Tag Archive: Musical


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One evening in New York City, after a wonderful romantic evening with a girl I was seeing, I walked her to the subway, and on my walk back to my apartment in the primarily Caribbean Crown Heights, I softly sang and subtly danced to “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady. As one of the few Caucasians in the mostly Caribbean neighborhood, I didn’t have to do much to stand out, and singing a show-tune as I walked down the street didn’t help matters. But, I was so happy and so content that I didn’t care who saw or who laughed. When people in old musicals are so overcome with happiness or sorrow that they simply burst into song, I get it. It happens to me in real life. I just don’t have an array of back-up singers (or actual musical talent) and lavish dance routines.

I’ve discussed at length on this blog the special place that musicals hold in my heart and the complicated feelings I’ve developed for them as I’ve gotten older and my tastes have gotten more sophisticated (and my critical skills grew sharper). Grease was one of the first non-children’s movies that I can remember watching, and there’s always been something about theatrical song and dance numbers that have appealed to me on a deep and personal level ever since. Unfortunately, I also recognize that a lot of these “classic” musicals are also sort of hilariously bad in the actual storytelling department. 1954’s There’s No Business Like Show Business is no exception to that rule. It’s gorgeous production and sublime Irving Berlin score make it worth every musical lover’s time, but it’s story borders on non-existent.

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The Donahue clan, led by matriarch Molly (Ethel Merman) and Terry (Dan Dailey), are a struggling vaudeville family act. Though the group finds great success when the parents are joined by their children, Tim (Singing in the Rain‘s Donald O’Connor), Katie (Mitzi Gaynor), and Steve (Johnnie Ray), it isn’t long before the family act starts to fall apart. Steve wants to become a priest, and Tim falls head over heels in love with coat-check girl (and aspiring singer), Vicky Parker (How to Marry a Millionaire‘s Marilyn Monroe). And when Vicky’s career begins to take off, and she brings Tim and Katie along to be part of her new Broadway revue, it spells the beginning of the end of the Five Donahues as a performing act. Throw in Tim’s suspicion that Vicky is having an affair with her manager, and the family is set on a path towards disaster.

I love Donald O’Connor. I doubt that’s a controversial statement. He’s clearly the best part of Singing in the Rain. The title track of that film is great, but “Make ‘Em Laugh” is the best number of that whole film. And he does not disappoint in There’s No Business Like Show Business. The man can dance and he can sing, and he delivers a snappy one-liner with the best of them, and it’s always puzzled me that he wasn’t a bigger star (though I get it. He didn’t have leading man looks). Although I suspect the film would have been enjoyable without him, I also know for a fact that I wouldn’t have liked There’s No Business Like Show Business nearly as much without O’Connor’s presence. There’s a number after Tim kisses Vicky for the first time that has quickly become one of my favorite set pieces from a classic musical.

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Marilyn Monroe on the other hand… she really isn’t a great actress, but unlike How to Marry a Millionaire, this film shows off an area where Monroe is actually startlingly talented: burlesque-adjacent numbers. Whenever Monroe has to deliver actual dialogue, she’s more stiff and unnatural on screen than even the non-professional cast of Steven Soderbergh’s disastrous Bubble. But, when she’s performing her musical numbers in the film, which give her a chance to show off her sultry and simmering sexuality, it’s like watching an entirely different performer. The only other actresses from that era who seem to be as aware and in control of their sexuality were Liz Taylor and Lauren Bacall. And, Monroe’s confidence and presence sell every second of her musical numbers. For an actress that we’ve come to know (from historical records) as suffering from crippling self-esteem issues, it is surprising how well she carries herself in the film’s sizzling musical numbers from Miss Monroe.

And the rest of the cast is full of established musical talent. Ethel Merman is a Broadway legend, and although her performance is about as campy as they get, it fits the silly and fun mood of this film far better than a more serious take would have. Dan Dailey was appropriately lecherous but loveable as the beleaguered family patriarch although it was probably in the film’s best interest that he was involved in as few of the musical numbers as he was. Johnnie Ray shone during what little screen time he had, at least from a singing perspective (his acting wasn’t phenomenal), and I more or less immediately fell in love with the beautiful Mitzi Gaynor who played the sister. Looking at her IMDB page, she appears to have mostly done musicals and never had much of a career which is a shame because she was both gorgeous and talented.

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The costume work and set design and general composition of this film is a glorious exercise in excess. Early in the film, the Donahue’s perform a deliciously over-the-top take on the old Irving Berlin standard “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” that is far more complex and expensive than they should be able to afford, but I loved every second of its multi-national ridiculousness. And, as mentioned earlier, there’s a glorious performance of “A Man Chases a Girl (Until She Catches Him)” performed with fountains and back-up dancers disguised as statues from Donald O’Connor. That was the moment when I surrendered myself to the silly fun of There’s No Business Like Show Business. As someone who’s danced down the streets of Brooklyn after a wonderful evening with a girl, it spoke to me.

There’s No Business Like Show Business isn’t ever going to stand in the pantheon of great movie musicals, and the performance of “Heat Wave,” which featured what I’ll refer to as blackface-adjacent backup dancers, was a little offensive, but like Babes in Arms before it, there’s something just undeniably fun about this film despite (actually probably because of) its ridiculous nature. The songs are great, and not even the sight of Ethel Merman with absurd mutton-chop sideburns during “A Sailor’s Not a Sailor (Until a Sailor’s Been Tattooed” should deter you from watching this film if you have a soft spot in your heart for old musicals. If you aren’t a fan of musicals, I can’t imagine that There’s No Business Like Show Business will convert you, but for those in the fold, it’s worth the two hours of your time.

Final Score: B

 

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Occasionally, I will watch a large-budget, Hollywood blockbuster that is such an unmitigated failure that I have to wonder how anyone, anywhere possibly thought this was a good idea. These are films that are an appalling mish-mash of over-acting, over-directing, absurd bombast, and melodramatic emoting. And it’s been a long time since I’ve watched a major Hollywood feature (let alone a Best Picture nominee) that was as much of a train-wreck as 2012’s film adaptation of the longest running stage musical of all time, Les Miserables. With a few shining rays of competence to make it even passably bearable, Les Miserables can be politely termed “catastrophic.”

Director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) should have his Best Director Academy Award retroactively revoked for this pompous, unfocused, absurd drivel. Not that he should have won in 2010 (that was clearly either Darren Aranofsky or David Fincher‘s year), but his Les Miserables is such an excruciatingly unwatchable mess that one has to wonder if this was even the same man. In fact, were it not for Tom Hooper’s love of the close-up (which he abuses beyond belief in this film, but more on that shortly), I would find it impossible to believe it was the same man. As a life-long lover of musical theater, Les Miserables was one of the most painful cinematic experiences of my adult life.

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For those unfamiliar with the Broadway musical or Victor Hugo’s excellent source novel, the plot of Les Miserables is almost like something out of Shakespeare (except where characters are even more unbearably archetypal). After serving a 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving son, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from prison but his status as an ex-con makes him unemployable in Revolutionary France. After stealing silver from a church, the bishop (the original West End Jean Valjean) refuses to press charges against Jean Valjean and gives him the silver with the charge to turn his life around. And though Valjean keeps his word, that freedom comes with a price.

Jean Valjean breaks his parole and opens a factory though he spends the next eight years on the run from honorable but imperious Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe). After one of Valjean’s workers, the beautiful Fantine (Rachel Getting Married‘s Anne Hathaway), is fired by the foreman for having a child she’s kept secret, Fantine is forced into prostitution and destitution and it is only Valjean’s generosity that keeps her child from starving and dying alone. However, by showing Fantine kindness, Valjean awakens the suspicions of Inspector Javert and though Valjean plans on given Fantine’s daughter Corsette (played as a grown-up by Amanda Seyfried) a better life, he must do it knowing that Javert will hunt him for the rest of his life as the backdrop of the French Revolution takes hold.

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I’ll at least by kind enough to this disastrous film to assure you that there are, in fact, occasional bright spots to this otherwise unending torture. Anne Hathaway is only on screen for about 15 minutes, but her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” works very well even though her voice isn’t powerful enough for that iconic number. On one of the few occasions that the film’s over-use of close-ups works for its intended purposes, the song lets Hathaway show off some really impressive facial expressions and she nails the emotional subtext of the number. While I still think Sally Field did a better job in Lincoln, I can at least see why the Academy decided to give the award to Hathaway.

Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo) and Helena Bonham Carter (Conversations With Other Women) brought some much needed levity to the film as the two inkeepers who “care” for Corsette and the performance of “Master of the House” was one of my two favorite numbers from the film (of only about three that I even enjoyed). However, the truest joy of the film was Samantha Barks turn as Eponine. It was one of the only unadulterated delights of the picture. Maybe because Eponine is the most compelling character in the musical, “On My Own” is the best song, and Samantha Barks played her in the West End production, but every too short moment that Eponine on the screen reminded me why I loved musicals and why Les Miserables failed to meet the standards of say Chicago or Sweeney Todd.

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But for those small blessings, you had to suffer through three hours of ineptitude. Even an established Broadway star like Hugh Jackman (who won a Tony for his fierce portrayal of Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz) was excruciatingly miscast as Jean Valjean. Jackman’s voice is simply too nasal for the part and it made him sound sharp on all of Jean Valjean’s high notes. Russell Crowe can not sing. That is just a scientific fact, and to quote a friend, “I think it was his singing that caused the French revolution.” Rex Harrison made it work as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady even though he couldn’t sing. Not even the kindest critique could say the same thing about Russell Crowe.

And, to watch Tom Hooper reduce one of the most beloved Broadway musicals of all time to essentially a three hour long music video was so frustrating. I say that because of the hectic, spastic directing and editing (not just because there is no spoken dialogue in the film. It’s all sung) which is frenetic without being meaningful. The only times Hooper lets the camera stay still for more than a couple seconds is during some of the more emotional musical numbers which are done in long takes, but he so overdoes the long close-up that it just becomes as gimmicky as the rest of the visual aesthetic of the film.

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Understanding that Les Miserables is a brutal and dark tale of fatalism, eternal suffering, tuberculosis, poverty, and the price of redemption, I know that Les Miserables will not be as fun or campy as most of the musicals I actually enjoy. But, the film never earns the emotional core it so desperately seeks and becomes a soulless shell of the epic tale it wishes to present. It also doesn’t help that the narrative structure of having everyone sing all of the lines adds a certain amount of “narm” to the proceedings. Because people singing about poverty and love and the French Revolution is impossible to always take seriously (especially when paired with Hooper’s catastrophic directing).

I don’t know who I can tell to watch this movie. If you’re a fan of the stage show, maybe you’ll like it. I have to question your sanity, but maybe you’d enjoy it. I disliked this movie so much that I almost have trouble believing I could even enjoy a full Broadway production of Les Miserables, and as I’ve said, I’m a lifelong fan of live musical theatre. What I will ultimately remember about Les Miserables is that it may come to define to me a film that is simply an avalanche of bad decisions and incompetence all rolled into one massive blockbuster clufsterf***. Leave this alone and just rewatch Chicago for the millionth time instead.

Final Score: C-

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Over a year and a half ago, when Hot Saas’s  Pop Culture Safari was still in its infancy, I reviewed the classic Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical comedy Swing Time. I loved the movie and it was this close to being an almost perfect classic musical when a last minute black face number in the film nearly derailed the whole production. I understood that minstrel shows were an acceptable part of that era’s entertainment but that didn’t make it any less uncomfortable for this modern, ultra-liberal viewer. My first Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland film for the blog, 1939’s Babes in Arms was proving to be an enjoyable (although not nearly as great as Swing Time) children’s musical when another climactic, ridiculously lavish black face number reared its ugly head to remind me yet again of our nation’s virulent racist past.

When his down-on-his luck parents decide to take their once popular vaudeville show on the road in a hope to reclaim their glory days, Michael Z. Moran (Mickey Rooney) and his fellow stage children friends are left behind. With the help of his best friend Patsy (The Wizard of Oz‘s Judy Garland), Michael enlists the other kids to put on a lavish vaudeville revue to make it big time to prove that they’re just as talented as their washed up parents. With the threat of being taken away by the state hanging over their heads, Michael and Patsy have to raise the money to put on their show. Patsy is supposed to play the lead and Mickey wrote the songs just for her, but when former child-star Rosalie Essex (June Preisser) offers to pay the show’s expenses as long as she can play the show’s lead, Mickey has to choose between his feelings for Patsy and his desire to finally make it big.

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Mickey Rooney received an Academy Award nomination for this film and as weird as this may sound, I totally get it. When I first started watching the film, I thought he was around his character’s age (early teens), but nope. Mickey Rooney was 19 when he made this film. I was incredibly impressed when I thought he was 13 or 14. Still, even at 19, he already had the timing and comedic chops of a seasoned veteran and Rooney was easily the best part of the whole film. His presence controlled every scene and it’s easy to see why he was one of Hollywood’s biggest child stars of the era. His impressions were spot-on and hilarious. He had the manic but controlled energy of a pro like Donald O’Connor. In terms of how comedy worked back in the 1930s, he was as good as much of the established talent of the time.

Judy Garland on the other hand wasn’t as impressive. I can’t entirely blame her though. Her singing voice was as beautiful as ever and she had the girl-next-door appeal that made her such a beloved star. And it’s 1939. It’s the same year as The Wizard of Oz. She’s at the peak of her career. But, it was also terribly clear the entire film that she was stoned out of her gourd. The studio was feeding both her and Mickey Rooney amphetamines and barbiturates like candy to keep them going during their endless film production schedule, and it seems like Rooney got all of the amphetamines and Garland got all of the barbiturates. She just seemed dazed and completely out of it for the entire film. Perhaps, I’m reading something into her performance that isn’t actually there, but that was simply the impression I got the entire time.

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The musical numbers fluctuated between lovely and utterly forgettable. “Good Morning, Good Morning” would be performed to greater effect by Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain but it made a great premier as one of the opening numbers of Babes in Arms. One can’t blame Garland’s lovely contralto. Rodgers and Hammerstein numbers almost always seem cookie-cutter to me (yes, I know that’s heresy to classic musical fans. I’m not a fan of that pairing though). But, there was something wonderful in the choreography and the spectacle of a film that was being performed by an almost all-child cast (even if the two leads were actually adults playing much, much younger than their characters). The film often managed to achieve an epic feel that made the material transcend into the charming side of “camp” that captures something innocent and hopeful about the era it was made (at the tail-end of the Great Depression).

Which makes the terribly racist, overly long blackface number at the end so incredibly uncomfortable. I had to get my computer out and look at Facebook and Twitter as that number ran on and on and on. I didn’t think it was ever going to end. But, much like Swing Time, if you can get past that awful relic of our nation’s vaudeville past, the film is ultimately enjoyable. The racism is a huge mark against it, but much like Gone With the Wind or the Tom Sawyer, it’s something you have to get past in order to understand our nation’s past historic outputs. It’s not pretty but it’s there and we can’t pretend like it never happened. So, if you enjoy these old school musicals, I wouldn’t rank Babes in Arms among the all time greats, but if you’re looking for something to pass the time, Mickey Rooney’s star turn is enough to justify a viewing.

Final Score: B

2009’s (500) Days of Summer remains one of my favorite indie romances of the aughts. I’ve always thought of it as the modern update to Annie Hall (although obviously not quite as good). I watch it at least once a year. I actually watched it with my ex-girlfriend (well, she wasn’t my real girlfriend cause we were never official) and it proved to be an eerie presage to the fate of our relationship (i.e. I was far more involved with it than she was and she never really wanted to date but I did and shortly after we broke up she finally found a boyfriend). I bring up (500) Days of Summer because before this year, it was the sole feature film of director Marc Webb (besides a documentary about My Chemical Romance). He seems like an odd choice to helm the reboot of one of the most successful film franchises of all time, the Spider-Man series. He has one other movie under his belt, and it was an indie romance. Whoever made the gamble on his vision over at Columbia Pictures deserves a promotion then because Marc Webb defied my expectations over what I thought was an unnecessary film. Considering that the original Spider-Man movie is only ten years old, re-telling Peter Parker’s origin story doesn’t really seem all that necessary. However, Marc Webb did such a deft job of re-introducing us to the character (and adding his and Harry Potter screenwriter Steve Kloves’ own spin on the story which hews closer to the comics origin because of the Lizard and Gwen Stacy). For all superhero fans, The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the must see films of the summer.

Peter Parker’s origins are obviously well known at this point, but like I said, The Amazing Spider-Man takes a different (read: better) tack on it than the original Spider-Man. Peter Parker (The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield) is a young, dorky high school student that loves to take pictures and like his (disappeared) parents, he’s a natural science whiz. Ever since his geneticist father and mother disappeared when he was a kid, Peter has lived with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and his Aunt Mae (Sally Field). He’s got a crush on the feisty and gorgeous Gwen Stacy (The Help‘s Emma Stone) who has a job as an intern at the pharmaceutical conglomerate Oscorp where she works for the disfigured (i.e. he’s missing an arm) scientist Curt Connors (Notting Hill‘s Rhys Ifans). One day, Peter visits the Oscorp labs to meet Curt Connors, who knew Peter’s father, when he’s bitten by a radioactive spider that was a part of an experiment Peter’s father was doing on cross-species genetics. The bite radically alters Peter Parker’s DNA and gives him the abilities of a spider including super strength, adhesive hands and feet, and super reflexes (however, true to the comics, he has to make his web himself). After Uncle Ben is murdered because Peter didn’t use his powers to stop a convenience store robbery, Peter vows to use his newfound powers for good and becomes the Spider-Man, fighting crime across New York City (even if it means garnering the ire of his new girlfriend Gwen’s father, a police captain [Dennis Leary]). He has to fight more than just common street thugs though when Curt Connors injects himself with a formula he thinks will help him regenerate his arm but instead transforms him into the murderous Lizard.

After my nearly 2000 word rant about Magic Mike, I’ll try to keep this review brief. Andrew Garfield is a star. I thought he gave a wonderful performance in The Social Network (I was honestly just as impressed with him as I was Jesse Eisenberg), and he keeps up that momentum in The Amazing Spider-Man. What’s always made Spidey such a compelling super hero is that Peter Parker is as important (if not more important) to the storytelling as his masked alter-ego. It’s all about growing-up and using what gifts you were given even if the costs are high. I loved Tobey Maguire as Spidey last time around but he never really nailed the sarcasm and sense of humor that is key to the Spidey persona. Not only does Andrew Garfield nab all of the pubescent angst and growing up themes (even if he’s 28 in real life and looks in no way shape or form like a high school student), he’s able to bring a cockiness and wit to the part that Tobey couldn’t. Give it a year or so, and Andrew Garfield will be one of the biggest young stars in the biz. Emma Stone is good as well even if she isn’t really stretching herself as the thinking man’s love interest that she’s played for half a decade now. It was weird seeing Rhys Ifans (who bears a freakish resemblance to Buffy‘s Anthony Stewart Head these days) in an action film since I will eternally think of him as the weird roommate in Notting Hill. Special props must also be given to Martin Sheen who lent more weight to the pivotal role of Uncle Ben than was given in the other films.

The script takes its time spelling out Spider-Man’s origin story and I applaud the decision to do so. It allows the characters to breathe, and The Amazing Spider-Man is as much a romantic comedy as it is a special-effects ridden action movie. We actually find ourselves invested in the romance of Gwen and Peter (as opposed to how little I cared about Peter’s yearnings for Mary Jane [though I can at least blame part of that on Kirsten Dunst’s horrid acting] in the original trilogy), and it was one of the most enjoyable love stories of the last year. Garfield and Stone had fantastic on-screen chemistry. Similarly, Uncle Ben had a very prominent place in the film which meant his death actually registered an emotional impact and there’s a scene towards the end of the film where Peter listens to the last voice mail that Uncle Ben ever gave him (which he had initially ignored) that nearly made me cry. However, the script does have one major misstep. The Lizard is an awful villain. Whereas the first two-thirds of the film are genuinely compelling material as we get a darker look at Peter’s origins (as well as his motivations to be a hero and some interesting questions about whether his vigilantism is even “right”), the film’s final act falls apart because The Lizard is just not interesting. It’s not Rhys Ifans’ fault and he’s good as the scenes where he’s Curt Connor. However, unlike Doc Ock (Spider-Man 2 is still my favorite entry in the franchise and one of my favorite superhero films ever), the characters motivations and goals just aren’t compelling.

I’m going to draw this to a close because 3000 words in one day is enough (and now I can finally watch the movies I have at home from Netflix since I’m caught up with what I lost out on due to the power outage) especially considering I still have to do my Song of the Day post and I’ve been replaying Chrono Trigger. Some final thoughts. Much like (500) Days of Summer, this film has an awesome soundtrack and I kind of want to buy it. Andrew Garfield would make an excellent Yorick if they ever decide to adapt Y: The Last Man into a TV series or into a movie series (they can’t just do one movie. I’d kill somebody). There’s no way that Gwen Stacy survives the next movie (especially if Norman Osborn finally shows up as the bad guy). Also, now I don’t have to go see another movie in the theaters until the 20th when The Dark Knight Rises finally comes out. Even more than The Avengers, that’s the movie of the summer of 2012 that I want to see, and I’m really ready to see how Christopher Nolan brings his Dark Knight trilogy to a close.

Final Score: B+

And it is done. I almost want this to be the way that Glee ends. It will be far from perfect, and it will leave about a million hanging loose ends, but I almost want to rob the show’s creators, writers, and showrunners the opportunity to screw this show up. Glee redeemed itself over these last three episodes, and I want it to stay that way. As a program, Glee manages to simultaneously do a ton of things right, and as any fan can tell you, it also manages to fuck a million different things up. And Tuesday night’s finale which saw the high school graduation of half of the cast did more good than bad (which is really all you can ask for from Glee) and it had the feel almost of a series finale. Considering some of the final act twists (which exist almost solely to set up drama for next season), I’d love to know more about what’s going to happen to Kurt and Finn now that they have found out they won’t be going to NYC (this is what happens when you don’t have back-up plans), but I just honestly don’t trust this show’s ability to be worth a damn next season when it’s missing most of its cast. I just don’t see how this isn’t going to be an epic disaster. Just like with the impending return of True Blood (whose fourth season was truly awful), I’ll be back for my licks when Glee finally returns, but it will be with seriously tampered expectations and the obvious truth that the show won’t be the same (and I can’t see how it will be any better).

It’s graduation time at McKinley High which meant it was time to prepare for an hour straight of me crying either softly or intensely. In true Glee fashion, Mr. Schue gives the club one last assignment for the year which is to say goodbye via song to everyone else in the group, and he starts it off with a really touching performance of “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart (but more on the performances in their section). The rest of the episode is given to saying one last goodbye to our various seniors. Kurt gets a surprise visit from his father as the duo share one last touching moment together and Burt does a hilarious rendition of “All the Single Ladies” as Kurt’s last graduation gift. We learn that Mercedes has a recording contract to be a back-up singer on an indie label in L.A. Mike got a scholarship to be part of a prestigious dance academy (I think. I got a little lost there). We finally meet Santana’s mother (played by Gloria Estaban) who is actually supportive of Santana’s bisexuality and we discover that Brittany won’t be graduating (because she had a 0.0 GPA). Quinn kisses Puck one last time to give him the confidence to study for his Geography final which he passes which means he’ll be able to graduate as well. Kurt, Finn, and Rachel make an ill-advised pact to open their college acceptance letters together. When they do, we find out to no one’s surprise that Finn didn’t get into the Actor’s Studio. However, the twist is that Kurt didn’t get into NYADA either. Rachel however did get in. So, graduation happens. Rachel decides she wants to stay in NY and defer her admission to NYADA to try and help out Kurt and Finn. Just when Rachel thinks she’s on the way to the chapel to finally marry Finn, we get the final twist of the episode. Finn  is joining the military and is breaking up with Rachel to force her to leave Lima and pursue her dreams in NY. Damn things got dark out of nowhere.

Well, this was an episode of Glee so let’s look at the songs. Although my dad and sister weren’t crazy about it, I thought Mr. Schue’s rendition of Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young” was really touching. It also didn’t sound like your typical Matthew Morrison number, and I really enjoyed it. We’ve had a lot less of him singing this season which is a shame. Chris Colfer did a lovely version of “I’ll Remember” by Madonna even if I wasn’t all that familiar with the original song. His voice has really taken shape and matured over the course of the series but I’ll reserve my thoughts on how I think they’ll incorporate him into the series next season for my next paragraph. I really liked the version that the New Direction seniors did of “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals (which was entirely coincidentally my Song of the Day earlier this week). Finn’s voice has also gotten infinitely better since the series began. It’s almost shocking just how better he’s sounded the last half of this season than he’s ever sounded before. The New Directions underclassmen took on The Beatles “In My Life.” I wasn’t as crazy about it as my dad was especially since their arrangement of the song was almost unrecognizable as being the Beatles to me. I thought Mark Salling and Corey Monteith did a pretty respectable job with the Bruce Springsteen classic, “Glory Days,” though it seems like a really weird song to be playing at their high school graduation ceremony (unless the show was trying to be very subtly ironic) since it’s basically a song about a group of pathetic people whose current lives are totally miserable and have to relive their glory days in high school. I had never heard the song that Lea Michele sang in the finale before, “Roots before Branches” by Room for Two but in true Rachel fashion, she sang the hell out of it and I was crying the entire time.

I spent about 6 hours today writing one article for work, an interview with Canadian alt-rock band Our Lady Peace that became a 2800 word monstrosity, so I almost don’t have it in me to give this final Glee review of the season the treatment it deserves. Here’s some quick observations though. The scene where Mike O’Malley did the “Single Ladies” dance for Kurt was one of the most hilarious/touching things I’ve seen in the entirety of the show and whoever had that idea deserves a raise. It was comedy gold. While I would have been pissed if Puck hadn’t graduated, having Brittany not graduate actually makes a lot of sense. That girl is borderline retarded, and while it’s sort of silly to have her back in the New Directions next year, I’ll definitely be glad to have Heather Morris around some more. The show kind of just shoehorned in the reveals about Mike and Mercedes but because we are most definitely not seeing them again next season (unless they return for Will and Emma’s nuptials), the show didn’t really have a ton of time to draw those stories out. I would have loved an update about Karofsky in this episode (even just a sighting of him at graduation would have been nice) but alas, I’m coming to the conclusion that we’ve seen the last of Max Adler. I get why Finn didn’t get into the Actor’s Studio. I don’t think that was ever actually a possibility (and would have thrown away any shreds of reality that this show has since he never even did any acting on the show) but this whole subplot about him joining the military seemed to come out of nowhere and I have a problem with it. Also, Kurt not getting into NYADA was something I predicted going into the episode, and I really don’t know how they’re going to handle him on the show now. I hope he still finds some way to NYC because I don’t want to see his wonderful character stuck in Lima, Ohio for another year. Kurt is my favorite character on the show and I hated to see his dreams shattered like that even if it made for good drama. However, I am now thoroughly convinced that Jesse St. James will be joining Rachel Berry as a freshman at NYADA (even though he’s three years older than her).

Like I said, I just don’t have the energy to write another 800 words about this episode. It was a good finale. It wisely avoiding being too “loud” and screaming for attention the way that Glee usually does. I would never call it subtle. Rachel walking down the streets of NYC in a garish red dress and pillbox hat like she’s Mary Tyler Moore is the theatrics this show lives and breathes on, but with the exception of the last minute twists about the college acceptances, I don’t think this episode felt like it was trying too hard. It was an honest and natural way to bring an end to the stories (and to create new beginnings) of characters I’ve really grown to love over the last three years. I’ll be back in the fall with bated breath to find out how things are going for Rachel in New York, to see if Finn really joined the military, and to find out what exactly is going to happen with Kurt, but I’ll come back knowing that this is an all new beast of Glee and that I have to prepare for a vastly different show than the one I’ve loved for so long. Maybe, change is what the show needs though to get out of the creative rut it suffers from every now and then. Only time will tell.

Final Score: B+

Season Score: B

I wanted to put this post up last night immediately after I finished watching the epic two-part episode leading into next week’s season finale (and the last time we’ll be seeing some of our favorite residents of McKinley High), but I wisely chose to wait 24 hours because I was far too emotional to write about Glee in any sort of objective form. I’m an unashamed “Gleek” (well for the most part). However, I’m also a vocal critic of the series when I think it’s making missteps. I’m the first person to call it out for god-awful stories like: Puck & Shelby, Quinn trying to take Beth, Sue trying to have a baby, etc. I’ve also been vocal when I thought an episode was just really subpar or lazy (“Mash-off,” “The Spanish Teacher,” “New York” [last season]). Still, despite the fact that Glee is most likely a deeply, structurally flawed program, its highs are so much fun and its most memorable dramatic stories are so real and heartbreaking that I keep coming back week after week. Last night’s two episodes were the highs that Glee is truly capable of, and if you were to score television by how deeply, emotionally touched something left me, “Props” & “Nationals” were smash successes.

There were two episodes last night so each one will get its own paragraph (god help my soul if they both require two). In “Props,” it’s crunch time for Nationals and Mr. Schu tasks Rachel with getting prepared for her solo (even though she’s finally beginning to process how much she’s screwed things up with NYADA and she’s semi-stalking Carmen Thibodeau) when Tina finally speaks up for the first time since “Asian F.” She wants the chance to shine (or even be noticed) and honestly, the girl sort of has a point. It’s just the worst possible time to bring it up. As she’s moping about the way the New Directions ignore her, she hits her head at the mall and has a body-swap fantasy (way, way cooler than it sounds) where she becomes Rachel and everyone else in the ND’s becomes somebody else. She finally has her moment in the sun (and gives a lovely version of a Celine Dion song) and she shares a nice moment with Rachel-as-Tina where R/T gives T/R advice on how to go after her NYADA dreams. Tina wakes up from her fantasy and she and Rachel go off and confront Carmen Thibodeau and potentially convince her to come see Rachel’s performance at Nationals (since she’ll conveniently already be in Chicago). There’s also a story about Puck and Bieste where Puck pulls a (fake) knife on a kid in a fight because he’s acting out about the fact that he’s failing out of school. He and Bieste share a touching (read: I was crying) moment together which convinces Bieste to finally leave Cooter. She also talks to Puck’s geography teacher and gives him one more chance to pass and graduate. It’s time for Nationals!

Things start getting out of hand at Nationals in true New Directions fashion almost immediately. Mercedes either had food poisoning or swine flu. The boys are fighting because Puck is spending more time studying for his geography final than practicing his choreography. Unique has become a nearly national show choir sensation which is putting the fear in the NDs. Will is suffering a crisis of confidence. Still, Mercedes pulls throw (thanks to a most likely highly dangerous cure from Sue) and the Nationals perform an absolutely stunning set (even including one with the Troubletones [where do they hide those girls during regular rehearsals?]) and Carmen Thibodeau arrives during the middle of Rachel’s gorgeous performance of a Celine Dion track and cheers with the rest of the crowd after their third and final song is finished. Vocal Adrenaline also puts on a fun show (but I’ll critique the performances more in-depth later), and before the winner is announced, Jesse St. James does a genuinely unselfish thing and tells Carmen that he thinks Rachel is the most talented performer he’s ever met (and she remembers him auditioning for NYADA the previous year). The New Directions win Nationals (I’ll have more on why I’m okay with it being semi-predictable)! And they return to school hailed as champs and actually appreciated for the first time ever. Will and Emma have sex for the first time! Mr. Schu is named the teacher of the year and honored by his kids in another of many tear-jerking moments. Now, the only thing left is graduation.

Once again, two episodes so a paragraph for each one’s performances. Lea Michele started the evening off with Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” It worked thematically with the scene and Lea Michele is the best vocalist on the show, but the song is dull and I wasn’t feeling it. Jenna Ushkowitz gave her best performance of the entire series (not that she has a lot of choices) with Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me.” My jaw dropped because I did not think she could sing that well. Lea Michele would have sang it better, but Jenna Ushkowitz more than did it justice and it helps allay my concern that there won’t be any top-tier female vocalists for the New Directions next season. I hate Taylor Swift but I would be lying if I said that Dot Marie Jones and Mark Salling’s rendition of “Mean” didn’t have me slightly in tears. It wasn’t a great vocal performance (from either of them) but it was incredibly emotional, and I’ll take it. Lea Michele and Jenna Ushkowitz closed out the first episode with a duet of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance… What a Feeling” (from Flashdance…), and it was very old school Glee fun. Their choreography was fun and their voices harmonized very well. Also, I loved Rachel’s outfit. I can’t gush about it without sounding very effete so I’ll just say it was great.

The show-stopping performances were all in the second episode however and unlike last year’s Nationals, this was not a disappointment. The Troubletones started things off with Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.” I’m probably a closet Little Monster (I love me some Gaga), but I wasn’t crazy about Born This Way (“Judas” was the only really great Gaga track in my opinion). Anyways, I don’t really love the song but Naya Rivera and Amber Riley definitely sang it really well. It wasn’t bad but it was the least memorable part of an otherwise phenomenal set. Lea Michele just hit a grand slam home run with Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” I mean. Wow. She can freaking sing. Her sheer talent has always been what makes Rachel lovable even in her least lovable moments (which are admittedly all the damn time). So that was just wonderful. However, I was not prepared for how energetic and well-sung “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” was going to be. Every member of the group had a moment to shine (which didn’t turn out to be a clusterfuck like it often does) and Finn does a really good Meatloaf. Obviously, Lea Michele was more than ready to handle the lead female vocal parts, but that song might be my current favorite competition performance of the NDs (and maybe every act). I hate the song “Starship” by Nicki Minaj, but there’s no denying that Alex Newell can give Amber Riley a run for her money in the vocals department. Sista can sing! I love “Pinball Wizard” by the Who which Vocal Adrenaline also did but I really didn’t like the very karoake feel of their arrangement for the song and the actual pinball machines were a bit much. For once, I honestly believed the New Directions gave the best final performance of a season. The NDs sang the song “Tongue Tied” over a very emotional montage where I was crying but I honestly can’t really judge it because I was too busy crying and watching these wonderful moments on screen. They also closed out the episode with Queen’s “We Are the Champions” which is a super obvious choice, but it too had that old school Glee feel and I was crying yet again. So, bravo Glee.

This review is going to be hella long. Like, Game of Thrones: Season 2 long. You’ve been warned. I want to actually talk in-depth about both episodes since each one was really good (though obviously “Nationals” was a little bit better). So, let’s start with “Props.” Jenna Ushkowitz gets almost no screen time on this show. I’ve probably complained on here about how useless she is. The show has found almost nothing worthwhile to do with her for three seasons. Ever since we found out she was faking her stutter, she’s basically either been arm-candy for a better developed male character (Artie, Mike) or she’s just been in the background of performances (or she’s been crying hysterically). If she’s going to be the new Queen Bee of the New Directions next year, the group might actually be in good hands (plus, they’ll still have Blaine. Those two need to sing a duet stat!). Also, Mark Salling had his best acted scene of the entire series as he finally breaks down in front of Bieste. And then Dot Marie Jones matches him in the emotional department and then some. Tears were flowing epically. Also, the scene where Cooter was yelling at Bieste and we see her holding a knife like she’s going to stab him and then dropping it in the sink was powerful, chilling stuff. Then, we find out she’s been sleeping with a knife under her pillow. I’m not sure it was appropriate to have all this in an episode which featured the characters body-swapping for humor purposes (which I could have used so much more of. Their impersonations of each other were pretty much amazing), but man, the moments taken in just their own context were haunting stuff. Dot Marie Jones is a real champ in this cast of champs.

As for Nationals, the fact that I was crying nearly the entire episode (lord knows I’ll be a total mess next week when they finally graduate. My dad, my sister and I will be crying like babies in unison lol) should say plenty about how well done I thought it was. There was almost no doubt in my mind that this was going to be the season that the New Directions finally won at Nationals. I didn’t question it for a minute. But, damn it, after three seasons of cheering this rag-tag group of misfits on, I’d say the audience deserves a moment like this. Friday Night Lights is one of the most critically acclaimed (and criminally underviewed) programs of the last ten years, and no one complained when they won their State Championships in the very first season. So, people who thinks its terribly predictable that the New Directions won don’t understand that unless we’re talking David Simon, a show can have a happy ending every now and then and be alright. These are the same kinds of people who thought that Harry should have died at the end of the Harry Potter franchise and had no idea what a “coming-of-age” story is traditionally about. My only complaint about the episode was the very half-hearted way it suddenly handled Emma and Will having sex. That should have been a major, major moment on the show, and it was used in a throw-away moment in this episode. Other than that, it was one of hte best episodes of the series.

Okay, I’m reaching my 2000 word self-imposed limit, so it’s time to draw this to a close. This two-parter (and I’m hoping I feel the same way about next week’s graduation episode) validated all of the time and emotional energy I’ve invested into this show (let alone the hours I’ve spent blogging about it). I feel like I know this group of kids better than I knew most of the kids I actually went to high school with (and since I was the Senior Class President that’s probably a problem). They’ve become a part of my daily routine and I invest way too much emotional attachment in fictional characters. It’s the reason why television is such a beloved medium to me. It allows me to spend more time with a group of people than any form except for a dozens of hours long JRPG (and most of the time in the latter is spent on character development). So, it’s going to be really emotional to see all of these kids go, and I now know that Glee is going to give these people the send-off that they deserve.

Final Score: “Props” – A-
“Nationals” – A

I’m already ready for this season of Glee to be done. That’s not a good sign. There are three episodes left of the season. I imagine two of them will have to be pretty epic and will perhaps ease this feeling of Glee exhaustion that I’m suffering from. Graduation and Nationals are rightly going to be two different episodes and the odds that I’m going to cry profusely during their graduation is pretty much 100%. Still, there’s one episode in between now and then, and considering it took me an entire week to work up the energy to sit down and watch Glee and then commit the required time to also review it, I’m just burnt out on this season and honestly the entire show. This week’s episode wasn’t bad. It had its share of strong moments, but it was just also exceptionally mediocre ad felt like filler (just like last year’s prom). Shows like Glee remind me why I really enjoy the 13 episode season structure of cable shows because their truncated running time means there is little opportunity for the show to get lazy and rest on filler (The Walking Dead season 2 an obvious and sad exception). Lost (and maybe Alias) is one of the only network dramas I can think of that could really maintain truly strong storytelling over the course of an entire 22 episode season (and even it eventually drastically lowered the episode count).

If you couldn’t tell from my opening paragraph, it’s time for the senior prom at McKinley High (or the junior prom if you’re Artie, Blaine, and Tina). Becky wants to be Prom Queen, but she isn’t even nominated (losing out to some random girl, Quinn, and Santana) and Finn, the hockey player, and Brittany (smh) get the nomination for Prom King. Brittany decides to make the theme dinosaurs cause she’s Brittany. Rachel is feeling angsty about choking at her NYADA audition last week and crazy Rachel is coming out because Finn is helping Quinn campaign for Prom Queen. She throws a pity party (and enlists Blaine, Kurt, Puck, and Becky to her cause) and decides to create the anti-Prom and throw it a hotel room. Quinn is able to walk again (barely) and wants to unveil her new walking at Prom when she’s pronounced queen. At the anti-prom, Rachel and everyone else realizes how petty they’re being and decide to go to their last dance as high-schoolers. Rachel apologizes to Quinn for being so crazy which makes Quinn feel guilty about being her usual Queen Bee bitch self and when Quinn wins prom queen, she and Santana decide to make Rachel the queen instead (they were counting the votes) with Finn who won an actual popular vote. Puck also goes to prom with Becky and names her the queen of the anti-prom in an honestly touching moment.

Let’s look at the songs which were a serious, serious mixed bag. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed Rachel, Kurt, and Blaine taking on Fergie’s “Boys Don’t Cry.” No one can ever say that Lea Michele doesn’t have a serious set of pipes and the harmonies with Blaine and Kurt were wonderful as well. Heather Morris’ dancing for Ke$ha’s “Dinosaur” was cool but the song is awful and she sounded like the most autotuned human being on the history of the planet on the song. Santana, Tina, and Mercedes took on the Selena Gomez (why?) song “Love You Like a Love Song,” and although Naya Rivera sounded fine, it didn’t stop the song from being any less terrible. Most of the guys in New Directions took on the One Direction (once again, WHY?) smash hit “What Makes You Beautiful.” And once again, they sounded good, but it’s a fucking terrible tofu-pop song but Chord Overstreet could definitely make a great addition to any boy band. Dianna Agron and Naya Rivera took on the Berlin (band not the city) classic “Take My Breath Away” and did a really wonderful and gorgeous rendition of one of my favorite ballads of the 1980s.

Do you want to know what my biggest complaint about this episode is (besides the fact that a lot of it just felt like fluff and forced drama)? It’s been my biggest problem since the show came back from it’s midseason finale. After introducing major and shocking twists like Karofsky trying to kill himself and Bieste being abused by Cooter, we don’t hear another god damn thing about them ever again. I don’t remember what episode “On My Way” was, but it’s been way too long for us to hear absolutely nothing about Karofsky’s suicide attempt and how he’s coping with his life in the interim. And Bieste is a fairly important side character on the show. She has been ever since she was introduced last season to replace the one-dimensional Ken Tanaka. To have this whole story where she’s beaten by her husband and then goes back to home in a moment of pure weakness and then ignore it the next week just seems so insulting to all of the women out there who have gone through that sort of tragedy. Glee has absolutely no damn attention span and it really bothers me. However, one of the songs for next weak is called “Mean” and Bieste is singing it so maybe we’ll actually hear more about this story.

I just don’t have the energy to write more about the episode. Honestly, I’d rather spend my free time today watching one of the movies I have at home from Netflix. I’ve got the sequel to Wings of Desire which I’m really excited to watch. Also, I finally started Mass Effect 3 and considering that I’ve played every entry in that series to completion, I’m really excited to see the end of Commander Shephard’s journey (and also to see if the whole hub-bub about the ending is truly deserved). We’re finally nearing the end of the turning point season of Glee where we’ll learn whether this show will be able to survive the massive changes coming its way. I don’t see how it possibly can but I’m a Glee fan for better or worse and I really hope it’s able to weather the storms that are heading its way.

Final Score: B-

It’s time to put our imagination hats on. If you know what I look like, just imagine my face. If not, here I am (but basically four years older) and I’ve actually managed to get my hair back to that length which is exciting (maybe just for me). Okay, now you can see my face. Now imagine it with an absurdly frustrated brow and I’m sort of just shaking my head back and forth. There’s just this slight look of exasperation on my face to even things out. That face is basically how I felt about last night’s episode of Glee. Don’t get me wrong. It was downright brilliant at times and was one of the most intense episodes of the series. It had its moments that nearly matched the suicide scene from “On My Way“, but Glee‘s biggest problem reared its head in just the worst way imaginable. Glee attempts to be a dramedy, and that’s fine. However, there are certain plots that are just so serious and sensitive that you can’t shoehorn endless jokes in around them. It ruins the mood of the series and Glee is not well-written enough to pull of that kind of mood whiplash (Freaks and Geeks it is not), and so what could have been one of the best episodes of the series is simply another episode of Gleethat failed to live up to its own potential.

It’s the week of Rachel and Kurt’s auditions for NYADA which would make for a busy enough episode as is but as we’re soon to find out, things are going to get much more complicated. Kurt is considering doing a very lavish (and fire-hazardy) rendition of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. However, he’s bored by it. He thinks it’s too safe but Rachel convinces him to play things safe because if he goes to risky, she believes (and she legitimately believes this) that Kurt could be subconsciously sabotaging himself. When it comes time for him to have his audition, he switches back to his riskier song choice at the last minute (in his gold lamé pants under his costume) and wows over the scout from NYADA who applauds his bold song choice. When it’s Rachel’s time to perform (doing “Don’t Rain On My Parade” because as we’ve known since Season 1, she’s known it since she was 4), she chokes and the scout (Whoopi Goldberg) refuses to let her start over a second time. A devestated Rachel recedes into the woodworks and is heartbroken (and obviously completely devestated) by the episode’s end. We also find out that Bieste’s husband Cooter (I had actually forgotten they got married) has been beating her and although they make the girls in the New Directions go through a whole lesson about abuse against women, Bieste lies to Sue and the girls and returns to Cooter by the end of the episode. Puck’s dad also returns to town and despite actually studying for his Geography final, Puck fails the one exam he needs to pass in order to graduate from McKinley. Shit got real.

Here’s my take on the performances which were actually mostly all pretty excellent. I’ve seen “Music of the Night” live (not on Broadway but in Pantages theatre in Canada where it played for many years) in Phantom of the Opera, and while Chris Colfer might not be Michael Crawford (loved the joke they even made about it), I thought he nailed the song. I would have loved to actually hear a duet between him and Lea Michele with her as Christine. Puck did an alright job with “School’s Out.” It’s not an especially challenging song, and he did it justice even if I wasn’t wowed. While the teachers called the girls out for their version of “Cell Block Tango” as not meeting what they wanted from the assignment, I thought their choreography and deliver was still sexy as hell and now I want to watch Chicago all over again (so many showtunes this week. And I LOVED it). Chris Colfer gave one of his best performances of the series with “Not the Boy Next Door” from The Boy From Oz. He definitely made Hugh Jackman proud, and if Kurt doesn’t get into NYADA, I will really be shocked. While I wasn’t crazy about a punk rock version of “The Rain In Spain” from My Fair Lady (which I also want to watch again now), it was an interesting and inspired song choice. I thought the girls of the New Directions did a really haunting job with Florence and the Machine’s “Shake It Out” and the way it interespersed with the scenes of Bieste going back to Cooter were heartbreaking. It’s not one of my favorite Lea Michele performances but boy did she sing the hell out of Kelly Clarkson’s “Cry.” If there’s one thing that girl does well, it’s turn every single solo performance into a master class in how to add dramatic subtext to a vocal performance.

I’m going to keep this review short so this will be the sole recap of the story. The stuff about Bieste being abused by Cooter was some of the strongest material the show’s ever done. Especially the scene where Bieste breaks down and says she forgave him because she doesn’t think anyone else will ever love her. Dot Marie Jones owned that scene, and as someone who’s known women who have suffered from domestic abuse, I understand the “battered housewife” syndrome all too well. If Dot Marie Jones is wanting an Emmy nomination, this episode is her tape and she just tore my heart out. I would have never thought she could give that wonderful of a performance and the dynamic between her, Roz, and Sue was really well played. However, they also rushed the shit out of this story. This deserved so much more attention, and by putting it an episode with two other very big stories, it undersold how important an issue like this is. It belittled it by putting it on the same level as choking in a big performance or by not passing a test. Also, Sue kept making jokes like always and it just never seemed appropriate. Glee has always had mood problems, but they’ve never been as prominent as they have been this episode (which is a shame because all of the scenes [even the ones that should have had their own episode] were all great. They just didn’t connect well).

I just can’t do any more writing tonight. I could write a good 2000 word review of this episode (Game of Thrones) style, but I just want to actually do something besides write this evening. I haven’t played Xenoblade Chronicles in like a week, and I don’t want to somehow not end up beating that game after putting over 30 hours in to it. Anyways, there were a lot of great moments in this episode. It’s assauging my fears that Glee isn’t going to try and neatly wrap up every story of its graduating seniors (which it doesn’t have to now that they’re almost all coming back in one form or another. Still don’t have any fucking clue how that’s going to be feasible), and because Rachel choked (and didn’t resolve the problem by episode’s end), Glee proved it can still shock me in ways that don’t involve teacher’s sleeping with students or students trying to get babies taken away. There are now four episodes left in the season. Please, Glee, for the love of God, see us to the end in a satisfying manner.

Final Score: B+

I’ve got a page on this blog dedicated just to requests that people can make for movies/TV shows they want me to review. It doesn’t get used very often, and half of the requests have actually been made via my Facebook page instead of my actual blog. But because it happens so rarely, I do always make the effort to review the movies that have been requested (Cinema Paradiso, Moon, The Court Jester, Road to Rio, and The Place Promised In Our Early Days). For the last two months, one of the requested movies has been sitting in my living room in its Netflix envelope as I went an extended period without reviewing a single film from Netflix. Generally speaking, the quality of the films I’ve reviewed that others have told me to watch has been good (except for Road to Rio). However, the 1972 musical 1776 recounting the battle over America declaring its independence from Great Britain jumped back and forth over the line of being an unmitigated disaster or being simply unremarkable. It may have had its moments (that almost all seemed to involve Howard de Silva’s Ben Franklin), but I can’t recommend this film to even the most ardent history buffs.

In May of 1776, John Adams (William Daniels akaBoy Meets World’s Mr. Feeney aka the man whose voice will make me listen to everything he says like it’s the most important lesson in the world) is mourning the fact that no one in the Continental Congress will listen to his pleas to officially declare Independence from England. As Ben Franklin is fond of reminding him, he’s obnoxious and unliked, and generally no one gives a shit as to what he says. Honestly, any description of the plot of this film is going to devolve into me giving a history lesson that everybody else knows (f you paid any attention in school whatsoever). The entire Southern delegation is loyal to the crown because it’s more economically advantageous for them to remain friendly with England, and most of the middle states (especially Pennsylvania) don’t wish to rock the boat and commit treason (thereby opening themselves up to the very real risk of execution by the British if their revolution fails). When Franklin convinces Adams to let another delegate introduce the measure, the Continental Congress finally agrees to debate the measure and the film follows the blow-by-blow of 18th century legislative hearings with a never-ending stream of musical numbers.

Since the movie is a musical and it can’t go more than 15 minutes without a massive Stephen Sondheim-esque number (though without any of Sondheim’s inspiration), it’s only fair to judge the film heavily on the quality of its musical performances. Unfortunately, in that regard, it’s a total dud. Imagine all of the worst excess of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta without any of their wit, and you’ve got the never-ending songs from this film. I can’t remember a single melody from the songs nor the words to any song. They were all completely forgettable and outright boring. I don’t blame the performers. The movie’s cast was culled almost entirely from the original Broadway production and all of the tenors, baritones, and altos all sound great in that classical musical style, but the music and lyrics they’ve been given are terribly mediocre at best and simply terrible at worst. However, there was one moment during one of the film’s musical numbers where I began to laugh uncontrollably so there was one bright spot. John Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), and others are singing about who should write the Declaration of Independence and at one point there’s a chorus of Ben Franklin (and two other historical figures) singing the phrase “sexual combustibility” referring to how Jefferson hadn’t been intimate with his wife in six months. That was pretty great.

Not only were the musical numbers almost all unbearable, they would kill the momentum of the historical and political drama on display. I’m a history buff, and while I’ve seen plenty of the scenes in this film played out in documentaries or in text books, there were honestly moments when I found myself engrossed in the intellectual and philosophical debates that our heroes were engaged in. The film captured just how tedious and absurd the ratification process for the Declaration was (which ultimately hurt the film’s pacing on occasion), and for people who enjoy history, those moments were intriguing. But, when people are having an honest ethical debate about whether we as a nation could afford to compromise on the issue of slavery in order to pass the Declaration of Independence only to burst out into a song, it ruins the whole moment. The film runs for nearly three hours, and there was honestly at least 45 minutes of material that could have been cut out of the film that would have resulted in it being a much more enjoyable experience. Rather it became a test of wills to see how many dull songs you could sit through and how many filler scenes of flat comedy you could endure before you got a intriguing moment about the birth of our nation.

The film’s redeeming qualities (its ability to poke fun at the fallibility of our founders even when they’re presented in a heroic light [i.e. Franklin’s womanizing], its display of the philosophical debates that framed our founding, great performances from William Daniels, Howard de Silva, and Ken Howard) could not even come close to redeeming its mountain of problems. I don’t know who thought it would be a good idea to do a lavish Broadway revue of the Founding (and maybe in better hands, it could have been done well), but under Peter Stone’s source material (which somehow managed to win a Pulitzer Prize as a play), 1776 can only be recommended to the most die-hard musical fans simply because of its status as a classic of the American canon. Everyone else should stick to their text books.

Final Score: C

Alright, Glee. That’s what I’m talking about. After a very disappointing return from the mid-season finale, you’re back at full-power with what was without question the best “tribute” episode of the entire series. I wish that it has not been four days since I watched this episode because some of the plot details have become sort of hazy in the buzzed state of mind I’ve been in thanks to my sinus pressure and allergy medication because the only other episodes from this season of Glee that I thought were as good as this one were “On My Way” and “The First Time.” So, while I’m going to have plenty of rave things to say about how much I enjoyed this episode (whether it was the uniformly beautiful musical performances, the actual storytelling on display during the “tribute” episode, or the numerous times the episode made me cry), this will likely be a relatively short review just because of the sheer amount of writing I have to get out of the way today. Regardless, I’m still managing to find myself amazed about how much I was able to enjoy an episode dedicated to Whitney Houston even though I wasn’t especially familiar with a lot of her music before I watched this episode.

Several of the students in the New Directi0ns are having trouble coping with the death of Whitney Houston despite the fact that it occurred over two months ago. Emma believes that the kids in the New Directions are equating the loss of Whitney with their own impending loss of their childhood as they graduate from high school (which is sadly coming so soon 😦  ) in a similar manner that Emma did with the death of Princess Diana. She suggests that Mr. Schue use their connection with Whitney Houston as an opportunity for them to get at the heart of any issues they need to work through before they all leave McKinley High. There were three stories at the heart of the episode. Kurt and Blaine are experiencing their first real relationship problems since they had sex for the first time. Kurt feels like Blaine is ignoring him and he begins to flirtatiously text another gay teen that he met at the music store. Blaine considers this cheating (it totally is) and it takes a heart-to-heart with Emma as a counselor for them to realize that they’re both struggling with the fact that in a couple months high school will be over and Blaine will have to stay at McKinley while Kurt goes off to college. The second story involved Joe and Quinn. Joe is helping Quinn go through her rehab and he’s realizing he’s attracted to her. She likes him as well, but Joe’s feelings are complicated because he doesn’t want to compromise his religious faith (i.e. have sex) which is ultimately good for Quinn because she doesn’t want to have another baby. The last story is about Emma and Will. Will wants to move the wedding up to May because he’s afraid that if the wedding is in the fall none of the kids in the New Directions who are graduating will be able to attend even though they’ve become like a family to him.

Let’s start with the musical numbers which were all good. That never happens on this show anymore. That used to only be the case back in Season 1. The opening number, “How Will I Know,” literally gave me chills. It was one of the classiest and most haunting performances of the series and it was the best way to open up the episode which let us know they wouldn’t be exploiting Whitney’s legacy. The a capella  arrangement and the almost gospel feel to it was just beautiful. Heather Morris might not have the best voice on the show but her version of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” gave her a chance to dance, and that’s always a ton of fun. She sounded good but obviously was nothing compared to Whitney’s voice. The duet between Samuel Larsen and Dianna Agron on “Saving All My Love for You” was almost as good as her duet of “Lucky” with Chord Overstreet last season. Plenty of simmering sexual tension and their voices sounded great. For one of the only Rachel/Santana duets, “So Emotional” was a knock-out punch. Naya Rivera and Lea Michele should have sung more songs together over the course of this series. There was a lot more chemistry between these two vocally than there was with either of them with Mercedes. Chris Colfer made me cry with his gorgeous rendition of “I Have Nothing.” He probably hasn’t had a better solo since “As If We Never Said Goodbye.” Boy can he sing! Darren Criss gave another very fun song for the week with “It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay.” This was a serious step-up from his weak take on Gotye’s “Somebody that I Used to Know.” The last song, “My Love Is Your Love” was good if not especially memorable but it’s always nice to see the whole group get in on a song in a non-competition episode.

Unlike other tribute episodes (especially “The Power of Madonna” or “Brittany/Britney”), there was an actual storyline in this episode that really continued to push so many of these characters down to their final moments as high schoolers on the show. Everyone in the cast is going in so many different directions. I have no idea how we’re going to bring them all back together on one show next season unless it’s like Game of Thrones and certain people just aren’t featured every episode. I haven’t made it much of a secret that Kurt’s my favorite character on the show, and I was surprised by just how much I was beginning to dislike him for the way he was treating Blaine by texting that other boy. However, it was all saved by a very touching scene with Mike O’Malley (who probably doesn’t have many appearances left as Burt Hummel) which totally made me cry. They have one of my favorite father/son relationships in the history of television. Also, the scene where Kurt and Blaine went to the counseling together also had me in tears. They’re such a great couple and I know their relationship isn’t going to survive Kurt leaving so I have to appreciate these last couple episodes they have together. My only complaint is that Darren Criss’ acting in those moments were absurdly wooden. He’s a great singer and dancer but he is not one of the better actors in the cast.

Part of me wants to write more but part of me also wants to not actually do any more writing today. So I’m just going to bring things to a close here. If this season still has 22 episodes like the past seasons, then there are five episodes left. For once, I don’t actually think their final competition will be the last episode. I’m guessing that Nationals will be the penultimate episode of the season with Graduation acting as the season closer. If you were a Vegas oddsmaker and you were trying to figure out what the odds are going to be that I will crying during the Graduation episode, don’t worry. It’s about 99%. I figure both my dad and I will need to have tissues nearby for the serious crying that will be going down when this group of kids that we’ve become pretty attached to over these last three years leaves. I’m curious which kids in the main cast that are graduating won’t be returning at all next season. I’m guessing we probably won’t see any more of Santana, Brittany, Mike, or Puck. Which is sad but the show has to make room for the new kids who will eventually fill the slots in the New Directions.

Final Score: A-