Thursday, May 24, 2007

Can Randy Newman ever be stopped?

By any stretch, this should be all-around good news.

In a move long, long overdue, Disney has tapped Anika Noni Rose ("Dreamgirls") to voice the lead in the animated musical fairy-tale romance "The Princess and the Frog," making her (I believe) the first black character at the center of a grand Disney musical (unless, of course, you count the great James Baskett in "Song of the South.")

Even better, the movie, with a story by helmers John Musker and Ron Clements, will be set in New Orleans' French Quarter, giving lots of opportunity for animation and storytelling fun.

So, what's wrong with this picture? For this grand musical animated tale, its first in years, Disney has turned to one of the most boring songwriters in movie history, Randy Newman, to compose the songs and score. This is just wrong in every possible way.

There's a great "Family Guy" joke in which the Griffins are on the road looking for a new home after Quahog was destroyed by Y2K. On the way, they run into Randy Newman, who simply starts making "songs" about everything he sees ("Lois picks an apple/I think she's gonna eat it") until someone mercifully bludgeons him to death.

Now, I don't wish Randy Newman any bodily harm, I just wish he worked a lot less often, because that "Family Guy" joke was dead on. To use a technical term, his songs have simply sucked for many years now.

And, though I understand that he is N'awlins native, aren't there so many more interesting choices they could have made to take on this project? If you want someone from the Crescent City, the great Allen Toussaint comes to mind, and there are many others you could mention.

Given the good intentions going into this project, I don't think this is a matter of racism, simply sloth. Disney couldn't bother to look beyond the face they're so familiar with, and this could-have-been-great project will surely suffer for it.

A quick, and early, ray of "Sunshine"

According to Fox Searchlight, via the great Filmick blog, the company has once again changed the release date for Danny Boyle's "Sunshine," this time moving the U.S. release back up to July.

How in the world will this sci-fi tale fare in the thick of July? No idea, but I'll definitely be there to see it. And, in even better Fox Searchlight news, "Waitress," the last movie by Adrienne Shelly, is finally coming to one theater in my little corner of the world this weekend, so I'll definitely be there to see that too (before "Pirates," even.)

What "Veronica Mars" could have been?

I'm still suffering from the loss of "Veronica Mars," and will be for some time, but here's something of interest from the good folks at

According to them, this is a synopsis of what show creator Rob Thomas pitched to the tin-eared miscreants at the CW (remember, from here on out, just say no to this excuse for a "network.") I'm hoping the video pitch will make it on to YouTube very soon, but here's at least a description of what me might some day get to see:

SYNOPSIS: We start out with Veronica on her first day of work at the Los Angeles FBI offices. She has just graduated from the Academy, already with her snappy little suit. Her voice-over sounds competitive, and we get the sense that she's not always going to be the smartest person in the room here. There's also lots of sexism for her to overcome. We're introduced to another hot-shot female rookie and a guy named Sean, who Veronica either slept with at some point or embarrassed at the FBI Academy through her superior sleuthing skills. He tells her that everything is OK, that they are both adults in the professional world now, yadda yadda.

Veronica goes into a staff briefing where she's essentially given the option of going undercover as a pole dancer or a high school student. Much to her dismay, she ends up with the high school assignment. She goes undercover as a juvenile delinquent to catch the principal who's a sex predator. It's a funny but kinda gross scene, where the guy unzips his pants and tells her to give him a blowjob to get ahead. Once Veronica gets him to state that aloud, she tells him that she's with the FBI. The guy flees but is caught by the other FBI officer on the stake-out -- some hot guy who thinks Veronica is an idiot rookie.

Back at FBI headquarters, Veronica's boss tells her she did a good job, but asks why she wasn't at drinks last night with the rest of the team. "Hot shot" was supposed to spread the word among the rookies. Veronica assumes the other hot girl agent didn't tell her.

Cut to Veronica and the hot guy on a stake-out later that night where we find out that he didn't want to be paired with Veronica, who he refers to as "Barbie." They're staking out a mail bomber, a college professor, but hot guy says that they're staking out the wrong guy. He explains that the mail bomber would be more "meticulous, patient, etc." We learn that hot guy is a very talented profiler.

Cut to a scene where Veronica and said hot-shot girl rookie are questioning one of the professor's students in his apartment. The student leaves the room for a minute, and Veronica confronts hot-shot girl rookie about not relaying the "drinks with the boss" information to her. It turns out it wasn't her. Sean - the guy who told Veronica that they're "professional adults" now - neglected to tell her; apparently he's still hurting. Veronica then starts poking around this kid's apartment, when she notices how "meticulous and patient" this guy is. It dawns on her that this the kid is the mail bomber. We hear a noise, and when Veronica turns around with her gun withdrawn, we see that the kid has a knife to hot shot rookie girl's throat. The end

Even if it would have been a slimmed-down version of "Veronica," with all my other favorite characters jettisoned, you can tell from that short synopsis that Thomas put great care into this retooling. The folks at the CW can just go straight to hell.

"The Golden Compass" trailer

And now something to wash away that bit of bile. Here is the trailer for "The Golden Compass" that will be shown before that "Pirates" movie you may have heard about. New Line's whoring of "Lord of the Rings" at the outset is atrocious, but the rest of the trailer looks great, and if you stick around long enough you even get Sam Elliott. Enjoy!


jeremy said...

The Golden Compass looks just about perfect. Y'know how sometimes you can tell when an adaptation is faithful to the book, just from the trailer? I can say that this looks to be a faithful translation. And the casting is perfect. Especially Sam Elliot.

Reel Fanatic said...

I have to admit I haven't read the book yet, Jeremy .. I now have two movie-related titles on my list: I have to read Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men" before the fall and then this before December, when I believe it's finally supposed to come out

Terence Towles Canote said...

I do like Randy Newman, but to me his music is best suited to the kind of movies Pixar puts out. For the sort of musicals Disney creates, I think they'd want a compose with a bit more, how would I put it? Ommph?

Jennifer George said...

The Golden Compass looks like a live action Miyazaki movie.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think ooomph might be the right word, Mercurie ... To me, his songs are just very bland

Anonymous said...

I'm thrilled with the "Sunshine" news. I'm happy I don't have to wait until autumn.

I had the same thoughts about "The Golden Compass". The trailer looks excellent but the LotR into was a bit much for me. Though I can't say I blame them for wanting to bank brownie points from their HUGE movies.

Anonymous said...

Randy Newman is one of the greatest songwriters ever.

For shame.

Divinity said...

I am extremely excited about The Golden Compass however, I'm hoping that the last film of the series gets some serious reworking. I would've been happier if they had just adapted the stage version and made two movies.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had a really funny discussion about "The Princess and the Frog" when it was first announced.
Pirates tonight. Another case of just getting it over with... :P

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm gonna wait until Sunday for Pirates, I think, Divinity, and like you I'm only mildly looking forward to it ... The review we ran in the paper here, though, said it's more fun than No. 2, which will probably b be good enough for me

Unknown said...

In fairness Mark Ordesky is a large part of the reason the LOTR films were as good as they were. He not only brought the project to New Line as Peter Jackson's friend, but fought hard behind the scenes to maintain the quality, and worked hard as Executive Producer both on site in New Zealand and with the studo in LA.

He's had similar strong involvement with "The Golden Compass" (he was on site at Shepperton here in the UK while filming took place here).

Given all the crap he had to deal with on the LOTR films with very little credit for the huge part he played I don't think it's unfair to show there is a string link between that and his latest big project.

Ben Varkentine said...

I'm sorry, but, even assuming the script would have been a lot better than that synopsis, that sounds very poor to me.

Actually, what it sounds like is 'Veronica Mars IS Clarice Starling!" And she's not. She's a lot fresher than that.

As for the CW, I can't condemn them to hell as easily as you. At the very least, I have to spread some of the blame around.

I've been a fan of Thomas's creations since Cupid, but last year the writing on Veronica spun badly out of control.I think that hurt 'em at least as much as the network.

Plus the awful truth is that there are more people in this country that want to watch a show that tells women-

"Look hot, and sing, and you don't even have to sing with that much emotion, and you will rewarded!"

-than one that says you can be "a girl" and still an ace, hard-boiled detective heroine.

I don't like that, but it's just the truth. And it's another reason why I think it's wrong to put all of the blame on the CW, or previously UPN.

Veronica was one of my favorite shows literally since the day it premiered.

But networks just aren't in the business of renewing shows that after three years are still at the very bottom of the ratings for the week.

No matter how much you or I may like them.

Reel Fanatic said...

I do think you're right about the third season of Veronica to an extent, Ben, but there have been plenty of great shows (and I put Veronica on that list) that have survived uneven seasons .. I'm afraid my anger at the CW isn't going to go away anytime soon ...

Divinity said...

"more fun than No. 2"
Was there anywhere left to go but up? The volume was the only thing that kept me awake at times during "Dead Man's Chest".

RC said...

that's great on anika noni rose getting the lead voice role...

yet, i agree with you on the newman choice...oh well...i applaud disney for trying to return what made them so great in the late 80s and early 90s.

Reel Fanatic said...

I really do miss the grand animated Disney musicals, RC, but like you, I just can't really see it happening with Randy Newman at the musical helm

Jim Marquis said...

Wow, the Golden Compass looks great.

Randy Newman is a paradox. His own albums are wickedly funny and beautifully sad. But the stuff he writes for animated films is pure tapioca.

Sterfish said...

I agree with you about Randy Newman. I don't mind him that much (that hilarious Family Guy joke notwithstanding) but I'd really like a fresh sound. The aforementioned Alvin Toussaint is a good choice and I'd add Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, or even Dr. John. However, I guess I'll reserve judgment until we start hearing some songs.

Divinity said...

Re: Pirates
1)Didn't suck
2)Keith Richards rocks
3)Stay until after the credits.

Reel Fanatic said...

Those are all great suggestions, Sterfish, and thanks for not gigging me for misspelling Mr. Toussaint's name ... With so many great songwriters from New Orleans, it might be better to make it a group effort, but that might just lead to chaos .. and thanks for the good word on "Pirates," Divinity .. I think I just might move it up to Saturday instead of Sunday

ren said...

well, as a randy newman fan i feel the need to defend him. when you say he is bland are you thinking of his pixar music, because he is so much more than that. "mama told me not to come", "you can leave your hat on", "feels like home" and "i think it's gonna rain today"? bland? not to me. he is one of the last of the tin pan alley composers and can create any style of music, while the other musicians you mention are certainly all great, they have displayed less of an array of styles (not that they couldn't do it) and, as i am sure you realize, a great musical doesn't generally feature only one style of music.

but all that said, i don't think i really need to defend mr. newman, disney is still a business and i think his track record speaks for itself. not a ton oscars but a lot of recognition for his music across the board.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you're right there, Ren ... I do have some Randy Newman albums from back in the 70s which I still listen to .. My criticism of him really stems from his Pixar songs, which I still say are indeed "bland"

Chris said...

Ha... looks like it's your turn to wait for a movie now! (remember that it took almost half a year until Pan's Labyrinth came to Switzerland?):). Well, I've seen Sunshine a couple of weeks ago, and was really pleased with it. It's not perfect, but it's far away from pathetic rubbish like Armageddon or The Core. It has strong actors, a solid story and some wonderful shots you'll probably remember for quite a few days after. And it also has the perfect song for ending a movie... you'll see what I mean once the credits start rolling! Just made the overall-feeling even more intense! Yeah, you really can look forward to this movie!

Reel Fanatic said...

Thanks for the good word, Chris ... I once got to take advantage of the early arrival of a movie in Europe, but unfortunately it was Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette," which was just a big disappointment to me

Ben Varkentine said...

Just to clarify-I meant the second season when I said "last year." My fault.

I think the third season was a marked improvement, but was probably too little too late.

Barry said...

They still havent officially cancelled Veronica Mars. There is still hope for her in the FBI.