Thursday Movie Picks: SECRET DOORWAYS/WORLD

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… SECRET DOORWAYS/WORLD.

When I saw the topic for this week, I immediately thought of ‘Narnia!’ so naturally I had to include that in this list. There is something so wonderfully escapist about films that take their characters into a different world. As we’re all in stay-at-home mode during this endless pandemic, the movies have become our not-so-secret ‘passageway’ to another world.

In any case, here are three of films I like containing a secret passageway:

PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

A young soprano becomes the obsession of a disfigured and murderous musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opéra House.

One of my all time favorite tragic disfigured characters is Gaston Leroux’s Phantom. Though the 2004 movie version’s not perfect, there are tons of things I love about it, and I think Joel Schumacher’s artistic rendition is appropriately seductive and eerie, which goes perfectly with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s haunting music. I especially love this scene where Christine (Emmy Rossum) first met her disfigured ‘angel of music’ (still remains Gerard Butler’s most seductive scenes of his career) who lured her to his secret underground lair through the mirror.

Yes, in real life it’d be creepy to have some guy behind the mirror who can spy on everything you do in your dressing room, but in a fantastical opera, it sure has a mesmerizing effect.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Four kids travel through a wardrobe to the land of Narnia and learn of their destiny to free it with the guidance of a mystical lion.

Who hasn’t said the word ‘Narnia!’ whenever one sees a giant wooden closet/wardrobe? I know I do. Though I hadn’t read the Narnia books when I saw the film, the scene when Lucy discovered this secret world while playing hide and seek with her siblings are so indelible. I wish I’d discover a hidden magical land somewhere that I could escape to without fear of some virus or some violent act… I find that my dreams during this pandemic has become so vividly strange and bizarre at times, perhaps that’s my brain trying to find ways to ‘escape’ this physical confinement, ha!


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

An orphaned boy enrolls in a school of wizardry, where he learns the truth about himself, his family and the terrible evil that haunts the magical world.

It’s been ages since I saw this movie, but this scene still puts a smile in my face. Crazy how the kids have grown now, ahah. I spent some time in a boarding school as a kid, but man I wish we had a magically-concealed platform to take me to school like these Hogwarts students! There’s something about train stations that I always find magical, as it conjures up the idea of travel and adventure.


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

Question of the Week: Which literary characters in film are your favorites?

Characters are the main ingredients that can make or break a movie… even if the film is so-so, a great character portrayed on screen would still make a film memorable. The same is true on the flip side, even if a film is generally well-made, but if you don’t connect with the characters, you probably aren’t going to remember them much afterwards.

AustenlandPosterIn light of the recent passing of famed novelist/screenwriter Elmore Leonard, whose works have been adapted to the big screen several times, I thought I’d focus this week’s question on literary works and the movies. I’m guilty of having seen only one of Mr. Leonard’s work, but I LOVE the character Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma (2007) as played by Russell Crowe (he’s one of my picks of scene-stealing bad boys, natch!).

I’m also going to Austenland screening tomorrow night, a comedy inspired by Jane Austen‘s most famous work… and one of her most famous characters, Mr. Darcy. The synopsis reads: Obsessed with the BBC production of “Pride and Prejudice”, a woman travels to a Jane Austen theme park in search for her perfect gentleman. I’m looking forward to this, sounds like a escapist entertainment type of movie for fans of period dramas like moi!

From classic authors like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, Emily/Charlotte Brontë and of course Austen, Hollywood has churned out interesting characters based on their works. There are also modern classic authors like Philip K. Dick, Michael Crichton (which my pal Terrence just did a Time to Vote Tuesday on last week), as well as those still living like J.K. Rowling and John Grisham whose popular works have translated to big bucks for the film industry. I’m also opening up my question to TV as well, as there are certainly some fantastic made-for-TV adaptations out there, especially from BBC. Speaking of which, did you know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed human character portrayed on film and TV according to Guinnes Book of Records??

Now, for the purpose of this discussion, I’m actually excluding graphic novels and comics as that’s kind of a whole different animal entirely. Oh, and let’s focus on human characters (no robots, toys nor fairies) just for the sake of this discussion.

I know it’s darn near impossible to narrow down to just 10, but I’m gonna try anyway, because well, it’s a lesson on decisiveness, right? 😀

There are various reasons I picked these. For female characters I listed here, I admire them for their courage and strength, not all of them are admirable characters, I mean Scarlett O’Hara is a great example of an anti-heroine, but I admire her spunk and survival instinct in a time when women aren’t supposed to be fierce. Same with the guys, they’re not all heroes who save the day. In fact, Mr. Rochester and The Phantom are both deeply flawed characters, but they sure are unforgettable. Truth be told, I agonized over picking George Bailey over Atticus Finch (y’all know how much I love Gregory Peck & his astounding performance in that role), but ultimately I feel that I identify more with the troubled and disillusioned family man. As you can see, I have a penchant for tortured souls 😉


Ok, now your turn folks! Name at least one (or more) of literary characters on film that you love!

Random Thoughts: Whatever happened to Emmy Rossum?

I was just browsing IMDb and noticed it’s Emmy Rossum’s birthday today. I can’t help wondering whatever happened to this once promising young actress. Her first major role is in Phantom of the Opera as Christine, and she was actually nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. Believe it or not, in between moments of being mesmerized by Gerry Butler’s Phantom :), I actually noticed her smashing performance and wonderful singing voice. I was floored to learn she was only 16 when she was got the role (half Butler’s age) as Joel Schumacher wanted a youthful cast for his POTO adaptation. For someone so young she was able to portray both the innocence of an Opera ingenue and the sensuous object of the musical genius’ affection, and judging from this screen test, it’s obvious she is a talented young lady with lots of potential:

But then I realized she hasn’t been in anything prominent since Poseidon back in 2006, whilst she did both Phantom and The Day After Tomorrow in 2004. I kind of forgot about her and seems like she’s sort of disappeared from acting?? I did notice her in magazines’ fashion section once in a while but that’s about it. Not sure what’s happened to her and I don’t really have any theory of my own, I just want to reminisce a bit on how good she was as Christine and how well she portrayed that iconic role in a young age.

Well, what do you think of Emmy? Or have you ever felt the same way about another actor whose performance impressed you but then suddenly, poof, you never see them in anything else since?

Stage Musical Review: Love Never Dies

This is my first attempt at reviewing a stage play, so bear with me folks. I saw the show last Thursday night at Adelphi Theater. Walking from the main square from Covent Garden, we asked a couple of people along the way how to find the theater, and one of them remarked, ‘Oh is that the one showing Tomorrow Never Dies?’ Ha! Perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber and James Bond’s producers flip a coin on the title?

Anyway, having loved the original Phantom of the Opera and its beautiful, haunting music, I was really curious to see how the sequel pans out. No, I’m not one of those ‘phans’ who’ve seen the original hundreds of times and collect all kinds of memorabilia, who apparently are none too keen on the sequel idea even before they even saw it. Many of them are even posted on ALW’s own company site Really Useful Group. It’s interesting that POTO is still playing just a few blocks away at Her Majesty’s Theater, and the stats on what’s dubbed as the most successful single piece of entertainment of all time is staggering. Now, I’ve only seen the stage show twice when it toured in my hometown, but I’ve enjoyed the songs since I was in high school and still love it to this day. But when I caught a glimpse of Ramin Karimloo‘s singing voice as the Phantom, I found myself swept away by the song ‘Til I hear you sing, so it was a real dream come true to see it months before it opens on Broadway!

The Phantom and his muse, Christine

The Story:

Love Never Dies continues the story of The Phantom of the Opera, who has moved from his lair in the Paris Opera House to haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island. It’s set 10 years after Phantom’s mysterious disappearance, and he’s now a successful impresario with his own freak show appropriately called Phantasma. Even after all this time, he still pines for (read: obsessed) with the French soprano singer Christine Daaé, who no longer performs. She now has a 10-year-old boy Gustave and her husband Vicomte de Chagny/Raoul has squandered much of their fortune on drinking and gambling. The Phantom invites her to sing an aria he’s written especially for her, and as soon as she arrives in the then-popular beach resort, the roller-coaster romance continues.

The Good:

Before I proceed, let me just say that I had no doubt in my mind before I even saw it that this show wasn’t going to top the original, especially in terms of the music and the story. But with that said, I found the show to be enjoyable and delightful, even if I wasn’t as enchanted as I did the first time I saw the original show.

High marks should go to the visually-stunning and inventive production design of Coney Island, which is a feast for the eyes. Mixing digital projection technology and art nouveau pieces, it was electrifying-ly bizarre. Things and creatures in the Phantom’s new home are far more freaky than those in his former underground lair, i.e. medusa-like singing chandelier; half-skeleton, half-woman legs in fishnet stocking pushing what looks to be a tea cart, which are fittingly set to the eccentric, loud rock-opera tune “The Beauty Underneath.”

The Phantasma staff: Squelch, Fleck and Gangle

Then there’s the spectacular voices from the main cast. The Iranian-born, Canadian-bred Karimloo has impressive set of lungs, his rendition of the main tune ‘Til I hear you sing gave me goose-bumps and moved me to tears. We’re sitting on row F which is quite close to the stage and I thought his performance was good, sure he didn’t quite have the imposing stature as the titular hero, but he nailed the emotional scenes nicely. He had a sort of peculiar hand gesture as he belted out a tune, but it wasn’t overly distracting.

Brit Joseph Millson as Raoul

Sierra Boggess was equally enchanting as Christine, and seems to be age-appropriate as the heroine who’s supposedly be in her mid twenties by now. In contrast, the Phantom seemed to have grown even younger ten years on (Gerry Butler in the 2004 movie version was already a younger version of Michael Crawford, and Karimloo looks at least five years Butler’s junior!). In any case, Boggess’ vocal prowess was downright amazing, the aria Love Never Dies already started quite high but it soared to what sounded like a five-octave range towards the end, I was breathless just listening to her! Joseph Millson gave equally strong performance as the handsome but crestfallen Raoul, as did Summer Strallen with her impressive dancing sequences as Meg Giry, who ended up being the ‘villain’ of the show.

Summer Strallen as Meg Giry

Of course, there’s the music itself. Of course POTO is a formidable act to follow musically as the tunes such as Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and The Point of No Return are so unabashedly romantic, haunting-ly beautiful, and has that inherent timeless quality. Now that I’ve gone back to listen to POTO music again, I realize those will remain a cut above the rest of all Webber’s work, including LND. At the same time, I really enjoyed the new music, particularly ‘Til I Hear You Sing, which was far more moving when heard live on stage. It’s packed with a strong emotional punch and more than a hint of romantic obsession and frustration. Boggess’ rendition of the aria Love Never Dies gives me goose-bumps the way the original theatrical Christine Sarah Brightman does with most of her songs, which is always a good thing in my book. It was hard to keep my eyes dry during the two scenes. The rockin’ The Beauty Underneath may seem out-of-place in a romantic tale, but it fits just fine in the Coney Island freak-show theme, though it’s probably not a tune I’d rewind and listen over and over again like the ballads.

Which brings me to …

The Bad:

IMO, the major problem with the sequel is the implausible plot. A Guardian reviewer said it best, “Romantic obsession may be common to both shows, but where one may feel sympathy for a doomed outsider, it is hard to feel much for an omnipotent impresario.” That’s precisely how I felt. For me, the reason I had so much sympathy for the tragically-flawed character was because he was an outcast, rejected by the world, even those he loves so dearly. But now, he’s got a slew of staff ready at his beck & call, and even his arch nemesis, the formerly influential Vicomte is now reduced to a drunken wreck.

Christine & Phantom during ‘Beneath a Moonless Sky’ scene

Love triangle is apparently not complex enough for ALW, as now we’ve also got Gustave, who’s more-than-implied to be the fruit of Phantom/Christine sexual tryst (wha–?). Apparently, upon his disappearance, Christine was able to locate the disfigured masked-one and the song Beneath A Moonless Sky intimates their err, intimate rendezvous “… and I held you, and I touched you and embrace you… and I felt you, and with every breath and every sigh …” (whew, is it hot in here?)

Ok, fine I’ll buy that, I confess that despite his deformity, the Phantom could be quite seductive. But get this, in this story, he’s actually the one who left Christine in the middle of the night, which left her no choice but to choose Raoul. Yeah right, I find that extremely hard to believe. I mean I’ve always thought in POTO that Christine wasn’t so much in love with the Phantom as much as she was indebted for his teaching and felt sorry for him. There was no way the relentlessly obsessive Phantom would’ve let her go after he finally won her over.

The mystique and thrilling mystery of the main character is also lost somehow, which IMO is the biggest issue I had with the show. The biggest draw for me in watching and listening to the Phantom is its untouchable, otherworldly quality, he is after all the Opera ghost… dark, tormented, terrifying… yet we’re drawn to his wretchedness and genius musical creation. Alas, there’s not much of that here. Perhaps the fact that we see him so often on stage (with and without his mask) have something to do with it. Nothing in Karimloo’s portrayal depict him as a threatening character who can suddenly lose his temper and go for the kill, and instead of his trademark punjab lasso, he’s now a gun-totting curmudgeon.

And lastly, I’m not a fan of the ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that though love might never die, but a major character does, and it’s the most drawn-out death scene ever. One that defies logic of course – I never knew someone suffering a short-range gun-shot wound is still able to not only talk effortlessly but sing as well! And all that convoluted gothic love story is reduced to a mere father-son hug. Heh!

In conclusion, it’s not as bad as the ‘paint never dries‘ notion this blog said, but phantastic? Not exactly. Still, the experience of going to Adelphi to see Karimloo and Boggess sang their hearts out was worth every pence!

…..

By the way, when this sequel was first announced, there were rumors that Gerry Butler might reprise his role as the Phantom in the the movie version of LND. In my eyes, the Scot will always be the best and most captivating Phantom – as legions of his fans would agree – so to see him swing his cape and smolders will always be a welcome sight. Besides, as of now Butler has never done a follow-up to any of the role he’s played, so why not go back to the one he’s obviously born to play.

But now come to think of it, it’s probably best for him to move on to other things. The sequel story is just too weird and preposterous for a film adaptation. Plus, even though he’s supposedly the same character, in LND, the Phantom’s essence has been altered so much from the original that the mystique is lost. Thus, I’d rather have my memory of him as the perfect opera ghost I wouldn’t mind having as a stalker 🙂 Why mess with perfection, y’know?


So, has anybody’s seen either POTO or LND? If so, I’d love to hear your take on ’em.