Sunday, May 30, 2010

If I Were a Rich Man

Andrew is hosting a musical blog-a-thon at his awesome blog, Encore's World of Film & TV. He sent me an e-mail several weeks ago informing me about it and due to some healthy procrastination, it took me a while, but here it is...

Bruce Springsteen once described hearing Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" for the first time as "somebody'd kicked open the door to your mind," and while I can't agree more, that's also precisely the way I feel about Fiddler on the Roof.

Underneath all that moronic suburban glitz I grew up with, I always had great respect for traditional values of my own and others. They may be wrong or right, but they exist. It's all very inevitable and very much in need of toleration.

That said, Fiddler is often tragically forgotten by movie musical enthusiasts.

While its professions of faith, family, and Jewish traditions may not be the rule of thumb of twenty-first century cynicism, there is a overwhelming warmth to Teyve's (Chaim Topol), the protagonist, eagerness to keep on living the way life has always been and when he realizes that life cannot always simply be, it's a moment of the cold, hard truth that is worthy of sympathy.

There are few films that combine humor and drama as brilliantly as Fiddler does. Teyve's conversations with God are funny, simply because they are so honest and so human. When Teyve rejects her daughter for marrying a Russian Orthodox, it's particularly heartbreaking because Teyve loves her so much, yet he feels a duty to preserve a tradition he cares so deeply about. He's not always right, but I feel for him.

The film is ultimately about love. The love between a father and his daughter. The love between a husband and his wife. The love between two young lovers. The love between a man and God--and that's touching, whether you believe in God or not. There is just something so pure and simple about the musical's message about love, and it's a shame that modern films seem to over stuff the love message with a glow of shallow boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses.

However, it's also a film about tradition crackling under the pressure of a escalating revolution. A revolution that is plagued by the sorrows of destruction and injustice. There's definite cynicism in the film, especially when homes are being destroyed.

Yet, in the end, there is hope. It's not overdone. It's not ridiculous. It's an authentic feeling of hope. People are forgiven. The future is full of endless possibilities. The film doesn't shove sentimentalism, but makes its point in a rather quiet, touching way.

Director Norman Jewison's musical numbers are not splashy, technicolor extravaganzas, but they are nevertheless electrifying. Topol demands attention. The camera is drawn to his powerful persona. This is most apparent when Topol must break the fourth wall--he's traditional and extremely personable.

And I'll leave with Topol's legendary "If I Were a Rich Man" scene:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bees in New York

Almost expected Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence" before this happened. I mean, really now?

For anyone who has been following me on Twitter, I've been frequently fangirling Seinfeld and watching as much of the reruns as possible on television syndication because that's the best way for Seinfeld newbies to become accustomed to Seinfeld. It's pretty much on television four or five times a day.

I've never quite thought about it before, but it is arguably the greatest American sitcom ever. It's well-written, funny, compulsively re-watchable, wonderfully acted, and all that nothing has directly contributed to the nihilist and existentialist thought in pop culture's mechanical consciousness. Seinfeld is a grand "f--- you" statement to and about life but at its best, an oddly profound and instantly relatable collection of scenes from the awkward simplicities of living and breathing.

However, Seinfeld is woefully underrated in my demographic. While I did not grow up watching the new episodes, I did grow up watching the reruns and I'm sure others have seen it during their moments of channel-surfing. And it is certainly an acquired taste: Until one could actually get in touch with one's feelings of misery, Seinfeld will seem like a cruel, unsophisticated reflection of smug, selfish, superficial New Yorkers.

Yet everyone prefer Friends, which usually plays before or after Seinfeld on a one-hour or two-hour sitcom rerun block. Well, I actually love Friends, since I grew up watching it on a regular basis and saw the last three seasons when it was still on NBC. Yeah, I, too, would love to be one of the six, frolicking in a fountain and being cute and cheerful all the time, but as I know and you know, sometimes karma is a vengeful, inescapable cop.

This leads me in to the DreamWorks animated family movie, Bee Movie, which is honestly a ridiculous film that I would have never bothered to watch if I were not a Seinfeld fan. While I do realize Larry David is the main brainchild behind Seinfeld, Jerry Seinfeld has also co-written some memorable episodes and is a gifted comedian and, in my humble opinion, a fine actor. Seinfeld co-wrote, co-produced, and voiced Barry B. Benson, the hero of Bee Movie.

I am sorry to say that Bee Movie seems to take its inspiration from the weakest episodes of the ADD-induced world of Seinfeld's final two seasons (after Larry David left the show). It is a weird animated feature about a bee who recently graduated from college and has to find a lifelong job. As he explores the possibilities, he encounters a piece of the real world, the human world, I should say. He realizes that humans steal honey from humans and decides to sue the human race, with the help of a lovely florist. This all ends on a rather absurd, pseudo-socialist message and makes me wonder how the hell any child is supposed to enjoy the film.

Bee Movie reminds me of another semi-obnoxious DreamWorks product, Shark Tale, which is also another star-studded animated feature which boasts a voice cast that range from Will Smith to Martin Scorsese.

I don't personally know anyone who has seen Bee Movie, but I have a desire to have a discussion about it. Bee Movie has almost everything I dislike about some modern animated movies, aside from its unattractive animation. I can't say I hated it because I did laugh once or twice and I do praise its courageous appeal to the often loopy possibilities of animation, but I did hate how it tried so damn hard to appeal to the adult masses with self-consciously neurotic Seinfeld-esque dialogue and pop culture references.

In fact, Bee Movie is dressed to the nines with pop culture references that are amusing, but rarely laugh-out-loud hilarious or even necessary. This all starts with the title itself. Ha-ha?

Here we have Ray Liotta honey, a Sting cameo (get it?), a send-up to The Graduate and the downfall of the Saddam Hussein statue, a rather mean-spirited scene where Winnie-the-Pooh gets tranquilized, blatant sex and incest jokes, a creepy man-bee-woman love triangle, a possible sociopath, a Larry King cameo, and many other things that are borderline creepy and eye-roll inducing.

This makes me wonder how animated movies sometimes try really hard to cater to both children and adults, especially DreamWorks. I've heard some fantastic things about How to Train Your Dragon, which I haven't seen, but I've seen many previous DreamWorks animated features, and they are over-the-top with pop culture references that adults probably aren't even going to care for and young children will simply not understand. The beauty of Disney and Pixar is that they rely on the old-fashioned mechanisms of good ol' storytelling and great animation and in the end, there's a wonderful movie to be cherished by audiences of all ages.

I winced and squirmed throughout Bee Movie, though I do realize that it is ultimately a good-intentioned animated family comedy about the benefits of working together. However, being a fan only goes so far. C

Discussion: 1) What do you think about supposedly family-friendly animated movies that tries to cater to both children and adults? 2) Have you ever watched a movie you wouldn't usually watch just because it's somewhat related to something you love?