Richard speaks to “CTV News at 11:30” anchor Zuraidah Alman about movies in theatres and on VOD to watch this weekend including the Gillian Jacobs college comedy “I Used to Go Here,” the Mick Jagger thriller “The Burnt Orange Heresy” and the biodoc “Howard: The Howard Ashman Story.”
Richard sits in on the CFRA Ottawa morning show with guest host Matt Harris to talk the new movies coming to theatres, VOD and streaming services including the college comedy “I Used to Go Here” starring Gillian Jacobs, the psychological thriller “She Dies Tomorrow,” the crime drama “The Burnt Orange Heresy,” the kid’s fantasy “The Secret Garden” and the biodoc “Howard: The Howard Ashman Story.”
Howard Ashman may not be a household name but the songs he wrote have certainly played in your home. A new documentary on Disney+ about the lyricist behind Disney animated classics like “Aladdin,” “Beauty and The Beast,” “The Little Mermaid” gives insight into the life of an artist whose life was cut short at 39 years.
Using a combination of archival footage, new interviews with the people who knew him best and lots of music, “Howard: The Howard Ashman Story” tells the story of a young boy who let his imagination run wild, creating dioramas with plastic figures and toys, doing shows in his backyard, complete with costumes and props when most kids were still making mud pies. Of a kid who could imitate any actor from any play he ever saw and who became a storyteller, writing musicals while still a teenager.
After college he struggled in NYC before starting his own theatre with a group of like-minded creatives in 1977 called the WPA. It was at this hole-in-the-wall theatre above a seedy donut shop off-off-off Broadway, that he found his calling. While working on a 1979 musical adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater,” he discovered his remarkable ability to write lyrics that cut to the heart and soul of whatever story he was telling.
When “God Bless You, Mrs. Rosewater” failed to translate to the Great White Way in a splashy Broadway production he decided to create something with a limited cast but with an attention-grabbing gimmick at the centre. For inspiration he looked to Roger Corman’s cheesy z-grade “Little Shop of Horrors.”
That adaptation was a giant hit but his next project, “Smile,” a flashy Broadway musical about a beauty pageant in Santa Rosa, California, co-written with Marvin Hamlisch, flopped, taking the wind out of his sails.
That’s when Disney Studio Head Jeffrey Katzenberg called, offering Ashman found a new home and creative inspiration. “Animation may be the last great place to do Broadway musicals,” Ashman says in the film.
There, working with composer Alan Menken, he wrote a trio of scores for three classic films that are still beloved today.
At this point in the doc “Howard: The Howard Ashman Story” is a slickly produced biography, mainly told in Ashman’s own words, detailing the creative life of a prolific, perfectionist songwriter.
The film deepens in tone when Ashman’s HIV diagnosis is revealed during the production of “The Little Mermaid.” The day of the diagnosis he did an on-stage interview at New York City’s 92nd Street Y. When asked what his future plans are, he replies that he doesn’t have any. It is a shattering insight into the mindset of a man just handed a death sentence.
Knowing his time was limited, Ashman worked on the three Disney films at the same time, creating a trio of films that would become the bedrock of the Disney Renaissance, while keeping his illness a secret from everyone except life partner Bill Lauch. It’s a heartbreaking illustration of the shared experience of many people with AIDS who struggled to keep their condition a secret for fear of losing work or relationships.
It’s here that director Don Hahn’s decision to not feature talking head interviews becomes clear. The interviews are all done off camera, focusing the story on the subject. You can hear the emotion in the voices of Ashman’s loved ones as they discuss his last years and their words are made all the more powerful by the images of Howard that dress the screen.
“Howard: The Howard Ashman Story” is more than a nostalgic behind-the-scenes doc. It’s a touching portrait of a man, who, like so many gay men of his generation, ran out of time.
Once upon a time a movie princess was a damsel in distress, swathed in pink and jewels, waiting for Prince Charming to come to the rescue.
Lately, however, the movies have given us a different kind of princess, one who is more into grrrl-power than girly-girl. This weekend Disney helps redefine their traditional princess in their 56th animated feature film, Moana,
The thirteenth official Disney princess is inspired by Polynesian mythology. Sixteen-year-old Moana (voiced by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) is a natural born navigator with a mystical connection to the ocean and all its creatures who goes on a sea quest to find a mysterious island. She’s high-spirited and adventurous, but as Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson), reminds her, “You’re the daughter of a chief and you’re wearing a dress: you’re a princess.”
Moana isn’t the first movie to shatter the stereotype of the pretty pink princess.
“All these Disney heroines, the princesses, they’re a product of their time,” Maleficent screenwriter Linda Wolverton told the Associated Press. “The princesses created in the 1940s and ’50s, were the best of what a woman should be then: You’re the good girl. You took abuse and through it all, you sang and were nice. But we’re not like that anymore. We kick ass now.”
According to Roger Ebert, Ariel, the teenage mermaid princess of The Little Mermaid, “is a fully realized female character who thinks and acts independently, even rebelliously, instead of hanging around passively while the fates decide her destiny.”
In other words, she still marries her prince charming, but for the first time a Disney princess gave a lesson in independence and had a hand (or fin) in deciding her fate.
The success of that movie led to a new batch of princesses who were empowered and could look after themselves and others.
Jasmine, the daughter of the wealthy Sultan of Agrabah and the princess at the heart of Aladdin, didn’t fight off invaders but did do something that made her unique in the Disney princess world.
Tired of life in the royal palace, instead of waiting for rescue, the independently minded aristocrat made her own way, even deciding to marry a commoner rather than a prince.
Mark Andrews, the co-director of Brave, the story of a Celtic princess who rebels against her mother and escapes from castle life, calls the movie’s lead character “an anti-princess.” The Princess and the Frog’s Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), the first ever African-American princess lead in a Disney film, is also an ambitious character in a way that would have been unthinkable in Snow White’s day.
More recently the phenomenally successful Frozen was the story of two royal sisters, the Princesses of Arendelle, Anna, a spirited adventurer, played by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel’s Elsa, a cryokinetic queen with the awesome power to manifest ice and snow. Like Carrie, but colder. Both are powerful, determined women, but the real twist here is in the definition of the true meaning of love. There’s a male hero, but the real love on display here is between the two sisters.
When you thinks about movie princesses a few names come immediately to mind: Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora and Belle. This fab four have come to define what being a movie princess is all about. Or at least they used to.
From the knitting needles of yarn artist Carson Zickersham comes the strangest Christmas gift on the list so far, a needlepoint piece featuring Nicolas Cage as Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” Titled “Nic Cage Wants to Be Where the People Are,” the 5″ x 7″ handmade artwork can be yours for only $65.35 Can. Thanks to the Huffington Post for pointing the way on this one.