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Saw this last night (yes, on New Years Eve... what, you had better things to do?) and agree with most of the non-Utz sentiment so far. That is, the first 1/3 or so was great - good production, good music, good story. And throughout the entire film, the overall competency of the filmmakers was on full display.

But the film ultimately failed for me, mainly for two somewhat related reasons:

1) The aforementioned "break out into song randomly for the first time half way through the movie" moment, while not causing any laughter for me, certainly caused an awkward discomfort. I sort of felt like "Oh, it's going to be that kind of movie... Oh..." They certainly could have introduced this device much, much sooner; especially considering how often it's used in the last half of the film.

2) I rarely fall for musicals anyway. And I think it only makes it more difficult when the music is of the "singing instead of having a normal conversation" type, for me at least. Most of the stage numbers, complete with choreography, etc., were extremely enjoyable. But every time another "dialogue song" started, I started to feel antsy, like I knew the next 3 minutes was going to feel like 10, and the story wasn't going to go anywhere throughout the experience.

As for the acting - Eddie Murphy was great. Jennifer Hudson was... well, she's got a great voice. But did anyone else notice that the off-stage musical interludes were more often than not by her character? Perhaps a way to allow her to sing more, and act less?

"You guys don't really know who you're dealing with."

"Oh yeah, and who exactly are we dealing with?"

"I'm the mother flippin' rhymenoceros."

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utzworld wrote:

: Pete/others, did you know any of this?

Any? Sure. I knew about Pat Boone being the guy who made music bland and "safe", I have a CD of original "black" versions of songs like 'Hound Dog' (originated by Big Mama Thornton, covered and made famous by Elvis Presley), I had heard about Diana Ross being promoted at the expense of her fellow Supremes, etc. Not enough to analyze the field in any depth, but enough to catch all the references -- and the film didn't really take any of these references deeper, at least not that I could tell.

I mean, this movie tries to convince us that Curtis Taylor, the alleged Berry Gordy stand-in, would not allow his artists to record "message" songs, yet one of the first Motown songs I ever heard was Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going on'. Even if Berry Gordy wasn't sold on the idea of "message" songs at first, he did release them; but Curtis Taylor is far too much of a stick-in-the-mud to broaden his horizons like that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I mean, this movie tries to convince us that Curtis Taylor, the alleged Berry Gordy stand-in, would not allow his artists to record "message" songs, yet one of the first Motown songs I ever heard was Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going on'. Even if Berry Gordy wasn't sold on the idea of "message" songs at first, he did release them; but Curtis Taylor is far too much of a stick-in-the-mud to broaden his horizons like that.

That is not the case.

In 2003-04, I was on a HUGE Marvin Gaye bender. The "What's Going On" album was a major theme in my life during this time. One of the books I read was on the making on that particular album. The album was a compilation of interviews with the various Motown staffers/producers/etc. who either worked directly on the album or observed the grueling process to get the album made. As the story goes, Marvin cut the song and Berry Gordy HATED IT - he even used a four letter expletive to describe his dislike for the song. Some of the specfic lines that Curtis Taylor used in that scene in "Dreamgirls" were almost word for word what Berry Gordy said according to these books.

He then sent Marvin back to the studio to create something more "upbeat" to please his fans. But Marvin wouldn't relent. It was "What's Going On" or nothing. Marvin had his defenders within the Motown system including Smokey, Stevie, Diva La Ross and even his wife - who was Berry Gordy's sister. It turned into a full blown stalemate between Marvin & Berry.

To make a real long story short, it wasn't Berry Gordy who finally released "What's Going On". Berry was in LA prepping the film version of "Lady Sings The Blues" when one of the VP's of Motown released the single behind Berry's back. When the single shot to the top of the charts, Berry had to eat major crow. He went to Marvin's house and struck a deal to make the album in 4 months. Marvin succeeded, and the rest is a masterpiece!

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Wow, that's very interesting -- more interesting than the movie! ;)

In other news, Dreamgirls was #3 at the "North American" box office this weekend, but didn't rank in the Canadian top ten (which is included in the "North American" top ten) at ALL. In fact, Casino Royale was #3 in Canada this weekend, while it has been out of the "North American" top ten for a couple weeks now; and Blood Diamond was #8 this weekend, though it, too, has not been in the "North American" top ten for a couple weeks.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I wish you were in LA, Ellen. I'd love to see this movie with you and compare notes!

And now, some responses to Pete's points in his review (I'm not MAD atcha, Peter!)

Should someone win a best actor or best actress award for singing? That, more or less, is the question that we will all be dealing with for the next two months, as Dreamgirls coasts into theaters on a wave of Oscar hype that likely won't end until the last golden statuette is handed out at the end of February.
Julie Andrews, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barbra Streisand: 3 actresses who won Oscars for singing (at least the first 3 that popped in my head). And 2 out of those 3 were singers first. So why can't it happen again?

The first hit song that Curtis commissions for Jimmy is "Cadillac Car," an early indicator of the fact that Curtis, a car salesman, cares nothing for artistry and is interested in music for its product-moving potential
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utzworld wrote:

: Julie Andrews, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barbra Streisand: 3 actresses who won Oscars for

: singing (at least the first 3 that popped in my head).

I've never seen Funny Girl, so I can't comment on Streisand. I certainly think Andrews and Zeta-Jones did at least SOME acting between the songs in Mary Poppins and Chicago, though. (Mind you, this is not to say that I think they necessarily should have won, in those years or for those roles.)

: So why can't it happen again?

Oh, it can. The question is whether it SHOULD, especially in a case where the film arguably doesn't give the actors an opportunity to do anything BUT sing. (And especially in a case where one of the "actors" being considered is Beyonce Knowles, who simply cannot act.)

: Uhh...Nope. We covered this earlier in this thread, but the worst part about all the music

: stolen by Black writers/performers is that the White performers - as well as those who ran the

: major record companies - didn't get paid a dime. And, in those days, there were nothing in

: place to protect the work of those artists.

Not even copyright laws? Seriously, who owned the copyright on these songs? Curtis has created his own company to produce songs written by C.C. and performed by Jimmy "Thunder" Early. Presumably Early already has a recording contract, so that company would own the recording. But what about the song? (I am thinking here of that scene in the latter part of the film where Curtis makes a point of saying that he can record a new version of a C.C. song because he "owns" the song. Wouldn't Curtis have owned C.C.'s songs all along? Did someone else own them at the beginning? If so, who, and why would someone as extremely shrewd and savvy as Curtis have let the ownership rights get away like that?)

: Besides...if you wrote an intensely personal dramatic piece and then someone else sliced and

: diced that piece and turned it into a comedy, wouldn't you be pissed?

If the original movie survived intact, I can't say a remake would bother me, no -- unless, of course, everyone remembered the remake and nobody remembered my original.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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: Uhh...Nope. We covered this earlier in this thread, but the worst part about all the music

: stolen by Black writers/performers is that the White performers - as well as those who ran the

: major record companies - didn't get paid a dime. And, in those days, there were nothing in

: place to protect the work of those artists.

Not even copyright laws? Seriously, who owned the copyright on these songs? Curtis has created his own company to produce songs written by C.C. and performed by Jimmy "Thunder" Early. Presumably Early already has a recording contract, so that company would own the recording. But what about the song? (I am thinking here of that scene in the latter part of the film where Curtis makes a point of saying that he can record a new version of a C.C. song because he "owns" the song. Wouldn't Curtis have owned C.C.'s songs all along? Did someone else own them at the beginning? If so, who, and why would someone as extremely shrewd and savvy as Curtis have let the ownership rights get away like that?)

Nardis answered this earlier...but they didn't exacty enforce copyright laws...and not too many other laws for that matter...when people of color were the victims. Otherwise, Big Mama Thorton's offspring would be multi-BILLIONARES today.

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utzworld wrote:

: Nardis answered this earlier...but they didn't exacty enforce copyright laws...and not too many

: other laws for that matter...when people of color were the victims.

I dunno, the examples you and Ellen have been throwing around all date to the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, or 1950s (in the case of 'Hound Dog'). This movie begins in 1962, and in 1974, Curtis makes a point of saying that he "owns" C.C.'s songs and can therefore record new versions of them. Was Curtis vulnerable to exploitation by people of non-colour all this time? Or did standard author-credit and royalty-paying practices change between 1962 and 1974, instead of between, say, 1953/6 (1953 being when 'Hound Dog' was recorded by Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Otis, and 1956 being when Elvis recorded his version, which was apparently inspired by yet some other band's arrangement and not by the arrangement that Thornton had used) and 1962?

: Otherwise, Big Mama Thorton's offspring would be multi-BILLIONARES today.

I am aware that Big Mama Thornton reportedly claimed it was she and not Leiber & Stoller (& possibly Otis) who wrote 'Hound Dog'. But the fact is, the song was credited to those other writers instead, so it is THEY, and not Thornton, who would collect the royalties from Elvis Presley's version (and all the other versions).

Following that analogy, it would seem that, if C.C. did not get author credit on 'Cadillac Car' (either Early's version or the later cover versions), then Curtis must have let somebody ELSE take author credit. But who?

Or are you saying that CREDITED AUTHORS did not collect royalties, in which case, to follow your 'Hound Dog' analogy, it would be Leiber & Stoller and NOT Thornton who got the shaft from Elvis and all the other cover artists?

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Patrick Goldstein on how the Dreamgirls marketing/hype/awards machine was in full gear before filming had even begun, e.g.:

To introduce the film to younger audiences, DreamWorks has quietly spent close to $250,000 funding high school productions of the original play, paying for estate licensing fees. The media has also been wooed with care. Mindful of how "Munich" was walloped by the media last year after Steven Spielberg gave an exclusive peek to Time, Press showed "Dreamgirls" to everybody at the same time, staging screenings in 50 markets Nov. 15.

Funding high school productions as part of the movie promo campaign. Hmmm. Not sure how I feel about that.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Hmmm, myself and some other critics have complained that this film is too superficial, but Steve Sailer says that is why the film works:

It doesn't help that filmmakers have been oddly averse to honesty about why we idolize outstanding singers. "Walk the Line," for example, implied that Cash became a legend because of the emotional trauma of his younger brother's death. Likewise, when Hollywood finally makes "The Shaquille O'Neal Story," we'll no doubt learn that Shaq grew up to be a 7'1" NBA center because his beloved pet dog got run over.

What made Cash unique, however, was that bass-baritone voice with which he would thrillingly rumble, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash." Joaquin Phoenix, a fine actor but a mere baritone, couldn't match it.

In contrast, "Dreamgirls," the deservedly crowd-pleasing film version of the 1981 Broadway musical, demonstrates how making stuff up can be more truthful. A highly fictionalized account of Motown's Supremes (renamed the Dreams), it refreshingly puts conflicts over voices and looks at the center of this story of three Detroit high school friends who become the biggest American pop group of the 1960s.

Meanwhile, in other news, this film has yet to crack the Canadian top ten list -- even when it was #3 in "North America" two weekends ago. (So would it have ranked even higher, if the "North American" top ten list was restricted to the United States and the #1 and #2 films had been deprived of their Canadian grosses?) I wonder if it will crack the list when the film goes into wider release, around the time of the Oscar nominations.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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David Poland, one of this film's earliest, biggest fans:

Today is the first truly bad day for
Dreamgirls
in terms of the movie's box office and the awards race. To expand by 1000 or so screens and still be off from last Friday is not a great thing for the film. One could argue that it dropped a lot less than the other holdovers. But still, it can not be said that this is a banner day for the film. That said, it may recover over the 4-day weekend to do a reasonable amount of business.

As I have written for a while now in discussions about the box office and release pattern, the box office life of
Dreamgirls
is a big part of what will or will not make it win Best Picture. (And yes, I have always believed in the "win.") And if the film does not continue to perform at a very high level, then it does become a multi-horse race and the dynamic changes... which is not to say that it won't win in that dynamic. But quite a different kettle of fish.

For whatever that's worth. I guess this film's odds of finally appearing on the Canadian top ten didn't get any better this weekend.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Paramount/DreamWorks have marketed this film very weird. They've used strictly word of mouth to bolster up the film. They were successful intially but what eventually hurt them was their "Starts Christmas Day Everywhere" commercials. 852 screens doesn't exactly translate to "Everywhere". As many reports have their been of folks who saw the film over the holidays and loved it, there were also quite a few reports of folks complaining that the film was not playing in their local theatre; and then those folks were even madder when they realized that the film wouldn't be truly playing "Everywhere" till the MLK Holiday weekend...

...and Par/DW didn't exactly sound the trumpets to let Everybody know about "Dreamgirls" official "Everywhere" expansion over this past weekend. I, personally, think that's what attributed to the low B.O. stats.

And then there's bootlegging - which is rampant in many African American neighborhoods...especially for AA centric movies. I know a guy who didn't see "Dreamgirls" at the movies but, nevertheless, bragged about his bootlegged copy. Reminds me of a few Christmases ago when, after we had dinner and opened gifts, a relative of mine popped his bootlegged VHS copy of "Ray" into his big screen. I gave him my infamous "bootlegging speech" (we used to have a copy of said speech at 3BC but I think they lost it when they redid the site) but he paid me no mind.

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utzworld wrote:

: ...and Par/DW didn't exactly sound the trumpets to let Everybody know about "Dreamgirls"

: official "Everywhere" expansion over this past weekend.

Heck, even Jamie Foxx didn't seem to know. ;) (At the Globes, he reportedly referred to it being on 800 screens, when in fact it is on over 1900 screens now.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

FWIW, this film DID enter the Canadian top ten last weekend -- in 5th place! -- but as it stands right now, only 3.3% of its total North American earnings have come from Canada, the lowest of ANY films that appeared in the Canadian top ten in 2007, 2006 or 2004. (Three films -- March of the Penguins, Rebound and Beauty Shop -- were lower in 2005.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Link to a revived discussion of genre rules as they apply to the musical, and specifically to "Dreamgirls."

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I just got back from seeing this, and am inclined -- no, certain -- that although Jennifer Hudson gets most of the ink (and she's quite good), Eddie Murphy owns this movie.

That's why this out-of-nowhere hit job on Murphy that's just developed is so revolting. Reading Wells' smug defense of his latest "take-down" makes me sick to my stomach.

If I had a vote, I'd probably give it to Jackie Earle Haley, who impresses in a much stronger film overall. But that's not a slam-dunk; I'd be sorely tempted to give the award to Murphy. Anytime he's not on screen in Dreamgirls, the movie flags, sometimes badly.

I deeply appreciated how Beyonc
Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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And now Anne Thompson responds, with class, to the Murphy smear campaign. I won

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I don't deny that Murphy's character has an "arc", such as it is, but we only see it in tiny, tiny fragments, and most of those consist of nothing more than Eddie Murphy singing. As I wrote in my own review:

Eddie Murphy holds his own in his few dramatic scenes, but like many other comedians who have tried their hand at drama, he doesn't have to do much besides hold back his shtick, and since this film zips through the dramatic scenes so quickly, he doesn't have to hold it back for long. As it happens, his character truly comes alive when he's behind a microphone, strutting his stuff for the masses like any other singer -- or comedian, for that matter.

Should Murphy have won an acting award for his James Brown and Little Richard impersonations on SNL? If not, why should we win one for THIS performance?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Should Murphy have won an acting award for his James Brown and Little Richard impersonations on SNL? If not, why should we win one for THIS performance?
As much as James "Thunder" Early might have been influenced by Murphy's earlier SNL performances, there are moments where you can sense Murphy was branching beyond those earlier caricatures to create a character with depth and resonance.

But I still think the race is wide open. Who wants to vote for Norbit?

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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Nick Alexander wrote:

: . . . there are moments . . .

Moments, yes. But only moments.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Nick Alexander wrote:

: . . . there are moments . . .

Moments, yes. But only moments.

"only moments"? A movie performance is a series of moments. And an Academy winning performance can be as "momentous" as Ben Kingsley's Gandhi, or as "minimal" as Beatrice Straight in Network.

Murphy couldn't have done this performance, say, five years ago, even if he wanted to. He totally disappeared into character. And this is coming from someone who wants Wahlberg to take the "Samuel L. Jackson was robbed in Pulp Fiction" award this year.

Nick Alexander

Keynote, Worship Leader, Comedian, Parodyist

Host of the Prayer Meeting Podcast - your virtual worship oasis. (Subscribe)

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I can see that, Peter, but all I

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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