Joyful Noise: Todd Graff has a knack for making movies that are better than their advertising materials would lead you to believe. It was quite a task convincing anyone at all that his Bandslam was a good teen movie, and, similarly, I now must report to disbelieving readers that Joyful Noise, in which Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton attempt to win a gospel-singing championship, is actually not quite the pandering cheesefest you’d be forgiven for picturing.
The effort to convince may not be as worthwhile this time, though, because Joyful Noise, while better than it needs to be, is not quite as much fun as Bandslam, or Graff’s indie debut Camp. But what I like about all three movies is the way Graff quietly, nonchalantly respects their status as actual non-integrated musicals with full performances, not sheepish half-musicals with some truncated songs playing over montages.
Latifah and Parton both get quiet solo songs, and the gospel numbers—coming in traditional, poppy, and mashed-up flavors—are appropriately show-stopping, save for the bitter aftertaste of using a bit of a Chris Brown song in the finale. As with his other movies, Graff can’t resist the pull of melodrama, and the probably-too-long Joyful Noise is his first movie to shift the humor balance to more cutesy than funny, but at least his sentiment feels sincere.
Beauty and the Beast 3-D: It’s probably not fair to Joyful Noise that it’s going up against this weekend’s rerelease of one of the best original musical song scores of the past, I don’t know, thirty, forty years? I have no real desire to see the 3D conversion of this movie, especially having enjoyed the IMAX 2D re-release some ten years ago (!) and watched the VHS some half a dozen times, but if you’ve never seen it theatrically, it is playing the Ziegfeld and it does feature Ashman/Menken songs at the peak of that duo’s powers. If you’ve seen it a million times, I suggest maybe skipping the official rerelease in favor of waiting around for the next singalong at the Bell House, which I’m surprised they’re able to get away with doing. In the meantime, feel free to debate in the comment section over which of these songs is best: “Belle,” “Gaston,” “Be Our Guest,” or “Kill the Beast.” (The correct answer is “Belle.”)
Contraband: You can read about this movie in more detail in my review; here I’ll just say, Giovanni Ribisi is some kind of slow chameleon. Movie to movie, he doesn’t exactly shape-shift; you can usually recognize his scraggly face and nasal drawl as a harbinger of danger or sleaze. Yet for a typecast actor, he’s moved through quite a variety of types. I first saw him on The Wonder Years, where in the final season he played Kevin Arnold’s surly, sarcastic buddy Jeff—and he was good at it, too, so imagine my surprise when his first major movie niche turned out to be playing guys who were either actually (The Other Sister), borderline (The Gift), or potentially (The Mod Squad; The Dead Girl) mentally retarded. He used this calling card to transition his way into parts as the younger brother fuck-up (Gone in 60 Seconds) and the tech-y geek and/or creep (Perfect Stranger; Flight of the Phoenix; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow). Now he’s come full (or at least half) circle, playing the bad guy who comes after the younger brother fuck-up in Contraband, following his scene-stealing fuck-uppery in The Rum Diary, a highlight of that movie, and playing one of the villains in Avatar, the highest-grossing movie ever made. What I’m saying is, Giovanni Ribisi: national treasure?