A New Song and Dance
To coincide with the DVD release of Outkast's offbeat gangster musical Idlewild this month, I'd like to give ReelTalk visitors a look at five other movie musicals that also bring quirky new spins to cinema's old song and dance. And -- a drum roll please -- here they are:
Greendale. Neil Young has dabbled in the cinema before, either providing the score for such films as Where the Buffalo Roam and Dead Man or headlining such concert movies as Neil Young: Heart of Gold in 2006. But Greendale is as far from the man who brought the world "Harvest Moon" and "Old Man" as one can get. This folk-rock opera, centering on a small California community and the trials and tribulations of the citizens inhabiting it, stems from the politically passionate Neil Young (whose songs, performed with his band Crazy Horse, comprise the film's entirety), the one who did "Keep on Rockin' in the Free World."
That particular Neil Young made Greendale into an unabashed hippie battle cry, taking to task useless politicians and abusers of the environment. Although a tad unfocused on occasion and mostly filmed somewhat distractingly on grainy Super-8, one can't deny that Greendale is a movie on a mission: to inspire viewers to cherish the world we live in and save it for future generations. The finale song, "Be the Rain," is a powerful, angry, exemplary tune summarizing all of Greendale's themes and messages.
Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical. One of the most underseen but flat-out best movies of 2005, this made-for-Showtime musical is an infectiously toe-tapping film based on the most unlikely of sources: a propaganda film from the 1930s warning about the dangers of smoking marijuana. Fortunately, Reefer Madness turns its story into a wildly over-the-top musical spoof, complete with numbers featuring Jesus as a lounge singer in heaven, Alan Cumming pulling triple-duty as not only a stern lecturer but also a goat monster and FDR himself, and Kristen Bell (from TV's Veronica Mars) as a sugary-sweet teen who turns into a leather-laden seductress with one puff of a joint. Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is an absolutely riotous delight with an eye for satire and an ear for memorable tunes.
Shock Treatment. The Rocky Horror Picture Show may have received all the acclaim and attention, but undeservedly left in the dust was its pseudo-sequel, Shock Treatment (1981). Pretty much abandoning Rocky Horror and forgetting those events ever happened, Shock Treatment lands newlyweds Brad and Janet (now played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper) in a massive TV studio/artificial city, where a corporate sleazebag sets his sights on committing Brad to a mental institution and wooing Janet away with promises of stardom.
A rather wry musical satire that takes aim at the pursuit of fame and the so-called "American dream," Shock Treatment is one of the most intriguing of cinematic curiosities. It firmly establishes itself as a separate film, not very much along the same lines as Rocky Horror, yet the songs, from the catchy title track to a ditty titled "Little Black Dress" show Shock Treatment reveling in a bawdy and off-kilter spirit similar to its legendary big brother.
Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. Although it didn't make a big splash in its recent theatrical release, attracting fans of the band more than mainstream moviegoers, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny is an uproarious treat for any fan of goofy and downright random comedies. An absolutely insane and very exagerrated account of how Jack Black and Kyle Gass met and formed the cult band Tenacious D, The Pick of Destiny also chronicles the guys' quest for fame by way of stealing the mythical Pick of Destiny, a magical guitar pick fashioned out of one of Satan's own chipped teeth, doing so with a series of hilarious songs with even more over-the-top numbers.
JB and KG face off against the Devil himself in the climactic "Beezleboss" scene, and during The D's performance of "Master Exploder," Black ends up blowing one audience member's mind -- literally. It has to be seen to be believed and admittedly isn't for everyone, but if the idea of a rock musical that brings together Satan, Sasquatch, and cameos ranging from Meat Loaf to Tim Robbins makes you giddy as all get-out, then Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny is your ticket for a great time at the movies.
True Stories. Because the '80s band Talking Heads ranks as my favorite musical group, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to rave about their 1986 cinematic outing, True Stories. Inspired by a number of supermarket tabloid articles that Talking Heads frontman David Byrne collected over the years, True Stories takes place in the city of Virgil, Texas. A narrator in a cowboy get-up (played by Byrne himself) arrives in time for Virgil's 150th Anniversary of "Specialness," introducing the viewers at home to such quirky characters as Louis Fyne (John Goodman), a lovable bear of a man who wants nothing more than to settle down with a nice woman (going so far as to put a "Wife Wanted" sign in his front yard); the Culvers (Annie McEnroe and the late, great Spalding Gray), a happily-married couple who haven't spoken directly to one another in years; and a gossip hound (Jo Harvey Allen) who regularly makes such claims as being the reason why JFK was assassinated.
True Stories doesn't have much of a solid story, which might tend to bore some viewers, but the funky variety of characters who manage to get you involved with their lives is enough to keep your interest invested. And if that doesn't work, such scenes as the world's weirdest fashion show or any of the number of great Talking Heads songs performed throughout the film (my favorite being the somber "City of Dreams" played over the ending credits) are there to help make True Stories a truly unique and entertaining experience.
Don't get me wrong, ReelTalkers, I'm still a fan of more traditional musicals released in recent years (ranging from the jazzy Chicago to the charming and highly-underseen Love's Labour's Lost), but for viewers looking to put a different spring into their step, the five unique musicals described above might just do the trick.