a real task considering the likes of “The Band Wagon” and “An American in Paris”. “Royal Wedding” was also released this year featuring Astaire’s famous ceiling and walls dance which was just one of the tricks filmed in the genre by MGM studios. In “The Band Wagon”, the score brings the dance arrangements to life and vice-versa. Astaire reveled in this film and the opportunity to dance with Cyd Charisse was a rare yet highly prized one. How can anyone ever forget the dance routine between the two titled ‘Dancing in the Dark’ with the Central Park setting? Then again, we head to the exhilarating and very sexy number titled ‘Girl Hunt’ almost resembling a spoof from a detective novel. Astaire lights a cigarette off-screen, then the story unfolds and the scene is white-hot for about three (3) minutes. Astaire always referred to Cyd Charisse in the number as having ‘more curves than a scenic railway’. In sum, let’s call “The Band Wagon” one of the greatest and most influential dance films to ever be produced on screen.
Astaire sneaks into the "Dem Bones Club" to meet up with the sexy Cyd Charisse.


#2. STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992): Believe it or not, this may have been the film that actually got me ‘back into film’ once again after leaving film school. I am well aware of the fact that this is not exactly the type of film to make AFI’s top-100 list, but what is blended throughout this film just seems to work on precisely the right level. How can one watch this film and not be completely transfixed? Is it possible? Here’s an Aussie dance movie that is, well – awesome (ahem). The story itself may be somewhat predictable, but the plot has real originality embedded into it. Scenes are full of dry humor; dance scenes are both perfected and poignant; the cinematography and costume design are amazing; and the dialogue as well as the performances remain first-rate. The use of flash-backs are also a wonderful bonus in the film offering us insight many of the characters. Without spoiling too much for you, I highly recommend “Strictly Ballroom” and consider it not only a brilliant work of art, but one of the true gems and secrets when it comes to dance films.
Music video to John Paul Young's "Love Is In The Air" with highlights from the film


#1. TOP HAT (1935): Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing cheek to cheek yet again – need we say more? Not really, but we will. I am not sure where to even begin or to end with discussion of this film, but let’s call it almost the ‘perfect’ musical / dance movie if that is fair. The talents of both stars as well as the score by Irving Berlin were showcased at a high level in this film – one that never seems to really age. Irving Berlin always said that the motivation for writing such amazing and memorable tunes was simply as a compliment to the showcasing talents of Fred Astaire. The most difficult number for Astaire was likely the ‘Top Hat’ scene (the cane doubles as a machine gun of course) which he rehearsed time and time again until virtual perfection was reached. The bottom line is that every song in the film not only complements ‘Top Hat’ perfectly, but each one stands tall all by itself. Astaire’s ‘Top Hat and Tails’ performance is just one of the sequences that should always be relished. None of the dance sequences were easy to film and just one viewing of the film will prove that fact. Other memorable tunes include: ‘Cheek to Cheek’ (one that extremely difficult to film, but features Ginger Rogers in the amazing turquoise satin dress with feathers) and ‘Isn’t it a Lovely Day to be Caught in the Rain’ which are of course written by the astounding Irving Berlin. The film is light in terms of plot – like a soufflĂ© really. What wasn’t light were the profits as ‘Top Hat’ was the most profitable film in RKO history at the time raking in over $3 million. Winner of four (4) Oscar nominations, ‘Top Hat’ remains perhaps the most elegant and sophisticated ofall Astaire / Rogers films, and of course all dance films ever to be pieced together.
The famous "White Tie and Tails" number starring the one and only Fred Astaire!

JER: Now we’re talkin’! I have been dying to get my dancing shoes on for a while and now I can. The fact that our tastes in musicals, especially ones with memorable choreographic dance numbers, will be difficult to not repeat. I am leaning on a more contemporary selection with some very classic choices as well.

#10. FLASHDANCE (1983): Choreographer Jeffrey Hornaday included classical ballet, figure skating, modern dance and a bit of hip- hop/ break dancing to this contemporary classic. The highlights, of course, are peppered into the film every time we visit Mawby’s Bar. It is here that several waitresses moonlight as dancers on the bar’s stage. It is not a strip bar, but a PG-13 version of one. Men still howl and hoot at the girls while they strut and grind their stuff… but the clothes stay on at this joint (BOO!) The film is more recognized for its iconic “water poured on the sitting dancer” scene, but the overall presentation mixes good- time humor with dramatic moments. The soundtrack was a force to be reckoned with in its time. Films like FOOTLOOSE, TOP GUN and FLASHDANCE were vying for top spot honors for best compellation soundtracks throughout the 1980’s.
Michael Sembello's video for his chart- topping hit "Maniac" including film clips!

#9. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (1981): Director Herbert Ross and Choreographer Danny Daniels bring forth a very classic homage to the days of radio music and dance hall days. Like the previously mentioned entry of CHICAGO, this film also takes place in the Windy City during the Depression era. It is in this world that music saves the mind from disaster and offers a little escapism from the harsh realities of unemployment, hunger and homelessness. The real world offers us a bleak look at Steve Martin playing Arthur Parker, a sheet music salesman. His life is dull and drab, unhappily married; he finds new life in a school teacher played by Bernadette Peters. Through the sheet music he sells, he lives a life of fantasy and big Busby Berkley- type numbers involving singing and lots of dancing! Both Martin and Peters offer up great moments both individually and collectively.
A dream sequence with Bernadette Peters and her classroom of disruptive kids performing "Love Is Good For Anything That Ailes You."

#8. XANADU (1980): I know I may get some back- ended comments for this particular selection, but give me an opportunity to plea my choice. It may not have been the big box office draw or the most memorable film with outstanding dance numbers, but it was a movie I took notice of theatrically and have not been able to put it down since. Combining Olivia Newton- John and Gene Kelly in a modern musical, including a fantastic soundtrack from both Newton- John and ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) the dance sequences paid tribute to the big band sounds of the 1940’s, the flashy New Wave sounds coming into the 1980’s and keeping a pulse of the leveling popularity of roller- disco (roller skating/ dancing to disco music, kids).  The highlight for many musical enthusiasts was the grand ‘comeback’ of Gene Kelly… and boy, can he still kick his heals! He even roller skates in the movie. It’s campy, it’s kitzchy...it’s XANADU!
An incredible tribute intermixing great clips and touches from the amazing sountrack...a must see! Thank you SinDrome6

#7. SINGIN’ IN RAIN (1952): Most people will always attribute the dancing styles of Gene Kelly on this film, but the real scene stealer title is rightfully placed on Donald O’Connor! The man was literally made of elastic as he could ricochet off walls and dance floors like a rubber ball. The highlight would have to be the “Make Em Laugh” number in which O’ Connor’s character, Cosmo Brown, stops at nothing to do what it takes to get a smile when the going gets tough! I would unjustly be moving forward without mentioning Kelly’s fancy footwork throughout the film.
Enjoy the show-stopping "Make Em Laugh" with Donald O'Conner! Amazing!


#6. THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980): Call this film what you want: a musical, a tribute to the blues, a slapstick comedy... but I have always perceived this film as one big dance number followed by another. The Blues Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi) literally move their bodies to the music for that particular scene they are playing in. One scene I would like to bring to your attention is towards the end of the film during Cab Calloway’s rendition of “Minnie The Moocher.” Both Aykroyd and Belushi are outside of the venue that their concert is supposed to take place in… they pause for a moment to hear the music bleeding from within inside and begin to take their steps in beat with the music… delivered with a straight face, the signature look for the brothers. Glorious and grand dance numbers which includes James Brown’s “Old Landmark” and Ray Charles’ “Shake A Tail Feather” are just some of the highlights of this musical comedy from director John Landis.
A classic moment including Ray Charles performing "Shake A Tail Feather"

 #5. ALL THAT JAZZ (1979): A semi- autobiographical account of the fast- paced life of Bob Fosse (see CHICAGO) Fosse himself offered double duties as both film director and choreographer as Roy Scheider plays the boozing, womanizing and drug- using Joe Gideon. The film works on the levels of Gideon’s possible last breathes of air, as he pushed himself too hard throughout his life, in recollections of his life and highlights of his work through flashy numbers with Broadway style dancing and “spirit finger” moves. Far too many great numbers with a great line- up of Broadway ‘babies’ including Ben Vereen, Leland Palmer and Ann Reinking. A must- see would have to be the “Air-otica” number, which inspired Paula Abdul’s music video for “Cold- Hearted."
The sexiest ad you'll ever see to fly the friendly skies. Yes, that is Sandahl Bergman (CONAN THE BARBARIAN) singing and dancing in "Air- otica"

 #4. CHICAGO (2002): I know this film did not make your list because of the extensive and greater selections you made; however, I feel it has a rightful slot on mine. Being that Bob Fosse was the original Director of Choreography in its Broadway debut, it only seem fitting to include, if not be inspired, by Fosse’s style and musical interpretation to the actual musical pieces involved. The better part of the film is presented in dance: recollection of memories and thoughts, a character’s point- of- view and straight up skirt- rising moments at the nightclubs. 1920’s Chicago is vividly and colorfully brought to life with the accompaniment of great Prohibition era jazz.
CHICAGO's "Cell Block Tango" with heavily-inspired Bob Fosse moves!

#3. SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS (1954): I have to go along with JC on this choice. I remember seeing this film when I was about 15 or 16 years old and recalling what an impression it made on me then. The dance sequences were amazing, if not astounding. Mind- numbing musical numbers mixed circus- like pratfalls and physically demanding requests to the body unlike anything I had for its time. Remember, these were actually skilled dancers and performers doing this all on their own. Today, you could almost cheat with the wave of a CGI wand to create movements the body dared not try. We'll never see this again!
Enjoy the classic trailer including great moments from this classic musical


#2. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977): This was my first official R rated film that ever saw (thanks Mom). The impression wasn’t made on the sexual nature or language used by these Brooklyn Italiano- Americanos from the late 70’s. The long lasting images were the ones that took place at the 2001 Space Odyssey discotheque that the boys would go to on Saturday nights. They were ‘the faces’, the boys with the blow- dried hair that was brushed back, the open collared shirts with the gold crosses or Italian horns dangling off for exhibit, they were clean- cut and they knew how to shoot an inviting look at any woman across the dance floor. The film is a time capsule and a voice- piece for a generation. Choreographer Deney Terrio went unaccredited for his ‘dance instructor’ assistance to the film. Word has it that Terrio worked privately with actor John Travolta to teach and fine- tune his entire slick dance moves throughout the film. Terrio relied on the latest dance crazes that were known for its time including The Hustle, The New York Hustle and other Latin flavored tangos and salsas blended with the historical sounds of The Bee- Gees playing loud and proud for accompaniment. Terrio would later become the host of the then- popular “Dance Fever” television show between 1979 through 1985.
A moving scene as Tony and Stephanie dance and share a moment caught in "More Than A Woman"

#1. MARY POPPINS (1964): As Donald O’ Conner is the laughable, elastic dance man for SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, the same can be said about Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Disney’s Academy Award winning musical, MARY POPPINS. Arguably, more of a musical than a dance film, Walt Disney spared no expense in presenting the popular children’s story to life. Combining live action with animation, an honorable mention must be made to the Academy Award winning soundtrack by Robert and Richard Sherman combing heartwarming ballads and high- energy orchestrations to complement the movement of this classic family film! Disney was creating a staple of recognizable technology that would be often imitated by other studios, but never duplicated for quality and entertainment value. Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins weaved her dance steps throughout the film, but it is Van Dyke who “steps in time” throughout the better half of the film. Partnering with animated penguins or fellow chimney sweepers, Van Dyke never seems to take a minute to catch his breath!
Dick Van Dyke leads up to the classically outrageous "Step In Time" number! Wow!

Johnny Chazz, I can definitely see your taste and flare for the golden age of musicals reflected in your selection of top 10 films, but I was a little taken back by your selection of STOMP THE YARD. I know you have always tried to be more well- rounded in contemporary pop culture, but the choice of this movie? On your list? At number 8?

Honorable mentions would have to go to Disney's NEWSIES starring a very young Christian Bale, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and maybe even THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (who doesn't know how to "Time Warp"?)
"Seize The Day" sequence from NEWSIES with Bale leading the boys into a frenzied singing and dancing number!

I can only brace myself for what will, no doubt be, a hailstorm of pelting comments to my selections! Let them fly!

JOHNNY CHAZZ: Of course CHICAGO will make the top-10 list of most fans, and I am not surprised to see it on yours Jer. The film was well done, but I simply did not see "CHICAGO" in the same light as everyone else. The year 2002 was a below-par year for films, Chicago looked like a diamond in the rough, and I just did not view it in such a limelight. It was well choreographed and staged, but the cast was one that I had a few issues with - a fun movie, but not sure it was Best Picture quality. However, I will agree with your comment that the musical interpretations were quite impressive from a contemporary standpoint.

FLASHDANCE was close to making my list, but probably falls in the 12-15 range. Still, I can see why it made your top-10.....touché.

I am so glad that we danced in tandem to our selection of SEVEN BRIDES as the film is certainly a classic and should be a top-10 on any film-critic / film-lover's list. Precisely as you said, it was CGI-less and the raw-talent simply simply explodes off the screen.

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER as I can see made your list in a similar spot as mine - glad that we agree on this without any need to go any further into discussions based on the film's global popularity.

PENNIES FROM HEAVEN is not only a great song (nice version by the original Louis Prima), but yes, Jer - the film is quite entertaining and I must admit that although it does not fall into my top-10, it is certainly a top-15 or top-20 candidate. Nice pick here -

THE BLUES BROTHERS is what most would call a comedy-musical, but we will call it 'what we want' as you say and label it in the dance-film genre. I was never a big fan of this film and I am not exactly sure why. I always found the film to be a bit too comedic, and almost clumsy and that foundation did not offer me enough of those genuine and serious traits that most other dance films seem to possess. Still, I do believe that many others would place this on their list, thus the selection does not shock me.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is an absolute classic, thus you will receive no arguments from me here. Kelly's footwork is the charm of the flick and it will always stand the test of time.

I see nothing wrong with the selection of XANADU in this category as I must agree with you Jer on a few levels. The homage to Gene Kelly and classic dance films combined with the roller-skating as a form of dance blended the classic with the modern making this not only a cult-classic, but a dance film that was true 'eye candy'. The presence of the ELO soundtrack was also a bonus, but that is off-subject of course...still, being that we are both fans of the group, it must be mentioned.

Nice selection with MARY POPPINS and it is hard to go wrong with anything produced in the 1960's especially with the likes of Julie Andrews. I have not seen this film in countless years, and I should re-visit it to assess how it works as a 'dance film' and not one that falls strictly into the fantasy genre.

As for 'Stomp the Yard' - I must agree, Jer, that the film is probably not what most would consider in their top-10, but the style and techniques of dance used in the film with contemporary sounds was fresh - and on some level that seemed to work for me. Please note however, that it is not a top-5 for me, but #8 is where it falls and granted the film is not exactly well-written and offers little in the way of cinematic value, I still felt as though I remained entertained, intrigued, learned a few funky moves for my own dance repertoire (ahem). The opening and closing scenes were also impressive along with all of the energy and talents that went into the dance sequences. As a modern dance film for this decade, I must give it some props.

I am a bit surprised not to see “Dirty Dancing” (as I know your love for the 80's) on your list as well as any of the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers films that many consider to be the best ever made. Your list remains bold however and you back it up - so that goes commended.

With that, I turn the final comments over to you, Jer, as we begin to close out this week's segment. This has been a great deal of fun to discuss as the topic is light and we are resurrecting films from many decades gone by for our audience / readers to perhaps look into.

JER: That turned out to be a lot less painless than I thought. A very interesting topic with many thoughts and opinions as to what makes it to a top ten list! I think we represented a wide range of different musicals from different times and eras representing a variety of different styles and interpretations. With that said I will rumba out of this talk and leave it to your thoughts! Do you agree with our selections or did we miss the dance all together? What would you place on the list? Please feel free to comment and let us know!

Have you visited the official CINEMA: COUNTERPOINT page on YOUTUBE? Check out classic and contemporary trailers, scenes and other great trips down memory lane! Just click the link and check out the "Favorites" on our site! Enjoy!