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Category:    Home > Reviews > Musical > Backstage > Romance > Comedy > Tap Dancing > Jazz > African American > Drama > Teaching > Britain > Stormy Weather (1943/Fox)/To Sir With Love (1967/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Whiplash (2014/Sony DVD)

Stormy Weather (1943/Fox)/To Sir With Love (1967/Sony/Columbia/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-rays)/Whiplash (2014/Sony DVD)

Picture: B/B/C+ Sound: C+ Extras: B-/B/C+ Films: B-/B-/C

PLEASE NOTE: The Stormy Weather and To Sir With Love limited edition Blu-rays are now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, only 3,000 copies will be made and can be ordered while supplies last from the link below.

What follows are a backstage jazz musical, a film about excellence in teaching and a clashing of both in a third film...

Andrew Stone's Stormy Weather (1943) is the first of the backstage musicals, this one also qualifying for a cycle of all African-American musicals that studios tried out in changing times, war time and with the growing success of Soundies and the genre. Of course, racism made these very rare, but this is one of the nest with Lena Horne, Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson, Dooley Wilson, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway and The Nicholas Brothers in a tale of romance, some comedy and 20 well-staged musical numbers.

Sure, you've seen and heard the story before, but rarely with this degree of talent and 72+ years later, it is one of the best, most important musicals Fox ever made, even if it has aged oddly. The camera loves Horne and seeing some of the most important music and entertainment talents of all time in action at the top of their form in rarely captured, 35mm glory is a treat in itself as all involved plow through any predictability and in a tight 78 minutes that always has an energy to it. Ahead of its time, I can even see how it influenced two Spike Lee films: Mo Better Blues and Malcolm X, especially visually for its music sequences. Everyone should see this film at least once.

Extras include and illustrated booklet on the film with informative text & essay by film scholar Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-ray adds an impressive feature length audio commentary track by film scholar Dr. Todd Boyd (we need to hear more from him) and an Isolated Music Score track.

James Clavell's To Sir With Love (1967) is part of a cycle of films about teachers and tough students that came out of the mid-1950s films preoccupied with teens and delinquency, films that have been made on and off since about how one determined teacher can either change bad students in a way that saves their lives and future or survive them and maybe help a few. There have been variants on the approach (Lean On Me has a principal who literally carries a big stick, 187 has a teacher who quietly fights back murderous students, etc.) but this film set in East End Britain came out of a time with some optimism.

Sidney Poitier was one of the top box office stars in the world when he took on the (eventual) title role of Mark Thackeray, the new teacher the students will reject upon arrival, but he is ready to give up more than once when he sees opportunity and tries a new approach that eventually helps him connect. Yes, it was a more relatively innocent time, but this is a decent film to this day even if it does not make the big statement that the likes of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie (1969, also from Twilight Time & reviewed elsewhere on this site) manages.

At last as big as the film was the title song, penned by Don Black and sung by Lulu, a huge worldwide hit as big as the film itself. It launched Lulu into a icon with a long-lasting career, but the film also features early turns by Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall, Faith Brook and Michael Des Barres who all benefitted from the commercial and critical success of the film. Patricia Rutledge heads the rest of the supporting adults. It is a key film in the cycle and worth revisiting. Yet another gem everyone should see at least once.

Extras include and illustrated booklet on the film with informative text & essay by film scholar Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-ray adds two feature length audio commentary tracks (one by Kirgo, scholar Nick Redmond & actress Judy Geeson, the other by author E.R. Braithwaite & teacher/author Salome Thomas El), five featurettes (E.R. Braithwaite In His Own Words, Lulu & The B-Side, Mini-Skirts, Blue Jeans & Pop Music, To Sidney With Love and Principal El: He Chose To Stay) and an Isolated Music Score track.

Damien Chazelle's Whiplash (2014) happens to have both the backstage musical and teacher movie structures going for it, whether it realizes it or not. The drumming student is Miles Teller, while the expect teacher is J.K Simmons at an upscale school for the arts. Turns out the teacher is a big of a sociopath and very hard on select students. These days, this would be a lawsuit and who knows what else, which the narrative addresses as our tough, rude teacher singles out the co-star character. The script keeps making exception to these possible sidetracking elements so the story can go on and the conflict can get worse and worse.

I could buy that if the realism of the piece was not so weak. The performances are good all around and some of the acclaim is valid, but it becomes so repetitive and silly that the predictability of pushing anything that would put the conflict off track is so extreme, that it only leaves you with one or two possibilities of where the plotting will go next, unless you have never seen a film before. This results in the film essentially saying the only motivation to get talent and success out of someone is through hate, bullying, anger and that is somehow the only way and answer to everything.

Even if I did not think the film lands up saying that no matter what else was intended, there are a few oddly unanswered questions that when it is all said and done, unless your put your brain on permanent pause, it does not add up. People will realize this when the acclaim and honeymoon period is over. The only good thing is we'll see more of the leads in interesting work (we hope) the next few years. Paul Reiser also stars.

Extras include a feature length audio commentary track by Chazelle & Simmons, plus a Toronto Film Festival featurette where they are joined by Teller.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image on Weather looks really good often as it was apparently stored and preserved well with nice detail throughout, even if you can see a few flaws here and there, while the 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Sir can also show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and often gives us an idea of how good a 35mm, dye-transfer, three-strip Technicolor version of the film would have been. Leon Shamroy (the 1939 Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Black Swan (1942), Down Argentine Way) replaced Lee Garmes (the original 1932 Scarface, Footlight Serenade) as Director of Photography on Weather, but I can't imagine how or why.

Sir was lensed by Director of Photography Paul Beeson, a veteran of many of Disney's British productions as well as TV's The Saint with Roger Moore and some fun B-movies, so he had no problem handling the color or creating a consistent look here.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image on Whiplash is a digital shoot that is going to look softer on DVD by comparison, but Director of Photography Sharone Meir gives it a consistent look throughout an would obviously be better viewed on Blu-ray.

As for sound, the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 1.0 Mono lossless sound mixes on Weather and Sir would be expected to show their age, but they do a little more so than usual, which is unfortunate for films known for their music. Comparisons to the isolated music scores in both cases show the extent of this (Ron Grainer did the instrumentals for Sir), leaving us a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the Whiplash DVD that is good, if not great, but obviously would be more dynamic on Blu-ray in a lossless 5.1 presentation. Needless to say the jazz music sounds best here.

To order the Stormy Weather and To Sir With Love limited edition Blu-rays, buy them while supplies last at this link:


- Nicholas Sheffo


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