Episode 091: The Greatest Showman

We wanted to open up 2018 with a bang, so we called in That Guy Named John from the About to Review podcast to have a lively discussion with us about Hugh Jackman’s new circus musical. We all three enjoyed this show very much, but we do spend some time discussing criticism revolving around the real-life P.T. Barnum versus his portrayal in the film. The Greatest Showman is a film that brought us lots of smiles and joy, and we hope that listening to this conversation will do the same for you.

The Greatest Showman Review – 0:01:49

The Connecting Point – 1:06:54

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Greatest Showman

THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017)


GOING IN

If there were only two genres of film that I could watch for the rest of my life, they would be Science Fiction and Musicals (and if I had a third it very well might be Biopics). The Greatest Showman is the latter two and looks to be shamelessly nostalgic. Its story of P. T. Barnum’s founding of the famous Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus appears full of bombastic dance numbers, bright lights, and big voices. Jackman’s work in the movie adaptation of one of my favorite musicals of all-time, Les Miserables, coupled with his passion for bringing this project to the big screen instill in me the utmost hope. The thing that I love most about musicals is how they can make me feel and that starts with the entire team of creators buying in first. Jackman has said, “A bad musical stinks to high heaven, but when a musical works, there’s nothing like it. It’s everyone coming together and opening their heart.” I couldn’t agree more. My heart is open, too, and I’m ready to receive the spectacle.

1 Hour and 40 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

P. T. Barnum is famously quoted as saying, “The noblest art is that of making others happy.” With The Greatest Showman, the Australian duo of director Michael Gracey and star Hugh Jackman fully embrace this sentiment in retelling the birth of show business. From the sensational opening scene, watching the film is a joyful experience. An homage to big musicals of the past, it progresses from start to finish linked together by one grandiose song after another, full of over-the-top production and exciting choreography. The passion poured into the project oozes off the screen in every performance and its multiple positive messages about chasing your dreams, using your imagination, and accepting everyone as they are serve as inspirational lessons for child and adult alike.  Also creating that emotional connectivity are the excellent songs, featuring lyrics from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the break-out songwriters of La La Land‘s award-winning “City of Stars.” Expect at least one of The Greatest Showman‘s awesome musical numbers to receive similar recognition at the 2018 Academy Award ceremony.

Jackman as Barnum is perfect. He has the charisma and vocal talent needed to a showman, and he pulls off both Barnum’s overconfidence and feelings of inadequacy equally well. One thing that must always be considered with biopics is whether or not they accurately depict the characters portrayed. In this case, Barnum’s slave ownership is overlooked completely and the film most likely treats him as more of a champion for the marginalized than he may have been. That being said, it does keep him balanced, showing plenty of poor decisions along with the ones that made him such a success. As a movie-goer, my primary desire is to be entertained, though, and whether its historically correct or not, the pleasure it provides is undeniable.

Also standing out are Rebecca Ferguson as “The Swedish Nightingale” Jenny Lind and Zac Efron as Phillip Carlysle, Barnum’s eventual partner and romantic interest of trapeze artist Anne Wheeler (Zendaya). Ferguson is outstanding and has the most touching solo vocal performance of the film. Efron, meanwhile, provides solid work throughout as someone who slowly becomes a sort of grounding figure for Barnum. He also has a standout musical number with Jackman that made me want an entire movie of just those two actors singing to each other while dancing their way through a plot.

The Greatest Showman is not without fault, however. It’s not a perfect script, and like many musicals of old some cheesiness does slip in. It also could have used a little more character development for the circus performers. While there are the briefest of backstories for them, their unique looks or talents would have been fun to explore further. Yet that would have also made the film longer. As is, its tight runtime of just over an hour and a half is a very good thing, allowing the music to stay center stage and never be silent for long.

VERDICT

The Greatest Showman‘s reverence for the musicals of old shines through in every way. Full of impressive songs that form a soundtrack worth listening to on repeat, it is emotionally provocative and will have viewers smiling and humming their way out of the theater. Though its story may not be 100% historically accurate, the inspirational messages are no less meaningful. Likely to end up one of my most frequently re-watched films from 2017, The Greatest Showman continues the revival of the Hollywood musical and is one of the most enjoyable theater experiences of the year. Take the kids to this family friendly spectacle and enjoy the show!

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Logan

About ten minutes before my screening of Logan, 20th Century Fox’s latest venture into the X-Verse, a family of four wandered in, popcorn and sodas in hand. Mom, Dad, two kids. Two very young kids. Like, ten-ish at best. I don’t judge. How you parent your kids is on you. Maybe these people did the requisite homework on Logan. Maybe they didn’t. I’m leaning toward they didn’t. They never left, so here’s to them for sticking it out. But if the countless F-bombs and butt shot from the Deadpool 2 teaser ahead of the feature didn’t waver them, I’m thinking the 137 minutes of Logan led to a few awkward family moments. When they got home, those parents might have had some ‘splainin’ to do.

Logan earns its “R” rating, and then some. Filmgoers amped up for a paint by number, CGI, save the universe extravaganza should be warned that disappointment lurks. Logan is an intimate character portrait unlike anything we’ve seen in the guise of a superhero movie to date; Nolan’s Batman trilogy included. And we are so better off for it.

It’s the year 2029. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is old. The indestructible mutant is worn out; limping, broken physically and mentally. We find him living out his existence driving a limousine, under the guise of his given name, James Howlett. He tolerates obnoxious, frat boy businessmen and bachelorette parties between alcoholic benders intended to help mask the pain he endures from the adamantium that has finally turned his body against him. It is a shock to see the once unbreakable X-Man in such disrepair.

In a way that isn’t fully explained in the film, the mutant population is nearly extinct. No new mutants have been born in years, and little hint to what happened is given other than a brief mention of ‘that thing that happened at Westchester.” It can be presumed that the aging Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), suffering from dementia and seizures, probably had something to do with it. Now over ninety years old, Professor X lives contained within an abandoned metal silo south of the border, hidden from the government that has deemed him the most powerful weapon of mass destruction in the world. He is cared for by the Albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) and Logan. The dynamic between Logan and Xavier is one of reluctant bedfellows. His respect and admiration for Xavier is ever present, but he assists in Xavier’s care more as a sense of duty than a preference. Xavier, in his moments of clarity, just wants to be able to pee in peace.

The story begins to take off when a frantic woman, Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez), begs Logan to take her and an eleven year old mutant girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), to North Dakota, where a mutant haven called Eden supposedly awaits. They are being chased by cybernetically enhanced soldiers called reavers, led by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), belonging to the Transigen corporation, where Gabriela once worked as a nurse and cared for children who were being bred and raised as mutant soldiers. Laura, we learn, was bred using Logan’s DNA, and she shares her powers in the same capacity as her “father.” The apple does not fall far from the tree. Laura is as feral and ruthless as Logan, and we haven’t seen a tandem dish out this level of bloody mayhem since Hit Girl and Big Daddy patrolled the streets of New York. If you found the violence in Kick-Ass not to your liking, buyer beware.

When Logan, Xavier, and Laura are forced to the road in an old pick-up truck to flee the reavers, the film borrows elements from Mad Max: Fury Road, Midnight Special, and most notably the 1953 western, Shane. Logan becomes a classic chase movie, where the good guys do their best to stay a step ahead, even though we know confrontation is inevitable.

This is a film to be commended for foregoing conventional blockbuster enhancements. Director James Mangold chooses to linger instead on intimate character dynamics which are some of the best moments on screen. This feels like a true life expose on familial relationships. Of fathers and sons. Fathers and daughters. Of friends who have been through everything together and somehow lived long enough to ruminate together about all of it. Jackman and Stewart are the doing their best work with these characters. No other X-Men film comes close. And Dafne Keen is a revelation; equal parts unsettling in her ferociousness and admirable in her confidence on screen with these franchise heavyweights. But even as the film slows down in spots to wallow in intimate moments with its characters, have no fear, there is plenty of snicktedy snickt action to enjoy in all of its limb flying, bloody goodness.

Logan is an emotional ride, and there will be moments, especially at the end, that will resonate long after the credits have rolled. This isn’t going to be for everyone. Mystique isn’t going to pop in to save the day. Logan is the closest thing to a “real” movie the superhero genre has even gotten. There are no capes. No apocalypse. No eating of Shawarma. Just a broken old man and one final mission.

phpxnctheamSTEVE CLIFTON has been writing moderately well on the Internet at this blog, Popcorn Confessional, for the better part of the last decade.  His love for movies can be traced back to the North Park Cinema in Buffalo, NY circa 1972, when his aunt took him to see Dumbo.  Now living in Maine, Steve routinely consumes as much film, television, and books as time will allow.  He also finds time to complain about winter and Buffalo sports teams.  He is a big fan of bad horror films and guacamole, and mildly amused by pandas.

Episode 048: Logan

In this episode we discuss Logan, what could be the final chapter in Hugh Jackman’s incredible run as Marvel comic superhero Wolverine. This latest installment is R-rated and offers us the gritty, ultra-violent picture of Wolverine that many know from comics but have never seen portrayed on screen. It was quite the ride and so we’ve called in some back-up from Francisco and Paul of the Retro Rewind Podcast to help us break it down. Enjoy this super podcast team-up!

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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