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The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Schumacher's vision of Phantom of the Opera is stunning to look at, and thrilling to watch (especially the gripping final 30 minutes), but is sometimes painful to listen to. For some odd reason, somebody told Gerard Butler and Ciaran Hinds that they can sing! Hinds' terrible singing is somewhat forgivable, as he plays a comic role, but Butler's is not. Unfortunately, there seems to be a stigma against NOT doing your own singing, and Phantom suffers because of this. Minnie Driver did not do her own singing for this movie (and neither did Emmy Rossum in the more difficult passages), and Phantom is better off for it. Butler, who sounds as if he only knows how to shout-sing, is decent at times but absolutely awful at others, especially during his moments of rage and fury and throughout "Music of the Night".
Now, in a movie musical such as Woody Allen's "Everyone Says I Love You", some mediocre singing is OK, as it is not a serious musical, and was not derived from a world-famous stage show, unlike Phantom. Anyone who has seen the musical and/or heard a recording of the main highlights (and I'm assuming that that would be the majority of North American and English audiences) will be disappointed by some of the singing. Does that make the movie unwatchable? No. Will you want to fast-forward some parts of some of the songs? Yes.
For future efforts, stars of the screen, let someone who knows what they are doing sing the tough stuff. We don't mind that Natalie Wood didn't do her own singing in "West Side Story", so we certainly won't mind if professional singers get to work their stuff in future musical-to-movie productions. (There also is no harm in pulling stars off of the stage or searching for music-theater trained actors, as the casting director of Phantom obviously did in the case of Patrick Wilson (Raoul): pretty good acting, and fabulous singing!)
King Arthur (2004)
In this latest incarnation of the King Arthur story, Director Antoine Fuqua gets points for trying to establish the Arthur story in a more credible time, with more accurate armour and warriors actually getting tired on the battle-field.
He loses major points for including just about every action epic cliché possible, including the "horse-leaping-over-fire" bit and the "leader-giving-inspirational- speech-while-riding-his-excited-horse-in-front-of-the-troops" bit. Also, Keira Knightley looks out of place in this film. Her acting is wooden and lifeless (and she can't she close her mouth for some reason), and appears to be in this movie only so that she can be scantily-clad. I had hoped that I would be able to enjoy this movie despite Knightley's presence, but it was not to be.
Overall, this portrayal of the Arthur story is only slightly better than "First Knight", and miles from "Excalibur".
One Magic Christmas (1985)
Best contemporary Christmas movie!
I've been watching this movie every Christmas since it first appeared on CBC in the '80s, and I have to say, I spend most of the movie misty-eyed. In this familiar story of a woman who has lost the Christmas spirit and rediscovers it through being shown how fortunate she is, there are several excellent performances
and a strong feeling of magic throughout.
Mary Steenburgen, who plays Ginnie Grainger, the woman who has lost the
Christmas spirit, undergoes an amazing transformation and some of the most
heart-wrenching moments I've seen on film. Harry Dean Stanton, as the angel
Gideon, plays his part with sensitivity, and Gary Basaraba is excellent as Jack, Ginnie's husband. Abbie, the six-year old daughter of the main character, steals the show, however. She never seems to be acting, and carries the innocence of childhood and the magic of Christmas with her. Keep an eye out for a very
young Sarah Polley as Molly Monaghan, and veteran Canadian actor Jan
Rubes as the best Santa Claus on film to date, if only for his amazing costume.
Keep a box of tissues on hand when you watch this movie! It demonstrates that a movie can be magical without overwhelming special effects, and that a
Christmas movie can be sentimental without being schmaltzy.