The Jazz Singer
Directed by Alan Crosland
The Jazz Singer is a musical starring Al Jolson. His character, Jack Robin (born Jakie Rabinowitz), is a Jazz singer and the son of a disapproving cantor. The plot is melodramatic and inane. The dialogue and music fail to impress. The social commentary is insipid pablum. The blackface scenes are racist. The film says a lot about Jewish Americans and American society in the 1920s. And The Jazz Singer is the first full-length movie with a synchronized music score and lip-synchronous singing and speech in a few scenes. These are the only two reasons to watch this film.
Would not see.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Moana is a computer-animated musical about the eponymous daughter of a Polynesian chief and Maui, the Polynesian mythological figure. Everything about Moana – the music, the plot, the animation – is slick and polished, but while the song lyrics, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i, and Mark Mancina, are sometimes clever, the story is rote and the animation sports a sheen of dead-eyed flawlessness. The movie is depressingly watchable.
Would not see.
Bound for Glory
Directed by Hal Ashby
Bound for Glory is a biopic that takes its name and main character (and little else) from Woody Guthrie’s 1943 autobiography. Bound for Glory intermittently understands Woody Guthrie’s greatness. His songs are well integrated, but there could be more of them. The film benefits by not covering his whole life, but it fulfills almost every other cliché of the genre.
La La Land
Directed by Damien Chazelle
La La Land is a romantic musical about a jazz musician and an aspiring actress who fall in love in Los Angeles. La La Land is a stirring defense of unjustified objects of condescension: musicals, nostalgia, and Jazz. The film is unreservedly romantic and unabashedly confident in the fragile, weak, transcendent power of art. La La Land, with ebullient bravura, basks in deep feeling and looks back with wistful longing.
Directed by John Carney
Once is a musical romance film about two struggling musicians in Dublin, Ireland. The music is good, but not quite good enough to anchor a story about an unrecognized musical genius. The story is engaging, but a little slight.
Fiddler on the Roof
Directed by Norman Jewison
Fiddler on the Roof, an adaptation of a 1964 Broadway musical of the same name which in turn was based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, is a musical comedy drama about a Jewish dairyman, Tevye, and his family living in the Pale of Settlement in 1905. At 179 minutes, Fiddler on the Roof is longer than I remembered it being (and longer than it should be). The film is poorly paced; its aesthetic has not aged well; and many elements would not hold up well against serious critical scrutiny. Fiddler on the Roof, though, is filled with memorable songs and scenes, and is easy to enjoy with the right expectations.
The Lion King
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
The Lion King is an animated musical that loosely retells Shakespeare’s Hamlet with animals in Africa. The animation and music are impressive, but the dialogue is merely serviceable. The Lion King seems to have the ambition to be a slightly above average animated children’s movie, and, in that, it succeeds.
I’m Not There
Directed by Todd Haynes
I’m Not There is a biographical musical drama in which six actors play Bob Dylan. Save a few standout scenes, the originality and creativity of the premise ultimately fails to save the film from its poor execution.
Would not see.