Chicago versus "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut"

You may be asking yourself, "Huh?  When did Joe Curwen watch 'Chicago'?"  The truth is that I did watch it.   I'll have it be known, though, that I saw it as part of a compromise.   Marriages that last are based on compromises.   Married men who think that the relationship is all about them can be separated into two categories – about to be divorced or deluded.   So, anyway, we rented Chicago and I'm still married.

So let's start with Chicago.   The plot of this garbage is simple – woman murders man, is arrested, goes to trial.   That's it.   The only "twist" is that apparently in Chicago in the mid-1920s there was a rash of women who were murdering men.   I think that in Chicago in the mid-1920s there was just simply a rash of murders.   Al Capone, anyone?

If this isn't a chick flick, I don't know what is.  Barely average looking woman Renée Zellweger, thanks to the miracle of computer generated graphics (yes, they actually use computer generated imagery (CGI) to improve her appearance), can have a tryst with a married man, kill him, get a good looking lawyer, seduce him (shudder), make the papers, be held up as an object of desire(!), and get away with the murder.  Can you say "morally bankrupt"?  Now I don't have anything about morally ambiguous movies, or even movies that lack a measurable degree of moral fiber.  But, I do have an issue when this is a multi-million dollar release by Hollywood.  I mean, even "The Godfather" series included a sense of morality.  Does anyone think that Michael Corleone enjoyed his success? 

But here in this irresponsible cacaphony, Renée Zellweger does reap positive rewards for her murder.  She goes on to become a star fer cryin' out loud.

Oh, let me rant about the CGI for a while.  This musical has more CGI than "Star Wars".  When I think of a musical, I think of something that takes place on a stage.  A movie version is, to me, supposed to allow me to experience what those who went to the live theater saw.  Oh, use better viewing angles and pile on the glitz.  But make excessive use of CGI?  For example, in one scene, Richard Gere actually walks through CGI confetti.  I mean he passes through it.  (Now you see this oversized bit or red (the piece of confetti, not Richard Gere) and the next it's partially embedded in his (Richard Gere's, not the piece of confetti's) chest.)

And Renée Zellweger in skimpy attire...  Oh, wait!  That's not her.  That's her face glued onto a CGI slimmed body.  Can anyone see this pudgy whiner as a siren that drives men wild?  The movie tries and fails to make you think she's "the most beautiful woman on death row"  But enough about Renée.

Let's talk about the dancing.  This is the main reason I thought that I wouldn't mind watching the movie.  I like Bob Fosse's work.  "Cabaret", "All That Jazz", and to a lesser degree "Sweet Charity" all have some great choreography.  I thought, "I can bear the movie if Fosse did the dance routines."  Well, Fosse did the dance routines in the 1970s!  Since that time, other hacks have "improved" them.  Except for one scene in grey where a red handkerchief was passed among the dancers, I got no feeling of Fosse's contributions.  (Although I did get this "Schindler's List" déjà vu kind of feeling.)  And the CGI killed that single scene for me, too, so I was left suffering for the duration of the movie. 

As for the rest of the dance routines in the movie, their insipid modernization made high school flag twirling routines look positively inspired.  (Flag twirling really is cool to watch.  Oh, just for grins I "Webcrawlered" the phrase "flag twirling" in case I was using the wrong term and one of the results came back with the text "Twirling Flag shafts Children".  Morbid?  Yes.  Funny?  Well, to me anyway.  It turns out that the phrase is advertising a shorter, child sized shaft for a flag and not an impaling.)

Oh, there's Catherine Zeta-Jones who didn't overact and was, in general, a good thing.  But for her every attempt to save the movie, there was a slap-you-in-face moment.  Like those introduced by Matron Mama Morton played by Queen Latifah.  Now Queen Latifah is bigger than life, at least that's her screen presence and at first she was pleasure to behold in a drab movie.  But, what I viewed as a breath of fresh air during her first screen appearance later turned into a fear that she was waiting in the wings ready to chew up the scenery at any moment.  She'd not only take over a scene, her ego would fill it to the breaking point.

Referring to the players as"characters" is a good start.   Referring to them as "stereotypical cardboard cutouts" would be closer to the lack of the personality depth exhibited.

In general, this movie should have had dollar signs instead of a title.  It was nothing more than a giant paycheck for everyone involved.  "It's obsequious drivel" should have been the tag-line.   It's theme should have been, "We have forgettable songs, bad dance routines, a lame plot, and one-dimensional characters, but we spent a fortune on special effects.  Come look at the pretty colors!"  Let's also get this straight – it won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.  In fact, this movie won lots of awards.  

Does Hollywood pimp its young?   Hollywood pimps everything, including Broadway.  

It must've been a really bad year for the Academy.  Let's see, Academy competition was from "Gangs of New York", "The Hours", "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", and "The Pianist".  As for the first two movies, has anyone heard about them since?  As for "Towers", they were saving the Oscar for "The Return of the King" so they had to hold it back that year.   As for "The Pianist", that's another story due Roman Polanki's involvement.  Winner by default – Chicago!

This movie is more than just bad.  It's insultingly, arrogantly bad.  The only reason I've spent this much time on it is because, only a short time earlier, another musical came out of Hollywood and that movie doesn't get enough credit.  So, I thought I'd compare this lesser effort with the "blockbuster".

South Park(SP) – the phrase alone conjures up visions of everything wrong with "the youth of today".  A quote from Hesiod in the eighth century B.C. stating that "all youth are reckless beyond words" should put that particular worry into perspective. 

Every generation, since the beginning of time, thinks that the youth is disrespectful and unwholesome.  I mention this in this context because that's part of the theme of SP.  The movie discusses the overreaction of parents to what children find amusing.  In fact, the movie stresses that children have a greater grasp of what isn't real than most adults.  So, even though a parent's lack of perspective isn't the most original concept in the world, using it as the basis for a movie is more original than the premise of Chicago.  A point is awarded to SP for originality.  We'll be keeping score.

You name it and if it's contemporary, it's irked SP writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone and they've skewered it on the television show.  (Just a note, but for the movie Pam Brady is also given screenwriter credit, so it's more than just Trey and Matt indulging on the big screen.)

And it is an indulgence.  Where else can you the Canadian Air Force bombing the Baldwin brothers?  Or Saddam Hussein in a love relationship with old cloven hooves?  H ow about the Canadian spy network using tough talking pre-teens?  It keeps things moving.  The ability to keep things moving was missing from Chicago.  Dull people, dull script, apprentice dancing. 

Then there's the use of locales.  Chicago is adapted from a play and all of the scenes are filmed as if nothing that cannot be seen on a stage should be seen by in the movie.  Unless of course it's CGI.  This is anathema to the excessive use of CGI because plays do not use CGI for effects.  But then, the excessive use of CGI is anathema to the idea of this being a play brought to the screen.  Anyway, I just wanted to use the word "anathema".  Chicago is just boring.  Dreary stage sets, limited environment, cardboard people. 

SP has hell, Canada (the two are not synonymous), South Park homes, schools, and the ubiquitous stage.  Entertainment value goes to SP.

As for character dimensionality or depth, you can't compare years of getting to know the characters of SP with the droolers of Chicago.  Point again goes to SP.

Let's get a point in there for Chicago.  I don't usually watch movies for this upcoming category, but it seems like a lot of people do, so I'll include it.  Let's have a category for "pretty people". 
• Richard Gere wins over Mr. Garrison (although if Mr. Garrison still looked like David Hasselhoff, it would've been a close one). 
• Renée Zellweger without CGI compared to Sheila Broflovski (Kyle's mom) would result in a tie.  But thanks to the miracle of computers, Renée can win this one! 
• Queen Latifah versus Mrs. Cartman?  Uh-oh!  Let's just move on... 
• Lucy Liu and Catherine Zeta-Jones versus every other female in SP?  SP gets buried. 
Point to Chicago.

As far as special effects go, my thoughts run to the ideal that if you can tell it's a special effect, then it ain't so special.  In Chicago, there are dozens of "boy, that's obviously a special effect" moments.  But you'd think that SP, being a cartoon, should obviously be one long example of a non-special special effect.  You'd be wrong.  To my way of thinking, SP needs to be judged in the same manner as Chicago.  To this point, I'd ask the question, "Did a special effect distract me because it didn't look like the rest of the movie?"  For South Park, the answer is no.  For Chicago I'd answer, "When didn't one?"  Point for best use of specialeffects goes to South Park".

Since both are musicals, let's talk about the music.  I can't remember any of the songs from Chicago.  Really.  I see where something was nominated for a "Best Song", but I couldn't hum the tune if you threatened to make me watch the movie again.  As for SP, I can not only remember the award nominated song "Blame Canada" I can also take a stab at "What Would Brian Boitano Do?"  Point definitely awarded to South Park.

Now let's discuss the choreography a bit more.  In Chicago there was barely any Fosse, so that's a bad thing.  The replacement dancing looked like replacement dancing at a pre-school.  < Alright, maybe not that bad.  I'm just using hyperbole to make a point that it definitely did not look fresh, clean, or exciting.  In SP, the dancing was designed around a number of styles, some of which could not be performed by anyone with bones.  This is how it should have been since it's a cartoon.  Also, there were a couple of nice Busby-Berkely style numbers in there.  Once again, the point goes to South Park.

Let's take stab at morality.  Would you pick a movie about whether flatulence is a form of humor is corrupting America 's youth or a movie about how it's alright to murder your lover if you're jilted?  Is there a winner in this category?  Within that limited choice range, South Park would win this one as well.  But, you also have to add Saddam Hussein's relationship with the red guy to the mix.  South Park loses a lot of ground.  Any time the spade tail is brought in as a sympathetic character, the movie's got to lose morality points as well.  It just has to.  This category has no winner.

Time to finish up with the message of the movie.   I'm not sure what it is in Chicago except that murder is always justified if it's an attractive woman killing a man.  In South Park, the message I got was that people should lighten up because the things that some people make such a big deal over aren't going to affect the progress of humanity.  Point goes to South Park.

Here're the totals.

Category

  South Park 

  Chicago 

  Winner 

  Original Concept

-

SP

  Entertainment Value

-

SP

  Character Depth

-

SP

  Pretty People

-

C

  Use of Special Effects

-

SP

  Songs

-

SP

  Choreography

-

SP

  Morality

-

-

None

  Message

-

SP

  Final Score

7

1

 

What did we learn?  South Park is a "better" musical than Chicago.  The South Park movie is acceptable watching but only if you don't mind being entertained by cartoons and have a pretty tolerant attitude towards flatulence and mythical homosexual relationships.  Chicago on the other hand should be avoided completely unless you enjoy being insulted.  It's not entertainment; it's an insult.