Friday, March 30, 2012

Love Never Dies Review

"Love Never Dies," the controversial sequel to Andrew Loyd Webber's much loved  "Phantom of the Opera" musical was recently released in selected theaters for a special two night showing courtesy of Fathom Events. Not to be mistaken for a major motion picture, the movie was rather a set to film version of the stage musical currently enjoying a run in Australia.
Now, I am one of the many who has had very mixed feelings about Webber doing a follow up to his brilliant original story. First of all, I really couldn't see any overpowering need for there to be sequel. Sure the first phantom's conclusion is a little open ended, but it works perfectly in the context of the play, allowing the audience to ponder at what directions the characters could go and drawing there own conclusions. It definately is not one of those "Empire Strikes Back" kind of deals were you are left on pins and needles wondering how everything will play out.
Second, after having listened to all of the music in "Love Never Dies" I found it just did not measure up to the haunting, melodious, and completely captivating songs and orchestration of "Phantom." Not to say that there are not some really excellent songs here, I think "Until I Hear You Sing" is beautiful and it firmly remains my favorite song of them all. It goes from soft and subdued to bold and dramatic, evocking emotions of passion, loneliness, and nostalgia. Another favorite is "The Beauty Underneath" which has a rough, rock and roll edge to it that may seem jarring and out of place at first but really grows on you after a few listens. "Devil Take the Hind Most" is another one I really like and is a testosterone and tension riddled bit of verbal jousting between The Phantom and Raoul. "Beneath a Moonless Sky" an passionate duet between The Phantom and Christine practically bursts at the seems with bedroom innuendo and sexual allusions to the extent that it gets to be pretty over the top and the more emotional and dramatic the person singing becomes the more unintentonally funny the song gets. Oh well, it's still entertaining.
Unfortunately the character who I feel really gets shortchanged in terms of singing is Christine, which is odd to say since she is the character who holds the distinction of singing the title song, "Love Never Dies," but honestly, I just have never been able to get in to that one very much. My Gramma, who I took to the movie, absolutely loved it though, so I guess to each there own. I just really wish there could have been another "Think of Me" or "Wishing You Were Somehow Here" in this one. Something with a simple yet sweetly enchanting melody and lyrical depth that really make you want to fall in love with her like The Phantom. Unfortunely, as it is I felt that the character did not really recieve her due.
Regardless of my preferance for the classic I was still very excited to see this. Since the show's debut in the U.K. I had only ever listened to it via CD so I was eager to get the full experience and take it in from a visual aspect as well. It had been close to a decade since the film adaptation of The Phantom came out in 04 so I was thrilled to have the chance to see one of my favorite fictional characters once again commanding the greatest stage of all.
One of the first things that immediately grabbed my attention about the Australian production was just how much it tried to differentiate itself was from the musical's original London incarnation. Whole sections were either trimmed down, altered, or cut out entirely. Scenes that had previously been ratcheted up were toned down while parts that were toned down were, conversely, ratcheted up. Personally, I thought that these creative alterations did wonders for the show and resulted in a much more fluent and streamlined narrative. Unlike to the London production in which The Phantom does not appear until almost halfway through the first act after an introduction and some superfluous scenes that drag on for a bit too long, this version of the show truly hits the ground running with The Phantom perched intensly at his pipe organ hammering out some dramatic and tortured sounding bars as he transitions into the melodious and showstopping "Until I Hear You Sing." It is not until after this pivotal scene, in which the driving conflict of the story is revealed, that the show cleanly segways into the the whimsical and haunting "Coney Island Waltz" in which we are introduced to the human oddities that inhabit the turn of the century amusement park and a plot thread involving another key character.
The sets and costumes are stunning to look at and provide a true five course meal for the eyes. Coney Island, with its community of freaks and feeling unearthly decadence, looks every bit the perfect place for The Phantom to seek refuge and later gain influence in following his narrow escape from the mobs of Paris. When the Phantom shows whom he initially believes is Christine and Raoul's young son his lair, "illusion's domain," the entire room transforms into dazzling array of rotating cylindrical mirrors, each seeminly containing some form of Coney Island freak and oddity on the other side. Another  example that immediately comes to mind is the dress Christine wears when she sings "Love Never Dies." It is dark green with a feathered peackock like theme that is echoed in the backdrop behind her giving the illusion that the two are flowing organically together. A set of wooden roller coaster tracks lies suspended in the air and loops the stage in a couple broad circles. This perfectly enhances the show's carnival like aura while at the same time, perfectly representing the symbolic emotional rollar coaster that the main characters are put through throughout the course of the story.
I thought the performances were pretty much solid all around. The actor who played The Phantom sometimes came off a bit too Boris Karlov for my taste but otherwise he was fine. The actress who played Christine was gorgeous and did a great job of balancing her vulnerability to The Phantom with an unshakable sense of maternal responsibility. Other honorable mentions include the actress who played Meg Giry, Christine's former friend from Paris who is now obsessed with establishing herself as a gifted musical talent in the states no matter the ultimate cost to her innocence or her sense of self worth.
I really enjoyed the Australian production of Love Never Dies. It was dark, dramatic, and really went a long way toward causing me to embrace there being a sequel to the original rather than holding it at arms length as a "what if" scenario. Though I still believe some aspects could have been improved upon, the Australian version is definately a musical worthy of The Phantom's legacy.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Justice League: Doom Review

Arriving just in time to cleanse the pallete of the rancid taste left from the abyssmal Ghostrider: Spirit of Vengeance is Justice League Doom, the latest offering in DC Entertainment's direct to dvd line of animated features. When I learned that the company's next animated venture following their stellar adaptation of Batman: Year One was going to be another ensemble film featuring the world's mightiest heroes I felt a little dissapointed. In my opinion, the single character films like Batman: Under the "Red Hood" and "Year One," as well as "Green "Lantern: First Flight" have been some of the strongest offerings in the line thus far whereas the films featuring multiple heroes, "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, and "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths" have fallen a bit short and have often felt like prolonged t.v. episodes. Nevertheless I was excited by what looked in the adds to be a perilous and high stakes JL story (I know, I know, like any superhero story isn't without peril and high stakes) and hoped this one would be the exception to what had come so far.
In short, JL Doom delivers. Sure the film boasted tons of the larger than life superhero specticle one would come to expect, but were the movie really shines is in the levels of suspense and moral ambiguety that propels the narrative forward and really hones in on the fact that, for all their god-like powers, superheroes can still be incredibly vulnerable when given the right weakness to exploit.
The movie's villain, Vandal Savage, and his lethal selection of assorted rogues from each League member's long list of villains find just such a way to hit each hero were it hurts when they infiltrate the Batcave and steal confidential files documenting Batman's own meticulously planned out methods for neutralizing each hero should they ever go rogue and become a threat to the world.
A megalomaniac who has been blessed, or cursed, however you want to view it, with immortality after coming in contact with a meteorite in the stone age, Savage has amassed a fortune from his centuries long existence and entertaines intimations of world domination but must first remove the greatest obstacle standing in the way of his goals. The Justice League of America. So Savage recruits a deadly enemy of each member of the League promising them an obscene amount of money and the chance to rule the world by his his side should they suceed in destroying the League. The villains cast their lots in with Savage and The Legion of Doom is officially formed.
Having pilfered the most effective ways take down the earth's mightiest hero's from the mind of one of the greatest combat strategists in the world, Batman, The Legion of Doom sets about luring each League member into an isolated situation were it looks like they will be able to take care of business and save the day as usual, but things are not what they seems. What results is some of the most intense, edge of your seat  suspense that I have ever experienced watching an animated movie. You truly do start to wonder if Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter will make it out of this one entirely unscathed much less make it out at all.
Of course, as a Batman fan first and foremost, I favorite segments were the ones involving Batman and his newly christened, Legion of Doom conterpart, Bane in which the venom enfused monster of a man strikes at the Dark Knight in a truly terrifying and brutal way.
The character Cyborg plays a pivotal role in the movie and proves why he is worthy to stand alongside the A-listers of the DCU. Personally I have never really been a very big fan of the character but really liked how he was used in this movie, quite a bit more so than the forced, abc school special way he has been tact on to the Justice League in DC's flagship, new 52 series.        
Unquestionably the biggest threat they have faced so far, the League's  first encounter with The Legion exacts a major toll that reaffirms their significance in the world while at the same time, shaking the team to its very core both personally and ideologically. And though the fourth act of the movie plays out in a pretty predictable fasion, it is still a thrill to watch The Justice League emerge stronger from the adversity and face their tormentors head on with no fear.
I had a blast watching this movie and, though I like what has come before, would definatley place it at the top of the DC animated features focusing on an ensemble cast. The action is thrilling, the exchanges between the characters are genuine and well written, and the story adresses some pretty heavy topics of trust and power. Simply put, Justice Leaue: Doom does not disappoint.