Page 23


(1952) Scheduled for theaters before the passing of its star Debbie Reynolds, it’s always timely—and puts La La Land firmly in its place. With much clearance space, it’s the best musical ever made in Hollywood. It’s a comedy about the advent of sound film and the troubles it caused silent-movie actors, who had been talented pantomime artists but never elocutionists. Don Lockwood (the sweet-on-himself Gene Kelly) is a hambone star in silent costume dramas. A young ingenue, Kathy (Debbie Reynolds), invents the idea of dubbing, thus saving the careers of Lockwood and his chum Cosmo (Donald O'Connor). All three run afoul of the film's villain, the grasping leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan), with a chin that would dismay a boxer and a voice that would curdle gasoline. Singin' in the Rain has its cream-puff fantasy moments, such as the dream-sequence ballet near the end. Fifty feet of floating gauze are tossed about by the gusts of offscreen airplane motors, all for the purpose of unwrapping Cyd Charisse and her nine miles of legs. It earns its Technicolor raptures with a hardheaded script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The film is built almost entirely out of 1930s recycled tunes, co-written by producer Arthur Freed. The title number debuted in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, performed by the ukulele wizard Cliff Edwards and a line of chorus girls in yellow rain sou'westers. The Broadway Melody's sequel, Broadway Melody of 1936, was the source of Singin' in the Rain's “Broadway Rhythm”; it also features an ambitious rainy-day dance performed by Eleanor Powell that looks far more technically difficult than Kelly’s famed routine. She tromps through sometimes calf-deep puddles, swinging partner George Murphy with her. The Kelly number wasn’t easy, though. Clive Hirschhorn’s biography of Kelly says that the dancer did his version with a fever of 103, while trying to coordinate the tapping of the umbrella with the beats of the music. Though the backdrop looks like a sound stage, the scene was filmed outdoors. Since the budget was too small for the overtime required for a night shoot, Kelly and Donen shot in daylight, with tarps blocking the sun. When you see the Powell/Murphy number, it looks like hard work, performers trying to wow you. But Kelly's dance is better remembered because of its illusion of simplicity— of an artificial kind of a guy suddenly


Like the fairy-tale creature he is, the title character in A Monster Calls brings a challenge. In accordance with the Law of Threes, he will tell three stories. You, in return, must tell him one true tale. Emerging from a massive yew tree, unfolding into a gnarled figure of some twenty feet in height, he’s like the warrior ents in Lord of the Rings or a more frightening and better spoken Groot. The rumbling voice belongs to Liam Neeson, pitched down, and all the fiercer for it. The animation in the three stories that this monster tells is as gorgeous as Kubo and the Two Strings—forests and villages unfold like paper blossoms, or spiral out into the multicolored fractals of wet-onwet watercolors. J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible) centers his touching film on the emotions of the monster’s companion. Conor (Lewis MacDougall) an English schoolboy, has a mother who is slowly dying, and he’s pitilessly bullied at school. The mother is Rogue One’s Felicity Jones, in perhaps her best performance. Most likely, Conor’s future home will be with his loveless grandmother (Sigourney Weaver, using a self-conscious British accent she probably could have done without). Conor is hoped to be spared a life with this cold woman, when his father arrives from his current home in the U.S. But the man is useless. Dad’s idea of consolation begins and ends with his repeating the old English expression, “Worse things happen at sea.” It seems Patrick Ness’ source novel would be most mind-blowing to younger readers: the revelation that a story that starts with witches and handsome princes may finish in a different way than the Grimm Brothers wrote it down. However, A Monster Calls retrieves its essential keenness in its finish, in the story Conor must tell, and yet cannot bring himself to say. This hard-edged fantasy reveals honest, unsentimental feelings… the sort of feelings many will recall from the ordeal of tending doomed lovers or parents, after some monstrous disease called upon them. (Plays Valleywide.) (RvB)

PRAYING FOR THE END Liam Neeson plays a long-lost priest in Martin Scorsese’s overlong ‘Silence.’

The Agony and the Agony MARTIN SCORSESE’S dream project, Silence, is done at last, and it’s one large, dry hunk of crisis of faith. It’s a less bloody but still torture-wracked remake of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), complete with the temptation to a peaceful life. It’s seemingly the longest and most pulse-free of Scorsese’s primarily religious movies, including Kundun (1997) and Last Temptation (1988); in it we’re taken on a tour of Scorsese’s recollections of the classic studio era, when religious movie kitsch used to draw so heavily from the contents of European art museums. A pair of suitably dogged Jesuits (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) are sent from Portugal to find out what became of a long-lost priest (Liam Neeson) sent on a mission years before. The blackrobed Europeans discover a Catholic colony in southern Japan in turmoil, with converts being martyred by the score; an inquisitor called Inoue (Issey Ogata) is sending his soldiers after the faithful. When the priests are separated, Father Sebastiao (Garfield) is left in the care of a backsliding guide, whose faith can never stand the tests of the persecutors. Jailed in a polished wooden cage (the timbers are meant to look like a smooth, lacquered cross in an expensive painting of the crucifixion), Sebastiao is left to chat

with jesting Pilate Inoue, an unusually open-minded old noble—a man who sees that what we have here is a failure to communicate between Buddhists and Christians. But the martyrdom Sebastiao seeks seems to elude him— and Sebastiao isn’t certain Silence he hears the voice of God anymore. R; 166 Min. Many Catholic kids will Camera have had some fun in their Cinemas youths wondering how they would deal if pagans tried to make them apostates. Would they spit on the cross and escape at the costs of their immortal souls? Or would they endure their torments like a true Christian martyr? We all have our own crosses and crises, but this game of “How Faithful Are You?” is something people tend to outgrow. One liked the movie most when it wasn’t focusing on a religious fanatic trying to get God’s signal tuned in, or watching poor Christian peasants fed to the flames or the waves. Ogata runs away with the movie. He’s an old ambler, a smiler, and good at cuffing a dumb assistant with his fan. (His overbite matches Scorsese’s—perhaps he’s the director’s surrogate.) You end up on his side. How much patience is an old man supposed to have with a blinkered young fanatic? —Richard von Busack

JANUARY 11-17, 2017 | | |



finding something spontaneous and real in himself. What’s missing in current musicals is both that simplicity and confidence—who’d call a nervous musical like Moulin Rouge! simple or self-confident? If the future of the movie musical is, essentially, in its past, what ought to be borrowed from Singing' in the Rain is its wised-up attitude toward the making of entertainment. (Plays Jan 15 and 18 at various South Bay theaters, via Fathom Events.) (RvB)



December 11-17, 2017


December 11-17, 2017