VIFF 2014 Review: God Help The Girl

God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.
God Help The Girl is an original musical by Stuart Murdoch of three young Glasgow adults who form their own band.

Musicals are always very chancy in terms of putting them on screen, especially if they’re an adaptation of a legendary musical. Try putting an original musical on screen. That’s what God Help the Girl does. It comes off surprisingly well.

The film starts with Eve singing about the difficulties of being young. Mind you Eve does have her problems as she has an eating disorder which brings her to a psychiatric hospital. Her counselor there tells her she needs guidance to make it out in the world. Eve is defiant and breaks out of the hospital to head to Glasgow to make music.

Over in a Glasgow pub, she meets up with James who leaves his band after an on-stage fight with the drummer. James is an aspiring songwriter who works part-time as a lifeguard and teaches guitar to Cassie, a naive daughter of a rich family. A relationship cooks up with James over time. After meeting Cassie, the three of them spend a lot of time together and compose songs.

Eve is also looking for exposure and hopes to get it through Anton, a singer of the band Wobbly-Legged Rat who’s star is on the rise thanks to a local radio station promoting them. Eve gives Anton her tape hoping it will make it to the radio station and a relationship is brews between the two. The three form a band after James convinces Eve she needs a bass and drum for her songs. They call their band God Help The Girl and they perform a gig and knock the socks of the crowd.

However not all is well as Eve learns that Anton, who’s too arrogant for his own good, never gave the tape to the station, claiming her music lacks professionalism. The two argue and Eve walks off. To make matters worse James finds out about her relationship with Anton and is distraught to the point of distancing himself from her. That leads Eve back to taking pills and returning to the hospital. She meets again with the counselor who tells her she warned her about rushing out into the world on her own. Eventually Eve decides on her own path. The ending is not what one would expect but is fittingly appropriate for the film.

I have to say this is is a brave attempt from Stuart Murdoch to create an original musical and bring it to the big screen. It’s been a long time since there has been something like this. Musicals are always a risk to bring to the big screen whether they’re original or adapted. It’s obvious that God Help The Girl had some risks of their own. There are a few times that leave you wondering is the film lulls back into being a story and makes you forget it’s a musical until the next song comes on. Those who know big-screen musicals know about the feel of a musical on screen. There were a few times I felt the film lost its feel. The musical parts were very good and were able to stay away from crossing the line of  cheesy most of the time but I did notice some imperfections. Even having Eve with an eating disorder makes you wonder if that would make fans of musicals uncomfortable.

One thing I liked about this musical is that it had a lot of songs that gives one the look and feel of the excitement of 60’s rock ‘n roll. The songs for the most part are loaded with energy and really capture the essence of what it is to be young. Another unique thing about this musical is that it musically showed how a lot of the best songs are inspired. We see a lot of themes in God Help The Girl that are quite common in rock and roll songs such as the frustration of fitting in this world, feelings of love and the bizarre love triangles that arise. We also get another reminder about rock and roll. Just after Eve left for college to pursue music, James declares “I think she wrote her best music here.”

The funny thing about this film is that it includes the music from a group called God Help The Girl. For those who don’t know, God Help The Girl was an all-girl group formed by Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch. They were formed for one time only in 2008 for an album that was eventually released in 2009. The film God Help The Girl is a musical set to those songs and is directed by Murdoch.

I don’t want to go into the subject of ego-tripping but Murdoch puts together a well-constructed and well-written musical that is entertaining. There are some noticeable imperfections in the choreography and editing but the film is mostly together. I also think this will be Murdoch’s only directing effort as I don’t see him directing any other movies in the future. Emily Browning is very good as the protagonist and is able to sing well in her first on screen singing role. Olly Alexander was also very good. He’s the opposite of Emily where he’s actually a singer in a band rather than an actor. Nevertheless he did very well. Hannah Murray was very convincing as the young naive Cassie. The three of them made an excellent trio full of chemistry. Pierre Boulanger was good but his role as Anton was underdeveloped and could have been more.

God Help The Girl was nominated at the Sundance Film Festival for the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and won a Special Jury award for the ensemble. It was even nominated for the Crystal Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. It has just been released in the US the last weekend of September and has just fizzled out with just grossing over $100,000. I blame it on the lack of promotion. I think it will develop a better afterlife as a Broadway musical. There’s no talk of a musical version of the film yet but I feel it has a lot of potential of being a hit in that format.

God Help The Girl is a flawed but entertaining original made-for-the-big-screen musical. Oddly enough I think I sensed a bit of Beatlemania there.

Movie Review: The Wizard Of Oz (3D IMAX Re-release)

The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the Imax treatment for one week only.
The Wizard Of Oz gets the 3D treatment and the IMAX treatment for one week only.

It’s interesting how many films have been re-released in 3D. However this week marked an opportunity to see a classic movie re-released in 3D for the first time ever, and in IMAX to boot. It seems appropriate that the first classic movie to receive a 3D re-release is The Wizard Of Oz. The big question is does The Wizard Of Oz work in 3D?

Just like my review of the 3D re-release of Titanic, I will focus my review in the 3D aspect of the film as well as other technical aspects. The most I will mention about the film itself is that it still qualifies as a masterpiece. The acting, singing and dancing are top notch and the movie is perfectly edited. The visual effects are very cheap and chintzy by today’s standards but they didn’t have today’s visual effects technologies 75 years ago. Nevertheless the movie continues to entertain families even to this day.  It’s no wonder why it’s stood the test of time. In fact I declare: “If you haven’t seen The Wizard Of Oz, you didn’t have much of a childhood.” The film has received a load of acclaim including a #10 ranking on the AFI’s 2007 list of the Top 100 Films of all time, a #3 ranking on their list of the Best Musicals, a #1 on the Top Fantasy Films and a #43 rank on the Top Thrillers List. Three of its lines made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Quotes with “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” being #4. Three of its songs made the AFI’s list of the Top 100 Movie Songs with Over The Rainbow naturally being #1.

Another interesting note to add is that it was directed by Victor Fleming. Fleming also directed another masterpiece released in 1939: Gone With The Wind. Both would become two of the greatest films ever made. 1939 would be considered one of the greatest movie years ever and you could bet it was because of those two movies. No doubt they established Fleming as one of the biggest directors ever.

As for the 3D IMAX re-release, I often questioned in the days before seeing it whether it was a good idea to re-release it in 3D? Technology’s changed a lot in the many decades since. The special effects would be seen as cheap by today’s movie goers. Would the 3D work? Would the IMAX theater format work?

I saw it Saturday night. Hey, this is a one-week only limited time thing. The film started on an impressive note. I noticed the 3D work with the MGM roaring lion and the opening credits with the clouds in the background. As for the story, I didn’t notice how the 3D addition made too much effect on the movie. The debris from the cyclone didn’t really surprise us. The bedroom window images Dorothy was looking at in mid-air was made too obvious this was film-on-film work. The pyrotechnics used didn’t appear 3D. The flying monkeys didn’t appear like they were coming for me as I was hoping they would.

I don’t think the 3D effect really added too much too the movie. Showing it on an IMAX screen did. It wasn’t necessarily the special effects that were enhanced by the IMAX screen but it was the viewing of the whole movie. I’ve seen it on television many times but just to experience it on an IMAX screen was definitely something. I think I would have been impressed even if I saw it on a regular movie screen. Nevertheless it was a delight to see. The movie must have been remastered because the colorful images of Oz were incredible. The ruby slippers shined, the makeup on the tin man looked fresh, the green face of the witch looked scary, Glinda’s gown looked majestic, the yellow brick road looked freshly painted, Emerald City glowed…I think I could go on forever. Even the sound appeared remastered as the movie score and the musical numbers from everyone, especially Judy singing Over The Rainbow, sounded completely fresh.

Funny thing is that it has me wondering if there will be any other classic movies that would receive a 3D re-release. I will admit that The Wizard Of Oz is the one classic movie that most deserves a 3D re-release but will others follow? I’m sure there are some, like say King Kong or Ben-Hur or the Ten Commandments. I’m tempted to think some of those sci-fi B-movies from the 50’s would be great to re-release in 3D. So would Star Wars. Actually does Star Wars now qualify as a classic movie?

Oh yeah. For those curious about the box office biz, it made roughly $3.1 million this weekend. Ironically it made $3 million back during its original release in 1939.  Actually $3 million would be lots in 1939. I’m sure if you adjusted 1939’s total with inflation and added in the grosses of the various re-releases, it would be in the hundreds of millions.

I’ll admit that I find 3D releases of movies cash-grabs, including 3D re-releases. The 3D of the 3D IMAX re-release of The Wizard Of Oz didn’t add too much. However the IMAX format and the remastering of both the images and the sound made it an excellent viewing pleasure. Reminds you that it’s so right and proper that it be re-released on the big screen whatever format it’s given.

VIFF 2012 Review: Hunky Dory

Minnie Driver urges her students on in Hunky Dory.

How often has a movie about a high school musical been done before? Now that Hunky Dory is out, does it add anything new or is it the same old schtick?

It’s the summer of 1976 in a small Welsh town. A young teacher, Vivienne, gets together with her drama group students to arrange to put on a play. As anticipated, it’s a Shakespeare play: The Tempest. Not as anticipated, she wants to put a twist on it by adapting the popular music of the time to it.

It’s difficult enough to arrange as it is but Vivienne and the students face other difficulties along the way. First Vivienne puts the students under a demanding rehearsal schedule that demands much of their time and in sweltering heat. Secondly the students have problems of their own: Stella is undecided between loving Davey or the boy at the disco; Evan is struggling to accept his homosexuality while he currently has a girlfriend; Kenny is pressured by his brother to join a gang of skinheads; the band face tensions of their own; and Davey, the central teen, faces the lures of Stella and Vivienne while dealing with the pressures of a broken home. Thirdly Vivienne faces a lot of dissent from many people in the school, especially Mrs. Valentine and Mr. Cafferty. She does find relief with the volunteering of the headmaster. Fourthly a fire happens and all the play’s props are burned to a crisp. The movie leads to a somewhat predictable ending but it also gives an epilogue detailing what has happened to the students since. It left me wondering “Did this really happen?” I’ve been known to question movies that are ‘based on a true story’ or ‘inspired by true events.’

I’ll have to admit this is not original stuff. This is a common scenario of a music teacher putting on a new twist to a play, people in the school unhappy and even offended with it and teenage conflicts during and between rehearsals along the way. How often have we seen that before? One quality that the story has is that the problems the students went through along the way were very common and realistic to the problems teenagers go through and continue to go through today. Romantic love triangles, the pressures of joining a gang, learning of one’s homosexuality, starting a band and tensions happening along the way, those are all common teenage problems that occur decade after decade. The young cast did a very good job of making them look real and relatable.

Another thing the film did very well is remind us of the charm of 70’s music. Yes the film gave you the feel you were watching a Glee episode but seeing the young people sing and perform songs from David Bowie, Roxy Music, 10cc, ELO, The Byrds this movie brings the charm back and reminds you why those songs charmed the teens then and continue to charm today. In fact the film’s title is the title of a 1971 album by David Bowie and one of the songs from it, Life On Mars, is the first song in the film where the students are performing or rehearsing.

Minnie Driver did a good performance where she was able to display her singing skills along with her acting, but I’ve seen better overall acting from her in the past. This movie actually belonged to supporting ensemble of actors playing the teenagers in the movie. The movie was about them growing up and dealing with their own personal issues while rehearsing for the musical and they did a very good job of it. They also did a good job of acting like Welsh teens from the 70’s. The one of the teens that stood out was Aneurin Barnard as Davey, the one caught in the middle of the play, family tensions and a possible liaison with Vivienne. The only adult actor to steal the movie away from the teens had to be Robert Pugh who goes from your typical stodgy headmaster to siding with Vivienne in the end. Marc Evans is not too experienced with directing features as he is with television and documentaries but he does a good effort in this movie, if unspectacular. Scriptwriter Laurence Coriat brings in some depth in what could have been another run-of-the-mill high school musical script. The music was very good and very professional. Overall all actors did a good combined job of acting and singing.

I didn’t originally plan to see Hunky Dory that day: the Sunday before Canadian Thanksgiving. I meant to see Late Quartet but tickets for volunteers were finished and I had to wait in the Rush Line as my last chance. I did secure a ticket for Hunky Dory just in case I was out of luck. Sure enough, I was out of luck for Late Quartet. Despite missing Last Quartet, I’m quite content in seeing Hunky Dory that Sunday night.

Hunky Dory has done the film festival circuit and is due for big screen release anytime soon. IMDB shows the movie listed as released on March 2, 2012 in the UK and Ireland. Wikipedia says that it will be released by Universal Pictures in the US and 20th Century Fox around the rest of the world. This would make it the first British independent film secured by a major studio. I thought Billy Elliot was. Whatever the stats, the purchase by those two companies should boost the box office outcome of Hunky Dory in the future.

Basically Hunky Dory is not meant to take film making or music making in any new directions. It’s the same story redone and made to look different. Nevertheless its purpose it appears is to entertain the crowd and it does just that. Fans of musical movies or shows like Glee or High School Musical will like it.