This Hollywood adaptation of the classic Broadway musical sparkles with glamour and reverberates with the energy of good, old-fashioned song and dance...
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Review of "Chicago (DVD)"
Busy with my toddler son and my baby grand-daughter. My new book THOUGHTS OF A NEW OLD MUM is out now, see www.lulu.com/spotlight/nhbr22476
INTRODUCTIONI love musicals, so when I saw the DVD of Chicago was available, I rented it from our local Blockbuster. So on Friday evening, I sat down to watch it with two of my daughters (aged 10 and 12). My husband was playing on the football game, but was half-watching, as was my son (11).
I soon became engrossed, right from the first number. All That Jazz is the most famous song from the musical and the film begins with this song, juxtaposing Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones)’s stage performance with the actions of wannabe star, Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) and her lover, Fred Casely (Dominic West).This is an extremely clever way to introduce the characters and show us something of their lives, while carrying us along on the passion of the music. The synchronising of the two heroine’s movements is very effective and has been perfectly edited.
THE PLOTVelma Kelly is a Vaudeville star and performs song and dance routines on stage. Roxie Hart, meanwhile, is a married woman whose dreams are filled with her ambitions of a similar stardom to her idol.
Fooled by Fred Casely’s claims of knowing someone who could help her career, Roxie takes him back to her flat and they have sex. Afterwards, he confesses he was lying and had only used her. Angrily, she takes a gun and shoots him.When her husband, Amos, returns home, he initially tries to convince the police that Casely was a burglar, but when his wife’s affair comes to light, he is happy to let her take the blame and face the consequences. She ends up in jail on a murder charge, facing the possibility of being hanged for the crime.
In the prison, she meets Velma, who is also in for murder. The women there are looked after by the matron, known as Mama (Queen Latifah). She arranges for both Velma and Roxie to be represented by the lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) who has an excellent reputation for defending women on murder charges and getting them off, by a clever use of the press.THE CAST
The cast is flawless throughout and each one impressed and surprised me. I had previously disliked Catherine Zeta-Jones, but for me, she was the star of the film and shone even brighter than her sparkling co-stars.I have enjoyed films starring Gere (Pretty Woman, The Runaway Bride) and Zellweger (Bridget Jones’s Diary) before, but had no idea they were such talented singers and dancers as well. They were also stunning in the movie and all three of them have a charisma that reaches out through the screen to make you believe their characters and care about them.
Richard Gere still looks good and has no problems pulling off the dapper gentleman. His character of Billy Flynn is a combination of clever lawyer and cunning showman and he pulls off both roles with great aplomb, easily slipping from one to the other, always smiling in a disarming way.I found Renee Zellweger weaker than Zeta-Jones, but then again, she is supposed to be the wannabe, not the successful star. She is excellent in most of the musical numbers though and is good enough as Roxie, but I felt Zeta-Jones had more star quality when the two of them shared scenes.
Queen Latifah was also much better than I had expected and showed a lot of versatility. Her solo number - When You're Good To Mama – was outstanding and one of the highlights of the film, proving big girls can definitely be sexy! Her acting is also very good and her warmth comes across well, making her an endearing prison matron.John C. Reilly was an unknown to me, but commanded the role of Amos Hart so convincingly that I thought he might have been taken straight from the stage version (as Joel Grey was in Cabaret). He can portray such a sense of loss, desperation and sadness with a slight shrug or gentle sigh and his quiet dignity add a real tragic edge to the scenes he is in.
Look out for an all too short cameo appearance from Lucy Liu as Kitty Baxter. The singer Mya also features as the prisoner Mona, while the Russian ballerina Ekaterina Chtchelkanova is the graceful and poignant Katalin Helinszki in her first acting role.MY VIEW OF THE FILM
I had expected to enjoy this film, but it far surpassed my expectations. I was hooked straight away and loved it so much, that I am planning to buy both the DVD and the soundtrack CD. My daughters loved it too and you can hear All That Jazz coming from the house regularly now. My son and husband were fairly non-plussed though and came out with such judgements as ‘It was okay’ and ‘a bit boring’. Perhaps it’s one for the girlies then? It certainly reminded me of both Moulin Rouge and (also Bob Fosse’s) Cabaret, other films my hubby’s not keen on.I loved the way the film seemed quite simple, but is really very deep and multi-layered. The musical numbers are beautifully done, with the basic sets giving the (intended) impression of them being performed on a stage in a theatre somewhere. This enhances the view of these being mainly in Roxie’s imagination.
Chicago has all the elements you could find in a thriller – jealousy, greed, debauchery, murder and corruption. You not only love the characters despite their flaws, but because of them. The heroines are both murderers, while the hero is a corrupt and manipulative lawyer, but the actors perform so well that you become captivated and charmed by them.The theme of infidelity and lack of morals is also explored, as Roxie has an affair while Velma finds her husband in bed with her sister. Both these lead to murder being committed, but are frequently used as excuses or justifications for what they have done.
The setting of 1920s Chicago is used perfectly, with its period costumes and hairstyles. The contrast between the stage and reality is illustrated through this, with the glamorous theatrical costumes and bright lights making the grim, dark and plain prison seem even more drab and dull.The theme of ‘fame at all costs’ is still a relevant one today. In Chicago, the headlines announce more horrific murders and feature photos of weeping freed killers, who enjoy their taste of stardom - fame and infamy uncomfortably blurring. Surely the coverage of contemporary murders often tips over the line of decency, so the killers become household names and even receive fan mail in jail.
Billy Flynn both exploits the system and his clients, using the press to achieve his aims and his clients to achieve more good publicity for himself. He manipulates the press to write what he feeds them, which in turn manipulates public opinion to see things the way he portrays them. This is perfectly summed up by the wonderful musical number We Both Reached For The Gun.So it’s a clever film, with a well thought out message to deliver. The costumes, lighting and sets enhance these perfectly and the cast deliver amazing performances. It sounds quite a dark film from my review though and despite it having some sad parts, it is overall a feel-good movie and one which you will smile and laugh through most of it. Humour is an integral part and there are some funny lines and scenes in it.
The music itself deserves high praise, of course. The soundtrack CD contains eighteen songs and of course, the film has elaborate and exciting dance sequences for them. While All That Jazz and Razzle Dazzle are the songs most people have heard of, the film really does not have a bad song in it. Cell Block Tango was outstanding and one that my daughters and I especially loved too.The dance sequences are also excellent. Even though I would not class myself as a fan of jazz as a genre, I really enjoyed all the musical numbers. The dancers are very talented and usually dressed in rather skimpy costumes, so that might be a selling point for convincing straight men to watch it!
Overall, I cannot recommend Chicago enough. It is vibrant, exciting, compelling, charming, dramatic, entertaining and amazing. Of course, it may not be your kind of thing, but my daughters and I are now hooked and will soon be buying both the CD and the DVD – and all that jazz!EXTRAS
As well as the usual set up options, subtitles and scene selection available on all DVDs, Chicago also has several bonus features, which are reviewed below.DELETED MUSICAL NUMBER – Class
This is a complete scene including the deleted song Class featuring Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones. It is also shown in its entirety, so you can see where it has been cut in the finished version and that the film really doesn’t lose out from its omission.There is optional commentary on this from the director and the screenwriter, who explain why it was cut and their feelings about the song and the whole scene. I found this very interesting and enjoyed the scene, both with and without the commentary.
FEATURE COMMENTARYAs with the deleted scene, the feature commentary is done by Rob Marshall (director) and Bill Condon (screenwriter). I usually prefer commentaries done by the actors, but this one is well worth listening to, although I did find it awkward at times to work out which man was speaking.
Their knowledge of the whole process behind the film is very interesting and I enjoyed learning more about how the ideas developed and how they got to the finished product. Their ‘vision’ was fascinating too and illustrated why scenes were shot in certain ways.I was pleased to hear they had a certain view of the film, which became their reasoning for everything. They wanted the dream scenes to come from Roxie Hart, so this was the way it was angled and their consistency is sticking to this was admirable.
I think any fan of the film would find something new in this commentary, as it is full of behind the scenes information and explanations of how things were done and why.BEHIND THE SCENES SPECIAL
This was my favourite of the bonus features. It is a 28-minute documentary behind the scenes of the film. It includes interviews with many of the cast and crew, such as Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, John C. Reilly, Queen Latifah, the director and the producer.It follows the journey of the original version of Chicago, through its musicalisation by Bob Fosse for his wife, then on towards the 2002 film. The theatre setting is also explained and different aspects of the film are discussed, such as the costumes and styling.
My favourite part of this feature was the footage of the rehearsals. We are shown the actors singing and dancing in the rehearsal hall, which I found charming. They explain the extensive audition process they had to go through, to ensure they could cope with all three aspects of the roles adequately – the acting, singing and dancing.Catherine Zeta-Jones came from a background of musical theatre, so was very competent from the start. Richard Gere had years of experience doing everything the role demanded (except for tap dancing, which he learnt for Chicago) and Renee Zellweger had been a cheerleader, so already had the fitness level and the ability to follow routines well.
They had six weeks of rehearsals to hone the routines they would need and you can see them going through their paces in this documentary. It was decided that no doubles would be used throughout, so it was imperative the actors could manage to achieve a high level of skill in a relatively short film. I’m sure everyone who has watched Chicago will agree they managed it.INFORMATION AND PRICE
The DVD was released on August 4th, 2003 and is available from Amazon for £13.99. It is being sold for the same price at Play.com, but with free postage.Screen ~ Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Languages ~ English - Dolby Digital (5.1); DTS
Subtitles ~ English; English for the hearing impaired
Duration ~ 1 hour and 48 minutes (approx.)
Rated PG (minor violence, mild swearing, skimpy costumes, sex scene)
Product Information : Chicago (DVD)
Manufacturer's product descriptionThis Hollywood adaptation of the classic Broadway musical sparkles with glamour and reverberates with the energy of good, old-fashioned song and dance. As the film leaps into its first riveting act, Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), one half of the famous number she performs with her sister, arrives at the night club late, dishevelled, and with blood on her hands. Nonetheless, she goes onstage unhindered and wows the crowd with her shimmying rendition of 'All That Jazz'. Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger) a young blonde who dreams of someday being famous like Velma, watches from the audience with eyes full of envy. Later, as the cops pick up Velma for the murder of her sister, sending her fame to all-time heights as she becomes a tabloid sensation, Roxie also commits a crime of passion--shooting a lover who falsely promised to secure her cabaret debut. The girls wind up together in jail, where Mama Morton (Queen Latifah), a compassionate guard, is their only hope of redemption; and Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) is the lawyer who can get them out. There, through wonderfully familiar songs like 'Razzle Dazzle', 'Cell-Block Tango', and 'Cellophane Man' Roxie and Velma tell their story of competing for bad-girl celebrity. Director Rob Marshall presents a loveable CHICAGO that shares all the grit and grime of the Bob Fosse Broadway original with phenomenal performances by this grouping of Hollywood stars. The dizzying camerawork and dazzling sets make an easy transition from stage to film.
DVD Region: DVD
Release date: 12/09/2005, 04/08/2003
No of Discs: 2, 1
Catalogue No: BUA 0013401, BED 888819
Barcode: 8717418056377, 5017188888196
Voice: Danny Elfman
Choreographer: Bob Fosse
Music: Fred Ebb
Studio(s): WALT DISNEY STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINM; TECHNICOLOR DISTRIBUTION SERVICES
Author: Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb
Director of Photography: Dion Beebe
Screenwriter: Bill Condon
Producer: Martin Richards
Composer: Danny Elfman, Fred Ebb
Main Language: English
Review: "...Fresh and daring....Queen Latifah and John C. Reilly are the surprise standouts..." (Box Office, p.59, 01/03/2003)<br><br>"...Zeta-Jones, all legs and growls, has found her calling card..." (Film Comment, p.73, 01/01/2003)<br><br>"...It's Zeta-Jones who keeps you watching from start to finish....She refuses to let you go....If musicals are dreams, she is their greatest dreamer..." (Los Angeles Times, p.C8, 27/12/2002)<br><br>"...[The actors] deliver sizzling performances....This tawdry, hard-as-nails carnival of ghouls generates plenty of fireworks..." (Movieline, p.62, 01/02/2003)<br><br>"...It's the raw expenditure of energy and the canniness of the staging that should pull audiences in and keep them rooted..." (New York Times, p.E1, 27/12/2002)<br><br>"...Zellweger wins our hearts. That's what makes her dangerous. Just like the movie....Dynamite..." (Rolling Stone, p.76, 23/01/2003)<br><br>"...[Jones] makes nightclub singer Velma a droll fishnet virtuoso..." (Sight and Sound, p.41-2, 01/02/2003)<br><br>"...CHICAGO shows how much the element of surprise is missing from today's movies....It's part of the basic Zeta-Jones bio that she can really sing, and, wow, can she..." (USA Today, p.7D, 27/12/2002)<br><br>
Special Features: Audio Commentary, Deleted Scene, Behind The Scenes Footage
Dubbing Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 English<br>Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress 2002 (Catherine Zeta Jones)
OSCAR: Best Actress In A Supporting Role 2002 (Catherine Zeta Jones)
Listed on Ciao since: 06/11/2005