West Side Story

The film starts with the most famous whistle of any musical theater score ever written as the camera pans over heaps of rubble and garbage, the only thing left of the former tenements and neighborhoods of San Juan Hill, an area of urban decay on the Upper West Side that was home to thousands of displaced African Americans and Puerto Ricans. A large sign proclaims the area to be The Future Home of Lincoln Center. Each frame is a master class in chiaroscuro and composition, and you get the feeling that this is not going to be your typical musical comedy. 

This is the 2021 version of West Side Story; a reinterpretation of the 1961 award-winning film, this time with more violence, angst, and appropriate ethnic representation. The names behind this movie are the giants of theater and film; Bernstein, Sondheim, Spielberg, Kushner, Kaminski, Rita freakin’ Moreno. The direction is superb, the camera moving around the streets like it’s one of the dancers in the gorgeous choreography of Justin Peck. Every detail in this film has been authentically researched and the character’s subtext explored just enough to make some of their choices make more sense. It is a classic remake of a classic film, and it is wonderful.

Also, it bombed, quite spectacularly, taking out the box office like the wrecking ball that destroys the slums that the Jets gleefully dance through while snapping their fingers. How can a movie with this much genius behind it so thoroughly miss connecting with an audience? There are a lot of guesses about why people didn’t show up, number one being the fact that we are still in what feels like the 147th surge of the pandemic. And yet there was another movie that opened a week later that broke all box office records (more on that one later), so fear of disease wasn’t necessarily the problem.

West Side Story was supposed to open a year ago but was postponed because of the original pandemic, the one before we started adding Greek letters to the vocabulary. Would audiences have responded differently if we weren’t all worn down completely by the constant torrent of terrible news? Personally, I am finding it hard to focus on anything that is heavier than a Hallmark Christmas movie. West Side Story has gorgeous music, but it is still full of violence, hate, tragedy, and grief. It is definitely not a laff riot, which is really all that I want to watch right now.

I’ve often wondered how actual critics (not the wannabees who are typing in their basements, like me) put aside their own feelings and depression and review a piece of art (film, book, play, whatever) in a neutral way. What if they are in a terrible mood for the same reasons everyone else is these days? What if they hate comic book heroes but are reviewing their 19th Marvel movie?

Since I am a huge fan of all musical theater, I had been waiting to see this film for a long time. And as I watched the Jets and the Sharks try to kill each other but still keep their toes pointed, I couldn’t help but wish I was in the next theater watching Spider-Man.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is gorgeous and tremendously well-acted, danced, and photographed. It just isn’t a lot of fun.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

C’mon, 22!

I look forward to the new year with as much joy and trepidation as Julie Hagerty in Lost in America.

tick, tick . . . BOOM!

As we try to open up flicksthatmakemesick to more people with the new categories, it is unfortunate that the first movie reviewed will only appeal to a specific group of people. How just like the internet to make a headline clickbait and then give you something completely different.

I am aware that much of the general public doesn’t really like musicals, and although I cannot fathom why, you may want to visit other sites to read recaps of Succession.

tick, tick. . . BOOM! is the latest (off) Broadway musical adapted to film, in a banner year that has already seen Dear Evan Hansen and In the Heights hit the multiplex. I would assume that people would want to watch musicals after the pandemic, because what will cheer you up more than tap dancing chorus boys? Of course, the subject matter of these shows focuses on suicide, poverty and early death, so perhaps these weren’t the best choices for 2021. But West Side Story has also opened, and is supposedly fabulous—except for the poverty, murders and early death. But the music is great!

Although my Broadway soundtrack knowledge has won trivia contests, tick, tick. . . BOOM is a musical I was not familiar with when I watched it on Netflix. The film recounts the early life of composer Jonathan Larson, who would go on to write the score for Rent, a show that would change the sound of musicals and influence countless future composers. One of those composers was Lin Manuel Miranda, who often credits Rent with being the first show he ever saw that showed him musicals didn’t have to sound like Rodgers and Hammerstein. In his film directing debut, Miranda poured all his love and gratitude into this story of believing in yourself even when no one else does. Larson died on the eve of Rent’s opening; although the film only briefly mentions this, his early death looms over the entire film.

I’m always interested in the different ways people react to art. I have several friends who watched this film; most were positive about it, saying they liked the music and especially the performance of Andrew Garfield as Larson. None of them mentioned sobbing hysterically during the swimming sequence where he finally writes a song he has been working on for weeks or feeling bereft during the parts that featured Stephen Sondheim mentoring him.

I watched this film the day after Sondheim died, and his presence dominates greatly. Although Sondheim was a personal hero of mine, I wasn’t aware of his practice of taking young composers under his wing and encouraging the next generation to write. The film takes on a different meaning when seen as an homage to this master, and the Sunday diner number is a love letter to his music. Add into this the depiction of an artist being blocked creatively in a way he never has been before, and anyone who has ever struggled with a new idea or concept can immediately relate and then rejoice when Larson finally breaks through the figurative wall.

I found this film to be thrilling and emotionally involving, with the final song “Come to Your Senses” a beautiful reward for having suffered along with Larson as he tried to write it. I was astonished by Andrew Garfield, having mostly thought of him as Spiderman and unaware that he could sing. (I hope he has a musical number in the upcoming Spiderman: No Way Home—oh, wait, he’s not in it. Or is he?!)

I am aware that an obscure musical about the early life of a dead broke composer who dies at thirty-five just before he finds success may not be on everyone’s Must See list. But it moved me in a way that I haven’t felt by a film in some time, and I hope that somewhere, someone in the tiny flicksthatmakemesick universe can share this experience. And if not . . . well, at least you won’t throw up.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantToLick

What’s Passed is Past — Hurl No More!

flicksthatmakemesick is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Launched in 2011, we’ve had one whole decade of googling synonyms for vomit and using nausea as a verb. This site has had more comebacks than the Mexican food I had for lunch yesterday, as whole years went by with no one remembering it existed.

Happily, the bad habit of using hand-held cameras has waned; the peak seemed to be in 2013, the year that brought us Captain Phillips and Gravity, both Four Barf Baggers (our highest rating!). But what is a balm to our tummies is death to a website that depends on queasiness for its existence. We must face the truth that the Shaky Cam Era is over, and gratefully put down our Pepto Bismol.

But WAIT! This is the internet, and like the Meta-verse we all hate but still inhabit, we can be reborn with a different label even though we are the exact same thing! Since we no longer need to use our empty popcorn buckets as potential puke receptacles, we will now put different categories in them.

Introducing:

FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix—as we all hesitantly try to slide back into movie theaters, we continue to watch a lot of first run movies on TV. This category is very broad but does not include reviews of The Great British Baking Show, even thought that is what I mostly watch on Netflix.

FlicksThatYouShouldPick—this label is reserved for my very favorite movies. Some reviews may fit into more than one category, such as a favorite that may have been seen on Netflix, or possibly have Richard Gere in it, or is maybe porn.

FlicksWithGuysNamedRick—a limited category, because there are not a lot of actors named Rick these days (see above).

FlicksThatHaveADick —could be a movie that is incredibly misogynistic; or is maybe porn.

FlicksIWantToLick—a sub-category that is totally random depending upon whether or not it has someone I find hot in it. This does not affect the quality of the film and is an editorial choice that may apply only to me. YMMV.

The Barf Bag Rating System has been put in storage, waiting for the day that Paul Greengrass decides to go back to his old habits. Let us hope the bags were washed out very well before they were put away.

The new ranking system will feature The Popcorn Kernels of Truth: One Kernel means you may as well watch The Great British Baking Show because this movie is not worth your time. Two Kernels indicates the film was moderately entertaining; Three Kernels means this movie was pretty great; and an actual piece of One Perfect Popped Corn means you should drop everything because this film will change your life.

Coming up: tick, tick . . . BOOM! This shown-in-theaters-but-also-streaming film fits into THREE categories. Can you guess which ones?

The Boys

Flicksthatmakemesick hasn’t had a lot of material to write about in the past few years. The whole hand-held camera technique that was responsible for much of the motion-sickness issues of a certain percentage of the audience (granted, a small percentage but we were out there, holding our sticky hands up to be counted) has been replaced by cinematographers with steadier grips and directors with more original vision. But the lack of a trembling lens is no longer really the problem—at this point I’d watch something by Paul Greengrass just to actually be able to go to a theater to see a movie. (For those of you who may need a refresher, Paul Greengrass is the Dark Prince of Shaky Cams, the director of the film that started it all—The Bourne Supremacy. The man has the shakes that one would find in the hands of a drunk coming off a two-week bender combo of Jagermeister and Malort.)
            Of course, one of the perks of not leaving the house for six months and watching a lot of television is the fact that the hand-held camerawork on TV does not affect we of the sensitive tummies. I could watch all the Bourne movies in one marathon binge on Netflix and the only side effect would be my ass falling asleep. It’s a small thing, but the lockdown has eliminated so much joy from our lives that we have to celebrate the little silver linings when we find them.
            Since we no longer have to worry about actual physical nausea, we can turn our attention to other subjects that can cause emotional distress. I’ve never been a fan of violence and extreme bloodletting in films – I gave up on Tarantino after Django Unchained. I know many folks enjoy a good spatter film, but here, too, the smaller screen can diminish the effect until it becomes almost cartoonish (another silver lining, although this one is more reddish). 
            This is fortunate for me, because otherwise I might have skipped a new superhero series called The Boys. This show could be called The Anti-Avengers, because the supes are all assholes who have a really top-notch marketing team to promote them. The Boys of the title are a mismatched gang of criminals and innocents who have banded together to take down the supes, who have started to believe their own publicity. Season Two just started streaming on Amazon Prime but definitely go back and start at the beginning of Season One. If you can’t handle what happens in the first five minutes of Episode One, be warned that it’s nothing compared to Season Two, which I will try not to spoil but just tease with the idea of a speedboat driving through a very large sea mammal. The director works with exploding body fluids and organs like a contemporary Jackson Pollack.
            The cast is universally fabulous, the humor is very, very dark, and the action moves like a speedboat driving through a … well, you get the idea.
            The best scene so far of the second season was the smarmy director pitching the supes the concept for their new origin film. Wearing a black T-shirt modestly emblazoned with “Fassbinder”, he storyboards the opening and introduces the title Dawn of The Seven. He fakes some opening credit music and says, “I want to shoot the whole thing hand-held – right? Very Greengrass!”
            Any series that can use Greengrass as a punchline gets two thumbs up from me.

The Barf Bag Rating System does not really work in this setting. As flicksthatmakemesick tries to discover where it belongs in this dystopian new world we inhabit, it will need to come up with a different way to rate things. Maybe after I’m done watching all the Bourne movies again.

Into the Woods

Into-the-Woods-2014-posterIf you’re a casual movie go-er, you may have noticed that there was a new Disney movie opening on Christmas Day. Probably one of those Princess movies that would force you to listen to another anthemic showstopper for the next six months. But if you are a fan and a freak for a certain Broadway genius whose music can move you to tears within seconds, your hands were sweating and your ticket stub limp as you entered the theatre, anticipation and fear causing you to wish the twenty-five minutes of previews would never end because you weren’t sure you were going to be able to handle what came next.

For Sondheim aficionados, the filming of Into the Woods had us excited, well, excited and scared. This classic piece of theatre opened on Broadway in 1987 and has been considered by many to be Sondheim’s greatest work. When the news came out that Disney was finally making it into a film, it seemed impossible that this could have a happy ending. Into the Woods may be about wishes and princesses, but it gets pretty dark, as fairy tales are wont to do. What if they turned it into Frozen In the Woods?

Everyone can slowly exhale. While the movie is not perfect, it captures most of the essence of the original show and doesn’t try to whitewash the angst that follows the happy ending. I wish some of the reviewers had done their homework and realized that this is a good thing. More on that later.

The cast was uniformly terrific. With the exception of Johnny Depp (who was completely forgettable as The Wolf), every person was perfect for the part and could actually sing. Meryl Streep was a great witch, although it’s hard to listen to those songs and not hear Bernadette Peters from the original cast. One review mentioned that Streep’s voice seemed “a little thin”: he must have been standing in the lobby when she blasted through “The Last Midnight”, because she has a powerful instrument that made the whole thing seem pretty apocalyptic. James Corden and Emily Blunt as The Baker and His Wife were charming together and Little Red Riding Hood practically stole the movie with her eyebrows. The kid playing Jack was way too young but his singing was fine, and I didn’t really care if Chris Pine (Prince Charming) could sing after he ripped open his shirt (turns out he can!).

As I feared, many reviews have mentioned how the first part was wonderful but everything falls apart in the second half and maybe they should have stopped before a major character got squished to death. To which I say: That was the whole point! Happy Ever After comes with consequences! This is a Sondheim show! Aaargh!

For me, the second half was actually better than the first, because the first hour seemed rushed. There are four interwoven stories that have to be introduced so it’s understandable, but the pace to get everything in place didn’t really give you time to savor the lyrics. I was grateful they didn’t try to dumb it down, although making Little Red Riding Hood and Jack younger lost some of the sexual subtext that is implied with the wolf and the giant’s wife. And they cut a few songs, which makes me sad (particularly the “Agony” reprise, which is hilarious). A lot of back story was lost by trying to cram it into two hours, but my guess is they figured fans of the show would already know it and newbies wouldn’t care all that much.

This is not a kid’s movie. There were people in the theatre with children under the age of five and a lot of restlessness in the audience. The two teenage girls in front of me who kept texting throughout the whole movie needed to be slapped up the side of the head like Jack’s mother kept doing in the film. A few people actually got up and left after (SPOILER ALERT!) the Baker’s Wife died. This story has so much going on in it and so many wonderful messages about parenting and life that I wanted to stand up and shout, “Listen to these words!! The man is a genius!”

Anyone who has read this far is probably a Sondheim fan, so let me be self-indulgent and speak to you as a kindred spirit. The man’s music and lyrics move me in ways that I cannot begin to express and I am constantly stunned when I listen to this score. Any parent who has ever sent a child off to camp or college or Brooklyn will immediately weep while listening to “Stay With Me”, a plea that your children never leave you that goes against every rule of good parenting. Or “Children Will Listen”, which is a primer on what you should be doing. Or the reassurance of “No One is Alone”, that no matter how many mistakes you make, you always carry those you’ve lost along the path with you. I can’t wait until the Into the Woods merchandise comes out, because I want a Sondheim doll of my own.

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flicksthatmakemesick.com has been in hibernation lately because winter makes it feel like wearing sweat pants and sleeping on the couch. Also, directors don’t seem to be using hand held cameras anymore so they have pretty much rendered this site obsolete. But occasionally a film comes out that elicits a strong response and requires a review, queasiness be damned. So watch for an occasional post here but don’t set your expectations very high. I’m still wearing sweat pants.

“Top Ten Barf-tastic Movies” article

Dear Everyone I Bragged To on the Internet:

In a clear cut case of counting your buzzards before they hatch, it appears that my article entitled The Top Ten Barf-tastic Movies To Avoid will NOT be published online at Vulture.com. An editor at the New York Magazine affiliated site originally contacted me and said he loved flicksthatmakemesick.com and would I be willing to write an article that briefly highlighted some of the movies that caused motion sickness. Although I suspected that my site was a tad too niche oriented to appeal to the vast majority of the celebrity-crazed public, I kept my reservations to myself because … well, dude! it was Vulture and they were going to publish me!

Unfortunately, they finally came to that conclusion themselves. After being ignored for awhile, I received a very nice email explaining that my subject matter was just a little too specific for them and they would need all the space they had to run more Match the Hair to the Movie Star quizzes (which is understandable – the Leonardo diCaprio one was hard and left me wanting more, more, more!)

Since Vulture does not wish to spread my words across the starry landfill that is cyberspace, I turn to the only outlet I have left and share this with you, my seven readers. Fear not, for I am not discouraged by this slight and will continue to champion for you, my loyal yet extremely queasy fans!

The Top Ten Barftastic Films to Avoid

Four BagsYou’ve been anticipating this date night for weeks, and you snuggle into the comfy stadium seating with your sweetie and a bucket of popcorn. Absorbed in the film and the tension of the drifting astronauts, you hardly notice the light sheen of sweat that starts to film your upper lip. Your stomach roils a bit and you glance nervously at your date, hoping he thinks it’s the Dolby sound system. Moments later, saliva fills your mouth and you realize with horror that you must choose between barfing in your purse or the popcorn bucket. You choose the purse, because it costs less than the snacks did.

The release of the gut-churning Gravity has once more threatened the tooth enamel of ticket buyers with weak stomachs. The shakiness of hand-held cameras and choppy editing in films have been causing nausea in the audience for years, and certain movies can almost guarantee that once the lights go down, something else is coming up. Here are some barftastic films that you need to watch out for:

10. The Blair Witch Project (1999):  Not the first horror movie to use the shaky cam technique but certainly the most famous. People in the audience were creating hex signs out of Twizzlers to make it stop.

9. The Fighter (2011): This Mark Wahlberg film combines hand-held camera work, boxing, choppy editing, and a crack addict who is so jittery that he makes everything else look like it’s shaking even when the camera is locked down. Also from director David O. Russell: Three Kings (1999), which was even worse.

8. Cloverfield (2008): The monster invading Manhattan was scary but nothing was worse than the puddles you had to jump over in the aisles. Theaters were posting warnings in the lobby about the effects of this one.

7: Babel (2006): A series of vaguely related plots all united by a blurry Brad Pitt, this film contained a disco sequence in a Japanese nightclub that was seizure inducing. See also: Twilight: Breaking Dawn – the birth scene.

6. Once (2006): This delightful musical is so low-budget that the lead characters can’t afford first names – they are simply called “The Guy” and “The Girl.” Apparently they couldn’t afford a tripod, either. Completely unexpected, which made it even worse because it snuck up on you. See also: Rachel Gets Married.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012):  Even Quvenzhané Wallis’ fabulous bouncing hair will make you queasy after fifteen minutes of watching her run through the swamp.

4: Argo (2013): The recreation of jittery real life footage keeps you constantly on the verge of yakking, and makes you want to shout “Argo fuck yourself!” at Ben Affleck.

3. Life of Pi (2013): Any movie that’s filmed on water is going to be a problem. The constant motion of the bobbing lifeboat will make you empathize with the poor seasick tiger and you may want to bite the head off of the hyena sitting next to you. Most recent additions to this category: Captain Phillips and All is Lost.

2. Exit the Gift Shop (2012): Most of this documentary about street artist Banksy is shot in the dark while people are running, and the camera may very well have been manned by Michael J. Fox. Perfect for the guerrilla-type artists that are being featured but sheer hell if you’re sitting in the audience.

1. The Bourne Supremacy (2004): The mother of all shaky cam movies! Although there are many films that used the hand-held technique before The Bourne Identity sequel was released, this is the one where people really started to notice the effect. Specifically, when complete strangers started throwing up on their shoes.

You can’t stop the way your stomach and brain react to these films, but you can minimize the effects. Sit waaaay in the back, don’t eat greasy popcorn and for the love of God, stay away from IMAX.

Chris Broquet has been resting on couches in theater lobbies for years as she tries to recover from watching hand-held films. See her complete guide to movies that will nauseate you with the unique Barf Bag Rating system at flicksthatmakemesick.com

Roger Ebert: 1942-2013

Shakeflicksthatmakemesick has been offline for a few weeks while I focus on some Real Life Stuff that can’t be ignored no matter how much I try. But I wanted to come back for a brief moment and pay tribute to Roger Ebert, one of the all time great Chicago writers.

I often disagreed with Roger’s movie reviews. All the way back to Sneak Previews, I was far more likely to nod my head at Gene Siskel’s assessment than Roger’s critique. But I kept on reading his stuff and watching his program and realized that even though my opinion frequently veered in a different direction than his, his writing was still very interesing. You had to admire his emotional investment in every movie he watched and his unabashed cheerleading for the practice of filmmaking in general. Continue reading

flicksthatmakemesick is back!

My apologies to all the filmgoers with weak guts who look to this site for guidance and may have accidentally wandered into the 48 frame per second version of The Hobbit because I wasn’t here to tell them not to. It’s like I’m George Bailey and Clarence was testing me by showing the audience what movies would be like if flicksthatmakemesick never existed. But I’ve realized the error of my ways and I promise I will never again take a two-month hiatus, at least without telling you first. (By the way, this is what I was doing: The Samoan Letters)

Academy Award nominations are coming up soon (January 10), and flicksthatmakemesick will be your guide for the best movies of 2012! I’m a little behind, but coming soon I’ll have reviews for Argo, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi. Hey! It’s snowing! Merry Christmas, you old savings and loan! Zuzu’s petals!

Beasts of the Southern Wild

You may have noticed there has been a bit of a gap between this review and the last post; specifically, twenty-nine days, which in internet posting time is the equivalent of normal time span converted to dog years. I’m assuming readers thought I had died, which would have been a real shame because that would mean the last movie I saw would have been Hope Springs. The real story is not quite as dramatic, but filled with irony and social injustice. Some mofo broke into my house and stole my computer. I’m sure it was just a petty thief looking for something small and expensive to fence, but stealing my laptop did more than just deprive me of my daily updates from ew.com; it also left thousands hundreds some people anxiously awaiting their next flicksthatmakesick post and feeling abandoned when none was forthcoming. In a world that is cold and unpredictable, the least I can do is be there for you every ten days or so. Man’s inhumanity to man (or his meth addiction) will not break my spirit, and I shall continue to blog in a timely fashion as the future unfolds before us. Let’s hear it for renter’s insurance! Continue reading