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Best Shot: Singin' in the Rain

This brief article is part of the weekly series at Nathaniel Rogers' quintessential movie site "The Film Experience", titled "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" (link here to previous entries)

As you know, we've been participating for quite some time. This week, we are focusing on one of my all-time favorites: Donen and Kelly's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN.

I can never explain quite well what watching SINGIN' IN THE RAIN makes me feel. Far from a perfect movie, the Donen/Kelly masterpiece is still as joyous and exciting as it was sixty years ago. It's a unique and powerful experience, and one that even through repeated viewings, never loses its thrill, its emotion, its happiness - the sheer joy is always there. Always. It's no wonder why this movie is considered to be the best musical of all time and is on almost everyone's all-time most beloved movies.

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is one of my go-to movies when I'm having a bad day or when I'm sad or bored. It never ceases to amaze me how wonderfully simplistic, fun, cheerful and refreshing that movie is, and after watching it I always end up singing its songs for the next two hours, from the classic "Singin' in the Rain" to the more amusing "Good Morning" or the silly "Moses Supposes" (let's not forget the incredible, physically-demanding O'Connor number "Make'em Laugh", which is awesome too).

Despite being lighthearted, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a very original product, colourful, energetic and brilliant in its bright, merry way. Most of my admiration goes to its three leads - the dazzling Gene Kelly, the fantastic Donald O'Connor and the formidable Debbie Reynolds, at the time only 19 but more than holding her own against two industry powerhouses (the little girl sings, dances and acts her socks off). They sing and dance (in spectacular fashion, I might add - some of those choreographies are too good to be true, even for 1952!) to make it look so effortless and easy... Oscar-nominated Jean Hagen's Lina Lamont completes the core cast of the movie and although her performance is kind of a one-note joke (she can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance, she's somewhat dim and annoying), it's still a very inspired take on the dumb blonde type. The rest comes from a deceptively simple but clever story about people making movies and their immense love and pride in doing what they do, even if that means having to adapt to fit the new age of an industry always developing and now starting to realise the potential of sound in film (noticing some similarities with 2012's Best Picture winner "The Artist"? Well you should; it's one of the movies that inspired it). It's a good-humored celebration of this famous transition period in Hollywood that happens to use songs to prove its point that art - and people doing it - must evolve, all the while having a blast while doing it.

As for my best shot?

Well, before I even watched the movie again to write this article I knew I'd be picking this one. It's in the final scene of the movie, when Don (Kelly) ingeniously turns the tables on Lina (Hagen) and rushes to announce Kathy (Reynolds) - who's running down the aisle crying - as the real performer. It's one of the most romantic moments in the movies and that close-up on Reynolds' face seals the deal - it gives me goosebumps, it makes me swoon, it makes me teary eyed and gooey all inside. I know it's a little bit sentimental but this truly heartwarming finale - for an already sensational movie - is just what was needed to leave the movie - and you - on a high note for the rest of the day. It's pure magic that never fails. It's just... perfect.

Best Shot: How To Marry a Millionaire

This post marks our blog's return to participating in Nathaniel Rogers' thrilling series "Hit Me With Your Best Shot". I was very sad that I wasn't able to participate last week, in which the series focused on Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums", one of my personal favorites, so this week I knew I couldn't miss. 

The movie being showcased is "HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE", a deity from the 1950s with three huge stars and box office draws of the time, Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and the one-and-only Marilyn Monroe. This romantic comedy, though amusing and clever at times, is too simple and too plain to leave me with a lasting impression. Luckily, the movie itself wasn't the important part: the three actresses were.

Of the three, I found Lauren Baccall's Shatze the most inspired character, the more fleshed-out, while Marilyn Monroe's is by far the weakest in terms of service to the plot. Nevertheless, Monroe never fails to impress, substantially elevating the material with her great comic timing and her dim-witted appearance (she looks like a modern hipster trying to pass as cool with those crazy-ass glasses). Betty Grable was just fine. The man they date are far less interesting and therefore, for me, don't even merit any commentary.

Look at hipster Marilyn (if this were today, this would be an instant Internet meme like 'hipster Ariel')

There were three moments that stuck with me:

1. Lauren Bacall's expression of superiority and despisement (that eyeroll! that false look of concern!) when she's informed by her two friends of their mission's failure, marrying poor, humble men:

2. Marilyn Monroe (not wearing glasses and thus blind as a bat) at first mistaking the maitre d' for another man and then bumping into him unknowingly:

3. And my best shot: in a moment of total awesomeness, Lauren Bacall, who spends the entire movie behaving like a rich, snotty bitch, gives in and is seen eating a plain, greasy burger. And still giving a face like it's SO beneath her. Classic diva / moment of bitchery.

I may be poor as hell but I'm not going down without dignity. He's still WAY out of my league. No tie, how dares he!

The movie doesn't hold up very well today (many jokes and situations feel very time-appropriate) but the actresses are still a delight.  As for this series from Nathaniel? It's a blessing that keeps on giving. I hope he never stops doing this.

An Ode to one of the most amazing villains ever

 Este artigo faz parte da minha participação na rubrica do The Film Experience Blog de Nathaniel Rogers, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", na qual é-nos requerido escolhermos uma imagem icónica do filme em discussão nessa semana e justificar a nossa opinião. Fazemos sempre um duplo artigo, bilingue, com a versão inglesa em primeiro lugar e a tradução no português logo de seguida. O filme desta semana: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES (1937), "O" clássico que basicamente define o legado de Walt Disney.

It had been more than ten years since I last watched "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves". When I popped the DVD into the DVD player, I assumed I'd be enchanted, sure, that I'd find this an hour and a half properly charming and delightful like I always do whenever I watch an old Disney movie, but it never occurred in my mind that I would end up liking the movie more than I used to like it back when I was a kid. Granted, I'm not - and I never was - this movie's target audience, given than it's a very feminine movie, a typically girly fairytale but still... It was so much fun! I especially didn't remember how clever and amusing Grumpy and the Evil Queen were!  The only thing that I remember that was the same as it ever was: Snow White and Prince Charming are total duds. Seriously. Nothing to cheer for there.

Nevertheless, the movie more than makes up for our investment in the story of Snow White, a beautiful princess whose father and mother passed away and whose stepmother is an evil hag who happens to have both ravishing beauty (on which she takes the greatest pride) and a terrible hatred towards Snow White (who becomes her stepmother's maid), because she fears one day she'll ask her Magic Mirror who's the fairest of them all and the Mirror will gladly tell her than her beauty has been surpassed by Snow White's. And so, evidently, one day that happens, the Evil Queen loses it and tells her Huntsman to kill the princess. As every single person in the universe knows, the Huntsman can't do it, Snow White runs into the woods and finds a new home with the Seven Dwarves. Evil Queen finds out, gets even crazier and in a deliciously wicked twist of events, decides to desguise herself as a peddler and hand Snow White a poisoned apple. I don't think you need further information on the plot since I'm sure everyone knows how this ends. "Someday my prince will come", et cetera, et cetera... It's a Disney fairytale after all.

Despite the story being this simple and, let's face it, kind of boring, Walt Disney and his fantastic group of animators worked wonders to enliven and improve the audience's experience. Smart choices like naming the Dwarves according to individual characteristics, making physical comedy with animals look easy, and even more than that, enormously funny and, most of all, creating a beautiful world which looks realistic and at the same time swoony and dreamy, which for an animated motion picture in 1937 that asks us to believe in fairytales, is in itself a gigantic feat. 

But Walt Disney didn't stop there. Nope. He created, within this movie, two of the most colourful, campy and larger-than-life characters that Disney has in their universe. I'm talking, of course, about Grumpy and the Evil Queen. Two big divas, with two giant egos and with brilliant, acerbic wit. 

 Like a boss.

The Evil Queen in particular is a fascinating character. Her line delivery is remarkable. Her face is magnificently evil. And her voice, icy and powerful, could slice a person in half. I love that Disney embraced how stereotypical and broad this character should be and allowed such a character to exist in a movie made for kids. The Evil Queen, as her name tells it, is supposed to be EVIL. And Evil she is. And bitchy. And harsh. And fierce. And the most pleasant thing of all: she flaunts it like a pro. She's cool and she knows it.

  She gives THE BEST bitchfaces!

My best shot:

In that awesome sequence in which the Evil Queen brews the potion that'll allow her to transform her appearance to look like an old lady (full of genius moments, take a bow Walt Disney!), the Evil Queen puts together an absurdly amusing list of ingredients ("an old hag's cackle", "a scream of fright") and then she delivers the ultimate punchline:

"A thunderbolt. To... mix it well".

Hilarious. And awesome. 

The movie? Feh. But the Evil Queen? Yeah, her magic still remains. Disney should make a movie about its villains. How cool would a movie that unites Ursula ("Little Mermaid"), Lady Tremaine ("Cinderella"), Evil Queen ("Snow White"), Maleficient ("Sleeping Beauty") and Cruella ("101 Dalmatians") be?

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: EASTER PARADE (1948)

Este artigo faz parte da minha participação na rubrica do The Film Experience Blog de Nathaniel Rogers, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot", na qual é-nos requerido escolhermos uma imagem icónica do filme em discussão nessa semana e justificar a nossa opinião. Fazemos sempre um duplo artigo, bilingue, com a versão inglesa em primeiro lugar e a tradução no português logo de seguida. Não pudemos participar nas duas primeiras sessões da terceira temporada, mas para esta semana estamos a postos e o filme em discussão é... EASTER PARADE (Walters, 1948), o último musical de Judy Garland na sua imortal casa, a MGM.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the musical genre was one of the most popular and on-demand kind of pictures that Hollywood could produce. Many great stars of that era got a start or an upwards push from appearing in one of these musicals and those were the movies that immortalized outstanding actors and actresses such as Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers. Unfortunately, given the immense quantity of musicals produced each year, back in the day, only a few of them found moderate success. Usually, the ones with these big stars would thrive. Such is the case of "EASTER PARADE", a musical with a slim and cliché'd narrative, with very little story to tell but one that is compensated by swoony and joyful song-and-dance numbers that survive because of the excellent pairing of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

It's fun to look back and remember that this pairing almost didn't happen. Gene Kelly was the actor first cast in the male lead role. However, a broken leg pave way to Fred Astaire, nominally retired at the time. He didn't know it then, but this musical would reignite his career at MGM. Judy Garland was the first and only choice to star in the movie, but her struggle with overwork, depression, alcoholism and addiction to prescription drugs - which led to an unsuccessful suicide attempt the year before - were destroying her. She barely recovered to film "Easter Parade", which would end up being her last film with MGM and one of the last movies of her career. Even Ann Miller got lucky, because her part was to be played by Cyd Charisse. Nevertheless, the actress tore a ligament on the rehearsals and had to be replaced. Miller's casting proved to be tremendously spot-on, as she is the true highlight of the movie.

"EASTER PARADE" tells the story of Don Hewes (Fred Astaire), a theatre performer known for his extraordinary song-and-dance numbers alongside Nadine Hale (Ann Miller), who form the famous duo "Hale & Hewes". When Hale leaves to star in her own show in the Ziegfeld Follies, Hewes, in a spur of anger and drunkness, picks one of the dancers performing at a bar to be his next partner. The girl turns out to be the fantastic Hannah Brown (Judy Garland) and although their partnership in the beginning leaves much to be desired, after a while they start to become a huge hit. Moreover, despite loving each other, Hannah and Hewes try to maintain their relationship strictly professional. This is the simplistic plot behind "Easter Parade". It's a very straightforward story - Hannah loves Don; Don loves Nadine; Nadine loves Jonathan (Peter Lawford); Jonathan loves Hannah - until the story twists and the two big movie stars finally discover their true feelings for one another.

With old and new songs by Oscar winner Irving Berlin, "EASTER PARADE" is, even with all its flaws (its screenplay by Hackett and Goodrich, rewritten by Sheldon, is horrendous), one of the most entertaining, cheerful musicals I've seen and every scene with Garland and Astaire is bright and colourful. His dance moves are really spectacular (as exemplified in the "Drum Crazy" number) and her vibrato, soulful voice is always amazing ("Better Luck Next Time", y'all! Love it). Ann Miller was, for me, the true revelation from the movie. One of the issues I had with the movie was how someone could turn down this person who sings and dances beautifully (besides looking pretty as hell) in "Shaking the Blues Away" and prefer Judy Garland (and I love Judy Garland), so I have to ask: am I crazy to think this, especially given how badly Nadine treated Don? Probably. But Miller was nothing short of brilliant in her few scenes. 

A Diva is a Diva, even in 1912.

It's sad that the movie is not more original; however, how can one complain when he's being entertained by Garland, Miller and Astaire's singing and dancing moves? One cannot, obviously. 

As for Best Shot... 

I had a hard time picking one single moment as it's not a very memorable movie. But seriously, how can you deny Judy Garland for this SINGLE MOMENT OF AWESOMENESS?

Also, there's this:

And this:

You're such a genius, woman!